second spring

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower —Albert Camus

Autumn was bittersweet—it could be best summed up in the words of George Bernard Shaw: “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”

Of course, Shaw was seeing life through a sanguine perspective when he wrote those words, but I was seeing it through the mask of tragedy and the mournful colors of another somber season without Regan.

Regan was my heart’s desire and when she perished in an accident, my dreams shattered along with her. I doubted I’d ever be really happy again or meet anyone as unique, but that all changed when I found Marin.

Marin Woods was special. Our relationship began one day in my graduate seminar when I was fascinated by the sheen of her hair.

The sun was slanting in the window turning the blonde and red filaments into a dazzling copper brighter than any newly minted penny.

I was lost in the daydream of her until Doctor Hedges kindly reminded me how beautiful women are always distractions but one must still attend to the business at hand—in this case, ironically Pirandello, and our discussion of illusion and reality.

I was too afraid to look at Marin and had to endure the smirking faces of my classmates, but after class she and I happened to be walking down the same path and I stole a glance at her and saw a shadow of a smile steal across her features.

She stopped and turned to me, “I’m sorry Dr. Hedges embarrassed you, Jess—he always makes facetious remarks, none of which are true.”

Her spin on things let me off the hook, but I couldn’t lie. “Actually, I was staring at you—I was fascinated by the color of your hair and the way the sunbeams light it on fire.”

She looked intrigued, “That’s very poetic, and a good line if you’re a player.”

“Who me—a player?” I snorted, “Not bloody likely. I must have turned twenty shades of purple in that room.”

“I’d say your color was more rosy, but I thought it was adorable.”

“Oh great—‘adorable’—what every man wants to hear.”

“Well, it should be,” she countered, “besides, I was smiling at you—why didn’t you smile back?”

“I guess I was too embarrassed to notice. I wanted to sink into the floor.”

“Hey, it wasn’t that bad by Dr. Hedges’ standards—he went easy on you. But you owe me.”

“I do?” I croaked.

“I’d say a Caramel Macchiato might redeem you. I’m heading to the bank and there’s a Starbucks right beside it.”

“Actually, I was heading there too—to the bank, I mean—but coffee sounds great.”

She stopped and tilted her head toward me, her long hair shimmering in the sun, “Are you sure you’re not a player?”

“Me? No—honestly, I think you’re beautiful.” The words just came out.

She smiled and looped her arm around mine, “In that case, I’d also like a pumpkin scone.”

And that’s how we began—and how I ended up inviting her to our family Thanksgiving dinner.

 

When you’re first in love everything seems brighter. Marin made the russet shades of autumn grow even more brilliant.

I had been in sorrow for a year grieving Regan but now my spirits lifted. The sky was bluer—the air fresher, and the woods, like my heart, were on fire.

The drive up to my family’s country home was breathtaking especially considering the estate was situated on the Niagara escarpment. A tidal wave of color had submerged everything and it seemed the old tired world I knew had perished and both it and I had been reborn.

The cool breeze shuddering against the car helped drown out the pounding of my heart. I barely knew Mar, but already was thoroughly enchanted.

She seemed happy too—occasionally she’d reach across and put her hand over mine, and her smile melted everything that grief and loss had frozen inside me.

The suffocating heaviness was gone and I could breathe freely again, and smile spontaneously—and yes, even wipe away a stray tear of joy from my eyes.

It was October and I was in love. It was perfect.

 

My family instantly took to her—even Quincy, our finicky golden retriever, adopted her and lay beside her, his muzzle gently resting on her foot.

“You seem to have won some hearts,” Mom smiled at Mar, while subtly winking at me.

Yes, she has won hearts, I smiled inwardly, feeling as if my own would burst.

After lunch, she and I hiked to the ridge where Regan had her accident. I had to show her—to get it over with and out of the way.

She peered cautiously over the edge at the green and yellow quilt of fields below. “It’s lovely here, but windy.”

“That’s how it happened,” I said solemnly. “One sudden gust of wind and Regan was swept over the edge.”

“How terrible for you to witness, Jess.”

