Friday, February 5, 2010

"Tale of Manaeth"

This is an excerpt from Ch. 5 of "Tale of Manaeth" by Philip Campbell. Find out more at

At morn upon the rising of the golden sun, the five lords of Elabaea, Naross of Asylia, Arrax of Paros, Amyntas of Kerion, Hadrior, son-in-law of Ioclus and Garba of Cadarasia sent for a herald and said, "Go and fetch the lady Manaeth and bring her hither. Tell her maidens to wash and anoint her and have her made beautiful, and have her bring with her the shield and spear of Ioclus." The herald went unto the tent of Manaeth and told her maidens, "The lords summon Manaeth to their counsel, but first let her be bathed, anointed and made beautiful, for something great is about to happen." The maids did as they were commanded, and waking lady Manaeth they bathed, cleansed and anointed her with oil. Then Manaeth arrayed herself in a splendid gown of green and was wrapped in a white cloak of ermine, and on her head she wore a silver tiara that was delicate and finely wrought. In one hand she clasped the mighty spear of Ioclus her father, and upon her back she slung his great shield of beaten bronze. Then she came forth from her tent, and her train of maidens with her, and walked through the camp to the meeting place of the five lords. And as she walked, the men of Elabaea emerged from their tents as well, and followed behind her, so that all the company of Elabaea was gathered together about her.

When she approached the meeting place of the five lords, she greeted them pleasantly and would have made familiar with them, but they rose and stood before her solemnly, and she perceived that something was amiss and said, "What is this my lords? Is there more grave news?" But Naross spoke boldly and said, "Lady Manaeth, thou blessed among women of Asylia, come and claim the throne of thy father. Take up his scepter and rule this land in might against our cruel foes. Be our queen in peace and war, and we will pledge troth to thee, to fight for thee and serve thee all thy days as our queen and rightful heir to the house of Ioclus." Then all the men of war gathered around her shouted their assent and clashed their spears and shields.

When Manaeth understood that they purposed to make her queen, her knees trembled and she pleaded with the lords with great cries, begging that she was not worthy for such an undertaking, that as recently as two days ago she had been lost hopelessly in the wilderness, that she had left her family alone and been allowed to live while they suffered death. With many such sayings and a great many tears she protested, but Naross said, "Lady Manaeth, these things were all by providence, that you should be given to us as our ruler in this dire hour. Resign yourself to your fate." When Naross had said this, Manaeth ceased her weeping and assented to all that they proposed and consented to be made Queen of Asylia.

Then horns were blown and all of the men of war assembled on the hill, near where Manaeth and the lords stood. Then seven of the stongest men were brought forth, and they bore Manaeth aloft, sitting her upon the shield of Ioclus her father. Naross took the spear of Ioclus in hand, and began a procession from that spot up to the Stone of Cruachan, which crested the hill about five hundred paces from where they stood. Behind Naross processed Arrax, then Hadrior, then Garba and lastly Amyntas, who walked before Manaeth. Then was carried Manaeth, daughter of Ioclus and heir to the rulership of Asylia. Before her came maidens of great beauty who danced and sung sweet melodies of Asylia in the spring, and behind her marched a solemn column of a thousand warriors, all battle hardened and keen with spear and sword. As they approached the hill, the men began to chant one of the solemn hymns of Asylia, ancient and sonorous, praising the virtues of just lordship and invoking the blessing of heaven upon the young queen...

When the procession reached the Stone of Cruachan, Manaeth removed her shoes and stepped forth from the shield, standing aloft upon the stone, so that she was above all the other lords and men upon the hill top. Then Naross came forth and recited in verse all of the great deeds of the house of Manaeth, from the very beginning unto that day, and all the assembly stood silent with great reverence. And what did Naross sing of that autumn morn? First he sung of the wanderings of Laban in the ancient days, he who came forth out of the east with his kin and established a kingdom in the west, in Elabaea, which is named from Laban. The whole genealogy was recited, how Laban begat four sons who scattered and settled the west, and how it was his grandson, Anrothan, who wed the beautiful maiden Cyréa, and brought forth the Asylian people... Finally the song came down to Manaeth's own day, and of the glories of Ioclus her father in war and peace, how he had slain many Epidymians and killed the great boar of Gihon. When Naross reached the end of his song, he added a new verse, praising the valor of Manaeth and her slaying of the traitor Gygas atop the slopes of Lissus. When the song had ended, everybody stood silent.

Then Manaeth was handed the spear of Ioclus and the mighty shield which she had been born upon, and she took these up in her hands and held them aloft to the winds, invoking their aid in battle. After this she said, "Men of Asylia, never has it been known in the days of our fathers unto our most distant ancestors that a queen has ruled the people of our land. What the lords have done this day in proclaiming me is something new in Asylia, but something that will confound our enemies and bring crashing victory to our cause, though it come at the cost of much spilt blood." Then she decreed that henceforth she should no longer be known as Manaeth, but by the name Manissa, which means "Maid of Asylia." Then all of the men there assembled clashed their spears to their shields and cried out as one, "Hail Manissa, Queen of Asylia! We will serve thee forever!" As they cried, Manissa stood tall upon the stone and seemed to grow in stature and grandeur, so that even Arrax was fearful of her might. And the sun fell and lighted upon her, so that she seemed at that moment to become exceedingly beautiful and glorious, like one of the Mighty Ones of old. And many of the men there bowed their faces to the ground and said, "The beauty of Orianna and Osseia lives in Manissa, and the might of Manx and Orix her forebears!" Never had Manissa appeared so fearsome or beautiful as that day she stood upon the Stone of Cruachan when the Asylians proclaimed her queen.

After all this, Manissa came down from the stone and the whole assembly, lords and common soldiers, had a great feast in honor of the young queen. Then as night fell, Manissa retired to her tent to speak of stratagems with the five lords. And on that night it was decided by them to continue in the plans of Ioclus and make savage war upon Maruda, to utterly drive the men of Caeylon from the land and destroy the oppressive stronghold of Danath Hered. When they had resolved upon this course they drank and made many oaths of loyalty and then retired late after darkness fell. And the shrill winds of autumn night were upon the land.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Gift of the Tree

An evergreen sapling stood in the crowded wood, a gentle layer of snow caressing its branches. It was much smaller than the tall stately firs that surrounded it and felt well-protected by their presence. It was safe there; it knew no harm would come to it. The small tree gladly welcomed the birds that would rest on its branches and the woodland animals that sought shelter beneath its boughs. It was a good life.

One day, strangers came into the forest. “Who are they?” the young tree queried an elder fir standing nearby.

“They are a family. They come here each year in the midst of winter to choose one of us.”

“Choose one of us? For what?” The tree was puzzled.

“It is Christmas, my child.”


“I will tell you the story, the same way I heard it when I was only a sapling.”

The petite tree could hardly imagine the giant fir being little like itself! It listened intently.

“Many, many years ago, a small child was born in a stable in Bethlehem. It was an amazing night. The angels sang and there was the brightest star ever seen in the night sky. The animals were there and they shared the story with all the other wildlife. This was no ordinary child. This was the Son of God, the God that made us all and this wonderful world we live in. God sent his Son to bring salvation to the world. Each year, the humans commemorate His birthday, the day that tiny baby came into the world. One way they celebrate is by decorating an evergreen tree.”

At that moment, the sound of an ax striking wood resounded through the forest.

