Keep Stabbing

Reassurance can come in some strange ways, sometimes.

Lilly  has been struggling with urinary tract infections (UTIs) for some time now. Every time it seems we have a handle on it, it comes back, like some monster that won’t die. I’m starting to suspect that the bacteria has begun to build a resistance to antibiotics. She just finished her latest round of cephalexin a few days ago; now she’s complaining of pain in her lower abdomen again, and pain with cathing.

Fed up with going to the doctor only to have more antibiotics prescribed, I’ve decided to try a different route: D-mannose. It’s a concentrate of the active ingredient in cranberries that helps with UTI’s. It’s better than drinking gallons of cranberry juice (which Lilly doesn’t like) with all the sugar in it that can cause more problems. I asked for advice on the spina bifida support group that I’m part of, and many people have recommended this natural product, along with some probiotics. I did a bit of research, and feel it’s a viable route for Lilly at this point.

d mannose

I couldn’t get my hands on any D-mannose at any of the three pharmacies here in our town, so I had to order it online (and pay an exorbitant amount of shipping to have it get here today). I’m going to try it for a several days, but if she doesn’t seem to get better, I’ll certainly get her to the doctor.

Lilly woke up this morning at 4:00 am needing to be cathed. Afterward, she was in such pain it brought her to tears. I gave her some generic AZO, and waited an interminable 10 or so minutes for it to kick in and her pain to subside. It finally did, but while my daughter was lying beside me in bed, writhing in pain and crying, the old meaningless questions roiled through my head again: Why does she have to go through this? Why my child? How are we going to deal with this over and over and over? Where am I going to find the strength to keep soldiering on with this? (Not just the UTI’s, but everything involved with SB).

She finally went back to sleep, and so did I. I dreamed Lilly and I were together in some big building. The building was filled with zombies (stick with me here). I had to protect her. I couldn’t carry her, she’s too big and heavy. She can’t run fast. The zombies were everywhere, endless, overwhelming. I picked up some meager but sharp weapons I found on the floor, one in each hand. I didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to be here, but here I was. As we hustled down hallways and zombies came near, I stabbed them in the chest. Over and over, I stabbed those monsters. Then I realized I’d done it wrong; you have to stab them in the head for them to die, or they’ll only come back. I doubled back and stabbed them again, this time in the head. Every time, I waited for that scratch or bite that would doom me, but it never happened. Stab, run, hide. Stab, run, hide. It went on and on; it seemed I had never known anything else.

zombies
E.coli’s coming! Again…and again…and again.

The mission never changed: keep her safe, keep her alive. We finally ended up in some small room or closet. I was trying to bar the door when I woke up as my husband came into the bedroom to get ready for work. I was never so happy for him to wake me up in the morning.

My first thought was: thank god, there’s no zombie apocalypse. My next thought was, yeah, okay, I get it. I can do this. I’m a warrior. I’ll do whatever I have to, and we’ll somehow get through it. Tools will be provided. Help will arrive.

You may not know why there’s a zombie apocalypse, but you still have to deal with it. There’s no time to ask why; you just have to keep stabbing.

(This was supposed to go on my other blog Beautiful Detour, about Lilly and spina bifida, but my scatterbrain put it here instead. Enjoy!)

 

 

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Sci-fi Shenanigans

So I went to the theater to see Blade Runner 2049, and loved, loved, loved it. Loved the original, and the sequel is just as good (and that’s saying a lot). I haven’t written a review. Just go see it. Right now. I want to again.

gosling blade runner
Ryan Gosling as K/Joe.

But instead I’m pondering the story I’ve been working on the past few weeks. Having been inspired by Blade Runners 1&2 and in that futuristic frame of mind, I was wondering if I could possibly write a decent science fiction story. I’m not particularly scientifically-minded, and the only sci-fi story I’ve attempted is my computer chip-brain-implantation story called Plugged In. 

But I remembered a story idea I had a few years ago based on a writing prompt from Writer’s Digest: someone knocks on your character’s door, says (s)he is from the future and is here to save his or her life. Write the story. I came up with a time-travel idea and wrote the first few pages, but then abandoned it. I’m not sure why, probably distracted by another idea (I have that problem). But now seemed like the perfect time to take it out again, dust it off, and finish that amazing story.

Well, as I began again, my mind started to twist into a pretzel contemplating the realities of time travel. I googled “time travel rules for fiction”, and it turns out there’s a few (at least if you don’t want a physicist to cringe), and my story idea violated most of them. So I brainstormed some more and managed to solve most of those problems. As I brainstormed, my story became more and more complicated, with more characters and some futuristic world-building. More problems cropped up, both logistic and creative. But I didn’t mind; this is what I loved about writing: solving plot problems, creating characters, diving into a world of my own imagining.

As my story became more complex, I realized I was probably writing a novel. Hey, November is coming up. Maybe I could write it for NaNoWriMo. All I had to do was spend the next few weeks of October planning structure and tying up a few loose ends before I began writing the actual story on November 1. But the more I explored the story and its details, the more roadblocks I encountered. It’s like trying to put a puzzle together with pieces that don’t quite fit, trying to force the picture to come into focus. Crap. Now what?

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to persevere with the idea until I get it right (never mind Nanowrimo), or let it go for now and work on something else. Maybe I’m not cut out for science fiction. Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Or maybe I’m giving up too quickly. Maybe, like marriage, I need to hang in there and hammer out the problems, even when it’s not fun anymore.

Maybe I should just go see Blade Runner again and call it a day.

 

 

Book and Movie Recap

Time for my periodic summary of what I’ve been reading and watching the past few months. Because I know you’re dying to know.

Books:

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle.

changeling

This is a wonderfully updated version of the changeling myth: a creature (in this case, a troll) steals an infant and leaves in its place a nearly identical facsimile. That this story is written from an African American point of view adds to its freshness. Apollo and his wife Emma have welcomed a new baby boy to their family, but soon Emma begins acting strangely, perhaps with post-partum depression. But when she commits a horrendous act and disappears, Apollo is left reeling. Soon he begins a quest to find his wife and son, but what he finds is beyond anything he had ever imagined.

My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier.

cousin rachel

Daphne du Maurier wrote dozens of books, and somehow I’d only read Rebecca, her most famous book. With the release of the movie version of My Cousin Rachel (which I haven’t seen yet, but will soon), my attention was brought to this wonderful book. Young Englishman Philip suspects that his cousin and guardian Ambrose has been murdered by his wife, Rachel. He hates her before he even meets her, but when she arrives at his home, he begins to fall in love with her. Will history repeat itself? The mystery behind Rachel is the driving force of this addicting novel.

Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins.

into the water

I loved Hawkin’s previous book, The Girl on the Train, and wasn’t disappointed with her latest. Into the Water takes place in a small town called Beckford, where the Drowning Pool has seen its fair share of women victims, through suicide or otherwise. Two women have drowned in the river within two months when the novel begins: Katie, a fifteen year old girl who drowned herself, and Nel, a woman who had been writing a book on the river and its victims, whose death is being investigated as a possible murder. Hawkins is deliciously good at drawing the reader in with multiple points of view, imperfect characters with secrets, and agonizing suspense. Excellent.

Natalie Goldberg: Long Quiet Highway, Thunder and Lightning, The Great Failure, The Great Spring. I’ve been on a Goldberg bender for awhile, catching up on all of her books I hadn’t yet read. Long Quiet Highway is her first memoir from way back in 1993. Thunder and Lightning is a writing book I had read years ago and wanted to read again. The Great Failure is a memoir exploring the two father figures in her life: her real father and her beloved Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi. The Great Spring is her latest memoir, a collection of essays gathered together exploring her two great loves: writing and Zen.

Movies:

The Light Between the Oceans.

oceans movie

Finally watched the movie version of the book I read several months ago. Excellent performances from Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz. The script stays fairly close to the book, about a couple in 1920 Australia who finds a baby in a boat (along with a dead man) washed up on shore of their lighthouse island. After having endured several devastating miscarriages, they decide to keep the child to raise as their own. Predictably, this leads to heartbreak and anguish.