“No, thankfully I didn’t see it. Regan and Charly had hiked up here—Charly’s our neighbor—you’ll get to meet her later.”

She shook her head sobered at the thought of what transpired.

“I just felt I had to bring you here—to make sure there was nothing unspoken between us. I’ve spent a year grieving Regan, but all my sorrow won’t bring her back.”

She looped her arm around mine and leaned against me. I inhaled the faint scent of her perfume.

“That’s lovely—your perfume. What scent is it?”

She laughed, “I’m not wearing perfume. I guess I’m just a country girl at heart.”

I breathed in the fragrance of her skin and hair—it was fresh as snow with a hint of green apple.

“You really are a country girl,” I laughed. “I like that.”

We shared our first kiss on the ridge, buffeted by autumn winds, and watching a hawk circle the fields below.

 

Charly took to Marin as easily as Quincy and by the time the family was sitting around the bonfire they seemed well on the way to becoming fast friends—sort of like Charly and Regan.

That thought made my throat tighten and my eyes smart—Mom noticed and called me aside, “Are you all right, Jess?”

“It’s nothing, Mom—just some wood smoke in my eyes. I’m doing fine—really.”

“Charly and Marin seem to be hitting it off,” she observed, “does it bother you?”

I feigned shock. “Bothered by two women being friends? No, not all, Mom—I hope Charly and Mar become close. I think it may even help Charly get over Regan as well.”

“You know Charly’s uncle has been worried about her—says she’s practically erected a shrine to Regan in her room. I feel sorry for that girl—first her parents die, and then her best friend—it must be hard on her.”

I nodded. “I know it has been hard, Mom—on all of us, but I think it best now that we try to put it behind us—move on with our lives.”

She smiled at me and patted my hand softly, but seeing the two girls laughing by the fire put a wistful look on her face. “Put it behind us…” she whispered, “I hope we can.”

 

The next day Nate Brinker and a few of the neighbors wanted to go horseback riding. I invited Mar to come along, but was surprised to find she already made plans.

“Charly invited me to come over to her place for coffee. She suggested we could go for a hike and she’d show me the old ruins.”

The ruins were a local mystery—nobody was quite sure what they were or how old they were. It would be an adventure for Mar, but I still felt bad abandoning her on only her second day here.

“Don’t be worried, Jess—go horseback riding with your friends—Charly and I have a lot to catch up.”

My ears perked up. “Catch up—about what?”

“About you, Silly. Charly’s going to share all the local tidbits and gossip, and you can bet I’ll be badgering her for juicy info on you.”

“Maybe, I should stay after all,” I laughed.

“No way, Jose—I wouldn’t pass up this chance for the world.”

She grabbed the lapels of my wool coat and pulled me close to her, pressing her soft lips against mine. I lost my breath and went tingly. When I regained my composure I hissed in her ear, “If I let you go, will there be more of that later when I get back?”

Her eyes danced. “That all depends on what secrets Charly reveals. I hope there was no history between the two of you.”

“What—me and Charly? You’ve got to be kidding. She’s the girl next door—not a femme fatale.”

“Who knows what secrets will be divulged,” she smiled seductively, “and whether our Lothario is a shining knight or a shameless rake.”

“Neither,” I quipped, “which is good for your sake.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” she countered, breezing out of the room, leaving me longing for more of those soft warm kisses.

 

When I got back from riding it was past five and there was no sign of Mar.

I decided to ride over to Charly’s and check on the two of them. Her uncle answered the door.

“They’ve been gone for two hours, Jess—I was kinda worried looking at that sky. I think a storm’s brewing.”

“Did they go to the ruins?”

“As far as I know, but they should have been back by now.”

“I’ll go hunt them down, Mr. Crawford—sort of like rounding up strays. Don’t you worry, now.”

As I rode out of the farmyard I wasn’t as hopeful as I pretended —in fact, I was worried because dusk was falling quickly helped in part by storm clouds overhead.

I headed in the direction of the ruins and then on impulse, changed my mind and spurred my horse toward the ridge.