“What is that?” the small tree asked, frightened.

“Ahh. The tree has been chosen.”

“Chosen! But they are hurting it! They are killing it!”

“Yes, but it is a great honor to be chosen! To give one’s life to celebrate the One who gave us all life – what could be greater than that? I would have gladly given my life.” The elder tree sighed. “Unfortunately, I am now too old and much too big. It is the younger ones that are chosen – the ones in the prime of their lives.”

The young tree shuddered as the family dragged the chosen one away. “I don’t want to be chosen! I like it here. I don’t want to die!”

“You don’t need to worry about it now! You are still very young.”

The years went by and the small tree had grown into a beautiful fir. Each year, it filled with fear as the family would come. “Please don’t pick me,” it would whisper. Each year, it filled with relief as another was chosen and dragged away.

Another winter came to the forest. This time when the family came, there was a small girl with them. She saw the tree and fell in love. “This one, Daddy!” she cried with enthusiasm as she threw her arms around it. The tree was so scared as the father came over. It could see the gleaming metal of the blade carried over his shoulder.

“Not me. Please, not me,” the tree begged. “Choose another. There are others more beautiful than I. There are others more worthy! There are others who want the job!” But then the tree saw the small girl’s eyes which were so full of excitement and love, and it remembered the words of the wise old tree – to give one’s life for the One who made us all is an honor. The tree took a deep breath. “I can do it,” it thought. “I can be brave.” It felt a sharp pain as the metal crashed powerfully against its trunk. The next thing it heard was the appreciative murmurs of the other trees as it was pulled across the snow. Yes, this year, it was the chosen one.

It was brought to the family’s home. The smiling faces hung ornaments and lights on its boughs. The family sang songs and put wrapped packages underneath its branches. The little girl was lifted up in her father’s strong arms and placed a star on its top. A star – like the one the ancient tree had told him about! The tree had never imagined anything as wonderful as this! It never dreamed it would give such joy! Then, they told the story – the same story of the child’s birth it had been told so many years before.

The tree was filled with warmth and love. Yes, this was an honor. This was its crowning moment. Like all those who give all for the One who made them, the tree was rewarded beyond measure.

by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 13

Chapter 13

“So, how is your job search coming?” Mike asked a couple weeks later as we settled in to eating our salads. He had taken me to a cozy restaurant in downtown Springfield.

“Not good. I went and saw Rachel at the library at the other day. She was happy to see me, but unfortunately, my job was filled and there aren't any other openings now. She did say that she would be glad to give me a recommendation. That's something, I suppose.”

“Yeah, I've met your replacement. She seems pretty nice. She isn't you, though.”
“Well, thank you. Yeah, I met her, too. I'm sure she'll work out fine. I'm just not sure what I'm going to do, though. Maybe I should see if this place is hiring. It's not like I don't have waitressing experience.”

“Yeah, but you hate waitressing. You don't want to go back to doing that.”

“No, I don't, but I have to pay the bills somehow. The money I have saved isn't going to last forever.”

“You could publish your novel and become a best-selling author and never have to worry about money again!”

“Hmm, that would be nice. I don't think that I'll hold my breath on that one, however.”

“Well, how about this then?” he pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me.

“The college library is hiring?”

“Yeah, I pulled that off the job board when I was there yesterday. I know it's not a children's library so you wouldn't get to do story times or anything and it is just an entry-level job, but there's lots of old books and I know the head librarian really well and you could use my name as a reference. . .”

“Oh, thank you! This is wonderful. Oh, I'm so excited . . .I'll send out a resume first thing in the morning. Working in a college . . .that would be so great.”

“One of the nice perks, too, is after you work there for a year, you can take classes for free, so if you ever wanted to finish your degree . . .”

“Wow, that would be something, wouldn't it? I'm not sure how I would do in the classroom – it has been a few years.”

“You'd do fine. I teach people older than you all the time. Maybe you could even take one of my classes.”

“Oh, I don't know if I am up for that!” He threw a small piece of his breadstick at me. It was so nice to be back around him. I had missed him so very much, more than he could possibly realize.


When we got back to my house, I noticed that Mike pulled a wrapped package out of his backseat before coming in.

“What is that?” I asked once we were inside.

“It's a present – a very belated Christmas present. I hope that you like it.” He handed it over to me. He looked so nervous.

“Are you OK? You don't look so good.”

“I'm fine. Just open it.”

I tore open the paper. Inside was a binder full of paper. I opened the front cover and read.

“Mystery in the Stacks by Michael Duncan. Oh my goodness!” I looked up at him in surprise. “This is your book!”

“Yes, I'd like you to read it.”

“But you never let anyone read your stuff!”

“I know. I thought in this case I might make an exception.”

“I'm honored, really! I can't wait to read it!”

“Well, if you hate it, please don't tell me. I don't think I could take it.”
“I'm sure that I'm going to love it.” He still seemed really nervous.
“Are you sure you're alright?” I asked again.

“Actually, could I have a glass of water or something. It seems like it is really hot in here.”

“Sure, coming right up.” I went and fixed a glass for him.

“If you’re that scared about my reading it, I can give it back to you.”

“No, I'll be fine. No, it's something else. Something I want to talk to you about.” He looked so serious.

“Oh, OK.” I sat down next to him.

“I know this is an awful time for you. You have been through so much recently, you really don't need anything else on your plate right now, but I just can't keep this from you anymore.”

“OK . . .” Please, God. Please don't let him tell me he is dying, too.

“Well, the thing is, . . .” He truly looked like he was going to be sick at any moment. “Maybe I shouldn't say anything.”

“No,” I braced myself for whatever bad news was about to befall me. “Please tell me. I can take it.”

“OK. Here it goes. The thing is . . .” he took a deep breath, “that I am in love with you.”

“You're what?” I asked, a bit too loudly.

“See, I knew I shouldn't have told you! This is bad timing. I'm sorry. I'll go.” He went to grab his coat.

“No, don't go,” I said gently as I took his very sweaty hand in mine. “You took me by surprise, that's all. The way you were looking, I thought you were going to give me another piece of bad news. It was just the last thing I expected to come out of your mouth.”

“So, you're not mad?”

“No, I'm not mad. Not at all. That's the best news I've gotten in a very long time.”

“Oh, good! Because I tried to stop myself because you didn't seem ready to care about anyone again, but ever since that first day I saw you at the library, I haven't been able to get you out of my head. I didn’t want to fall in love with you. I was scared to love again, and then you told me about Alan and I knew the timing was bad, and then you had to leave . . .I think about you all the time and dream of you, and well, there are about four more portraits of you up in my studio. I missed you so much when you were gone, and I would come here, and just sit in your house so that I could feel close to you, and I knew you were hurting and there was nothing I could do, and I hated myself because all I wanted to do was hold you in my arms and kiss you, and I understand if you don't love me, but maybe we could date and see how it goes, and maybe eventually you could love me . . .”


“Yeah?” he looked at me expectantly.

“I already do.”

I pulled him close to me and melted into his kiss. The whole world seemed to simply fade away. There was just Mike and me and an unknown future I was looking forward to discovering. The window had finally opened. Maybe, just maybe, I would get my happy ending after all.

