As most of us have experienced occasionally, after having read an interesting book or story, we stumble upon a “follow up” and it is more like an afterthought ~ a slight taste, but not as pungent as the first one. There are risks in writing a part two, a continuation, or a sequel. I wanted to ignore the request of some readers to render more of Anne, but she, herself, wouldn’t leave me alone. I felt impressed to fill in the blanks of her life. Thus my dilemma, measuring the second against the first story; so, shall I go for it? Shall I test the waters and see where the ~ wisps of her “almost” real ~ spirit leads?
I think… I will.
There are times I do wonder about God’s sense of propriety. He knows I love the winter scene He paints so vividly, and how it lures me outside; how my thinning bones ache when I get up close and personal to it. I promised Him earlier this year I would do those things He leads me to do without complaining and making senseless excuses; I would bite the bullet and pray about my attitude. I just needed clear direction to stay on the right path to discover, and perform, large or small sacrifices of His choosing. So, putting into action a God~induced plan, I journeyed out on a cold winter’s day to see Anne.
The ice was thick in each tiny square of the window pane; it glistened, twinkled, and winked at me. A slanted, weak sunbeam proved its strength and the shards of ice it touched gleamed like crystal bling. I slipped into the hushed room. Anne was propped high on piles of thick foam rubber; her head barley dimpled the crisp lavender (her favorite color, remember) pillow slip, her beautiful snowy hair, now freed from the tight low bun, cuddled her face like a wayward cloud finding a final rest. In her eighty sixth year, she slept like a baby.
She was dreaming; I could see the quick eye movements from beneath her thin fragile lids. I heard the word, “Lily!” Ah, now I knew the dream. I sat and waited. Memories of our first meeting flooded back…
We met during the autumn; I learned her early life’s story. We enjoyed each other very much. We walked; we talked; and we connected. I gave her my phone number. After a call from Andrew, her private nurse, and his mentioning her dementia, I began to visit at his request.
Now it was late February. I dressed warmly on this, my fifth visit; as I said, I hate to be cold. I had to discipline myself to go out on this frigid day. As I left my warm cozy home and entered my shuttering metal mode of transportation, I made the determination “I will offer this visit today as one of my small sacrifices that cost me something.” That slightly skewed version of a bible verse warmed me up a little by thinking I may be doing something right, and maybe my “self-righteous” attitude will go unnoticed.
“Lily!” she spoke again, and with that she moved her shoulders and slowly came fully awake. As her eyes captured mine, awareness appeared, and she knew me. Ah, such sweet relief. She knew me on every visit but one; and on that visit, we had taken a strange trip to the nonsensical dreams of her childhood, the war years when she lived in Wales in the nineteen thirties and forties.
“Were you dreaming of Lily?” I asked.
With a nod of her head, I had my answer. Lily was the child of her heart, as well as the child of her flesh. As Anne told it, she was born with the look of her father about her ~ coal-black hair and her eyes were dark and sparkled like chocolate diamonds. She had very pale skin; thus, one reason for the name Lily. She was very much loved.
Lily was to be the only child born of Anne and William. God surely had His reasons for this, but Anne and William never knew what they were, so they just lavished all of their love on her. They had arrived in America in May and within two months they celebrated her birth on the fourth of July. She was named after a famous poignant song of the nineteen-forties; it was stolen from the Germans, and the lyrics changed at the request of the British Army. So, to honor the memory of her father and the fighting men of England, her first homeland, they named her “Lily Marlene” Clarke, who weighed 6 pounds 4 ounces, and at nineteen inches long she was perfect in every way; especially the thatch of thick curly black hair.