I tied up my mount at the base of the cliff and began the steep climb to the summit.

The wind picked up and I saw the first red streak of lightning. I pressed on and when I got to about twenty feet from the top I heard a terrified scream. It sounded like Marin.

I scrambled up the loose rock of the path, slipping and falling twice in my haste and made it to the top in time to see the two women struggling in the wind, grappling as if wrestling.

“Mar!” I cried out.

The two women froze and turned toward me. Charly had a wild look on her face as if her features had distorted.

“Help me, Jess,” Mar cried, backing away from the crazed Charly.

‘It’s over now,” Charly shouted against the wind, “you’ve ruined everything.”

She picked up a heavy tree limb that was lying on the ground and came at Mar swinging it like a baseball bat. Mar slipped as she fell backwards just as Charly swung the limb with all her might.

The blow missed Mar but threw Charly off balance. She stumbled forward onto her hands and knees, as I watched in horror, frozen to my spot.

Charly was deranged—blind with anger. She reached for the limb again and stumbled to her feet, but as she righted herself to swing a fatal blow, she lost her balance and stumbled backwards, falling over the edge.

I hear a long wail I thought was from Charly, but realized it was Mar, pitched forward into a crouch as if she had been kicked in the stomach. By the time I got to her she was moaning and incoherent.

I half-carried her back from the verge of the ledge, and tried to calm her, but all she could do was groan and repeat Regan’s name over and over as if she were lost in a nightmare—which no doubt was.

 

It took hours before the medics had calmed Mar enough to be coherent. A policewoman began to question her and try to piece together the fragments of her story.

Mar insisted I sit beside her while she gave her statement.

“When I got to Charly’s I was expecting coffee, but Charly insisted we drink wine. We drank enough that Charly got drunk and said too much.”

“What do you mean by that?” the policewoman asked.

“I mean she started telling me how she worshipped Regan and tried to be like her. I saw her room—all the pictures of Regan—it was spooky. It made me feel sick inside. I told her we should go for a hike—I just had to get out of there, Jess.”

I patted her hand. “It’s all right, Mar—just tell the policewoman what happened.”

“She took me on a hike, but we didn’t go to the ruins—we ended up at the cliff. She asked me if you told me what happened there and I said yes, and she began to laugh.”

“Go on, Mar,” I encouraged her.

“It was the weirdest thing, Jess—her face changed—I mean she sort of shape-shifted into the likeness of Regan I saw in those photographs. That’s when she began talking really crazy.”

“What did she say exactly?” the policewoman asked.

“She said Regan was no good—that she cheated on you, Jess. Charly told me that she had always loved you, and that she was meant to be with you. That’s why she became Regan, because she knew Regan pleased you.”

I looked at her in confusion. “How did she become Regan?”

“She started rambling on about twin souls—and then said something really crazy, Jess—she said, it’s true, you know—you can become someone else, but then, you have to take over their life.”

“I don’t get it, Mar—what does that mean?”

Mar buried her face in her hands. “She killed her Jess—it was no accident. Charly pushed Regan off that cliff so she could become her—take over her life.”

I felt my insides turn to ice water. I was trembling so much my teeth were chattering, but I had to hear her out.

“She thought she would at last be able to be with you, Jess, especially when you invited her to Thanksgiving dinner, but then you showed up with me. She couldn’t bear to go through it again so she lured me up there to have another ‘accident’ so she could be with you.”

“Well, it’s all over now, Mar—she’s gone.”

“But Jess—you don’t understand. She didn’t just act like Regan—she really did become her. Her face physically changed right before my eyes. Her voice got husky and even her gestures were different.”

The policewoman looked at me and shrugged as if to say Mar was deluded, but I know different. Regan’s voice was deeper than Charly’s and her gestures more graceful.

I don’t know how it happened but I do believe that somehow Charly became another soul.

 

I stayed at the hospital while the doctor gave Mar a shot and waited until she was comfortably asleep.

There’d be no sense trying to explain the details of Mar’s version to my family or Charly’s uncle—they wouldn’t be able to understand—jealousy yes, but transmigration of souls?