The End

Visit Anne Faye's blog at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 12, Part 3

We ate Christmas dinner in the living room so that we could all be near Mom. Melissa helped Emily open her presents. Admittedly, the baby wasn't much interested in them. She was more excited about the paper and the boxes which she kept trying to eat! She would get good use out of the toys as she got bigger, though. My mom had also had me pick up a pretty porcelain doll for her for when she was much, much older. She wanted it to be a lasting gift, something that she could appreciate and keep for always. Melissa thought it was beautiful.

“I have some things I want to give to each of you,” my mother began, after Emily was done with all of her gifts.

“Oh, Mom, you didn't need to do that!” Bill and I exclaimed, almost in unison.
“Well I couldn't go shopping, obviously, but there are some special things that I have that I want each of you to have for after I'm gone.

“Melissa, you have been part of our family for the shortest time, but you have been a wonderful addition. I know how happy you have made Bill. That is the most important thing a mother can look for in a daughter-in-law. I also see how much you love that little girl. You are a great mother. I don't have too much, but I would like you to have my jewelry. There are a few really nice pieces that I think would look just lovely on you. My jewelry box is upstairs in my room. Pat can get it for you later.”

“Thank you. That's so kind. . . I really don't know what to say,” Melissa stammered.
“Don't say anything. Just wear it and enjoy it and think of me when you do. Maybe one day you can give some of it to that precious little girl of yours.”

“I will,” Melissa promised.

“Now, Bill,” she looked over at my big brother. “I racked my brain to think of what to give you. I didn't think that you would look very good in any of my sweaters,” she laughed, “although you know that you are welcome to anything that I have. In the end, I decided to write you a letter. Don't open it until after I am gone.” She handed him a thin sealed envelope. He grasped it, his hand shaking. I thought I saw a tear in his eye. There were certainly tears in mine.

“And Lucy, last but not least,” she turned her kind eyes toward me. How I would miss her! “You have been such a comfort to me, and don't think I don't realize what you have given up to take care of me. I could never thank you enough.”

“You don't have to, Mom. I've been happy to do it,” I managed to get out through the lump in my throat.

“I wrote you a letter, too,” and she handed me my own thin envelope. “Same conditions as your brother's.” I nodded. “I would also like you to have that chest over there and all its contents.” She pointed to the chest with the secret
compartment. “It's always meant a lot to me, and I know you'll take good care of it.”

“I will, Mom. I promise,” I said, reaching out for her hand. She held it and squeezed.

My mother died the night of December 30th. She died peacefully, in her sleep. My father said that when he awoke in the morning she was gone. Bill and Melissa hadn't gone home yet. I think she wanted to go while they were still here so that they wouldn't need to make another trip. That was my mother, considerate right to the very end.

It was the second time I had lost someone close to me in less than two years. This time, though, there was no anger to sustain me in my grief. There was only emptiness, only pain where my heart should have been. I knew she was happy. I knew she was better off, that her pain was now over. There was no doubt in my mind that she was with the God she loved so deeply. That gave me some comfort, but how was I supposed to go on without her? That was the question that I had no answer to. I knew my life would continue, just as it had after Alan had died. No matter how much I wanted it to stop, the sun would keep coming up every morning, the days would keep moving along. It all seemed like a cruel joke. Bill had Melissa to lean on. My father was stoic. I knew he was hurting, but he had put up a wall around him and nobody was going to get through. I had nobody. I went for long walks with Lady in an attempt to clear my head, but the emptiness just walked right along with me. I briefly considered going out and getting totally, mind-numbingly drunk. In the end, I decided it wouldn't help.

I called Mike the day after the funeral to let him know. I had spoken to him a few times since I had been back home, mainly when I had driven into town and could call him on my cell. The old phone that my parents had in the middle of their kitchen didn't allow for a whole lot of privacy. The sound of his voice always made my heart skip a beat. Our conversations weren't about anything earth-shattering. He let me know that the house was still standing (always good to know), and told me about Sara and the boys and what was going on for their holidays. His parents had come up for a visit, so he talked about them as well. I mostly listened, but I didn't mind. I could have listened to him all day. And so, there I was, sitting in my car in the freezing cold in the parking lot of the grocery store, telling him that my mother was gone. He said he was sorry, and then there was silence. There really wasn't anything to say. I told him that I would be coming back to Springfield in another week or so.

Bill and Melissa headed home to Arizona. He felt bad doing so but he needed to get back to work. We understood. I had considered staying behind to help my father with the farm, but I just couldn't. My father didn't seem to want me to stay, either. The one time I brought it up, he said that my mother would have wanted me to go back to my new life. Honestly, I couldn't imagine staying. There was nothing for me here. Nothing but pain everywhere I looked.

I packed my car to go back to Springfield. My father helped me get the chest in the back seat of my car. It was a tight fit. I had to shove all my other things over and around it. Lady had to sit on top of my suitcase in the front seat, the suitcase which still held the unopened letter from my mother. I hadn't been able to bring myself to read it.

“Goodbye, Dad.” I briefly considered hugging him, but he wasn't really the hugging type. “Let me know if I can help you with anything. You can call anytime.”

“I'll be fine,” he responded.

“I know.”

“Have a safe trip.”

When I reached my house, I was pleasantly surprised that the driveway and walk had been shoveled. It looked like there had been a storm earlier in the week. Mike had obviously taken his house watching duties seriously. I hadn't told him exactly when I was coming back. I wanted to see him, but I didn't want him waiting for me. I wanted to just come back and be in my own house alone for a little while. I would need his help to move that chest out of the back seat of my car, though. I certainly wasn't going to be able to get it in the house on my own. It would just have to wait. I grabbed the suitcase and my laptop and headed in, Lady jumping around me, happy to be able to stretch her legs again. I walked in and collapsed on my couch and went to sleep. I was so very tired. I didn't wake up until the next morning when Lady frantically began licking my face in an effort to tell me that she desperately needed to go out.

“Alright, stop licking. I'm coming.” I staggered out of the chair and headed for the door. I opened it to a loud thud.

“Oh my goodness, are you OK?” Mike had tumbled down the stairs! Lady jumped on top of him, giving him a warm welcome of her own.

“Yeah, I'm fine, I think,” he said as he righted himself and put Lady on her leash.
“I'm sorry. I was half-asleep, I didn't even see you.”

“I was just about to ring your doorbell. I had just come by to check on the house, but then I saw your car was here.”

“I'm sorry,” I said as I realized that we were standing outside in the freezing cold. “Come on in. I'll put some coffee on. What time is it anyway?”

“It's a little after eight. When did you get back?”

“Last night. I'm sorry – I should have told you when I was coming back. You wouldn't have had to make the trip over. I was just so tired last night. I wasn't really up to seeing anyone or talking to anyone.”

“Yeah, sure. No, I understand,” he looked disappointed. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No, not at all. Please stay. It is so good to see you.”

“It is good to see you, too.”

“I really appreciate all that you have done, taking care of the house. I was so surprised to see the shoveling done.”

“Well, I couldn't have you come home to a foot of a snow, could I?”

“Well, you could have, but I'm glad that you didn't.”

“So, how are you doing, really?” he asked gently.

“I'm OK. Well, not really. I mean, my mom just died and all.”

“I know. It must be so hard.”

“It is, but she died peacefully. She died the way she wanted to go, just about thirty years too early. It seems so unfair.”

“It is unfair.”

“Yeah . . .” We sat in silence for a moment, then I thought of something. “Hey, can you help me carry something into the house?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“It's out in the car. Grab your coat. My mom gave me a chest to take back with me. There is absolutely no way that I could get it into the house on my own.”

