Last scene of previous:
The gentle wind blows through the city, just as it does the trees. But V doesn’t feel the light wind, other than the slight rocking of the building, from where she is, tucked under several layers of blankets on the sixth floor of the inn.
A long night for them both rendered them shaken in the morning and newly awakened to the changed course of their journeys. The mist settled differently on the grass, the sun rose seemingly solemnly, and the cool morning breeze sauntered sorrowfully by, and the city was nestled in a gloomy, grey fog. Yesterday had happened, and it wasn’t just a bad dream.
We visit E who is just awakening to realize, number one, she is alive, in one piece, and in this same spot in the forest where she’d fallen asleep. That was good news to her. She breathed a sigh of relief, which was possibly partially a hallelujah. The birds were beginning to flit among the trees again and play about, which meant the rain had stopped. The wind was much gentler than it was last night, and so the dancing of her clothes had quieted to only an easy flutter now. She began sitting up to get a better bearing and saw a yellow sign perched at the beginning of the forest.
“Hot breakfast, blankets, snacks, and a washer. You know where to find my little blue house ;)”
The woman from last night had staked this ginormous board of taped together card stock in the dirt and written to E an invitation to a warm meal and provisions. She puffed out of her nose with a smile. I don’t deserve this. But she couldn’t help herself, she packed up her scant things, and her legs took her toward the shelter, and she didn’t stop them this time.
She took the poster on her way so that the poor woman didn’t attract any thieves or unwelcome travelers who might happen upon this forest. She knocked on the little robin-red door, and stood back. For some reason, she imagined V walking up right then, “Hey, there you are, I’ve been looking for you!” E didn’t know if that would bring her peace and calm, or if it would make her want to run more…just out of defense of the walls she’d built so high. But then the door opened and a young woman, maybe twenty-three, who held a dish towel and wore an apron and a periwinkle dress dotted with tiny white flowers greeted her and invited her inside.
“You came!” She called backwards as she led them to the kitchen which was to her left. She said it slightly surprisedly, but with joy in her voice, “I almost didn’t think you would.” She turned and smiled to E. “I’ve got breakfast on the stove, you can sit at the dining table with us and I can start your clothes in the washer if you’d like. We look about the same size, you can wear a change of my clothes. I’ve got a T-shirt and pants that I think seem your style.” She said as though a girl excited about a dress-up, as she turned to the cast iron pans on the stove. She continued, “My husband is out feeding the chickens with the dog. Do you mind dogs?” She swiveled to face E again.
“No, I don’t mind them.” E smiled at this woman’s gentle and lightening energy. It was when she mentioned her husband though, that E realized, to her own surprise, that she’d not had any unholy thoughts about this woman. She surprised herself, and a little humble pride welled her chest for herself. Maybe I could love only V. That thought brought her peace and then shook her. I can’t think about loving V. I can’t love V.
The woman immediately went back to going about the kitchen and telling E all kinds of things, “Good. He’s a nice dog, a sweetheart, and he loves to give kisses, but he’s not the most well-trained. I’ve asked John to train him, but he’s busy, you know; John is. My daughter will be down soon and she’ll join us too. She’s a very curious and creative girl, I think she’d love you.”
E smiled at that. She imagined a little blonde girl with pigtails bounding down the stairs with a pink pajama top on with a glossy and glittery cartoon horse on the front and wanting to tell all kinds of fanciful stories of ships on high seas and how her two favorite chickens are in love and she wants to put on a wedding for them.
“How do you like your eggs cooked?” The woman suddenly asked with a curious look on her face, “I’d forgotten to ask.”
“Oh, I don’t mind however they’re cooked.” She could smell bacon in the air and so added, “As long as they are paired with bacon, I think they’re perfect.”
The woman’s eyes sparkled, “Oh, you’ll love this bacon. It’s the best. I only ever buy this kind. It’s from a tiny market that buys from a local family farm, down in Banesbury. You really ought to go by there, Banesbury, on your travels. My daughter likes the candy maker there, too. She likes his lollipops and, when she’s older, I’m sure she’ll love their butterscotches.” She pulls a tiny wrapped candy from a clear dish on the counter and offers if to E. “You ought to try one. They’re my most favorites. Even John doesn’t care much for any candy but this one, so I always buy a little handful for the kitchen. I catch him sneaking one after work, and then another after dinner. He always denies it–playfully, of course; John would never lie to me–and then he laughs it off and shows it to me on his tongue.” She giggles at herself.
“This might be an odd question,” E says, thoughtfully, twisting the candy in her fingers and picturing the two sitting down to a movie and bashfully laughing; but then remembering this woman mentioning her daughter, “but how old are you?”
“I’m twenty-four and John is twenty-six. Adeline is almost five.” Her eyes sparkle again with warmth and love as she stirs some eggs on the pan. “She’s such a wonderful child. A blessing to John and me. Our treasure from heaven.” She is silent for a moment and her eyes begin to glisten with tears. “I had a little boy; I got to carry him for a while, but I lost him. He was born prematurely and passed only a few hours later.” Her voice went quieter, “They were never wholly sure why it happened, but it was something about an irregular heart beat and they guessed some other thing with his lungs.” She forced a little smile, “But he is with our Lord now, and God gave us little Adeline to love. I like to think that when Benjamin came to the Lord, he asked him to send us his sister.” She smiled, but fell quiet again. “That was six and a half years ago. When we conceived Adeline, I was so joyful and nervous and cautious. She was a miracle pregnancy and I praised God when she was born. I didn’t even expect to be able to conceive after Benjamin.” She flipped some pancakes before transferring them to a plate, then glances at E and nervously laughs, “I’ve overshared, haven’t I?”