“Mar wasn’t making sense”, the policewoman told me. She was in shock. As for that business about Charly turning into Regan, well, that was a form of temporary insanity. And after what that girl went through up there, who could blame her?”

I didn’t argue with her—Mar certainly went through a horrific experience on the ridge.

And maybe we should leave it at that—say Charly was emotionally distraught and suicidal after returning to the place where her best friend died.

Perhaps it will be easier for others to see Charly as a deeply grieving friend, but Mar and I know what really happened up on that ridge.

For us, grief has become a place and a person…and now it’s a memory we both share.

© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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stone man

 “You hate someone whom you really wish to love, but whom you cannot love.”
                                    —Sri Chinmoy

 

“It’s a mistake to go with her, my friend. She just doesn’t dislike you—she abhors you.”

Raff’s eyes were filled with pain. He wanted to spare me, but couldn’t. He knew I was stubborn.

“I hear you, Raff, but if I don’t go, I may not get another chance.”

He shrugged and fell silent.

We both knew it’d be years before the National Geographic Society would again sponsor another expedition into Portugal to study the ancient rock carvings.

So it was a choice—go or stay.

For me, the choice consisted of Jessica Saunders, or the missed opportunity of a lifetime.

But really, it was both—I was in love with her.

I was doomed to lose regardless and my heart would break either way.

 

Jessica was expressionless when she heard the news.

“So, you and Mark will form the team,” Raff said matter-of-factly.

She didn’t flinch—remained completely composed.

“Do you have any concerns?” he asked pointedly.

“No, when do we leave?”

“Tomorrow morning at eight—if that’s okay with you.”

“That’ll be fine,” she said coolly.

Raff arched an eyebrow as he turned to face me, but the die was cast, as far as I was concerned. I was eager to go.

He sensed my reaction and just shrugged. “Have a good trip,” he sighed, “and try not to get on each others’ nerves.”

And that was that.

 

Two days later we were in a prehistoric rock art site in the Côa Valley, Portugal, observing and documenting continuous human occupation from the end of the Paleolithic Age.

Our tents were pitched near the Côa River and to all appearances we were functioning as a team, but the reality was quite different.

In day-to-day work, we were more like toddlers engaged in parallel play—each completely ignoring the other.

The first night, we ate supper before the fire—the flames bronzing Jessica’s lovely profile.

She had honey-colored hair and huge brown eyes. When she looked at me, I turned to stone.

We were terse, trying not to step on the other’s toes and yet, at the same time, being excessively polite—possibly for the same reason.

“Do you want more coffee,” she said softly, “before I throw this out?”

Her voice was a whisper and it drove me mad with longing. Just asking a mere question was a lovely poetry that stirred my soul.

“No, thank you,” I said, staring into the depths of her brown eyes. They seemed limitless as the night sky.

I watched as she emptied the coffee pot and washed the tin cups. I was in torment. She was so lovely. I hated my fate.

One drunken remark shortly after we met doomed our budding relationship. I made the mistake of joking coarsely with her—treating her like every other woman, when clearly she was not.

I’ve played and replayed that moment—her terse questions, her flashing eyes and simmering anger.

I was a total fool and my apology the next day didn’t mend matters and may have made them worse.

Now, there was this awkward gulf between us and there was nothing I could do.

She finished her task, said good night and retired for the night—leaving me beneath a river of stars, bereft and abandoned.

I deserved my fate, but hated it.

 

It was past three when I awoke—something disturbed me.

I looked over to Jessica’s tent and saw the lantern lit—but inside, I saw two figures. I rubbed my eyes, and looked back, but the second person had disappeared.

My breathing stopped.

At that moment, Jessica emerged from the tent and wandered down to stare at the river.

The Moon had risen and now turned the flowing water into a glitter of diamonds.

I saw Jessica’s body shudder and her shoulders heave in unmistakable sobs.

I wanted to console her. My arms trembled, torn between the desire to comfort and fear of offending.

After a while, she stopped heaving, and sat down staring into the depths of the river.

