November 24, 2017
“I know why it happened,” Es said as she raised her head slightly as if the smell of truth had caught her senses. “The truth needed this particular wind, this particular time. And now I know the truth.”
For the first time since we sat talking on the rocks, she now looked at me directly. Her eyes were filled with a depth of sparkling clarity that I had not seen in a long time. Normally I would have been suspicious of anyone not wishing to look me straight, square on, but I could see, as we had walked along, that hers was a practiced walk. She had grown used to hanging her head, lowering her gaze in the years that had passed. She had been judged over and over by unspoken words which betrayed the silence she wore as her protection. Her body, it had seemed, grew accustomed to the familiarity of that yoke.
The baking of bread is a personal victory, one which reminds me of my ex-mother-in-law, rest her soul. Not a perfect woman, by any means, but she and I did share adventures and I believe she liked to show off a bit to me. I was the perfect daughter-in-law as I could not hide both my admiration and my irritation. Today, for Thanksgiving, in her honor, I baked bread.
“All this time.” she added with a note of sadness and resolve. “There is only one reason they did what they did.” I looked at her, her words not of the declaration of grand discovery; her eyes, not of the sudden clearing of fogginess. No, she had been a student studying finally grasping the significance of a basic theorem. We both half-grinned at even the moment’s truth. It needed no bravado except only the greatest celebration – that moment of understanding.
“And now I know the truth.”
Up to that time when her voice echoed those words into the wind, we sat upon the rocks. I watched the shadow beast crawling in the flowery field below us. It was easily distinguished from where we sat, its dark body stumbling through the swaying dance of colors which surrounded its every movement. It could not move undetected among the battlements of flowers and grasses, a shifting outline guarded continuously.
Her eyes had never looked at me directly. You would have thought that she would have had that far-away gaze people sometimes get when recalling troublesome memories, their gaze somehow flinging those recollections as far away a place as possible. But no, she never once wished those hauntings further from her nor did she wish to hand them directly to my own eyes. She kept them and her eyes, downward, and just within her arm’s reach.
The memories of that year tumbled from her mouth in a voice normally not accustomed to telling much of her own story. At least not more than a few carefully analyzed words. But the pace of the stories slowed and eventually even her jaw seemed to tire. She rested her chin upon her crossed arms, themselves propped by her folded knees.
As we sat, the wind regained its power, switching now from the south. Warmth. She sat a while longer, now mixing the memories of children, her students, with the stories of the betrayals she had faced. And then the memories she recounted grew older. The sufferings of her soul dribbled into the warmth of the wind. I felt no sorrow for her as I watched her now nor did she expect it. I felt no confusion from her even though she told me about how confusing that time in her life had been. I felt no pity for her today, but even I now, wished I could reach back to those times which had grown root in her soul.
Her memories made her eerily calm. Not much time had passed since the beast which sang to her and mocked her had itself been attacked by another beast. Es had escaped the clutches of both. She sat here now with the repose of her own battlefields. Winning, losing, she never thought in those terms as they had almost become equated with forgiveness and sin. Which quality partners with which other quality depends upon the owners choice; she wore the face of one who knew both. Sometimes to lose is forgivable and not sins are so easily defined.
She would have welcomed my own stories – in fact she would have preferred them – but I wished to listen to hers. Her voice trembled a bit at the beginning of each as though one needed to wiggle the key. Her doors had never been opened. Not once.
I noticed the irony of her, almost as if the moments here on the rocks, had, with intention and with the sharpest of pains made her softer.
I do not really know if it was the bear of months ago, but I had lost track of how exactly my old birdfeeder was damaged. For twenty years it had weathered extremes of weather, countless chickadees and cardinals and a few random bear attacks. There is only so much a simple spring can handle.
My home is a clear spot among the woods, on the edge of semi-wooded neighboring properties, cradled by the towering of older maples and guarded – I like to imagine – by the encampment of my proud sentinel pine trees. There is a line of them which grace the skyline with continual green. I am fortunate to have the responsibility to keep feeding the dazzling variety of birds which visit my spot.
I finally bought a replacement bird feeder. Months ago. Months. I did not hang it up. I needed to remove the old damaged feeder. I could not bring myself to do it. I dismantled the tray portion. I maneuvered with psychological strategies to bring myself to fix it. I moved the new feeder, with all its parts, to the front stoop. I spent weeks walking over the new feeder.
And then, one day last week, I grabbed a crowbar to pry off the old feeder. Its mounting screws had rusted to the frame and their heads had stripped. The next day I grabbed the level to mark the post. The feeder was hung later that same day. The birds are back at the other feeders. (It helps, now that I am maintaining them.) Such a small personal victory. I smile every day looking at it. Oh, the birds still hate the new one, but eventually a hungry chickadee will brave it.
It was time to walk on.
Es stood up, stretching her legs, rubbing her knees to awaken them. She turned not to the path, not into the winds which called, carving through the stilled air where we stood. “Es? Es, the path is that way. That is the path down the hill.”
Es looked in the field at the shadow beast. We would never know if it simply stopped wanting to track us or if it had given up, yielding to the hillside upon which we stood.
“You know I never could help, I never could help them. I was not supposed to.” She looked at what would be her last glance at the beast.
“All I was meant to do was to bring the shadow beast to the field of flowers.”
With a tear and a smile she pointed to a line of rocks. I saw nothing except rocks and told her so.
She laughed, still with a tear which made her eyes sparkle even more as if the darkest truth had sharpened the twinkle of her soul.
It was time to walk on.
Thank you. Many Blessings and lots of love,