Her.

her movie

This has to be the strangest, most wonderful movie I’ve seen in a long time. The always stellar Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore, a man who falls in love with a computer program named Samantha, a kind of AI that can learn and evolve over time. It sounds weird, but Samantha has a real personality–she just doesn’t have a body. It’s a great exploration of what it means to be in love, what is real, and letting go.

Manchester by the Sea.

manchester sea

Holy cow. Does anyone say Holy Cow anymore? Let me reiterate: Holy cow! This movie is amazing. I didn’t even know Ben Affleck had a younger brother who acted, but here’s Casey Affleck out of nowhere (at least to me) winning an Oscar for his role of Lee Chandler, who’s been appointed guardian of his 16-year old nephew after his brother dies. But Lee is haunted by tragedy, and he struggles with his newfound role to the nephew he loves. Emotionally wrecking, but worth every two hours and fifteen minutes of it.

Have you read any of these books or seen any of these movies? What did you think? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

By the way, this is also my 200th post on My Writing Journey. Go me!

 

 

Dark Fens of Cedar (5)

Go here for Part 4 of Dark Fens of Cedar.

(3,600 words)

dark forest 5

She realized she was smiling. “I’m good. What else can I do for you?”

 

She spent the rest of the afternoon in the laundry room, washing and drying several loads, humming to herself, not minding the vomit-stained sheets and clothing. The work felt good, purposeful, grounding her in the moment.

Jack read to his mother, and when she fell asleep, he busied himself in the kitchen, making cold-meat sandwiches for them to eat on the back deck with cold glasses of Diet Coke. She talked about her favorite poets (besides Eldridge, there was Dickinson and Whitman); he pointed out and named various flowers and plants in the garden in the corner of the yard, along with their Latin names. The sun made their glasses sweat, the ice cubes melting and shifting in the bubbly liquid. She wished Jack’s mother wasn’t dying in this lush, glorious spring; she wished Annie’s life hadn’t been cut short during the act of giving birth. Death trailed life like a black dog, never letting you forget that bitter balance.

When Jack’s father came home in the twilit evening, Jack drove her back to the B&B, and her thread of unease returned.

“You’re sure you want me to stay?” he asked, when he parked in the gravel driveway.

“If you don’t want to, I understand–”

“No, I’d love to. I mean, if it will help. You’ve helped me so much today. I want to return the favor. Are you sure it’s…” He hesitated.

“Appropriate?” She waggled her left hand at him. “Don’t worry, I’m not engaged anymore.”

“Oh.”

She got out of the car before he could ask any questions.

In her room, she pulled out the rock and put it back on the bedside table. If it was the cause of her dreaming about Annie, she might as well make sure it was front and center. It was only 7:30, and she wasn’t tired at all. Jack stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.

“Are you familiar with Eldridge’s poems?” she asked him, retrieving the small volume from her backpack.

“I’ve read a few of them, during the course of my work at the Historical Society. But I haven’t committed any to memory, or anything like that.”

She snorted. “Well, neither have I. They’re lovely, though. We could read some.”

“All right.”

She sat down on the floor and leaned against the bed. He sat cross-legged across from her.

Eldridge’s sonnets were lilting and lyrical, and as she read she went into a kind of trance. She’d often read them alone in her head, or sometimes out loud; but sharing them with someone else imparted a joy she rarely had a chance to experience.

Whenever she finished a poem, she’d look over at Jack, and he’d smile and say nothing. She appreciated that he didn’t feel the need to comment or analyze any of it. He simply absorbed the words and accepted them for what they were. After a while, she offered him the book, and he’d read a poem. They took turns like this, with only Eldridge’s words between them.

The last one he read was this one:

 

Dark fens of cedar, hemlock-branches gray

With trees and trail of mosses wringing-wet;

Beds of the black pitch-pine in dead leaves set

Whose wasted red has wasted to white away;

Remnants of rain and droppings of decay,-

Why hold ye so my heart, nor dimly let

Through your deep leaves the light of yesterday,

The faded glimmer of a sunshine set?

Is it that in your darkness, shut from strife,

The bread of tears becomes the bread of life?

Far from the roar of day, beneath your boughs

Fresh griefs beat tranquilly, and loves and vows

Grow green in your gray shadows, dearer far

Even than all lovely lights, and roses are?

 

When he finished, he didn’t look up. By the set of his mouth, Hannah could see he was working through his own grief. She took the book from him and closed it.

“He wrote that one after Annie died,” she said. “He didn’t write much more after that.”

He finally looked up at her. “Can’t top that, I guess.”

“He was really quite talented. It’s sad that no one knows him.”

“You’ll try to fix that with your thesis, right?”

She shrugged. “I’m not even sure if I’ll finish it now. How can I, knowing what I know about Annie, but not being able to prove it?”

“You’ll find it. Don’t give up.”

She nodded, and they were silent, lost in their own thoughts.

“I wonder what she wrote about.” He said it with the utmost conviction, never questioning her belief that Annie was a poet.

He was of the air, and she was of the earth.”

He threw her a questioning look. “A line of Annie’s,” she said. Like a bubble suddenly surfacing. “She wrote about the only things she knew–her experience of being a woman. The messiness of it. Childbirth, blood, the body. Desire. Aspirations for more–all the things people weren’t supposed to talk about in polite society, all the things women certainly weren’t supposed to think about. She was far ahead of her time.”

After a thoughtful pause, he said, “Do you think Eldridge destroyed them? After she died?”

“The thought had crossed my mind.” It was entirely possible, in which case the world would never know about Annie’s poetry. And yet, Jonathan had been astonished at her brilliance. Could he really have destroyed his wife’s extraordinary work?

“Maybe we’ll find out,” he said. “When you go to sleep.”

“I’m a little afraid.” Her stomach roiled. “Okay, I’m a lot afraid.” Myths about dying while dreaming of death plagued her. What if she never woke up?

“I’ll be right here,” Jack said. “I’ll wake you if I think anything’s wrong. I promise.”

She couldn’t quite believe he was real. “Why don’t you think I’m crazy?”

“Because if you are, I am, too.” He couldn’t meet her eyes as he went on. “I’ve always felt weird up at the property, but with you here, it’s much stronger. I don’t understand it, I never have, but now that you’re here, I feel like I can try to make some sense of it. It’s like, I’ve been waiting for you to come here and show me.” His cheeks grew pink in that familiar way. “That sounds so stupid.” But he looked up and didn’t take his eyes off hers.

She wanted to kiss him. I have waited centuries for your touch. The words floated up from some deep churning sea within her.

There were so many prudent reasons, just now, not to kiss him. His mother was dying. She’d just broken off her engagement that very day. They’d just met two days ago. Maybe even more importantly, she knew a kiss would lead to more, and she was aware of the blood still seeping from her. She didn’t want to begin this budding thing between them with blood. She could wait a little longer.

“It’s not stupid. You’re right.” She broke their gaze and climbed up onto the bed. “I think I should go to sleep now and maybe get some answers for us.” She kicked off her shoes, and pulled the quilt at the end of the bed over herself.

“Should I shut the light off?” Jack asked.

“No, keep it on, please.”

He leaned against the side of the bed and picked up Eldridge’s book of poems. “I’ll be right here, Hannah.”

She closed her eyes, but sleep was slow in coming. She was nervous, but she was also aware of Jack’s presence, the rustling pages of the book, the rock resting on the bedside table, watching them like a glittering eye. She indulged in thoughts of plunging her hand into his thick dark hair, not far from her fingers on the mattress.

 

She floated up from the depths of her fever to see him kneeling beside the bed, his dark head face down in his arm at her side. She moved her fingers toward him, and it was like moving underwater. She plunged her fingers into his thick hair, and he instantly looked up with worried eyes.

“Annie!” He grasped her damp hand and brought it to his lips.

She tried to smile at him, but there was still pain; the flow of blood continued to soak the rag between her legs. But it was the absence in her belly that crushed her now. The girl she pushed out two days ago had been perfectly formed, though in miniature, blue with death. She’d insisted on holding her before the doctor wrapped her up and whisked her away. She’d been dry-eyed while Jonathan wept nearby. They’d named her Sarah. Even before the fever took hold, Annie knew she’d see her again before long.