“No, not at all. I’m sorry you only got such short time with your baby. I bet he was wonderful.” She thought of sharing with this woman that she, too, has an irregular heartbeat, but how would it be fair that she lived and Benjamin didn’t? At that, E even wondered why he didn’t make it. He would have been much more loved and had much more wonderful of a life… she felt selfish thinking this, but she needed the rescuing more than that loved little boy did; and these parents wanted that little boy. They didn’t deserve the loss. E’s parents had barely tolerated her. But these parents would have treasured that sweet baby.
“He was.” The woman said through tears, her voice changing in pitch with sadness catching in her throat. But she smiled again. “He was a precious boy and I got to hold him. For a few hours I got to hold him. I made them let me. And I sang to him and I told him how loved and wonderful he is…was.” She turned away and then walked into the adjacent room where E heard her cry and sob. Tears began to well in E’s eyes, too, thinking about it. How loved the sweet boy was and the pain of this mother’s pure and honest heart. But then a young man opened the sliding glass door of the backyard, which could be seen from the breakfast table and he called a small terrier into the house with him.
E perked up and wiped the tear that got out away and sucked the other ones in.
“Hey! You must be the traveler my wife saw yesterday. I’m John, nice to meet you.” He shook her hand and then sniffed the air, “Ooh, breakfast smells good!” But he pauses when he peeks into the other room and sees his wife there, “…Melinda?” He saw her sobbing, “Hey, hey it’s okay.” He seemed to know exactly what it was that she was distraught about. It must happen frequently that she mourns her precious boy.
“John, he was beautiful! Why?” She turned to him and then sobbed deeper and sank into his chest. “John, why was he taken from us? I don’t understand. I don’t understand it, John.” Then her voice couldn’t make any other words and she wept into John’s chest, clenching his shirt. “John, I loved him.” She said, brokenly, after a moment.
“So did I. I loved him very much.” John held his tender wife and tucked his face near her neck. “I loved him, too.” John’s voice began to go weak and Melinda embraced him and they stood there and swayed together for a brief moment before John reminded them both—himself and her—”But he is God’s child, too, we were blessed with him for a short time, and he is safe now from sadness and hunger and pain… God loves him, too, and we’ll see him again to embrace him and he’ll have perfectly wonderful things to tell us. He is sealed with our Lord. He is safe.” A tear escaped his eye out of the real and humble pain he feels in his humanity, and rolled down his cheek before Melinda wiped it away and he smiled at her and she smiled back at him.
Pain and love both lived equally in that stare, and with the same intensity of each. They found comfort in each other and in the Lord and they held each other and stared into each other’s eyes like that for a second until little Adeline quietly stepped down the stairs, as if to peek and listen to what her parents were talking about. She curiously stared from the stairs at her mommy and daddy tenderly weeping. And she must have seen this many times, E guessed, mostly without them even knowing that she knew. Then, the little girl resumed walking downstairs at a louder and more energetic pace. She’d take their pain away, she was sure of it.
Melinda heard the sweet footsteps and they collected themselves and somehow made the tears disappear and even most of their redness of eye, save a glistening in their eyes and honestly pink eyelids.
“Good morning, baby!” Melinda says, embracing her child with joy. “Oh you make mama’s heart so happy, you know that? You are a miraculous blessing.” She holds the little girl to her chest.
“You tell me that all the time, mama!”
“And it’s always true, my darling.” She looks at the girl’s face and strokes her hair and cups her cheek, forcing the begging tears to stay inside. “You are always my treasure.”
“What about your angel in heaven?”
“Our angel in heaven is a blessing, too. And you are just as great of one. Irreplaceable even!”
The little girl smiled and giggled as she ran off then, holding her faded stuffed horse, a very loved and faithful pal. The little girl’s parents shared a kiss then after exchanging smiles. This look had joy and love within it, of equal and overflowing measure.
This was the picture of love, E thought. The picture of this little family which held so much love and whose love washed over so much pain, even again and again. A healing and beautiful and growing and sustaining love. A patient and gentle and enduring and tender love. What a beautiful thing to have in such a crumbling world. This little home honestly felt like a whole nother world. A whole other world that E had never experienced before, nor been in, just dropped off in some beautiful world she never even knew could exist. She even forgot, for a minute, the world outside this one; the world that was cold and hard and cruel and unforgiving and painful and falling apart and which abandoned and afflicted and left for cold and dead; and which was waiting for her… She even forgot about that world for a minute, sitting in the warmth of this one. Warmth more healing and assuring and comforting than sunshine on a perfect-weathered day. This was something more than warmth. It thawed something in E’s bones that she didn’t even know had been cold. It thawed down to the core, as if melting pain and sorrow like a torch to snow. What was this presence that warmed more than the skin? That warmed even the heart just being in adjacent vicinity to it? That even overflowed peripherally to wash over even things barely within near contact with it? Outside of it and just in reach of sight of it?
All she knew is she’d never felt this before. Not even marginally or secondarily. Nothing like this. This was an unknown world and unknown territory to E; but, having seen this picture of wholeness, she wished she did know it. She wished she’d always known it and that this world was familiar to her. She prayed with all her newly warmed bones and softened core that she’d live in a world like this and even be primarily apart of it, to experience it first-handedly.
Continue to: Part 12! (finally)