On my last visit, I learned of Lily. Anne was opening her life to me more and more. She told the entire story to me several times during that visit! Right on cue, she began the recitation; ending with singing some of the words to Lily Marlene:
“… you wait where that lantern softly gleams; your sweet face seems to haunt my dreams, my Lilli of the lamplight, my own Lilli Marlene…”
It was sweet, and haunting; I could hear the scratch of an old phonograph recording in her voice, and it drew me into her world of memories for a little while. I patted the cushion under my foot and minuscule dust motes that were trapped in the linen floated up into the air and seemed, in the low light from a bedside lamp, to congeal and form the fleeting image of a dancing twirling girl, whose frame was petite and her movement grace itself. Oh! I blinked; the moment was gone.
And… there was something I wanted to ask her; it would come to me sooner or later.
I remembered the tales she told of her introduction to America. There was a tall tower apartment in Los Angeles, pushing Lily in her pram in the downtown streets, knee-length dresses, short fox fur jacket, thick, but high-heel sandals, the “victory roll” hairstyle (a modified pompadour), mistaken for a movie star, and being asked for her autograph; giggling and signing it anyway. These stories always were semi-imposed on my thoughts and in a longing kind of way they became my memories too.
Today she spoke of William, “He was a salesman, you know; he worked for a large company, and fame came quickly to him in California as the top sales rep. two years in a row. The company began to expand to the east and the south east. He loved to travel and became interested in the history of the American Civil War… so every year we would tour some of the battle-grounds and old forts. The year we visited Tennessee and Kentucky, he fell in love with the two states; one day we flipped a coin and Kentucky it was.”
“We moved to the beautiful blue and green state and settled in a bustling small city on the banks of the Ohio River. He became a district sales manager in his company, and traveled often. Lily grew and thrived; I found things to keep me busy: church, ladies’ clubs, shopping, but ~” her voice lowered in a husky, and odd way, “I became restless…”
“What?” my thoughts were interrupted.
Her head tilted back and she was dozing. I was going nowhere; I was going to stay until the end of this story, weather permitting! I walked down the hall; Andrew was finishing with one of his other private patients. He had three here in this home and made a very good living at nursing them. We chatted for a while, and then I headed for the coffee pot in the small visitors’ lounge.
I snuggled back in the recliner in her room; with a large mug of steaming brew, heavy on the cream, I threw an afghan over my legs and sipped and became drowsy. The ice on the window looked thicker and sleet was splatting down; it was almost snow now. I untangled the fringe around the edge of the throw; I waited. I drained the last of the liquid and spat out the sediment back into the cup, ugh, grounds! I stretched, and with that a loud squeak from the chair permeated the room; Anne awoke with a start, and a big yawn. “Oh, pardon! Did I sleep?”
“We’ve both rested.” I answered. Then I asked, “Would you care for some coffee?”
Her addiction was almost as strong as mine, although it made her a little agitated; it also seemed to bring her more thoroughly back to this time frame. Today I wasn’t sure I wanted her here; I wanted her there, in the late 40s, and early 50s. This is not good of me, I thought, and as I began to stir around looking for my coat, hat, and all the layers of winter wear, I had adorned myself with. S
She gave a little laugh. “No coffee for me. Oh sit down dear, you know you are not ready to leave yet.”
”Ok then.” I sat back down,as she picked up the thread of thought she had been so willing to unravel before me earlier.
“Yes,” she spoke softly and slowly as if replaying a scene at a theatre before a heavily draped backdrop, with a spotlight holding her there in stark relief against the darkened hall. “I was restless.”
I settled in an absorbed mood; suddenly, I felt an usher nudge me. Uh! I was startled back to reality by Andrew bringing us bowls of velvety ice cream. It caused a reaction something like finger nails sharpening their life-spans on a squeaky-clean blackboard to be eating this treat on a cold winter’s day, while staring through ice toward a frosty halo surrounding a tall light in the parking lot, beyond the window.
Anne was a dainty eater, and it was almost as though each bite took three movements: gently taste; press tongue against the roof of the mouth to melt it there away from her sensitive teeth, then in a long slow swallow it was finally gone. I, on the other hand, gulped, and it only took about three of them to get the job done. Replete with the sweetness, I was ready to relax once more and be the avid listener.