Yesterday, she’d called for her children, though Jonathan would have shielded them from seeing her in a such a state. But she felt time slipping away from her, and she would see their sweet faces one more time.

Lizzie, barely two, wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t remember. Her strong, willful personality would probably get her into trouble someday, but she’d do all right. Annie had kissed her fat cheeks and let her go into Agnes’ arms. Silent tears fell from the housekeeper’s eyes.

Robert, at four and a half, sensitive and perceptive like his father, would remember her, just enough to be haunted by the vague nightmare of her death. He cried and clung to her, and she stroked and kissed him as her heart broke.

“You must help me now, my little man, and be strong for Papa. Can you do that for me?”

He’d sniffed and nodded, and she could see that he would live the rest of his life trying to follow that directive. A little sob escaped her as Agnes took the children from the room.

Now she looked at her disheveled husband, and she knew that her death would break him into pieces. There was only one thing she could do for him now.

“Jonathan, go fetch my poems.”

“Not now, my love. I don’t want to leave you.”

“Please.” She squeezed his hand in supplication. He capitulated and shuffled out of the room, returning a few minutes later with the stack of papers in his arms, a little haphazardly; they’d been hastily gathered and piled together after her collapse. He sat down next to her on the bed and set her work beside her.

The fireplace in the bedroom was blazing. She’d been shivering uncontrollably, despite the fever. On the bedside table beside her, the rock he had given her gleamed in the firelight.

“Shall I read them to you?” Jonathan asked, reaching for the first page in the pile.

She put her hand on his to stop him. “No. Put them in the fire.”

He stared at her, then shook his head. “No. No I will not.”

“Listen to me. I was selfish, I see that now. If anyone discovers these poems, they’ll ruin you. You know it. You must destroy them.”

He was still shaking his head, but she could see the struggle inside him. He did know. “Annie…”

“Please Jonathan, do this for me. Letting them go is the only thing I can do for you now.”

The dim light of the room shone in the tears in his eyes. “You’re not going to die.”

She managed to smile after all. “Then I’ll write them again. They’re all up here.” She pointed to her head, which seemed to be swimming in a vast ocean, deep and limitless. Her smile faded. “The world’s not ready for them, my love. I hope someday it will be. Someone else will find the words again. I’m ready to let them go.” She was nearly ready to let everything go; she just needed to see the words burn first. “Please. For me, if not for you.”

He spent several minutes wiping his eyes. Then he sighed and got to his feet heavily, pulling the stack of papers with him. He looked at her one more time, and she nodded, lifting her arm with great effort toward the fireplace.

He knelt before the flames. He sat there for a long time, and she thought maybe he wouldn’t do it. Finally, he lifted the first page, and after a brief hesitation, threw it into the fire.

She exhaled, with relief and sorrow both, and watched as he continued to thrust the papers into the hungry flames, slowly at first, and then faster and faster, wanting perhaps to get it over with quickly.

With each group of words that burned, she felt herself getting lighter and lighter, as if they’d anchored her to the earth, to life, and now she was being set free. Her husband looked very far away now, down a long corridor that lengthened and grew dim. His voice echoed as he turned and said, “It’s done.”

It was done. She was done. She could let it all go now. She wanted to tell Jonathan that everything was all right now, but the corridor was getting narrower, dimmer; he was as distant as a shining star she wanted to reach out and touch. She had to let him go, too.

She wasn’t sure if she closed her eyes, or if darkness enveloped her completely. She was afraid, but also curious to see what came next.

 

Hannah opened her eyes. Someone was shaking her.

“Annie! Annie, please. Please don’t leave me!”

Jack was sobbing beside her, his face contorted, his eyes seeing but not seeing her. His fingers dug painfully into her arms.

She struggled to sit up. “Jack, it’s okay. It’s me. It’s Hannah.” She cupped his face in her hands, made him look into her eyes. “I’m all right. It’s Hannah, I’m here.”

“Hannah?” Recognition dawned, and anguish faded away into confusion. “What’s happening? I don’t…I don’t understand what’s happening.”

Tears still leaked from his eyes, and she wiped them away. “Did you fall asleep?”

His hand shook as he passed it over his face. “I think so.” He looked around the room, remembering. “I read Eldridge’s poems for a while. You were asleep. I got up and sat next to you on the bed, just watching you. I must have fallen asleep, and then…then…”

“You were with me, weren’t you? In the–dream–or whatever it was.”

His head was in his hands, and he didn’t reply.

“Jack,” she said, “You were there in the room. When Annie was dying. You were Jonathan.”

He raised his head, his eyes haunted. “I knelt by the bed. I knew you were–” He corrected himself. “I knew Annie was dying. She looked like a ghost, pale and feverish. She wanted me to–to put the poems in the fire. I didn’t want to. I swear, I didn’t want to, but she–”

His face spasmed again, and Hannah gathered him in her arms, and they wept together for a while. They wept for Annie, and for Jonathan, for their children and the poems they burned. They remained like that long after their tears dried, silent and motionless, sinking into the embrace.

A dull light crept through the curtains, and a soft rain pattered against the windows. When he began to kiss her neck, she didn’t stop him; she opened herself to him completely. Neither of them cared about the bit of blood she was shedding. Blood had bound them together, and blood had torn them apart. Let it bind them together once again.

After, quietly entangled, they listened to the rain. After a while he said, “So the poems are gone. The world will never know about Annie’s work.”

Her head rested on his shoulder; she leaned up on an elbow now to look at him. “Maybe it will.”

“What do you mean?” His finger traced the line of her eyebrows.

“There are words in my head, Jack. Words that are just beginning to float up from somewhere inside me. Maybe here, in this place, they can see the light of day.”

“Annie’s words?”

She thought for a moment. “Annie’s or Hannah’s, it doesn’t matter. It’s their time to live.”

“So…are you saying you’ll stay here? With me?”

She answered him with a kiss. She’d come here to River Valley looking for something: a thesis, a poet, a future, an escape. What she found instead was herself, and the fulfillment of a longing she never knew she had.

 

The sun was brilliant, the air mild with a light wind. He found the perfection of the day outrageous, blithely ignorant of his pain. The world should have stopped, the sun dimmed, in recognition of his loss. But they hadn’t.

He trod his usual paths along the ridge, but the familiar trees, the hulking boulders like old friends, brought him no relief.

He wandered off the path into the thick underbrush, pushed past laurel and juniper, flattened the ferns that ran profligate here, into the dim, damp, interior of the forest. The canopy here was so thickly interlaced he could escape the hurtful, bright beams of the day.

He sat on a damp rotting log and listened. Past the pain, past the echoes of the howling in his heart, there were words. Her words, hot and full of passion and anger, scalding the soul, as if her pen had been on fire as she wrote them, spilling out and burning into the paper. Her rage had shocked him, and hurt him, too. But he understood it, and there had also been love, and tenderness, and a keen desire that even now brought him to his knees.

He put his head in his hands and let the storm of her words pass through him, wreck and brand him, until they passed out of him like smoke, as when they burned in the fire the day she died.

When the smoke cleared and he raised his head, he found there were still some words left: his own. He pulled his notebook out of his sack, sharpened his pencil with his whittling knife, and began. His words were as they’d always been–quiet, steady, rhythmic and intense. He spun out a song of this glade, and the grief he could covet and nurture here, never to be disturbed or evaporated by the light of the sun, but sealed and protected by the bubble of its dark isolation.

By the time he was done it had grown so dark he could barely see the words on the paper. He closed the notebook and put it away. It would be his last poem. There was nothing left.

He reached deeper into the sack and brought out the sharp, sparkling rock he’d brought her that day, when life had been full and free of this agonizing absence. He closed his fingers around it, squeezing with the herculean strength of his grief. Pain lanced through his hand in hot currents, and he held it inside himself as long as he could, wincing. When he opened his fingers, like a flower opening, blood bloomed; the rock’s shine was dimmed with it.

