Outside the windows of her warm, cozy apartment, fall leaves swirled in colorful array about the wooden terrace. The cushioned chairs, round glass table and umbrella, Marie had used all summer, had been stored in the shed, safe-guarded against the icy winds of winter.
Looking out onto the patio, she could still see Anna sipping from her tall glass of iced tea, fanning herself with an original Japanese fan; Millie’s flaming hair streaked with silver, glittering like spun gold in the sun. Marie mused, how quickly summer had passed. They wouldn’t visit as often now on gray days, plagued by this and that ailment.
Lost in fantasies of her long-standing relationships with her friends, she felt lonely but the feeling soon dissipated; she sat upright in her chair. Her cheeks flushed with joy as she felt his presence near.
“You are mine now,” he said. “Sing for me.” It seemed his voice came to her from somewhere above, or from a hidden corner of her consciousness. Marie wasn’t sure and it didn’t matter. Whenever he spoke her body thrilled as a bride’s when her husband calls to her. The voice was stronger than any voice, carried an authority as no other and would never be denied, not by her. She had denied him once and it cost her everything that she held dear. But I’m old now; He knows I can‘t sing, if I could, what songs would he like, love songs, rhapsodies? None of the melodies she’d responded to in the past could conjure up memories of carnal passions she’d felt then for her beloved Joseph. But, Joseph had died long ago. The corners of her mouth lifted in an imperceptible secret smile. It’s not what he meant. Sing for him, you know, songs of joy, of praise, songs that swell in you till your heart bursts, like that one vibrating sound that shatters a glass. Marie nodded, her eyes closing to slits as she leaned back again in her chair. He always speaks in parables. He was there when they cut my vocal chords to save my life. He doesn’t mean for me to sing, it’s something else he wants, something equal to a song.
Oh, but he’d said, “You’re mine now....” After her first resounding, “Yes, I am yours,” she stopped short. How could he say such a thing, she thought disturbed; she had been his more than half her life--or, God forbid, had she not been his at all? I have loved you all these years, with all my heart. She smiled softly, savoring the feeling of total bliss. “This means I am yours, finally, completely yours. This will never change. It is forever,” she marveled, her face lit by an inner fire. A shadow fell across her heart as she remembered how she had loved him slavishly at first. She had served him and joyfully fulfilled his every wish until....
Ever so subtly, with the years, she had changed with a bent to self centeredness, with murmuring, complaining, always questioning his leading, while he grew more distant and his voice dimmed to slight whispers. Her stubborn impatience hardened as she pushed through the obstacles that blocked her path, sometimes rejecting his tender warnings, sometimes not hearing his quiet voice in the roar of her own distraught mind.
When her love was new, she had assumed he would grant all her desires; she was his bride, a child of the king and, like a princess, she believed everything her heart desired would prosper.
It did not; a struggle of will ensued. Her work, the one thing she clung to, the one thing she felt competent in and needed no help with, seemed too mundane to place on the altar of sacrifice. It was all she knew, all she had ever known; unthinkable to jeopardize. Marie worked longer days, and more intently at being successful, neglecting his demands. Yet, the rewards it had brought began to dwindle to a trickle, finally to desperation. As the years passed, all her efforts became like sand running through her fingers. She later thought of them as the years the locusts had eaten, her desert years. Like a spiral downward, her life had spun slowly, relentlessly into decay.
Determined she had endured hardships and her occasional, small joys all too soon faded to flickering and dying ambers. All she had loved died by and by, until she fell into a dungeon of darkness and deep depression.
Why was her love silent when she felt so alone? Marie knew he was near, she sensed his presence, but he was not responsive to her cries. She felt herself becoming a twin to the Phantom of the Opera while she played the sound track of the movie almost every morning. The routine set the sad stage for the day until the phantom’s essence mingled with hers. The last and added song urged the phantom, “Child of the wilderness, learn to love, learn to live alone...”
Marie didn’t know how to retrace her steps and where to find him, while he stood in the shadows, waiting. So much had come between them. The silver thread held. His sustaining love remained patient but subdued. This time the way back to him was long and arduous and carried with it a discipline she was willing to endure.
Wearied to her very depth and weakened from so much life, she welcomed Belle, sensing she would be her mentor. Belle exemplified everything Marie had never known, a missionary kid, Belle had grown amidst third world conditions with an outlook on life that had no equal. She spoke of surrender, of owning nothing, of placing her very heart on the altar. Though Marie struggled with the idea of poverty, in a sense she owned nothing, she knew all she had ever hoped for had turned to dust and so she opened her heart to Belle.
Belle did not come for tea nor did she ever meet Millie and Ann, she was no ordinary friend. Marie understood Belle’s focus on her healing and restoration. Belle asked hard questions and made demands a friend would be too kind to do.
Marie shook her head in an effort to rid herself of the almost unpleasant thought of Belle.
She got up and busied herself in the kitchen making dinner for one. At every meal she was tempted to set another plate for him but what if someone dropped by, how could she explain the second plate? Slicing onions brought tears to her eyes that turned into tears of frustration. Why can’t I figure it out, what does he want ?
She turned on the radio as she often did, and hummed a familiar tune. Sing for him--sing! She opened her mouth and croaked a few words then stopped embarrassed; deep down she felt a small satisfaction. I can’t sing--I just can’t! That gift was gone. He had spoken to her at other times and she was still agonizing over some of the things she had put off. He was urging her on with these last words, assuring her of his love, reminding her to stay on course. Tomorrow she would set to the tasks she had put off the longest and one by one thereafter until her heart overflowed with songs.
He meager meal served, she placed another of her finest, gold-trimmed china opposite her at the small table, sat in front of her own plate and with hands held out across the table, she began to pray.