Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Let's Just Talk it Out

"With just a few words, you've broken my heart. How easy it is to tear me apart." Erica spun away, covering her face with her hands. Before Arnel could comfort her, she flung her arms out wide, threw back her head and belted, "I know you love me, but don't you know? I just can't stand for you to treat me so!"

"Can't we talk about this, Sweetie?"

"Stop! Haven't you done enough harm?" Pressing one hand against Arnel's chest, she draped her other hand across her forehead, eyes closed. "I will not be wooed back by you and your charm. Please, let me be, My Love, My Dear...Our time has come to a close, I fear." Erica wiped back a tear, kissed her fingertips and, pressing them against Arnel's pursed lips, tiptoed backwards and collapsed on a park bench, burying her head in her arms.

Arnel stood for a moment and sighed. Closing his eyes briefly, he took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and walked over to where his fiancé sat sobbing, shoulders quaking. "Erica, Honey, I think you're being a little overdramatic here. All I said was that I didn't have any opinion about whether you should have baby's breath or pussy willows in your bouquet. If you want pussy willows, you should have pussy willows, okay? Please, let's not blow this completely out of proportion." Cautiously he laid a hand on her back. She flinched, but she didn't scoot out of reach, so he left his hand on her trembling shoulder. "I want this day to be exactly what you've always wanted for your wedding, but I can't read your mind and...honestly I've not spent a lot of time thinking about any of these details. I trust you completely to create the most amazing wedding day, right down to the smallest details like the colors for the tea lights in the centerpieces and the width of ribbon in the boutonnieres. I trust you and I want you to be happy and to enjoy this entire process. Okay?"

Erica sniffled, looking up at Arnel with red-rimmed eyes. Her lips trembled. "Really? Do you mean it?"

"Yes, I do." He slipped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, giving her a gentle squeeze. After a quick kiss, he cleared his throat. "And, uh, one more thing. My one request." He shifted in his seat. "Could you maybe tone down the drama? I need you to try not to break out in song every time you feel a strong emotion. I can't handle anymore theatrics." He smiled hesitantly, hoping she would smile back.  She did.

"Alright, Love. It's just that...You're the man I've always dreamed of! The man to whom I can give all my love..."

"Erica, please."

"It's a happy song." She batted her eyes at him, teardrops still clinging to her lashes. "Just one more?"

Arnel sighed again. "One more and then we give good old talking a try."


I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.
~Robert Frost

Five-hundred words inspired by the quote above. And inspired by a similar, but less musical, interaction between Brett and I at BeauJo's Pizza while we were planning our wedding...something about our processional (poor Brett sat there dumbfounded...he's a patient man). Also inspired by the fact that the Frozen soundtrack is on constant repeat in our house. And, finally, I've always thought that life would be more fun if we sang more..."Would you please pick up all your socks, before I throw you out and change all the locks??"

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Jeremiah's Wall

Jeremiah shuffled along the rock path through the garden. Clutching Ms. Reed’s arm, he listened to the crunch of the gravel beneath his feet and the call of a chickadee overhead. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee! Chick-a-dee-dee-dee! He smiled, enjoying the caress of the sunshine as it peeked through the overgrown trees to scatter its warmth.

“Watch your step, Mr. Perete. Those workers made a horrible mess yesterday.”

Jeremiah patted his nurse’s arm. “Never mind. Thank you for helping me to make my way out to the bench.”

“Of course, Mr. Perete. Here we are and I brought a blanket for you to sit on. I fear that bench would chill you to the bone. Do you need anything else, Sir?”

He shook his head and settled his tired frame onto the ancient marble bench. “Thank you, Ms. Reed. I’ll call for you when I’m ready to come back in.” Even with the wool blanket beneath him, Jeremiah could feel the cold seeping into his bones. He recalled that when the garden had been designed, his mother had requested the bench to be situated against the wall and away from the towering trees. Now, many years later, he was grateful for his mother’s wisdom which allowed for the sun to shine down upon him, wrapping him in a warm embrace.  Left in the silence of the overgrown garden, it wasn’t long before Jeremiah was awash in powerful memories.