“Forever, my love.” He threw the rock into the gloom; he heard its thud somewhere in the shadows before him. His hand hung beside him, unheeded, as droplets of blood fell onto the damp earth.

 

Jack opened his eyes. It took him a moment to come out of the glade and remember where he was. Who he was.

He looked over at Hannah sleeping beside him. Her face was peaceful, her dreams now free of Annie’s life. Already she was precious to him, and he marveled. Forces he didn’t understand caused them to find one another. He supposed it worked that way all the time–it seemed a miracle that anyone found each other at all, among the multitudes, in the chaos between birth and death. It gave him hope for other miracles.

He passed a hand through her hair. She opened her eyes sleepily and smiled at him. “Everything okay?”

“Perfect.” He looked beyond her at the rock on the bedside table. “But I think there’s something we should do.”

 

She led him past the tower, off the path to the glade she’d found as if by accident. She held Jack’s hand and pulled him through the foliage, though he seemed to know the way already.

A dark enclosure, shielded from the sun, always damp, soaked with sorrow. They stood in the middle of it with interlaced fingers, the ground itself palpable with grief. She let go of his hand and took the rock out of her pocket. They gazed at it together for a moment, and then she held it out to him.

He took it, hefted it in his palm, and raised his arm as if to throw. She put a hand out to stop him.

“Maybe we should bury it.”

He nodded, and they both knelt on the cool ground, strewn with a carpet of brown pine needles and oak leaves. He brushed it all away as she found a stick to dig. In a few minutes they had a hole several inches deep, and he dropped the rock inside it. She pushed the dirt back over it and patted it firmly in place. They covered it again with pine needles and leaves, solemn, wordless.

It felt like a funeral, and she supposed it was. Jonathan and Annie were gone; they had been for a long time. It was time for Jack and Hannah to bury the grief once and for all, and put them to rest.

They came out of the glade together, into the sunlight.

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Fens of Cedar (4)

Go here for Part 3 of Dark Fens of Cedar.

 

(3,100 words)

tea cup poet

“Get the doctor! Oh god, hurry!”

 

Hannah woke clutching her cramped abdomen. A vague awareness caused her to throw back her blankets; fear shot through her when she saw the blood-stained sheets.

For one stunned moment, she didn’t understand what was happening. The crazy thought–I lost the baby–shot through her mind. But that didn’t make sense. She wasn’t pregnant. It took her several long, confused moments to figure out that she was not Annie from her dream. She was Hannah, and she had only started her menstrual period, a little early and unexpectedly. It was, however, a sticky mess.

Her shaky laugh sounded hollow in the dim room of the B&B. No wonder she had been so emotional with Jack yesterday.

She went into the bathroom and cleaned herself up, finding a box of Maxi pads beneath the sink. Then she stripped the sheets off the bed, futilely trying to scrub away the stains on the mattress. She walks through the world and leaves bloody footprints. The line seemed familiar, though she couldn’t recall who wrote them.

And then, in the midst of her scrubbing, she did know. Annie had written those words. They had lived in that bundled sheaf of papers she’d given Jonathan to read in Hannah’s dream, among many other words that seemed to be on the tip of her tongue, but beyond her reach.

Her phone flashed with Craig’s messages. She shut the phone off and put it in her purse. On a sudden impulse, she took the rock on the bedside table as well.

She was halfway to the Historical Society when she realized it was probably too early to be open. It was 8:26 am, and she was fairly certain it opened at 9:00. She turned and headed to the Korner Kitchenette to wait. Jack was ordering his coffee in the to-go line.

She rushed up to him. “Annie was a poet, too,” she blurted.

He turned to her in surprise, his coffee sloshing through the hole in the plastic cap. “Hannah, um, hi. Do you mean Annie Eldridge?” He winced, then muttered, “Of course, who else would you mean, what other Annie would you–”

“She was a poet, too, she wrote a bunch of poems that her own husband called brilliant, though he then went on to criticize them for being too personal, not a proper subject for poetry, but the thing is, there has to be a record of them somewhere, or some extant pieces of it left. Something, somewhere. It’s absolutely incredible, but will you help me find them?”

As she stood catching her breath, Jack turned to the girl behind the counter. “Could I also have a cream with no sugar?” He looked back at Hannah. “That’s how you like it, isn’t it?”

When she had it in her hand, he led her to a booth in the corner. “Now, what makes you think Annie was a poet?”

“Well, I…” I dreamed it, she could have said. Or, I am the living embodiment of Annie Eldridge, reliving her memories through dreams with the help of some rock I found at the tower. Or: I am completely insane.

“I just know.”

“Okay.” He sipped his coffee thoughtfully. “Where should we start looking?”

“Just like that? You’ll help me, with no proof at all?”

He spun the Styrofoam cup between his hands. “I don’t have much else going on, except…” He shrugged his shoulders.

Except to watch his mother battle cancer. “How’s your mom doing?”

“She’s just really sick. Dad’s with her now. I’ll relieve him later, after lunch.”

“I’m so sorry, Jack.”

He made an effort at a smile. “This will be an interesting distraction. If it’s true, it’d be really big, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be like finding out Shakespeare’s wife was a writer. But yeah, it would make some ripples in the literary world. It would make my career.”

“Let’s get to it, then,” he said. “I don’t think the Historical Society has anything to offer. I know that place inside out, and there’s nothing anywhere to suggest that Annie wrote it at all. If there were any surviving manuscripts, they might have been taken to Boston to Eldridge’s family when the children were sent there after his death. We could research his family line, try to contact his descendants, see if there are any leads. If anything, we could get you names and contact information, for when you go back to Boston.”

When she went back to Boston. To Craig. To Kitty and her guest list and seating arrangements. To the future suburban house that echoed with the voices of their unborn children. All the things she knew she didn’t want to go back to.

This place, River Valley, had taken some kind of hold over her. As she’d written her verses yesterday afternoon, she allowed herself to imagine living here, writing her poetry. Living alone in some charming apartment, perhaps teaching at the community college. Maybe even pouring coffee here at the Korner Kitchenette, until things got settled. Pouring coffee for Jack, before he went to the Historical Society. It was a vision so sweet, she could almost taste it.

“Hannah? What do you think?” Jack looked at her expectantly over his cup.

“Sounds like a plan.”

They ended up going back to the Historical Society to use the computer there. Eldridge’s lineage was somewhat of a public record. Jonathan and Annie’s son, Robert, had married a Boston socialite. They’d had four children, who then had gone off in different directions, from New York to London to India. Two grandsons had been killed in World War I, and the trail went cold from there.

Elizabeth, or Lizzie as she was called, had married a Boston lawyer, but the marriage produced no children. Some kind of scandal had been involved, with Lizzie leaving her husband and travelling to Europe to become an artist.

Hannah was immensely intrigued by this, but she had to stay focused on the task at hand. She sat back in her chair and sighed heavily. “Any surviving manuscript could be anywhere in the world.” She already felt defeated; she was no literary sleuth.

“We need to narrow down the search, find which trail to follow,” Jack said. “If we had a little bit more to go on…” He glanced over at her, hoping she would supply that missing information.

Information she didn’t have, except the unprovable conviction that Annie had written poetry. She stood and stretched her neck. “We’ve been at it for two hours. What do you say we take a walk up to the property again.”

“Sure.” He grabbed some granola bars from a desk drawer and two plastic bottles of water. The day was mild again, sunny and cloudless. Once at the property, they sat on an old log and tore at the granola wrappers. They chewed in silence, looking out at the spreading town below.

She glanced at Jack out of the corner of her eye. She’d only known him for two days, but she felt comfortable with him, as if she could tell him anything. If she’d told Craig about the dream, he’d laugh it off. Or insist she get psychological help. He was a doctor. He liked to fix things, to dismantle a problem so he could put it back together in a sensible manner. She had admired that in him, in his utter confidence to make things right. But here, now, she just needed someone to listen and accept.

“I know that Annie was a poet,” she said after a while, “because I dreamed it.”

He swallowed his water and waited. “Go on.”

