Amongst The Lilies
By Susan Dale
Onwards, he moved while staying beside the river. The river seemed a magnet of life; ever drawing other lives to it. Yet shaky from observing and listening to the firefights, the river was David’s comfort; also his sorrow, ‘all those deaths, so much suffering.’
Letting go of his controls, he was following time to wherever it would take him. Now into gray moments that emptied into a thin blue before sunrise, and the sun-struck impulses of a new day. Birds soared around a mountain pass; an ascending sun caught the pale feathers beneath their wings. It caught too the undersides of tree’ leaves and the silvery currents of a mountain stream. Winds picking up loose soil, whirled it through the air in pastel dances; all part of a new morning.
‘Morning celebrations, like streamers in the winds.’ His spirits rose to fly with the silver streaks around him. Entering his world then, voices of innocence; children’s voices singing songs of peace. He followed the songs to see a parade of children marching on a mountain path; the mountain being bathed in the fires of a rising sun. Wearing white clothes and flower necklaces, the young marchers carried lit candles and moved to follow one in unison.
David‘s heart skipped beats. He thought, ‘doves of peace, and I so yearn for peace.’
Hurriedly, hopefully he ran towards the parade of children. He called out for them to wait. “Wait, wait, wait” from one mountain to another.
But before he could join up with the young pilgrims, they circled a pass that took them south and out of sight. Already, the fires of sun-rise were dimming into glowing embers. Winds whooshed from around the mountain to carry off the last traces of sunrise dragging his feet when he heard an exuberant waterfall splashing down the mountain; its liquid song washed away his disappointment.
He looked to see the river waters changing courses. ‘taking another trip; this time beneath the earth to become an underground river.’
The chameleon river traveled underground for over a mile before it reappeared above the ground; this time as a thin stream. Sunrays falling into the stream colored the waters apricot. His eyes settled on the waxy lilies floating back and forth in the sunny stream. He watched them drift through the waters, and he drifted with them even when he saw his wife, Rita, floating amongst them.
‘Like Ophelia with water lilies surrounding her,’ was his first thought; matter-of-fact and instantaneous___ before the agony of he and Rita hit him full-force in the gut. He jumped in the stream to follow her. Behind her heavy hair; remembering it falling to wrap around her shoulders, falling to wrap around the two of them in the throes of love.
‘But if she is floating downstream, why is her face being mirrored back to me in the waters? Her face; that wonderful face of old masters’ beauty; Botticelli features, crimsons touching her cheekbones. Eyes of Renoir’s blue-green. An elegant face; a face contradictory with the sensuality of her thick mouth, the cleft in her chin.
And all of that beauty maimed by the scorn flashing in her eyes for most everyone, but me. For me there was adoration that later turned to desperation. Pleas in her voice when she was telling me she was pregnant. Voice catching on her words; soft, quick words. She kept losing the words, tripping over them. So very difficult for Rita to ask without saying the words ’help me.’
She didn’t know how to ask; no practice. Asking wasn’t part of her. She had everything she could want and so much more … unbelievable beauty, the prestige and wealth of being the only child of a renowned heart surgeon. An abundance of good fortune, hers from birth. She got what she wanted simply by desiring it.
Moreover, Josh would have gone to the ends of the earth for her, and gone in chains. However, she didn’t want Josh. She wanted me. I didn’t want any of it except her adoration and the lovemaking. What resulted from our passionate intimacies, I surely did not want. Not the baby: not a wedding ring. Commitment? Sticky; scary to me. My family, my security gone when I was yet a boy. Stuck in a trailer with my stepmother and her brood. Closed in, could not escape the walls of Karen’s shoddy life. The twins continually whining, Rick’s adolescent moods. Running to get away. Staying away whenever I could manage it, so that when Rita told me that she was pregnant, I fought like a wild thing the together-ness for which she was yearning. What my life had been up to then decreed that I would be unable to face commitment.’
He felt a pang in his heart; it hurt to accept the truths of who he was. ‘And this is what I live with: Incapable of commitment, I am incomplete. Can never be complete. Abandoned Rita, as my mother and father abandoned me by their’ dying. And isn’t that the way it works; the gene pool and/or the biblical scourge? The sins of the father pass from one generation to the next.’
Rita amongst the water lilies, in a dream state floating down the stream of memories, swaying amongst lily’ leaves. Downstream, an eidolon of bright colors. Versus, the lonely colors of his life. Mirrored back to him in the glassy waters colors darkened with regrets; shadowed with his shadowy life. Colors blurred, flying by in the currents. Always on the run, hanging on to no one. Rushing along. No commitments to nobody. Colors solitary, sinking with sadness; going down, drifting away. Pink and yellow, white too, the water lilies floating Rita along.