“Well, it is good that I brought my muscles with me this morning.” It took some effort but we were finally able to get it out of the car, up the front steps, and into the house.

“Where do you want this?” he groaned.

“Let's just leave it right here.” We put it near the entryway. “I'll worry about putting it somewhere else later.”

“It's nice,” he said.

“Thanks. It belonged to my grandmother. My great-grandfather made it.”
He took a look at my still packed suitcase. “I should probably get going – let you get settled back in.”

“Yeah. It feels weird to be back.”

“Are you staying this time?”

“I hope so.”

“Good,” he turned to head out the door. “Hey, is it OK if I give you a call later this week? Maybe we can go out to dinner or something.”

“Yeah, that would be great.”

It had been so good to see Mike. Admittedly, I wished I hadn't been suffering from bed head and wearing yesterday's clothes when I saw him. The chest by the door was calling me. I opened it and wrapped one of my mother's quilts around me. It still carried her scent. I drank it in like a fine wine. I opened the suitcase and took out my mother's letter, as of yet still unopened. It was time. I sat on the couch, cracked the seal and unfolded the rose-colored paper filled with my mother's small, neat handwriting.

My dearest Lucy,

If you are reading this, I've gone to discover the world that exists on the other side of the veil. Honestly, I'm looking forward to seeing what lies beyond, but I know that I will miss what I am leaving behind. My time with all of you was much too short.

I know that you must be hurting right now. You have every right to hurt and to cry and to be angry. You have had to endure too much pain, too much loss, for someone so young. I beg of you, don't let that pain define you. I've always admired your spirit and your willingness to try new things. As much as I missed you when you were gone, I was so proud of you when you moved away to begin your new life. And your novel is amazing! You have to finish it. If not for you, then do it for me, as a last gift to your mother!

You have courage that I could only dream of having. I'm so sorry that you had to come back to care for me just when you were starting to move forward, although I'm very glad that we had these past few weeks together. I've loved just being with you. It meant so much to me, and to your father (even though he could never find the words to say so.) Try not to worry about him too much. He's a strong man. He'll manage to keep going. Be sure to call him once in a while, though. Let him know that you are OK. Words have never come easy to him, but he does love you. And, while I don't know whether he ever will or not, he has my blessing to get married again. I want him to be happy. If that day comes that he has found someone new to love, I want you to be happy for him, too.

I left you the chest. I hope that you can find a good place for it in your home. I know that you always loved the quilts that are inside, and I know that you will keep the secrets that it holds safe. May that secret remind you of the importance of love, whenever or however you find it. True love does last forever. I believe that you will find love, a love that will heal the pain that lies within you. You are capable of such love. Whoever you choose to love will be so lucky.

Embrace life, drink it in. Enjoy the gift of every day because they all pass by way too quickly. And whenever God does decide to call you home, I will be waiting for you with open arms.

I love you forever.
Until we meet again,

I reread the letter four times, then folded it back up, wiped away my tears and took out my laptop. “OK, Mom, this is for you.” I whispered to the heavens as I began to write with a renewed sense of purpose.

Visit Anne Faye's blog at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 12, Part 2

I was exhausted when I finally pulled into my driveway. I grabbed my suitcase and laptop and let Lady out of the car. She ran to the front door. Home. We were home. In realizing that I would now be leaving it for an unknown amount of time, I came to understand just how much this had come to be my home, my safe haven. I walked in to the sound of the answering machine beeping. It was Mike.

“Hi, Lucy. Hope you got home OK. I tried calling your cell a few times this weekend and sent you some emails. I wasn't stalking you. I was just worried when you didn't respond. I hope you are OK. Please call me when you get this.”

So, maybe he had called, after all. I plugged my cell in to recharge. Sure enough, a few moments later, it was flashing that I had five messages. I took off my coat and dialed Mike's number.

“Lucy, I'm so glad to hear from you. I've been so worried,” were the first words out of his mouth.

“I'm fine. I'm sorry I couldn't respond to your messages. There is no cell phone reception at my parents' farm and then there was this massive storm and the power went out for three days.”

“Oh my goodness. It sounds like an eventful weekend.”

“You have no idea,” I responded.

“Do you want to go out tonight? You can tell me all about it.”

“I do want to see you, but I am exhausted and I have to go to work early tomorrow. Could we get together tomorrow after I get out of work?”

“Umm, there is a big party tomorrow for the writing group. We are going to get together to celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo. Do you want to go?”

“Nah, I'm not really in the mood for a party.”

“Oh, OK,” he sounded disappointed.

“I'm sorry. I really do want to see you. It's just that a lot happened this weekend. I have a lot to tell you. I'm just not up to being around a whole bunch of people right now.”

“I can't blow off the party. I'm the leader of the group.”

“I know. I wasn't asking you to. Can we get together on Tuesday?”

“Yeah, Tuesday would be great. I'll pick you up at work?”

“Sure. I get off at six.”

“OK. See you then.”

Well, at least Mike had been worried about me. That was something, right? I wanted to see him so much. There was no use in denying it. As much as I knew that we had no future together, I missed him horribly. The time was going to drag until Tuesday night, not least of all because I had to go and see Rachel tomorrow and tell her what was going on. I was not looking forward to that. Oh well, there was nothing I could do about it. I crashed on my bed, the painting that Mike had done of me looking down at me, and went into a deep sleep.

The conversation with Rachel was not as bad as I feared. She understood. Unfortunately she couldn't keep my job for me, especially since there was no way of knowing when I would be back. I could see her position - I hadn't been there that long. She would post the opening for the job that very day. I told her that I would finish out the week. I was so sad as I walked around the library, doing my job. I had enjoyed being there so much. I had loved being around all the books. I knew I had to go, but I didn't want to.

When Mike came to pick me up Tuesday night, Rachel saw him.

“It's Mr. Artist Man!” she exclaimed. Why couldn't she ever call him by his name?

“Will you please tell your girlfriend here how much we are all going to miss her? Can't you talk her into staying?” I turned and glared at her, begging her with my eyes to stop talking. I was not Mike's girlfriend and this was not how I wanted to tell Mike.

“Bye, Rachel,” I said as I attempted to physically pull Mike away from the reference desk.

“Leaving? What is she talking about?” Mike asked.

“I told you. I have a lot to tell you.”

“I guess so!” he said a little too loudly. The library patrons were starting to stare.

“Let's go somewhere where we can talk in private.” I whispered. “Please.”

“Alright,” he said more calmly. “I'm just surprised. That wasn't what I expected to hear. Do you want to go back to my house? Sara and the boys are out tonight. The place will be quiet until eight.”

“Sure, that sounds good.” A couple hours would be plenty of time to explain the recent events in my life.

“Why don't you follow me? That way we won't have to come back here later.”

“Um. OK.”

I followed his car, thankful for the chance to collect my thoughts before we had what was evidently going to be a very uncomfortable conversation. I was so mad at Rachel. Why did she have to blurt it out like that? And why was Mike so upset? Ugh. Men were a mystery I would never understand. As I drove past Forest Park, I noticed the line of cars and the holiday lights shining brightly. A huge sign glowed “Welcome to Bright Nights!” Mike had said he had hoped we could go. I guess that was one more thing that wasn't going to happen.

He said nothing when he got out of the car, but strode silently up the walk and up the steps. He did hold the door for me.