“Since I’ve arrived here, I’ve dreamed of her. Dreamed of her writing, of showing Eldridge her work. And they’re not just normal dreams. In the dreams, I am Annie. Reliving her memories.” She dug into her purse and pulled out the rock. “I’m not sure, but I think this rock has something to do with it. I found it my first day here, in the woods near the tower. It–called to me. I dreamed of the rock, too. Jonathan gave it to Annie. The sharp edges cut her skin, drawing blood. They vowed their love would be eternal.”

She held it out to him. It glittered in the sunlight. He looked at it a moment before taking it from her.

“Wow,” he said.

“You don’t think I’m crazy?”

He shook his head, weighing the rock in his hand. “I’m a scientist by education. But I know that there are still things in the world that we can never understand. Not scientifically. I know that places–or even objects–can be haunted by memories, or intense emotions. Sometimes when I come here…” He drifted off, looking around at the empty lot, at the weeds running riot, at the vines choking the hedges and branches alike. He shrugged. “I just get this funny feeling, you know? Joy and anguish mixed together. It’s overwhelming. Maybe that’s why I don’t come here too often.”

“Are you feeling it now?”

“Yup.” He smiled at her, but it was tight, as if he were in pain.

“We should go.”

He looked at his cell phone for the time. “I should get home. My dad will be waiting.”

“Can I help?”

He looked at her curiously. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I know.” For some reason, she wanted to help this kind man take care of his mother. She wanted to do something for someone else for once. She was sick of being in her own head, and needed to get away from herself–and Annie.

They walked back to the Historical Society and got into his silver Honda Civic. He drove them across town to the ranch-style house he lived in with is parents, on a pleasant street called Meadow Lane. His father was in the kitchen putting dirty dishes into the sink. He had the same sad-looking eyes as Jack, lined and weary around the edges, but he perked up at the sight of his son bringing home a young woman.

“Dad, this is Hannah. A friend. She offered to help us today.”

Jack’s father held out a hand to Hannah. “Steve Whitmore. It’s nice to see Jack getting out a little bit with people his own age. Thinks he’s gotta be a hermit, what with his mom and all, but I’ve been encouraging him to date.”

“Dad.” Jack rolled his eyes.

“We’re new friends,” Hannah said, trying to ease Jack’s embarrassment. “Jack’s helping me with my thesis. We met at the Historical Society.”

Steve’s eyes lit up. “History major?” Hannah remembered he was a history teacher.

“English Lit. I’m writing on Jonathan Eldridge.”

“Ah, Eldridge. River Valley’s almost-famous son. He could have been one of the greats. But grief destroyed him.” He pursed his lips and glanced behind him, down the hall. He addressed Jack. “She’s restless today. Agitated. Kept asking for you. I didn’t have much time to get anything done.” He sighed and ran a hand over his receding hairline.

Jack put a hand on his arm. “Why don’t you get a beer, Dad, and relax. Get out of the house for a while.”

“Think I will. Nice meeting you, Hannah.” He shuffled out to the green pickup in the driveway, checking for keys and wallet on the way.

“I’ll make her some tea,” Jack said.

“Let me make it. You go in and see her. I’ll bring it when it’s done.”

“Thanks. Third cupboard on the right.”

She filled the red tea kettle with water, set in on the stove top, turned the dial until blue flames appeared. In the appointed cupboard, she found black, green and chamomile tea. She opted for the chamomile and set the box on the table. After poking around, she found the cabinet with the glasses and chose a white mug that said, “World’s Best Mom.”

She felt comfortable in this kitchen. It wasn’t worn and shabby, with mismatched table and chairs and faded flower wallpaper, like the kitchen of her childhood, stamped with poverty. Neither was it gleaming and cold and intimidating, like the sleek kitchen at Craig’s parents house, as if no one lived there.

When the tea was done, she brought it to the bedroom door and knocked softly.

“Come in,” Jack said. When she entered he was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding his mother’s hand. The curtains were closed against the brilliant spring day, with only one lamp lighting the room. The stale air had the faint scent of vomit and cleaning solution.

Jack’s mother sat up in the big bed against propped-up pillows. A floral bedspread was pulled up to her thin form. What hair she had left, now in tufts and patches, had been dark, and her large blue eyes shifted from her son to Hannah as she brought the tea.

“This is my friend, Hannah, mom.”

Hannah set the steaming mug onto the bedside table, trying to smile reassuringly. The woman’s eyes never left her for a moment, following her across the room unnervingly. Hannah wondered suddenly if she shouldn’t have come. Maybe his mother would resent her presence here, maybe she’d want her son’s company all to herself right now. She had every right.

Finally, his mom smiled weakly at her. “She’s lovely, Jack. I’m very happy for you.”

“It’s not like that, Mom,” he said, blushing again at the same assumption his father had made. “She’s a friend. I’m helping Hannah with her thesis. Or trying to, anyway.”

“We just met two days ago,” Hannah added.

“It doesn’t matter,” his mom said, her eyes glittering in the low light. “I can see it.”

“See what, Mom?”

“Oh,” she said, raising an arm that looked alarmingly thin to Hannah. “The link. It’s very strong.”

“The link?” Jack repeated.

“You’re both the same color. Red. The exact same shade, like blood.”

Jack glanced back at Hannah, then reached for the tea on the table. “Have some tea, Mom, and then get some rest.” He brought the mug to her pale lips as she inclined her head forward from the pillows. She took a few swallows, and then sagged back and closed her eyes.

Hannah left the bedroom. In the kitchen, she washed the few dishes in the sink, wiped up some crumbs from the counter, found the broom and swept the floor. The sick woman’s words made no sense, but she couldn’t get them out of her head.

After a time, Jack came out of the bedroom, and she made tea for them both. They sat at the kitchen table, their hands wrapped around their mugs.

“Sorry about that,” Jack said. “I’m used to her being confused, but that was just weird.”

“I’m getting used to weird around here,” she said, blowing on her tea.

“Do you think you’ll dream of Annie again tonight?”

“I don’t know. Last time, she was losing the baby. We know that she died with the third child. What if…I don’t want to go through…” She stopped and covered her distress by sipping her tea. The warmth in her belly helped with the ache of her menstrual cramps.

“If you want, I can stay with you tonight. Just to, you know, watch over you.” He plunked his teabag in and out of his mug by the string, not looking at her.

She didn’t realize how afraid she was at the idea of going to sleep that night, until she felt relief wash over at his suggestion.

He misunderstood her pause. “God, sorry, it was a dumb idea–”

“No, please. I’d appreciate that, really.” She reached out a hand and placed it over his on the table.

“Okay.”

“Okay.” She didn’t withdraw her hand, and neither did he. She squeezed it a little, and his thumb came up to lightly trace her own.

His mother’s voice calling him made them jump, and he stood up from the chair with a loud scrape. “Sorry, I better go check on her.”

“Of course.”

He disappeared into the bedroom. She sat at the table and finished her tea, listening to the sparrows singing outside the open kitchen window. She was aware of her hand tingling where Jack had touched it. She was aware of the rock in her purse, which hung off the arm of the chair. She was aware of her cell phone, full of Craig’s messages.

Taking a deep breath, she pulled out the phone and accessed her voice mail.

“Hi babe. Did you fall asleep before calling me? Sweet dreams. I’ll call you in the morning before my shift.”

“You must be elbow-deep in research. I hope it’s worth it, Hanny. Miss you. Please call. Okay?”

There were no more voice messages, but there were several texts:

I don’t mean to keep bothering you, but a call would be nice.

I’m getting worried. Did you fall off that tower?

You met someone, didn’t you? You could at least be an adult and admit it.

She had to stand and pace the kitchen to work through the outrage that surged through her. She picked up the broom again and swept the rest of the house furiously, then went outside and swept the porch and front steps, muttering as she did so. After she emptied the dustpan into the trash, she sat at the table again, chewing her thumbnail.

In all fairness, Craig was right. She had met someone. Several someones: Jack and his parents, Jonathan and Annie Eldridge. They seemed more real to her than Craig did, in distant Boston. Suddenly the last few years of her life didn’t feel real at all, as if she’d only been playing at something until her real life appeared. Her anger spent, she found she didn’t care what Craig thought, unfair as that was.