Jeremiah remembered that first afternoon. He had wreaked havoc in the house all morning
resulting in the nanny, Miss Copeland, shooing him out of the house with a broom,
sending him to the walled garden in order to, as she shouted, 
“Run amok and stay out from under foot!”
He had kicked a ball over the wall and, knowing that his father would be furious,
he had climbed up on the old marble bench against the cold rock wall with the
hopes of scaling the ivy-clad barrier and retrieving his toy. Before he was able to peek
over the stones, however, he’d heard a giggle and watched as his blue ball had sailed back
over into his own garden. The voice that called to him was sweet and delicate.
“I almost tripped on that, silly boy. My name’s Lillian. What’s yours?”
They had sat on either side of their wall for the rest of the afternoon, 
telling stories and sharing secrets with one another.
As Miss Copeland called Jeremiah in for dinner, they had promised 
to meet at the wall the next day. 
And the next and the next.

Jeremiah stirred from the memory, clutching his cane in his gnarled hand. He shifted on the bench, feeling the ache of years in his body and the familiar ache in his heart. Even after all these years, the memory of his seventeenth birthday still haunted him, leaving his heart raw with fresh grief. Try as he might to push away the ancient voices, he could still hear the shouting and feel the sting of his father’s words.

“How dare you sneak around behind my back and associate with someone like that!”

“Father, I never snuck around. We met in our own backyard. Or, should I say,
in each of our own backyards. I’ve never even met her face to face. We’ve only ever talked.”

“She is from a working family, Jeremiah. Her father is a newspaper reporter, of all things.
He spreads gossip and the like, about people like us. People he extorts for profit.”

“Father, be reasonable. He writes for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
a respectable newspaper you subscribe to. 
It’s not like he’s sent Lillian to spy on us. We’ve no secrets worth discovering, anyhow,
unless you thing he’s concerned with what Mrs. Scott  is serving for dinner this evening.”

“You know your mother and I would never approve of a marriage with someone who has
so very little to offer!

“Beyond companionship and happiness, you mean.”

“Don’t be a fool, boy. I refuse to allow you to throw your future away over something
as ridiculous as your book-induced delusions about love.”


“Enough! I forbid you to see her or speak to her again.
This conversation is finished.”

Reaching into his coat pocket, Jeremiah retrieved the lace handkerchief he still kept, secreted away in an inner pocket, close to his heart. The delicate cotton slipped beneath his fingertips as he traced the ornate “B” stitched into the fine fabric. A sapphire “B” that she claimed matched the color of her eyes. Draping the threadbare kerchief over his bony knee, he smoothed it out, feeling the crisp folds and remembering the last time they had spoken, hiding in the dark and whispering to one another through the cold stone boundary that stood between them.

“I’m getting married, Jeremiah. Father has chosen a Mr. Elkington for me.” 

Her voice caught in her throat, forcing her to be silent. The agony of being unable
to comfort her was excruciating. He clawed at the ivy-clad wall, but the tearing of his skin
was no comparison to the pain of his heart being rent in two.

“My Lillian, I am devastated. If only I was in possession of my inheritance, I would be free to 
choose you. To choose a life with you. But, I am powerless, my love. Powerless.”

“Perhaps in another life, we could have been happy together. Don’t forget me, Jeremiah...”

“Forget you? How could I? How could I forget listening to your music, 
Goedicke’s Symphony No. 1, pouring out of your library  
and filling the night air with magic?
Or the sound of your laughter and knowing the world is a brighter 
and better place because you are in it? My sweet, Lily...”

Jeremiah’s own throat tightened with emotion. He couldn’t bear to hear her weeping.

He stood helpless, pressing his forehead against the icy wall, tears blurring his own vision. 
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something white fluttering
to the ground. As he stooped to pick it up, Lillian’s final words floated up and over the wall.

“Goodbye, Jeremiah. Farewell.”

Lillian was married the following month and whisked away to Philadelphia, where her new husband was assigned a position at the Philadelphia Record, an appointment her father had arranged for his new son-in-law. Unable to bear the emptiness of the garden next door, Jeremiah finally yielded to his father’s demands and left home to attend university overseas, attending his father’s alma mater, Eton, and following in his footsteps. Those were the loneliest years of Jeremiah’s life. 

While living at home, Jeremiah had enjoyed the company of old school friends during the day and his nightly visits to the garden to talk to Lillian. Now, wandering the streets of London, he found himself alone, his heart cold as stone. Without intending to, he built a new wall, a wall of icy granite around himself. Brick by brick, severed relationship by severed friendship, he encircled himself with work, duty, obligations and responsibility, pressing away any memories tied to Lillian and pressing into his studies. By the end of his schooling, Jeremiah had disappeared behind a wall of bitterness.