“Thank you,” I blurted out weakly.

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked as we went into the kitchen.

“That would be great.” He poured me some water. We sat down at the table.

“So, why are you leaving?”

“Wow, you don't waste any time getting to the point, do you?”

“I don't see any point to pussy-footing around,” he answered straightforwardly. “I didn't think you wanted to go back there, to all the memories.”

“I'm sorry. Rachel shouldn't have said anything to you. She had no right – I wanted to tell you myself, but I had to tell her because I have to leave my job.”

“Why are you leaving your job?” he interrupted. “You love your job.”

“Yes, I do love my job. Please. This is hard enough. Just let me get it all out.” He nodded. I went on to tell him of my mother's illness, how no one had told me, of how angry I was, of how I had spent a couple days debating what I was going to do but I that I had come to the decision that I had to take care of her. I had rehearsed the words I was going to say to him a hundred times over the past few days, but I still teared up. Why was I always crying in front of this man?

“I'm so sorry, Lucy. This must be so hard for you,” he finally said, his voice much more gentle. “I'm sorry I got upset. Rachel's news just took me by surprise.”

“I know. I don't want to leave. I like it here. It was really starting to feel like home. And,” I added, “I've been so thankful for your friendship this past month.” Had it really only been a month since I had met him? Funny how I had grown to care for him so much so quickly.

“I've enjoyed getting to know you, too.” He smiled at me and patted my hand. Electricity flew through me at his touch, and oh, how I loved that smile. I briefly reconsidered telling him how I felt, but now there really was no point. I had to go away.

“Will you come back? I mean, after . . .”

“I don't know.” I answered honestly. “I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, and now, well, I have no job to come back to.”

“You could get another job down here.”

“I don't know. I just don't know. I have the house. I haven't decided whether to sell it or not. I have enough money saved to pay for a few months of the mortgage. I guess it was silly of me to buy it. I should have rented something. I really thought I would be here longer than a few months, though. . .”

“Well, is there anything I can do to help?”

“Actually, I wanted to ask you if you would be willing to take care of the house for me while I am gone.”

“Sure, anything you want.”

“Thanks, that's a big relief.”

“When are you leaving?”

“I figure I'll go back up Sunday. My mom doesn't even know I'm coming back. She doesn't want me to. She figures that I gave up enough for her the last time she was sick, but she and my Dad need me. He wants me there. I'm just going to show up so that she can't tell me not to come.”

“What about your brother?”

“Oh, he has his job and his wife and child to think about. He can't give up his life as easily as I can. I did call and tell him what was going on, though. He feels horrible, too, but there is nothing that he can do. He has promised to bring his family home for Christmas. That will mean so much to Mom.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes. It began to get rather uncomfortable. I searched for something to say.

“Oh, hey, I saw the lights at Forest Park when I was driving by. They look beautiful.”

“Yeah, they always are. We usually try to wait for there to be some snow before we go see them. That makes them look even better.”

“I wish I could go . . . As for the snow, though, I saw enough this past weekend to last me a while. I can't believe you didn't get any down here.”

“Nope. Just rain. Lots and lots of rain. Lots of flooding. At least snow is pretty.”

“Yeah . . . in small doses.” I ventured to change the subject. “So how did your writing party go?”

“It was all right. A couple of people got really drunk and made fools of themselves. I've never really seen the point in that. Other than that, it was good. Seven people finished their novels.”

“Did you?”

“No. I came up about 5000 words short. Did you?”

“No. I had great intentions of doing a big push this past weekend, but, obviously, that didn't happen. I haven't touched it since I found out about my mom. It just doesn't seem to be very important anymore. Do you think you'll finish yours?”

“I'm really not sure. It depends . . .”

“On what?”

“On the ending. I haven't figured out how the story is supposed to end.”

“Yeah, I can relate. I was having the same issue with my story. I figured it out in the shower.”

“I've taken a lot of showers. The ending still hasn't come.”

“It will. I'm sure of it.”

The rest of the week passed in a blur. I spent my last few days at work, did my last story times, said goodbye to all my favorite patrons. I saw Mike one more time. I gave him the key to my house which made the move seem that much more final. I knew I needed to do this, but it didn't make the sinking feeling in my stomach go away. I hugged him goodbye and hung on a bit too long, drinking in the scent of him. He didn't seem to mind. He pulled away, looking like he wanted to say something, but he didn't. He just said goodbye and drove away. I watched the car go all the way down the street. I wondered when I would get to see him again.

I had spoken to my mother on the phone. She wasn't feeling any worse. That was good news, although I wasn't sure if I should take her at her word or not. I still didn't tell her I was coming, though. I didn’t want her to try to talk me out of it. I went through my house trying to sort out what to take and what to leave behind. It made it harder that I didn't know just how long I would be gone. Plus, I was only taking my car up so I could only bring what I could fit. I seriously debated bringing the painting Mike had done of me. I thought my mother would like to see it, and I had grown use to having it as a daily reminder of him. Still, space was at a premium and it would be safer here. I opted to take a photo instead. Hopefully, Mike wouldn't be offended that I had left it behind.

I went to early mass Sunday morning, made one last trip to the house to pick up Lady, and then headed back up north. Had I only been gone a week? It felt like much longer.

“Lucy, what on earth are you doing here?” my mother greeted me, rushing out of the door as soon as my car pulled in the driveway. “Pat, did you know about this?” she asked my father who had just stuck his head out the door. He shrugged noncommittally. I think he knew that I would come.

“Get back in the house, Mom. You don't even have a coat on!” Who was sounding like the mother now?

“I've come to help, Mom.” I said firmly as I gave her a hug once I was inside.
“I don't want your help!” she protested.

“I know, but you are getting it anyway, so you might as well make the best of it.” I really was starting to sound like a mother. She opened her mouth to argue, but then seemed to think better of it. She looked at me and smiled, her whole face lighting up.

“I'm glad that you're here. Thank you for coming.”


It was good that I did come. My mother declined much more quickly than anyone expected. By the time Christmas was approaching, she was feeling very tired and weak and I had pretty much taken over running the house. She couldn't make the trip up the stairs any longer so we set up a bed for her downstairs right near the Christmas tree. She liked it there. Every now and then I would look over to see her fingering the ornaments and I knew that she was lost in her memories. When the chores were done, I would sit near her and we would look at old photo albums together, her telling me stories of all the people in the photos. It was like she was imparting our family history to me, lest it be lost forever. She also liked to have me read to her. And every day we would say our rosary together, just like we did when I was young. When she got too tired to pray aloud, I would pray for her as her fingers gently caressed the beads of her well-worn rosary.

The visiting nurse came a few times a week to check on her and Fr. Flanagan came over whenever he could. My father took up sleeping in the recliner so that he could be near her at night. He said his rightful place was beside her. A couple times I sneaked down in the middle of the night just to check on them and they would be there, sleeping, my father's hand resting ever so gently on my mother's.

Overall, Mom was calm and peaceful. She seemed to have no fear of death, no regrets, no last minute projects that she felt she had to accomplish before she left this earth. I admired her for that.

“Lucy, what ever happened to that story you were writing?” she asked me out of the blue one day.

“Oh, I never finished it.”

