Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Anniversary (04/11/05)
TITLE: Darling Stranger
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Vivian stared at the stranger sitting beside her bed. She had the impression he had been there before, and that thought kept her from screaming for help. She doubted the “white coats” would take her screams seriously. Even if she didn’t know who he was, they seemed to like him, and didn't appear to mind answering the questions he asked about her. No, Vivian decided, it was best to just be quiet and endure the strange man's visits.
She was certain that he came every day, apparently staying until she tired. He would chatter on about his life, always with a hopeful look on his face, only to leave with a sad, tearful look in his eyes. She knew that on occasion he brought a young man and a young woman with him. The man looked like a younger version of the stranger, except where the older man’s hair was gray, the young man's was brown. Both men had the same sad, dark eyes, but the young woman's eyes were a bright, intense blue and sparkled whenever she smiled, most notably when she talked about the baby she was carrying. She offered to brush Vivian's hair and Vivian loved her gentle touch. Like the two men, the girl seemed to resemble someone Vivian used to know. Was it a little girl in ballerina slippers with pretty ribbons in her hair? Vivian thought she had brushed hair just that color before, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not remember who it was. The image was too elusive, too frustrating, and it made her tired to think about it.
Now, the man was talking about the new grandbaby his daughter was expecting and Vivian wondered why he thought she would be interested and why he singled her out for these daily visits.
"Today's a very special day, Vivian. Do you know why?" the man was saying, again with that hopeful look in his eye. Vivian shook her head and her eyes strayed to the long-stemmed red rose wrapped in green tissue that he'd placed in her hand. The rose seemed familiar, significant somehow. Vivian kept quiet.
"It's our 40th wedding anniversary," the man replied, then sighed softly. "I know you don't remember it, darling, but I have enough good memories for the both of us."
His words made her sad for reasons she could not quite comprehend and when he began to talk again Vivian listened intently, trying hard to understand who he was talking about.
He recounted wonderful and sometimes funny stories about his wife – he called her Vivian and maybe that provided a clue, but she wasn’t certain – and their two children, Derek and Lynn. Lynn was expecting a baby and Derek was now engaged with a wedding planned for the summer. He spoke with such love and compassion that Vivian soon relaxed and for a while felt comforted by his voice. Occasionally, his words would provoke an image that would flash through her mind, leaving as abruptly as it came. Vivian began to grow agitated, frustrated with the attempt to keep up with him and to attach significance to the transitory images.
Finally, like a little child, Vivian put her hand over her ears in frustration.
“Stop it! I don't want to hear anymore," she told him, shaking her head rebelliously.
Had she done this before? she wondered, watching the stranger stand up as if to go. He didn't seem alarmed, just resigned. He leaned over as if to kiss her on the head, but Vivian shrank away from him. He patted her hand; the one that held the rose and managed a whispered and tearful, "I love you" as he left her room, watching her until he was out the door.
Vivian lay on her bed absently stroking the velvety petals of the rose, her mind a chasm of disconnected thoughts.
There was a wedding dress. A nursery painted blue, then later pink. A worn white bible. A strand of pearls and a dozen red roses. She could see the stranger holding her in his arms.
A tear slipped down one cheek and for a moment Vivian remembered the stranger's name.
It was Frank.
"Happy Anniversary, darling," Vivian whispered to the empty room, relishing the memory just before it receded into nothingness.
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