She took up her phone and texted: Yes, I did meet someone, Craig. She’s immensely important to me, and I have to find out everything I can about her. I’m not sure when I’ll be going back to Boston. In light of this, I can’t in good conscience go through with the wedding. I’m so very sorry. I’ll explain everything when I see you again.

She hit send, shut the phone off and put it back in her purse. Holding out her left hand, she pulled off the diamond engagement ring and put that, too, into her purse. It had been on her finger long enough that it felt strange without it now, but she couldn’t deny how right it felt to take it off. An enormous weight was gone. She was giddy with lightness, with freedom. Anything was possible now.

When Jack returned to the kitchen, he gave her a funny look. “You okay?”

She realized she was smiling. “I’m good. What else can I do for you?”

 

Go here for Part 5 of Dark Fens of Cedar.

 

 

Dark Fens of Cedar (3)

Go here for Part 2 of Dark Fens of Cedar.

(2,000 words)

 

poet pen and paper

“Do you want to get a coffee or something?”

 

The Korner Kitchenette was on the town’s Main Street, with vinyl-covered booths and a few round stools surrounding a curved counter. Old-fashioned signs hung on the walls, advertising hamburgers for ten cents, and hot fudge sundaes for twenty-five cents. Vintage signs for Moxie soda and Hershey’s syrup rounded out the decor; the actual kitchen was not a separate room, but a grill and other equipment squeezed into a corner, where the customers could see their food being prepared.

Hannah and Jack sat at the curved counter on their stools amid the lunchtime chatter and the sizzle of burgers spattering on the grill. Hannah stirred cream into her coffee while Jack bit into his Reuben sandwich. She’d ordered a grilled blueberry muffin, but didn’t have much of an appetite just now.

Part of her wanted to talk about that weird, shared moment at the property. Instead, she asked him, “Haven’t you ever wanted to leave River Valley, see other places?”

He finished chewing and put down his sandwich. Wiping grease from his fingers on a napkin, he said, “I went to UMass and got my degree in botany. I planned on getting my graduate degree at Oregon State, maybe go into research or teaching.” He fingered the stale chips on his plate. “My mom got sick, so I stayed here to help my dad. He’s a history teacher at the community college, and runs the Historical Society on the side. He’s been so busy with Mom’s chemo appointments, I’ve pretty much taken it over for him.”

“I’m so sorry.” She felt like a jerk. “I didn’t mean to imply…”She trailed off.

He stirred the ice in his water glass with his straw. “It’s okay. The longer I stay here, the more I like it. You know how when you’re a teenager, you’re just burning to get away? Anywhere, so long as you don’t become your parents? Settled and boring, the same thing everyday, walking through their lives as if they’re already dead?”

She nodded, remembering her own urgent need to leave her hometown. Her father coming home tired and dusty from the shop, her mother weary and redolent of the various aromas of the school cafeteria, her hairnet holding back premature gray hair. She wasn’t going to end up like them, or the other girls from her high school who got pregnant to try to hold onto their moron boyfriends.

Jack went on. “And then for one reason or another, you end up staying, and after a while it doesn’t seem so bad, and you just wish your mother would stay alive, you know, just for a little while longer.” He took another bite of his sandwich.

She didn’t know what to say, so she just sipped her coffee, and watched the people of River Valley walk by the large glass window in the sunlight, intent on their lunchtime errands.

“What about you?” he asked. “Where are you studying?”

“Boston.”

“Amazing city. Good hospitals. We brought Mom to Dana-Farber a few months ago.”

“My fiance is a doctor at Mass General.”

“Really? That’s great.”

“We’re supposed to get married in the fall. After his residency.” She wasn’t sure why she was telling him these things. Maybe it was because he had shared the personal information about his mother. She didn’t know, but the words came of their own accord.

“Oh, wow,” he said. “Fall is a beautiful time to get married. Unless it rains. But I suppose rain would ruin any wedding, at any time of year.”

“I don’t want to marry him.” The words fell from her lips, the few loose stones before an avalanche.

His sandwich stopped halfway to his mouth. “Oh.”

“I can’t bear the thought of it.” And for the second time that day, tears welled in front of this kind stranger.

It was his time to be silent, as he watched her struggle to regain her composure. Her first instinct was to apologize, brush it off, and change the subject. But she didn’t. Here, in this town where no one knew her, where odd rocks called to her and gave rise to unsettling dreams, she spoke the truth.

“I thought it was what I wanted,” she said, sniffling and stirring her coffee, round and round. “To break free of where I came from and rise above it. To be a teacher, a doctor’s wife, to raise kids in that big, beautiful house in the suburbs. I thought that’s what I wanted to be. But that’s some other woman’s dream.”

Jack handed her a napkin. “What’s your dream, Hannah?”

She wiped her eyes and blew her nose before answering, then smiled at him. “Poetry.”

 

Jack walked her back to the B&B, and shuffled his feet at the door.

“I’m at the Historical Society most of the time during the week. If you need any more help.”

“Thank you.”

Hannah watched him from the front window, as he walked back to his cataloging with his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. Then she went to her room, got out her notebook, and wrote.

Not her thesis. She wrote some verses about a wild place haunted by memories, about burnt coffee in a retro diner, about a shy young man with dirt under his fingernails. She wrote the entire afternoon, and didn’t feel any guilt or particular urgency concerning her thesis.

When Craig called that evening, she let it ring. She would have to tell him, of course. Not now, not tonight. She rested on the bed and stared at the rock on her bedside table. She felt pleasantly drained after the afternoon’s work, satisfied and calm. She didn’t want to spoil it with a painful conversation with Craig. She closed her eyes.

 

The candles were lit, the children were finally sleeping, and Jonathan was working intently in his study. Annie hated to interrupt him while he was writing–she knew what that was like–but she thought it was time she showed him. In the morning, he’d be gone with the dawn, exploring and foraging, and she’d be elbow-deep in flour, baking the day’s bread with Agnes.

The child wriggled inside her as she approached the door, as if sensing her apprehension. She rubbed her swelling belly, as much to calm herself as the baby. She held the bound, loose pages under her other arm as she knocked quietly. She opened it before he answered and stood in the doorway.

“Jonathan? May I come in for a moment?”

He held up a hand as he continued to write with the other, finishing his thought before it fled like a startled bird. At any other time, he reminded her of a boy, with his shy smile, his excitement at showing her a new specimen for the greenhouse, his trembling caresses in the darkness of their bedroom. But with the pen in his hand, he was at his most solemn; his intensity frightened her sometimes. What came out of his pen could only be called sublime.

The line finished, he looked over his shoulder, as if waking from a dream.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I wanted to talk to you about something, something important.”

“Of course.” He took a deep breath and sat up straighter, gesturing for her to sit in the other chair next to the desk.

She lowered herself carefully, and then placed the bundled pages on the desk. “I believe it’s done.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You’re ready to show me?”

“Yes.” She’d been working on the poems since before the child took life within her. She hadn’t wanted to show him until they were done, lest she be influenced by any criticism he might mete out. His opinion was immensely important to her, and yet she knew he thought her writing as mere “womanly jottings”. Her heart beat with trepidation, and the child seemed to still with tense anxiety.

“It couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” he asked lightly, not wanting to wound, but irritated at having been interrupted for the sake of her lesser work.

“No,” she snapped, and then softening, she said, “Please, Jonathan.”

“All right,” he said, seeing her distress. He pulled the bundle closer and undid the strings of the binding.

She sat in an agony of suspense as she watched him take up the pages and read. At first his face was a mask of patronizing toleration. As his eyes moved over the lines and down the page, his expression changed to one of confusion and surprise. His brows knit together and the lines of his forehead only deepened as he continued; each page he finished was turned with an astonished impatience.

Annie perched on the edge of her chair, rubbing her belly, waiting. Finally, before he was even halfway through the bundle, he looked up at her, his eyes searching hers.

“You wrote these?”