“How come? I would think you have plenty of time to write around here at night. It's not like there is that much to do.” She had a point. My social life was non-existent, which, honestly, was OK with me. I was still trying to avoid anyone who would feel compelled to bring up Alan. Plus now, most of the town had heard my mom wasn’t doing well, and I couldn’t stand the looks of pity. The only places I went were to the store and to Church. Still, I hadn't typed a single word.
“I don't know. It wasn't that important.”

“Of course it was,” she protested. “I'd love to hear what you've written.” I cringed.
“Uh, I don't think so, Mom.”

“Please, I've always loved your stories. You used to love to read them to us when you were little.”

“I'm not little anymore.”

“I know, but I bet you’re still a good writer. Please. I'd really like to hear it,” she insisted. How could I say no?

“Alright, let me go get my laptop.”

After I retrieved it, I got as comfortable as I could with it in the chair and began to read. “Once upon a time . . .” I paused. “You know this hasn't been edited or anything, right? It's a really, really rough first draft.” I couldn't emphasize that enough. I was so embarrassed to even read it aloud. I hadn't read it over since I started writing. I had just kept on writing, adding to whatever I had before.
“I know. Stop procrastinating. Read!” she said gently, but firmly.

And so I read. It didn't take me that long to get through the pages of the story I had written. My mother listened quietly. I'm sure she knew the first part was a loosely fictionalized account of what had happened with Alan. I'm not sure what she thought of Anna's impromptu journey to France, but she laughed at the parts that I had intended to be funny and teared up a bit at the parts that were sad, so I considered that a good sign. When I was done, I closed the laptop and hesitantly asked what she thought.

“It's good,” she smiled. “A good first effort.”

“You're my mother – you have to say that!” I protested, but inside I was glowing. She actually had seemed to have liked it. Maybe I wasn't that bad a writer, after all.

“So, how are you going to end the story?” she asked.

“I'm not sure. I had gone back and forth on whether Anna should stay with Jacques or not. I mean, maybe it was just a fling to help her get over her husband. . .”
“Or maybe it was real love, a second chance at happiness that she should hold onto with all her might,” my mom offered.

“Maybe. I'm not sure. What do you think that she should do?”

“I think that she should stay with him; see what happens.”

“I'll take that under advisement. I'm not even sure I'm going to finish the story. I mean, really, what's the point?”

“You have to finish it,” she admonished. “The point is that you will have completed something you didn't think that you were capable of. That's important in and of itself. Unfinished projects have a way of haunting people.”

“Yeah, maybe you're right.”


Bill and Melissa did manage to make it in for Christmas. They came in the 23rd. I could tell that Bill was surprised at how much Mom had changed in such a short time, but he hid it well, and he greeted her with a big smile and a kiss. Their little girl was so beautiful, with her blonde hair and big blue eyes. Emily was eight months old. It was the first time any of us had gotten to see her in person. My mother was so happy to see her. She had sent me to Burlington a few days before with a long list of gifts to buy for her! She knew it was her one chance to spoil her one grandchild, a child who wouldn't even remember her. My mother loved children and had longed for grandchildren for so long. Life just wasn't fair.
There was a light snow falling Christmas morning. It was beautiful. Despite her weakened condition, Mom was bound and determined to make it to Church. My father had been able to rent a wheelchair. I got her dressed and was dismayed to find how loosely her clothes fit. How could she have lost that much weight so quickly? She was literally wasting away. Bill lifted her up and helped her into the chair. She was so happy to be at mass. We wheeled her right up to the front so that she could see everything. Silent tears were rolling down her face during much of the mass. My father reached over and held her hand, his strong calloused hand holding her small, soft, frail one. Tears came to my eyes, too. I think we all knew that it would be the last time she would set foot in the Church she had loved so much.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 12

Chapter 12

The power came back on Sunday, just in time for me to have to leave. I went to Church with my parents that morning. It was the first Sunday of Advent, the single lighted purple candle on the Advent wreath reminding us that it was time to prepare our hearts for Christmas. Fr. Farling gave a homily about focusing on the spiritual aspects of Christmas, rather than the material aspects, of taking the time to appreciate the value of waiting for someone special, a baby who had come to save us. I looked over at my mother. She was sitting there, hands folded, listening intently. She had always found such strength in her faith. Even now, she didn't seem scared of dying at all. She was taking it all in stride, like it was all part of God's big plan, and that everything would be OK. All I was feeling was that God's plan stunk. That was probably a really bad thing to be thinking in a church. I wish I had my mother's faith.

We had spent the remainder of the weekend ignoring the elephant in the room. We acted like everything was fine. My mother's diagnosis wasn't even mentioned. We finished hanging the decorations. Everything looked so festive, in direct contrast to the sinking feeling that would not leave the pit of my stomach. I could hardly bear to eat, but I forced the food down because my mother wanted me to. She wanted me to act like all was normal. The only acknowledgement that something was wrong was that my mother spent much of her time resting. I tried to take care of all of the household chores, so she wouldn't need to exert herself.

By the time I left for Springfield, I had made up my mind what I was going to do. There wasn't really any choice. I knew I had to come back to help my mother and father. If I didn't, I knew I would regret it forever and I couldn't live with it. The battery in my cell phone had died during the power outage and I hadn't had the chance to recharge it before I left. There was no way to know whether Mike had called or not. I guess I would just have to wait until I got home to find out.
It was November 30th, the last day of the month. My novel was nowhere near done. I hadn't even touched it during the past three days. It didn't seem very important any more. It had just been something to do, a pleasant diversion. It wasn't worth a hill of beans in the big scheme of things. I wondered if Mike had finished his. He probably had. No doubt he and the other members of the writing group would be going out to celebrate tonight. What was I going to say to him? To think I had actually been considering telling him that I was falling in love with him. It didn't much matter now. I was going to be three-hundred miles away. It didn't matter at all. I did have to tell him I was going, however. There was something I needed him to do.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 11, Part 2

Beep. Beep. Beep. The alarm clock jarred me out of a sound sleep. I whacked it much harder than was necessary to quiet it. The digital read-out said 5:30. Ugh! Even though I was the one who had set the clock, it still came as a cruel shock to the system. I looked out the window. There was a good foot of snow on the ground and it was still falling. Yup, the weathermen had screwed this one up. Why was it so cold in my room? I went to flick on the light so that I could get dressed. Nothing. Maybe the light bulb had burnt out. I opened the door to see into the hallway. All the lights were out, even the one in the bathroom that my parents always left on as a nightlight. Great. The power was out. How did my alarm go off, then? I looked closer at the clock, now reading 5:34. Ah – the battery light was on. It was on back-up power. I lifted up the shade to let in the light from the snow outside. I quickly pulled on some warm clothes and lots of them. I wasn't worried about anyone seeing me get dressed. We were in the middle of nowhere, after all, and apparently, in the midst of a huge winter storm. I felt my way down the stairs, leaving Lady to continue snoozing. There was no reason for both of us to be up at this ridiculously early hour. My father was already downstairs, coat on, flashlight in hand.

“What are you doing up?” he asked.

“I thought I could help with the shoveling. I know that you still have to get to the barn.”

“That's nice of you, but didn't your mom tell you – I actually got a snow blower for this year. It works great! I don't know what made me wait so long to get one.” My father was known for his reluctance to embrace new innovations. He often seemed to pride himself on his manual labor.

“Oh, that's great! But there must be something I can do to help.” I looked around.
“Yeah, well, as you noticed, the power is out. Why don't you light some candles – you know where they are, right?” I nodded. “You can start a fire in the fireplace as well. We are going to need all the heat we can get. Looks like it might be a while before the power comes back on.”