“After graduation, will you be traveling home with me?”

“I’m sorry, Mother. I’m not coming home. I’ve take a position here.”

“Please, Jeremiah...”

“I can’t. Please don’t ask that of me.”

He refused his father’s invitation to work alongside him, his ancient anger still fresh. He would not give his father the satisfaction of showing off his son, the recipient of the prestigious “King’s Scholar” award. Jeremiah shuddered at the thought of his father parading him around before his old cronies, and turning a blind eye to the obvious suffering he had caused with his own cold heartedness.

He ignored his mother’s pleading, for fear of opening old wounds or causing new ones. At the first of each month, he sent a letter home to his mother, responding to her inquiries about his health and his daily activities, while concealing his pain. Jeremiah became adept at constructing intricate lies behind which he hid the truth of his heart’s despair, weaving stories for his mother to dispel her anxiety and add color to his dismal life.

Years passed. He heard nothing of Lillian or her life with her husband. She had disappeared into obscurity and if it weren’t for the threadbare handkerchief he gripped in his hand upon retiring each night, he just might have forgotten about their magical evenings spent under the stars, each of them leaning against that cold stone wall, seeking warmth and solace in one another’s words. Clutching that cotton square with the intricate “B” embroidered in blue thread was the only thing that kept her close to him, even with miles of ocean stretching between them.

Jeremiah tenderly folded the handkerchief again, taking care with the delicate lace edge that had begun to fray along one side. Tucking it back inside his coat pocket with care, his fingers brushed the corner of the yellowed envelope. He paused, fingering the stamp. It was postmarked thirty years, eight weeks and two days after he had left for university, after the last time he had seen his father. He knew the letter by heart.

Dearest Jeremiah,
Your father passed away this evening quite suddenly, an apparent heart attack. 
The doctor said there was nothing that could have been done.
My dear son, he was very, very sorry for his harshness. 
I so wish you could have made amends.
Please come home.

That very day, Jeremiah booked passage on an ocean steamer, the Mauretania. With great care he made certain that his arrival would fall a few days following his father’s funeral; he was coming home for his mother and wanted no pretense that he was in some way returning to honor his father. Upon arriving at the Perete House, Jeremiah was surprised to find that the garden, though more mature and lush, looked very much the same as he had remembered. Strolling through the garden with his mother on his arm, she remarked that the walled space had become something of an obsession for his father. She was convinced that his passion for preserving the garden was his attempt at protecting the memories he had of Jeremiah, before the chasm that drove them apart. Out of respect of his mother, Jeremiah kept quiet, but in his heart he was convinced that his father’s mania for maintaining the garden was his way of convincing himself that the decision he had made, the crushing judgement he had made over Lillian and Jeremiah, was justified. That he had been right. 

His first night home, Jeremiah’s dreams were haunted by a winding labyrinth. Somewhere in the middle of the maze, he knew Lillian waited for him, he could hear her calling to him, but at every turn he encountered his father’s scowl. As he clawed his way desperately down each corridor, Lillian’s voice was drowned out by the mocking laughter of his father. He awoke the next morning, clutching the white handkerchief and drenched in sweat.

It fell to Jeremiah, as the heir of his father’s estate, to take on the responsibilities of the house. Without intending to, he soon found himself filling this father’s role at the club and making decisions regarding the upkeep of the family home. Before he knew it, he had fallen into a familiar routine, one his father had faithfully modeled for him when he was a boy. Strangely, Jeremiah found this development to be a comfort. For the first time in many years, Jeremiah felt a sense of peace.

One afternoon, several years following the death of his father, he was strolling down the street, cane in hand, when he happened to look up at Lillian’s old home and noticed a light on in an upstairs room. After studying the curious glow for a moment, he hurried home and inquired of his mother as to whether she was aware of another family having taken possession of the deserted house. 

“I don’t think so, dear,” she warbled. “I believe the estate was left to the daughter.”

“Lillian?” Jeremiah inquired.

His mother’s memory was not what it had once been. “Was that her name? Yes...yes, Lillian.
A lovely girl, if I remember. Something of a pianist.”

His mother’s words burned his heart. He had not allowed himself to say her name
since coming home.

“So it’s not been sold, then, Mother?”

“Hmm, dear? What were you saying?”

Jeremiah patted his mother’s hand with tenderness and changed the subject, 
offering to read to her instead.