I lay on my pillow watching her until I fell asleep.

In the morning, she was aloof as usual.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask, or even engage in polite conversation.

The gulf between us widened again.

 

That night, we sat again in a sea of uncertainty and polite distance. Everything between us was formal and functional.

Finally, I could take it no longer—I’d risk making a fool of myself, but had to ask.

“Did you sleep well last night?”

She looked at me suspiciously as if I invaded her privacy.

“I slept well—why do you ask?”

“I saw you sitting by the river—it must have been past three.”

She bristled. I could feel a terse reply welling up—maybe she’d parry with a blunt question. Are you stalking me now, Mark?

But she didn’t ask. She looked away, as if measuring a response.

“You’re right,” she whispered, “I did spend some time by the river.”

“I do that some times,” I reassured her.

“I doubt you do—at least, for the same reason.”

“I don’t mean to pry, Jessica—you seemed so sad.”

“Did I?” Again, the look of defiance in her eyes.

I wanted to back down, but didn’t. “You were crying,” I said.

She clasped her hands together around her ankles as in a fetal position and began rocking.

My heart melted for her.

“I know we’re not close,” I told her, “but sometimes, it helps to talk.”

She looked at me as if she’d burst out laughing—but then, the mood passed and her eyes softened.

“Do you know what a moledro is?”

“Yes,” I said, “a pile of stones—a cairn.”

She laughed harshly. “Not just a pile of stones—a sacred sculpture meant to represent a human figure.”

“Okay,” I conceded.

“Do you know the legend?”

I shook my head.

“The stones are said to be enchanted soldiers. If one is taken from the pile and placed beneath a pillow, a soldier will appear just before dawn. He’s only there for a moment—then, he turns to stone and magically returns to the pile.”

A silence like a shadow fell between us. I was afraid to speak.

“I saw him, Mark—I saw a soldier.”

“You mean, you took a rock from the cairn and put it under your pillow?”

She nodded.

“Why?”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly in a huge sigh.

“I doubt you’d understand.”

“No? Try me.”

“It happens with every little girl, I suppose. You play games and imagine your future—who you’ll marry—and what he’ll be like.”

“It might not just be a girl thing—I’ve done that myself.”

“But for me, it was more—that’s who I wanted—and I was determined not to settle for anyone else.”

“You mean your image of this man of your dreams was so clear in your head, you could actually see him?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

“Wow—that’s awesome.”

“I came here several years ago. It was so lovely here—romantic and mysterious. I heard the legend and tried it—and that’s exactly what happened.”

“And the soldier who appeared to you looked the same as the man of your dreams?”

“Yes. But instead of consoling me, it made me pine for what I didn’t have and couldn’t seem to find.”

I softened toward her. “I’m sorry, Jessica—I can imagine how that must have felt.”

“Can you? It gets worse.”

“How?”

“I finally met him.”

“You met your dream man?”

“Yes.”

“Well, go on—what happened?”

“He turned out to be a disappointment—a fool.”

I began to see why she had a harsh attitude toward men.

“You have no idea what suffering I went through—having my hopes up only to see them crushed.”

“I’m so sorry, Jessica—men are such fools.”

“You are,” she said simply.

“What happened to this man you met—is there any chance you can get together?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Do you ever see him?”

“I do.”

“Often?”

“Almost every day.”

I sighed—at her futility—at my loss. It was a mess.

“Well, at least you got a break from him here,” I said impulsively—then, I remembered the figure in the tent.

“No, actually, he’s here too.”

I nodded. “I saw him as well—I saw two shadows in your tent the other night.”

“Then you understand,” she whispered.

“It seems impossible—but I can’t deny the evidence of my own eyes.”

“No, I suppose you can’t.”

Curiosity about the man impelled me. “What did he do or say to turn you off?”

“He didn’t treat me as special—he didn’t treasure me.”

I wanted to kill him—but I felt guilty for the way I treated her as well.

“He’s the loser,” I blurted out. “You are special—he must have been a fool.”

“You were,” she whispered and looked deeply into my eyes.

 

© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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