“OK, I'll get right on it.”

He turned to head out the door, then turned back. “Just be sure to help your mother. Make sure she doesn't do too much.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but he seemed to change his mind and simply closed the door behind him as he stepped out into the cold. Was my mom OK? She hadn't mentioned anything about being sick. She would tell me if it was something serious, wouldn't she? I got to work starting the fire. It did feel good to have some warmth in the room. It added some light as well. The candles would help that problem also. How many times had we lost power when I was growing up? My mom had always harped on my dad to get a backup generator but he was stubborn. He always said we could rough it for a couple days. I think he liked to pretend we were pioneers or something. Funny thing is, I did have some good memories of those times. Maybe my father had a point.

My mother came down the stairs a few minutes later, her sweater wrapped tightly around her.

“Good morning, Mom.”

“Good morning. You are up early!”

“Yeah. I wanted to help with the storm and all. I thought I could shovel but Dad said he got a snow blower.”

“Yes, can you believe it? I finally convinced him. It only took me thirty years! I think that he is finally starting to realize that he's not as young as he used to be.” She looked around the room. “It looks like you have been busy down here.”

“Yeah, the fire is nice and warm. Why don't you come and sit by it? I can warm some water over it for coffee. Is there still instant in the cupboard?”

She sat down willingly in the chair by the fire. “Yes – same place as always – saved for emergencies such as this.”

I went to get a kettle to heat up water in and headed back into the living room.

“Are you alright, Mom?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you seemed awfully tired yesterday?”

“Oh, I've just been a little under the weather lately. It's nothing to worry about. I'm just getting old – that's all.”

“You're not old!” I protested.

“Well, thank you for saying so, but my bones say differently. I just can't do as much as I used to.” She smiled reassuringly. For some reason, I wasn't buying it. Something was up and I was going to figure out what.

“Why don't you make some oatmeal with that water as well?” my mom added. “We can have a nice hearty breakfast to warm us up. Your father will like some, too, when he comes in from the cold.”

“Sure thing, Mom.” I went to get the oatmeal and some bowls to put it in.

“Hey, Mom. I wanted to ask you something,” I ventured as I headed back into the living room.

“What's that, dear?

“Well, I was wondering if you ever think about what your life might have been like if you had married Anthony instead of Dad.”

“Oh,” she paused, looking off into the distance. “That's a hard question. Let me think. . . How should I put this?”

“Yes or no is fine. I didn't mean to pry.” I was already beginning to regret that I had asked.

“Oh, no, you deserve more of an answer than that. After all, I'm the one who told you about him. It's just, well, I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I've been very happy with your father. We have certainly had our challenging moments, . . . days, . . . months, . . . years . . .” She gave me a wry smile. “But the good days have always outweighed the bad. I have always believed that your father is the person God wanted me to marry. You and your brother were the children I was meant to have. But, Anthony has always lived on in my memory, preserved forever as the young man who loved me so much. It's easy to go back and think about how wonderful it was. Those are good memories . . .Yes, I have sometimes wondered what life would have been like with him. It's fun to imagine, but the truth is, I don't know if it would have been better or worse. I just know it would have been different. And I like the life that I have had all these years – I wouldn't want to change a thing.”

“Mmm . . . I wish I had your confidence that life always works out the way it’s supposed to. I can't help wondering if my life would be better if I hadn't married Alan.”

“I can see how you would feel that way. You were terribly hurt. Think about it, though, if Alan hadn't cheated on you, or if you hadn't found out, you probably wouldn't have left South Hero. As much as I have hated to have you gone, I know that it has been good for you to get away. It sounds like you are making quite the life for yourself in Springfield. You have a good job and you have met what sounds like a very nice man. None of this would have happened if you hadn't been hurt. There is nothing so bad that God can't bring some good out of it.”

“You're the second person to tell me that. Maybe you are right.”

“I know I am. Besides, what good will it do you to wish you had made a different choice? You can't change what has happened. All you can do is move forward. You have a wonderful inner strength that I have always admired in you. This has only made you stronger.”

“I don't feel very strong,” I countered.

“That may be so, but you are. Don't disagree with your mother. I've known you forever!” Mothers always think that they are right. Would I be that way with my own kids, assuming that I actually had any. Yes, I had to admit. I probably would. If you can't be right with your own kids. who can you be right with? And, of course, they would always think I was wrong.

I noticed that the water was finally boiling and ladled out cupfuls for our tea and cereal. My father came through the door, stamping off the snow. The first rays of daylight were just beginning to come through the windows. Muted though they were, they made the candles somewhat less necessary.

“It's brutal out there,” he said, taking off his boots and massaging his frozen feet.

“Yeah, I'm dreading having to put Lady out. I always feel bad for the animals on days like this.”

“Oh, they are doing OK. It's not too bad inside the barn. I'll check on them again later. Right now, I think I'm going to go sit by the warm fire.”

“Yes, I've made some tea and we can have some oatmeal.”

“Sounds good. Thank you.” My father seemed to be in a fairly good mood this morning, especially considering that he had been out in the freezing cold and we had no power. He had an interesting idea of what constituted a good time.

“I thought we might put up the Christmas decorations today,” my mother said as I sat back down.

“With the power out?” I asked.

“Sure. It's daylight now. It will be bright enough. It will give us something to do. I always like to put up the decorations the day after Thanksgiving. I love how the house looks at Christmastime.”

“I know you do, Mom.” Every year growing up Mom would recruit Bill and me to help her put up the decorations, and there were a lot of them. My mother did not know the meaning of the term “understated.” Last year, I hadn't even put up a tree. I threw away the one Alan and I had bought for our first Christmas, along with all the ornaments. Maybe I should get one this year. I couldn't have Mike thinking that I was the Grinch, could I? I would need to go shopping when I got home.

After we ate, I went up to the attic with my father, flashlights in hand. It was amazing how much stuff was up there, a lifetime of memories stored under the rafters.
“We should really get rid of a lot of this stuff,” my father said as he looked around the room. “Your mother has always liked to hold onto things, just in case.”
“Well, you never know when you might need something.”

“Like mother, like daughter. Come on. Help me carry this stuff down the stairs.” All the Christmas decorations were piled in one corner, several boxes worth, plus the tree which was in several bags. It took us several trips up and down the three flights of stairs to finally get it all in the living room. After the first trip, my mom offered to help but my father wouldn't let her. He told her to sit and rest. Something was definitely not right with this picture. My father was a gentleman, but he always let my mother pull her weight around the house. Of course, she had always insisted on it. Now, she wasn't even attempting a protest. The only time she had acted like this that I could remember was when she was having her cancer treatments. Cancer. Oh no, it couldn't have come back, could it? My heart sank into my stomach. She had said she was OK. I looked over at her. Would she lie to me? Why would she do that?

“Let's see. What should we do first?” My mother's voice broke into my thoughts. She was looking at all the boxes. Do you want to decorate the kitchen or in here?”

“I don't care.” I tried to sound normal, although I'm fairly certain I didn't succeed. My mother didn't seem to notice.

“Well, let's start in here, then. Pat, can you set up the tree for us? Lucy, you and I can start on the garland.”