“Of course I wrote them. You saw me writing them.”

“Annie, these are…well, they’re extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like them.”

The tension drained from her, and she allowed herself to smile at him. But he’d already gone back to the poems. Despite his words, his countenance seemed troubled as he read them.

“I understand they don’t have any recognizable form,” she said, feeling the need to explain. “I just wanted to free myself from traditional constraints and…well, see where my mind took me.”

“Indeed.” He continued to read, his knuckles pressed to his lips.

“What’s wrong? There’s something you want to say, isn’t there? Please say it, Jonathan. I want your honesty.”

He dropped the pages to the table and turned to her. “Annie, what you have written here…it’s brilliant. There’s no other word to describe it. But…”

“Yes?” The child kicked, painfully.

“Well, besides having no form–that, in itself, is rather unheard of–the subject matter, though undeniably powerful, is quite…intimate.”

“I simply wrote from my experience as a woman. Is that no less authentic than your own?”

He leaned toward her and took her hand. “Of course, darling. I’ve already said that I think they’re brilliant. Truly. And yet–matrimony, childbirth, and–” he cleared his throat–“physical desire. These things are, as I said, quite intimate and private, and perhaps–well, perhaps not a proper subject for poetry.”

She withdrew her hand from his. “What would you have me write about? The hills and valleys I’m not allowed to roam? The trees I’m not allowed to climb? The wider world I can’t participate in? The very stars I can’t reach, nor even see for the permanent roof over my head?”

He tried to reach for her hand. “Annie…”

She pulled away from him, wrapped her arms around her burgeoning belly. The child writhed inside her, agitated, as she was. “This is my reality–within these walls, within this body. I have nothing else to give, nothing else to offer the world.”

He made an impatient gesture. “Why must you offer anything to the world? Why can’t you just be my wife?”

She could see that he regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth, but she was still speechless with rage. She stood and gathered the loose pages from the table, pressed the bundle to her chest and headed for the door.

“Annie, please. Wait.” He stood and reached out for her, his hand coming to clasp her arm.

She wrenched free of him with a violence she never knew she had; it had only simmered in the words she had scratched onto the pages in her arms, pages that now fell loose and fluttered to the floor in a messy heap.

“Look what you’ve done!” She knelt heavily and began picking up the pages, until a sharp pain in her belly took her breath away.

Jonathan crouched next to her. “Annie, please calm yourself. The baby.” He kept his voice steady, but there was fear in it, too.

“I’m all right,” she said, but another band of pain squeezed her abdomen, and she groaned. A warm gush between her legs signaled that she was not all right. She let the pages fall from her hands as she clutched her husband’s arm.

“Get the doctor. Oh god, hurry!”

 

Go here for Part 4 of Dark Fens of Cedar.

Dark Fens of Cedar (2)

Go here for Part 1 of Dark Fens of Cedar.

poet scroll

(2,800 words)

Hannah woke with the pain knifing through her hand. She sat up in the early morning darkness of her room in the B&B, straining to see her trembling hand before her. There was no blood, no wound, but the ache of it remained.

The dream had been so vivid, so real. She remembered the poet’s lips on her own, felt the rock in her hand as it cut her flesh. Her flesh. She’d dreamed she was Annie Eldridge. She laughed shakily. She’d been working on this thesis for nearly a year now. Perhaps she was getting too involved with her subject. Her brain was mixing up the rock with her research and her new interest in Annie, along with her fear (yes, she admitted it to herself) of becoming a wife.

It was only when she was soaping up in the shower that it occurred to her: in the dream, Annie had been writing before she was interrupted by Jonathan. Writing what? She said she’d been “working”. It didn’t mean anything, of course. It was just a dream. But what if…?

None of the books she’d encountered or any online research suggested that Annie had been a writer or poet. Never a whisper of it. By all accounts, Annie had been the supporting, loving wife and muse to Jonathan Mason Eldridge III. Her death had sent him into spirals of grief, a sort of permanent mourning that caused him to withdraw from public life, which had always been tenuous, at best.

The library had nothing left to offer her. The librarian suggested there may be some source material on Eldridge at the River Valley Historical Society, just a few blocks away. Hannah walked down the residential streets that bloomed with lilac and flowering dogwood, inhaling their scent on the warm breeze and trying to understand the excitement that buzzed in her belly, that odd sense of familiarity that tapped on her shoulder as she approached the brick-red Victorian style building.

The door held a simple sign that read River Valley Historical Society. She wasn’t sure if she should knock or just open the door and go in. She shrugged and turned the knob. The heavy door opened with a slight creak, into a darkened hallway that ran straight through to the other side of the building. Doorways to other rooms ran along either side of it, spilling light into the shadowy corridor. Immediately to her right was a staircase leading to an upper level.

“Hello?” she called into the quiet.

A stirring down the hallway, and then a head emerged from one of the doorways.

“Um, yes, hello, can I help you?” A young man, with slightly disheveled dark hair and wire rim glasses, stood half-in, half-out of the room, holding rolled up scrolls that he held to his sweater-vested chest like an armful of kittens.

“I was wondering if you had any information here on an nineteenth-century local poet, Jonathan Mason Eldridge? Do you know him?”

“Oh, Eldridge, yes, of course.” He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose while awkwardly holding the scrolls. “Just let me, um..”

“Let me help you.” Hannah approached him and took a few scrolls from him.

“Thank you.” He flashed her a smile that reminded her of Eldridge’s grin at Annie in the dream last night. It disoriented her a little, but then she was following him into the room whose door was labeled “Map Room”.

He emptied the scrolls onto a large mahogany desk near the window, and so she placed her few scrolls there as well. The room was filled with cabinets and chests of drawers, and a few glass cases where some very old maps were displayed.

“I was just re-cataloging and re-assigning,” he explained apologetically, as if she was about to scold him for it. “Some of these items haven’t been touched in years.”

“I see.”

They stood regarding each other for a few moments, and she was about to speak when he clapped his hands together.

“So, Eldridge! What kind of information are you looking for, exactly?”

“Well, I’m not sure, really. I’m writing my graduate thesis on him, and the local library doesn’t have anything new to offer. I thought you might have something a little more personal, like journals or letters?”

“Sure, we’ve got a few things like that. Let’s go to the Eldridge Room and take a look.”

“You have an Eldridge Room?”

He smiled that oddly familiar grin again. “Most famous poet in town. Have you been to the tower?” He led her out of the room and up the darkened, winding stairs to the upper rooms.

“Yes. It’s a wonderful view.”

“Especially this time of year. I go up there myself now and again, just to sit a bit and think about things.” It was too dim to see if he blushed, but he sounded embarrassed by his words. “Here we are,” he said briskly, ushering her into a smaller room just at the top of the stairs.

Its door indeed said “Eldridge Room”, and held some Victorian period chairs and tables. Some landscapes by Turner lined the walls, as well as a portrait of Eldridge himself. Some smaller, grainier photographs of the poet, Annie and their children, Robert and Elizabeth, decorated the wall near the lace curtained windows. The third child had died with Annie, and was posthumously named Sarah. A bookshelf held various editions of the poet’s work and several biographies she’d already read. A display case beneath glass chronicled the building of the stone tower in 1912, which replaced the earlier wooden structure erected in 1895 that had been destroyed by fire.

“Over here we have a few original manuscripts,” her guide said, gesturing toward another display on the other side of the room.

Hannah leaned over the glass to see some handwritten drafts of Eldridge’s poems. She’d seen a few facsimiles of his writing before, but what she was looking for now was a sample of Annie’s writing. She seemed to remember an elongated and looping script from her dream. If she could somehow match it to an actual piece of writing from Annie–well, what would that prove? It was just a dream. But she felt there was something deeper at work here. If she found a match, that meant she somehow knew what Annie’s handwriting looked like. And that Annie had been writing something more than recipes or grocery lists.

“Do you have anything of Annie’s?” she asked. “Letters, lists, anything with her writing?” Even though the dream was blurry, and she couldn’t remember any specific words, Hannah felt sure she would recognize the writing itself.