Slowly did he lift his head. More slowly did he step out of the river narrowed into a stream of memories. ‘I meet tomorrows here, but couldn’t change melting arvin’s intentions. Can‘t change a moment of my past with Rita.’
Sighing his soul back inside his body, he slumped his shoulders around his chest. He shaded his eyes to look off into the distance and see what lie ahead. ‘I already know the terrible miles behind me.
Ahead, the stream wanders into channels that close off, one after the other, to form small peninsulas. The waters alter the shapes of the land; therefore, determine the way creatures of the earth will travel
Circling the peninsulas, David followed the stream. Above him birds singing slow songs telling of a sultry afternoon. Ahead of him the currents came together to curl into spunky waters that foamed and babbled, as they rushed around the walls of a crumbling temple. In front of the temple the waters came together to rest quietly in a round basin where stood a holy man having his feet bathed. Loin-clothed, with a stringy body of blue veins, the man stood mesmerized with eyes closed in prayer. His palms he turned outward to the sun in a fixing of his soul to the light of the heavens.
His prayers carried beyond the basin; David felt them reaching inside his being to give him new courage to face old dreads. He jumped back in the memory-laden steam to finish off the tragedy of he and Rita. Shadows were lengthening and widening to wrap up these sad moments.
Mirrored in the waters, her advanced pregnancy; weighted, engulfed in hormones. She was saying, “If you could stay as a special forces’ instructor in the states … “
Words carried in the back of his head, carried from upstream to be with him now. Words foaming over the hard rocks of his determination. Coming up against a stubborn shake of his head. Stopping her cold.
She went on, regardless, giving him another chance he didn‘t take.
thinnest of voices; sounding as though she had rehearsed it.
“Me and the baby … I mean when the baby is born. Ah, ah, the baby; yours, err, ours.“
And his reply to her expression of wanting him, needing him- “You’ve taken everything else, Rita. Now you want to interfere with my career?”
The waters lie motionless in shock; an ice cold current ran through them and over his feet and legs. Shivering, he remembered, ‘after my words, she rushed off. Left her pride behind her. Tripped over her last hope. Running in an slow way; intentions stronger than body; one body carrying two. Out the door. Into her car. The jag squealing down the street to the stop sign she didn’t heed … to gone forever. Gone with our unborn son.’
Above David, litanies of bird song. Inside, a requiem of Rita; a dirge played back to him in the liquid verses of the stream; the stream foaming with the soldier’s tears; with Rita’s tears. ‘Enough tears, enough sorrow for the waters to flow through me eternally.’
And in the slow cosmic rhythms of high noon, the waters began closing off. But David wasn’t watching the landscape changing courses. He was deep down in remembering; so wishing that he could go back but for a moment or two and change his words to his wife, which would have changed her rush out the door. Thereby change the accident at the stop light.
‘It’s like an anchor in the stream holding me to the moments. But I cannot change one iota of one moment. Rita is gone. But not gone, that grim time I so regret. Worse than losing Melissa, White Horse, and scout patrol; losing Rita is the most difficult for me to carry because it was, it is I who am responsible.’
All of it done now; the entire scenario: the waters running clear. Nothing, on one looking up at him. Rita downstream, lost amongst the lilies. ‘Enough of the stream of memories; way more than enough.‘
Stepping out of the stream and walking along, he felt the land beneath his feet turn gritty. He changed courses__ from looking inward__ to looking outward; outward and down to stone-filled grounds waving with clusters of mountain poppies. The poppies waltzing with tall grasses blushing pink.
He realized that now he was leaving the wet lands behind. ‘These poppies and grasses are the vegetation that grows where lands are dry.’
Onwards he trod: past barren mountains and their striated peaks. The mountains, three of them, rose in a triangle; the mountain furthest back was deeply fissured with dark stone faces that grimaced down at him. And as he walked, he was within a silence so vast, so complete, he could hear the heartbeat of the universe; he heard it beating heavy. A universal heart; its arteries filled with the troubles of humankind. His heart and the heart of the universe beating together in a rhythm traveling from there to here, and back again.
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Susan’s poems and fiction are on Eastown Fiction, Ken *Again, Hackwriters, Yesteryear Fiction, Feathered Flounder, and Penwood Review. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan.
Labels: Susan Dale