Following the death of his mother, Jeremiah had considered selling the Perete House and moving back to London, but he soon realized that while most of his life had been spent in Britain, his heart was still at home here, in the midst of the garden, close to the ivy-clad wall and woven together amidst memories of Lillian. 

Years passed and the garden transformed into a jungle of over-grown brambles and tangled, ancient trees, but Jeremiah did not notice the change, as his eye-sight had begun to dim. Soon, he was left with merely shadows:  a glow from the noon-day sun or the grey haze from the shadow of an old oak tree. Upon hearing of Jeremiah’s decline in health, Ms. Reed, his mother’s former nurse, remembered Mrs. Perete’s last request of her, a mother’s final gift for her son. “Please remember my Jeremiah. He is such a sad boy, a bit of a recluse, I fear. His heart was broken years ago and I’m worried that he won’t take care of himself. Promise me, Elizabeth, promise me you’ll tend to him the way you have for me.” True to her word, Ms. Reed came to reside at the Perete House, meeting the simple needs of Jeremiah, who tottered around the house, reliving his childhood and reminiscing about the mysterious girl who had once lived on the other side of the wall.

It was Ms. Reed, then, who answered the door on that cool morning in September and found a young messenger boy, clutching an envelope with Jeremiah’s name scrawled across the ivory stationary. She delivered it to Jeremiah on a tray with his tea and toast, and offered to read it for him. He nodded and began to spread jam on his toast. As she read the first lines of the letter, she heard the knife clatter to the floor and looking up, found Jeremiah trembling.

My Dearest Jeremiah,
It has been almost fifty years since I last heard your voice and 
not a day goes by that I don’t think of you.
During my years of traveling for my piano performances, I often thought I would search you out, 
but I always found an excuse.
My husband died just a few years after we married, but even in my loneliness,
I was too afraid that you would reject me for having accepted another man in marriage.
I know it was foolish, but I didn’t believe my heart could stand to be broken again. 
Please forgive me for not contacting your sooner, but I had convinced myself
that those precious years in our gardens were lost forever...or had perhaps been only a dream.
I am coming home.
My heart hopes that you will receive me.
Your dearest love,

P.S. Your father came to hear me play once. He wept. 
For the music, and for us, I think.

Days crept by and Jeremiah waited. He strained his ears, listening for a knock at the door or the sound of a carriage coming up the street. Ms. Reed teased that he was as eager as a school boy, but she secretly loved to see her patient glowing with such expectation and hope. Finally after a week of anticipation, a telegram arrived.

I arrive Saturday. I will be at the wall.

Jeremiah patted his coat pocket, assuring himself that both the handkerchief and letter were safely tucked within. He had no idea how much of the day had passed, but he knew that he would wait forever if it meant hearing her voice again. He listened to the chickadee calling to its mate somewhere up in the tangle of branches. A gentle breeze blew, stirring the leaves around his feet, each creating a scratching sound as they skittered across the rock path. Somewhere he heard a door close, and he knew.

Sitting up straighter, he adjusted his coat and ran his hands over his thinning white hair. A murmuring of voices floated through the hole in the wall, the portion of wall that he had requested to be torn down the day before. A smile stole across his lips. 

“Careful, my dear. Watch your step along here. This garden is a bit of a mess.”

“Thank you, dear Miss Worton. And thank you for escorting me. Now, if I’ve counted my steps correctly, the wall should be about here...” Her quavering voice trailed off as she reached a blind hand out toward the familiar wall and found only air. “Oh, my.” She raised her trembling fingertips to her lips. Jeremiah stood slowly and reached a quivering hand toward the source of that sweet voice, the voice that for decades he had heard only in his dreams. Gently, Lillian’s nurse directed her charge’s hand into his grasp and took a step back.

“My Beloved.” Jeremiah’s voice cracked as he tenderly escorted her one step back toward the marble bench. Feeling for the wool blanket, he guided her to sit beside him, never letting go of her hand. “How I’ve missed you, your voice, your presence.”

“I’ve missed you, too, sweet Jeremiah. To think, this is the first time we’ve ever touched.” He could tell from her voice that she was smiling.

“And now, my Lily, with nothing standing between us, I never intend to let you go.”


I've written this as a submission to the 3rd edition of Precipice. This year's theme is "Boundaries". I would appreciate any feedback (flow, clarity, resolution).  Thank you, in advance!