“The wife? I think so.” He wandered over to the bookshelf. “There are no surviving letters or such that I know about, but she wrote something in one of her husband’s books. A personal note or dedication, I think.” He pulled a big, leather-bound book off the shelf and brought it over to a small writing table near the window. Flora and Fauna of Northeast America, second edition, 1850. He opened the book carefully, and pointed to an inscription on the inside cover:

To my dearest Jonathan–so you may name the birds and beasts of your beloved home. May your rustic wanderings bear fruit in the knowing. Your Annie.

Hannah peered closely at the writing. She couldn’t be sure, of course. This was all based on a dream. But she thought–perhaps somehow she even knew–this was the writing she’d seen in the dream.

“Does that help you at all?” The young man’s voice pulled her out of her reverie.

“Yes, thank you.” She leafed distractedly through the book. Beautiful color illustrations of native birds, trees, flowers, bugs, reptiles and small mammals of New England popped out from the delicate pages.

“I understand he cherished this book,” her guide said.

“Hmmm,” she replied, closing the book. “Nothing else of Annie’s?”

“Not that I know of. Is your thesis on Annie, rather than the poet?”

“Both, really,” she said, and with the words, knew it was now true. Wherever her thesis had been going before, it was going in a different direction now. Annie had to be a part of it, although in what capacity, she wasn’t sure yet. She was operating on a hunch, a feeling. A dream.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it. If there’s anything I can help you with, I’ll be downstairs in the Map Room. Re-cataloging.”

“And re-assigning.” She smiled at him as he blushed. “My name is Hannah, by the way.” She held out her hand.

“Jack.”

“Thank you, Jack.” She noticed incongruent half-circles of dirt underneath his fingernails as he shook her hand.

When he left, she puttered around the room, read the displays, flipped through the books on the shelf. There was really nothing here that could be of use to her. She looked again at the inscription in the leather-bound book, willing words to form themselves in her mind, words written by Annie in her dream, in this handwriting. She had known them in her dream–a captured image–she had been Annie, after all–but they had slipped away upon waking.

She stood in front of the wall of photographs, studying the faces of the Eldridge family. The boy, Robert, looked to be about three years old, and the girl, Elizabeth, was barely out of infancy. Annie had died giving birth to Sarah in 1857; the photo was dated in the same year. The child was inside her when the photo was taken.

Hannah tried to picture herself in a similar family photo with Craig, with more color and smiles. She tried to picture herself as a mother, wiping runny noses, calming screaming babies, changing diapers, of incubating a human being inside her own body. She and Craig had talked about having children. Or rather, Craig had talked enthusiastically about it, as if it were a foregone conclusion, and she had nodded, and said, yes, when we’re done with school, when we’re settled in our careers, when we have a house in a nice suburb. After her first book of poems was published…always after some milestone was met, some future date when everything was perfect and the time was right. Inevitably, a deep maternal need would wash over her, and the yearning to be a mother would override anything else in her life. Wouldn’t it?

Of course it would. She and Craig would be happy and successful, she’d be the mother of his children and they’d live in a big, beautiful home.

A thought occurred to her, and she sought Jack in the Map Room. She found stacks of folders and a few open drawers, but he wasn’t there. She poked her head into every room along the corridor, but couldn’t find him. She was about to check the other rooms upstairs when a rustling outside, beyond an open window in the nearest room, caught her attention.

She followed the sound out the front door, around a corner of the building, to find Jack on his knees near a bed of tulips. He was pulling weeds, and watering the blooms with a green watering can. The sun glinted off the drops as they fell upon the bright petals.

He glanced up as she approached and set the watering can on the soft grass. As he stood, he brushed his pants self-consciously.

“Oh, um, hello again, can I help you?”

His awkwardness was endearing; she was used to Craig’s confidence and bold manner. “Are you the gardener, too?”

His cheeks pinked in another blush. “I like to tinker around in the garden.”

“They’re beautiful.” Tulips always reminded her of some lollipop garden in a Willy Wonka fantasyland. She knew nothing of plants or gardens. She and Craig would have to hire a gardener for that big lovely house they were going to live in.

Which reminded her of her question. “Do you happen to know where Eldridge and his family lived here in town? Is their house still standing?”

“Yeah, I mean, the house is long gone, but I know where it used to be. I could show you. If you want.”

“Is it very far? I’m on foot, unless you have a car.” She’d taken the train in from Boston, on a newly open line that went straight through River Valley.

“It’s only about a fifteen minute walk from here. I can show you, if you want,” he said again.

“Okay, that’d be great.”

“Just let me lock up.” He went around to the front door and locked it from the inside, then pulled out a sign that read “Back at” with a picture of a clock and moving red hands. He moved the hands until they read 12:30, and looped the sign around the door knob.

“I’ll just take my lunch break early.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t want to take up your break time–”

“No, it’s fine. I usually just take a walk anyway, buy a sandwich at the Korner Kitchenette.”

“If you’re sure.”

“Absolutely. I haven’t been up that way for a while. It’ll be nice.” Despite his words, his smile seemed forced. She followed him out onto the sidewalk.

He led her along a few quiet residential streets, until they came to the town’s Main Street, which was beginning to buzz with lunchtime traffic.

“How long have you lived in River Valley?” she asked, trying to make polite conversation.

“Born and raised,” he replied, not quite making eye contact, as if he was embarrassed at his answer.

“It’s a nice little town,” she said, attempting to put him at ease for some reason. It reminded her of her hometown in Vermont, though River Valley was a bit bigger, busier. She couldn’t imagine having never left it. She had counted down the days to her high school graduation, and left for Boston practically the next day for a summer job on campus.

“It’s actually considered a city now,” Jack said. “The charter was changed a few years ago.”

“City, huh? Eldridge would turn over in his grave at the idea.”

“I suppose he would.”

They climbed a hill leading away from the center of town, to a road that led to the tower. Her B&B was just down a side road from where they were. They passed the tower road, crested the hill, and walked down a wooded, dead-end gravel lane that held several upscale homes that looked out over River Valley. The lane terminated in a loop that sent the traveler back from where they came. Beyond the loop stood a small, empty field that also looked out over the town. Or city, rather, with its small conglomeration of schools, hospital, steepled churches, and businesses. Past the town were squares of fields and farms.

“Well, here it is,” Jack announced, stopping and surveying the plot and its view, shading his eyes against the midday glare.

Hannah took a few steps forward, taking it all in. Here, Jonathan and Annie had lived and loved and died; children had been birthed and poetry had been written. Now, there was nothing but the wind through the sparse trees where birds sang and crickets chirped. Perhaps Eldridge would have liked it that way.

“What happened to the house?” She could just make out the buried foundation stones beneath the wind-blown grass.

“Fire, long after Eldridge died. The house was empty, the children had gone to live with family in Boston by then.”

“Who owns the property now?”

“A charitable trust, I think. Eldridge’s family had no use or interest in it. It’s remained empty ever since.”

Hannah walked in further, and after a few moments, Jack followed her. Besides the weedy suggestion of the foundation, no trace of the house remained. A sadness overcame her, at the impermanence of things, of lives reduced to history lessons, of foundations buried in the dirt. She wasn’t sure where this melancholy came from, or the sudden tears that welled in her eyes.

“Are you okay?” Jack asked beside her, a hand reaching out, not quite touching her.

She hastily wiped the tears away, embarrassed, surprised, and not a little confused. “God, I’m sorry, I don’t know where that came from.” She laughed, but it sounded forced even in her own ears. “I guess I’m a little sentimental about my subject.”

“No, I totally get it. I mean, sometimes when I come up here, I feel it, too.” He looked around, at the whispering trees, the weedy grass, the clouds scudding across the blue expanse of sky. “Kind of like…not ghosts, exactly…like the presence of memories I can’t remember.”

She felt the truth of his words, and wondered at it.

He tore his eyes away from the horizon and found hers. A question formed in his countenance, and then he shook his head, as if to clear it. He shrugged in his sheepish way. “Do you want to get a coffee or something?”

 

Go here for Part 3 of Dark Fens of Cedar.