“I was the love of William’s life; he would do anything for me, and he cherished Lily. What was wrong with me? I loved him, and I knew it; I could imagine no other man in my life, but… That three letter little word could have torn my world apart.”
A short silence came between us. I had thoughts, but they just wouldn’t become audible. Hers did.
“I was using my talents for the Lord; I sang in the church choir; I regularly played the organ when the elderly man whose job it was had to be off ‘being sick’.” She took a long deep breath, then continued, “Uncle Arthur’s words often came back to me; the stories, and scripture he used to lead me to salvation in Christ Jesus were fast in my memory, but had a lessening impact in my life. I guess you could say I was straying ~ going down a road I had never traveled before, but I don’t think the Lord was doing the leading.”
A despondent sadness took me, “Anne, this just doesn’t sound anything at all like you! Not you!”
“I thought of myself as being in a fever; in fact, I wanted to think that was so, because if I was ‘sick’ I would not be responsible for my actions. In a rather off handed way I told God if He thought I was wrong, then stop me.”
At this, the tissues were passed between us.
“He didn’t stop me… then. I wanted a little flirtation maybe, just a little fun, life on the edge, you know? So, I would keep my eyes open for a “little” opportunity, something I could just fall into accidentally. It wouldn’t be my fault.
“While these thoughts were swirling in the back of my consciousness, I was being a great mother. Lily and I were inseparable; I spent my time trying to shape and mold her into the sweetest, best, and smartest girl alive, and she was already the most beautiful. She wanted a pony; we thought about a farm. So, we bought one in the lovely rolling hills, and Betta, a fantastic Shetland pony was included in the deal, and his antique rebuilt two wheeled cart, his saddle and all; life became almost sweet. I thought perhaps the nagging discontent was settling.
“The neighboring farm was owned by a nice elderly couple with a married daughter who lived with her husband in a smaller house on the part of the farm nearest our boundary. We occasionally waved; her husband worked in town and was not home during the day light hours. As the weeks rolled by we became good friends, she was a few years younger, and I felt like a more mature Christian role model to Melanie ~ a mentor… I faked it.”
“William, when home for one long week-end built a brick barbecue oven in the side yard by the apple trees; it was flat there, so the picnic table sat very sturdily on the level spot. We began to have company often ~ church friends, and always Melanie and Jeffery, who would bring their young eighteen month old boy, Gregory, and his beagle dog, Scout. Our family was progressing, in a fashion. Yet, I felt somehow my life was on hold; as if I was stuck on a beautiful carousel spinning, but going nowhere. I must be coming down with something, I would think.”
“I soon learned Melanie was enduring a hard new pregnancy; I tried to help in turn by distracting and cajoling her into being cheerful. As I look back I may have come off as insensitive or reacting too lightly to her distress. Lily and I were so often alone I more or less adopted them as my extended family.
“There is no way to tell you except to use cold hard facts.”
Oh no, my heart lurched; I didn’t want to know this after all.
“Jeffery, Melanie and Gregory were in a head-on crash with a large farm truck that strayed over the line on the blind side of a hill; father and son were killed outright.”
This was not what I thought I was going to be hearing.
“Melanie lingered awhile, long enough to give birth to Jacob, a beautiful baby boy, and then she followed her family to glory. Her parents, William and I, were left to grieve, there was no other family. Mr. and Mrs. Ward were too elderly and in ill health to raise a baby. However, I was not. They took Scout; we took Jacob.”
Once again, the sting of an upended life was reflected in her eyes.
“I remember sitting in large old rocker I had inherited from the previous owners of my house, and I closely held a sleeping Jacob. The sun gently shed its warming rays all about us; the pleasant relief it brought helped me to stop swallowing my sobs and just let them out. Jacob rode slumbering upon my chest as the continuing waves of weeping racked my body; that action and the fatigue it wrought helped to bring about that strange peace God offers when we have faced something perplexing and wounding, and unfathomable.”
