From this life into another
I hear the clink of cubes against a crystal cold glass and know immediately she’s across the crowded room. Her smile is tantalizing, inquisitive face fixed on mine, and with an almost imperceptible roll of her eyes, invites me to follow her. She ducks through the kitchen, and just in time I see her velvet gown disappear down a narrow staircase, the sides lined with stone. Turning at the bottom with a flirtatious look, she sweeps into a small, windowless room, fast-rising water coming up the walls. In that instant, she turns to face me, the brunette of her long, luxurious mane suddenly becoming a short, pale blond, tied together in pigtails on each side of her head, her face that of a 12- or 13-year-old girl. Brilliant, ice-blue eyes penetrate my psyche and I feel as though I’m drowning and suffocating, all at once. “I don’t like what you do to me,” she says. So much for the dream.”Momma, come quick,” she pleaded from her upstairs bedroom. “I’m so sick, my eyes are blurred, can’t swallow and it’s hard to keep my thoughts together. I’m scared.” “My God, you are wracked with fever, my darling child. I’ll send your father for the doctor right away,” said the mother, trying to keep her voice from faltering. It was 1903, and going to get the doctor and bringing him to the house took about as long as it took for the young girl to die. As dawn approached, her parents laid her on wooden slats placed between two sawhorses and carefully and slowly bathed her body with cool ditch water, an emptiness consuming them that would never go away.Here she comes, running toward me from across the hayfield, her long, blond braids flapping up and down with each stride, a smile upon her face, as though she is happy to see me. Her dress is not velvet, but green gingham, the front covered with a dirty, white apron, and she wears black captoe shoes, laced up above the ankle, with inch-high heels and white stockings. “You understand, don’t you? I can’t work in the hayfields ’cause my allergies hurt me, and then at night I can’t breathe. Please tell my father.” Yes, my dear, I do understand, but even so, I cannot interfere, for you have ceased to be, more than a hundred years ago.Her quiet, unobtrusive grave rests in one of my horse pastures, a marble cross affixed to the homemade concrete covering. I pass her way four or five times a summer, moving irrigation water across the land, and I suppose, inadvertently flooding her final resting place. A creek tumbles and falls within 10 feet of her tomb, and tall cottonwoods whisper their song, keeping her from the heat of day. No one seems to know much – age (12 or 13?), name (?), date (1903 or 1913?), or cause of death (?) – all apparent mysteries.”Tell me then, what do you see,” she asks, “for when I talk to you, I’m in this tiny cubicle, dark, with nothing to look at?” “Don’t you remember,” I wonder, “you lived and breathed here once?” Quietly, she says, “Yes, I remember – it was beautiful.” “Oh, yes, sweetheart, it is still beautiful.”Maybe she has family that remembers some thread of her story, people that walk through the pasture when no one is looking, to pay their last respects. But I don’t think so. It would not be impossible for her to be my maternal grandfather’s sister, given historical scenarios, but highly improbable.I know where she lies, and after I pass by, a wildflower can be found on the marble cross, just to let the world know that someone cares, still.Tony Vagneur wishes he had more answers but is content with ambiguity. Read him here every Saturday and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Columnist Roger Marolt is learning to hold his breath longer during these hot, dry summers, he writes.