We worked in relative silence for a while, my mother issuing directions every few moments, my father and I doing our best to comply. Before long, the tree was standing proud, if naked, and garland was up on the stairs and around the large clock on the wall. Then it was time for the ornaments. We always had a rather eclectic look. It definitely wouldn't have made the cover of any home decorating magazine, that's for sure, but it was ours and it was special. I always loved that tree. As we took out each ornament, my mother told the story of each one. She had at least one ornament from each year that she and my father had been married. The first one had been a gift from her grandmother soon after their wedding. Each ornament had such history. Even though I had heard the stories so many times, I could tell that it gave my mother pleasure to retell them. It was like she was reliving the moments of her life as she hung them on the boughs.

“I should really give some of these to you,” she said as she hung a wooden ornament I had painted in first grade. “These are your memories, too.” I thought I detected another tear in her eye. Did I dare broach the subject? I looked over at my father who had completed his mother-appointed tasks and was dozing in the recliner. I took a deep breath.

“Mom, are you OK?”

“Why do you keep asking me that?” she answered a tad bit testily. “Yes, of course I'm OK. I'm just emotional. I always have been. You know that!”

“I know, but it seems like there is something else. Your cancer hasn't come back, has it?”

“No, of course not,” she answered hastily, shaking her head. She fumbled with another ornament on the tree – a Santa Claus that Bill had made when he was little.

“Don't lie to the girl!” My father's voice boomed from the other side of the room.

“I'm not lying! My cancer hasn't come back!”

“I won't stand by and let you lie to her. I know I promised I wouldn't tell her, but I won't stand by and watch you lie to her. She deserves to know.”

“What?” I looked back and forth from my mother to my father. “What is it? What do I deserve to know? The cancer has come back, hasn't it?”

My mother sat down sullenly, shooting daggers at my father with her eyes. “I wasn't lying. The breast cancer hasn't come back.”

“No, it hasn't,” my father agreed. He turned to me. “She has brain cancer.” The words echoed in my head.

“Brain cancer? When did you find out? Why didn't you tell me?” The questions poured out of me.

“I found out a couple months ago. I didn't want to tell you because I didn't want you to feel like you needed to come rushing back here, thinking that you needed to take care of me again. I know how much you gave up for me the last time. I won't have you do that again.”

“Maybe she wants to take care of you,” my father interjected. “Maybe she should come back here. I don't know why she wanted to go so far away in the first place. We could use her here, especially now.”

“She has her own life. She is happy where she is. She needed to get away from this place.” I felt like I wasn't even in the room as my parents argued about me. I was still trying to register the information that I had just heard.

“Maybe I should be the one to decide what I am going to do.” I stated angrily. “I can't believe you didn't tell me.” My parents just looked at me. Neither one seemed to have a clue of what to say to me. “Does Bill know?” They shook their heads. Well, at least I wasn't the only one left in the dark. “You should tell him. He should know.”

“You're right. He should,” my father agreed. “I've been telling her that since we first got the news.”

“I just wanted to enjoy these holidays without feeling like the grim reaper was hanging over my head. Is that so bad?”

“Are you dying?” The reality of that hit me like a ton of bricks. She had beat cancer before. I had no doubt she could do it again. “Aren't you getting treatment?
Isn't there something that they can do? Chemo? Radiation? Something?”

“There's nothing that they can do,” my mother said.

“Well, have you gone for a second opinion? There are other doctors.”

“Yes, we've seen other doctors. There is nothing they can do,” my mother repeated. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I looked at my father for confirmation. He nodded sadly.

“How can you two just sit here so calmly? How have you been able to act like everything's OK?”

“I'm sorry, sweetheart.” My mother reached out for me. I pulled away. “I had your best interests at heart. I didn't want to cause you more pain.”

“So, what? Dad was just going to call one day and say that you had died. Was that your plan? You didn't think that that would hurt?” I shouted accusingly.

“You will not speak to your mother in that tone,” my father warned me.

“I have to take the dog out.” I turned on my heels and ran up the stairs. I didn't care if there was a blizzard going on outside. I needed to get out there. I needed air. I scooped Lady up, threw on my coat, ran back down the stairs and out the door.

“Lucy!” I could hear my mother shouting after me. I ignored her. The frosty air assaulted me as I stepped out the door. The snow was falling even harder now. Wasn't it going to ever let up? I knew I couldn't stay outside forever. Lady was shivering terribly. What on earth was I going to do? I couldn't go back in there. I couldn't face my mother again. She was dying? After all that had happened to me, I was going to lose my mother, too. How long did she have, anyway? How ever long it was, it wasn't enough. “God, how can you do this to me?” I yelled up at the stormy sky. Nothing but silence answered me. That figured. God was always silent at times like this, wasn't he? Lady just looked at me. I had to get her out of the storm. I saw the barn in the distance. The path my father had made to it was filled in with snow, but I could still follow it. We headed that way.

I was thankful to reach the barn and get out of the wind. My father was right – it wasn't too bad in there. Lady barked at the cows as we went in. They mooed in reply. It was a regular symphony. I sat on a bale of hay. How many times had I come here when I was growing up? It was always a good place to think, to get away from it all for a while.

What on earth was I going to do? My mother needed me. As angry as I was at her for not telling me, and at my father for going along with it, I knew that she had been trying to protect me. Would I come back here and take care of her? She didn't seem to want me to. My father apparently thought I could be of help, though. What was I going to do? I had just started to feel like I was making a life for myself. I was just starting to heal. Life was just starting to get better. I had a home in Springfield, a job I enjoyed, Mike . . . I wished I could talk to him. I wished I could just stay in the barn forever, make the whole world go away. I wished I could stop the deep ache within my heart.

A few minutes later, the barn door opened and my father came in.

“I thought I might find you in here.” I didn't reply. “Your mother sent me after you. She was worried sick about your being out in this storm.”

“I'm OK. I know enough to get out of a storm,” I said sullenly.

“Lucy,” he paused, apparently searching for the right words. “Lucy,” he began again.

“I wanted her to tell you, but you know how stubborn your mother can be. She seemed to really not want you to know. She doesn't want you to give up that new life you've started.”

“I know, Dad, but shouldn't that be my choice? I'm not a child anymore.”

“No, you're not, but right now you are acting like one.”

“What?” I looked at him with fire in my eyes. How dare he?

“It's the truth. You are out here sulking like a child in the middle of a blizzard. What are you so mad about anyway?”

“I can't believe you!” I shouted back. “In the last hour I just learned that my mother is dying and that nobody thought I needed to know. I am not sulking! I'm trying to figure out just what in the hell I am supposed to do with this information.”

“Listen, Lucy, I know you are upset, but your mother needs you right now. She's up there bawling her eyes out and in her condition she certainly does not need any extra stress. So, you are going to pull yourself together and come back to the house with me and tell her that you are sorry. As for what you are going to do, you don't need to make a decision right now. Just come back to the house.” He turned to go, then turned back at me. “Well, are you coming?” I thought about protesting and just staying put, but I guess that did seem rather childish. He was right. This wasn't about me at all, was it? It was about my mom and my doing whatever I could to make her last days on earth as good as they could be.

“Dad,” I began in a much calmer voice.


“How long does she have?”

He shook his head sadly. “The doctors don't know – not for sure. They figure a few months, but it could be more or less. We just don't know.”

“I'm sorry. I know this must be hard on you, too.”

“Yes, it is. Your mother is the only woman I have ever loved. I don't know what I am going to do without her.” Lady and I followed him back to the house.

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