Andrew walked across the room to retrieve our bowls, and asked, “Spending time in memories are we, ladies?”
“I’m just testing my thoughts for a bit.” Anne replied.
“I’m just letting her.” I answered.
Andrew smiled and left us alone once more.
Her story continued, “I finally rocked myself to sleep… When I awakened his eyes were fixed on me. They seemed clear and in focus, as if he was studying the mother he gained by chance. I stared back and found myself almost drowning in the deep dark-blue pools; my heart melted all the more, and I felt myself fall in love with this precious little child, no longer an orphan, but a beloved chosen one; a brother for Lily who unconditionally loved him from the start. A son for James to love, teach, and share man stuff; a little boy whose heart I would steal with a mother’s flirtatious ways. Oh yes, I had found the one from the opposite sex to flirt with, a heart to steal, and a love to seal forever.”
I was learning to enjoy this new strange road God had planted me on.
Anne paused and we had a good chuckle, both being mothers of boys; we learned the age-old secrets of tying those special apron strings to encompass you and your man-child. And yes, the secret of untying them we also learned, later.
“Daily I found myself being lifted from the despair of self-pity to contemplating how full of joy the riders on my beautiful spinning carousel were, and I wasn’t caught there; I chose to ride! Often I would speculate if I was the reason my friends had to die; was it to save me from the mistakes I was headed toward? God, in his time, would ease my heart and finally, filled me with the understanding of the fact He was always in charge. It was not for me to understand, but to abide in trust. Human logic just does not work in some situations. I gave it over; it was so much easier to live by faith.”
Personally, I felt the deepest sense of relief; the titillating secret I thought I would learn about in detail, was a love affair in the truest sense ~ it became a family affair. It blessed her past, her present, and I am sure it will bless her future, for as long as God grants her remembrances.
I was happy to be her sounding board, as she tested herself… and today she passed.
“Umm, uh …”
“Bev.” I supplied.
“You are right, yes! Bev. Be sure to come back soon.” She spoke in a dismissive way around a giant yawn, still with that clipped, but enchanting English accent, “Oh, I am so sleepy.”
I grinned a silly good-bye and started to put on my jacket, but something just hadn’t clicked; since the last trip here I had been meaning to ask her something, what… Oh yes, I remembered!
“Anne, you told me when we first met you were the only one left on earth who knew the people you knew, who lived your story, and had touched the flesh you had touched. Does that mean…?”
I turned toward her. “Oh!”
She was already sound asleep.
Anne lay comfortably with one-arm askew on the sheets the palm turned up and cupped in a position of supplication. Cuddled in the other, partially hidden by a blanket, I could see a tiny head and the painted face of an old china doll, whose eyes were painted wide in perpetual surprise.
Leaning close to her for a good-bye kiss, I heard her whisper, “Lily!” She took a deep long breath, and caught in the stream of released air was the softly audible, urgent plea, “Wait for me!”
For the longest time I paused, standing at the threshold, thinking of Lily, Jacob and William. Where were they? What had happened? Would she remember the next time I came? I watched the window as the heavy snow kept falling and swirling when caught by a rogue north wind. I glanced her way; Anne’s sweet face was relaxed, the wrinkles lessened. Softly, her chest was rising and falling, her last words of today were carving a poem in my heart…
Yet I pondered…
“Wait for me…?”
I headed out into the snowy evening. I was in a mood of reflection; after all, my visit had not been a sacrifice of pain, but a sacrifice bringing pure pleasure. That’s the way it should be when God chooses the offering.
But the king answered, “No, I will pay you for it. I will not offer to the Lord my God sacrifices that have cost me nothing.” And he bought the threshing place and the oxen for fifty pieces of silver. Then he built an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. The Lord answered his prayer, and the epidemic in Israel was stopped. 2 Samuel 24:24-25 (GNT)
To, or not to, tell a “part 2” story is a personal choice you as a writer must make; if you do, then let the chips fall where they may, your dilemma is over.