The Dream – a short story

At first Marian couldn’t pin-point when the reoccurring dream started. Her acknowledgement of its presence was so slow that it was hard for her to place when it had first come to her. As time went on she became increasing aware of its presence until she awoke every morning with its essence consuming her. This is when she realized that, in a bizarre way, she had fallen in love with her dream; or, more precisely, she had fallen for the man in her dream. It was the man who, accompanied by two white dogs, always walked beside her or away from her. Marian, who was over sixty, had lost her libidos; yet in her dream she burned with desire, and an intense longing to get to know him.

This consuming desire gave her resolve and, by careful concentration she was able to analyze when the dream had first come to her. It was spring, when she moved houses, about a year after her husband had died, and after the last of her two daughters got married and left home. One had gone to Sussex to take up a position with her husband’s firm in London the other had emigrated to join her Canadian husband in Ottawa. Marian even wondered whether, in some inexplicable way, the man in her dream symbolized her dead husband and the small white animals her daughters,

At this time Marian was alone in the north of England. To cope with her solitude, she had sold her large rambling out-of-town house and garden and bought a prestigious townhouse on South Street, in Durham City. It had a tiny back garden but no garage which suited Marian, as she no longer drove. What drew her to the house was its view. It had a ground-floor living room bow-window and second floor master bedroom window both facing east, to look across the, tree-shrouded, River Wear to the magnificent west end of Durham Cathedral. It was a picture post card view. Her analysis confirmed that her new address had triggered the onset of her dream.

The conundrum associated with the reoccurring dream was the man. He was clearly elderly with a slight limp and yet still had a good stride. He was clad in dapper clothing and was constantly accompanied by two white dogs. The strange thing about the dream, apart from its incessant reoccurrence, was that Marian never saw the man’s full face. In her dream she moved stealthily behind, or beside, him attempting to catch a glimpse of his face so that she could look into his eyes, hear his voice and study his smile. Sometimes she lifted lightly off the ground and flew over him but she awoke before she was able to gather enough speed to get in front of him. Because the dogs might be a clue to his existence Marian researched and found that the dogs were West Highland White Terriers or Westies. One day she took the train to Newcastle to visit a pet store to see a Westie up close. She petted a small female Westie puppy with affection but didn’t buy.

Although the man and his Westies were constant the rest of the dream continually changed. Marian watched him, clad in a navy blue jersey and matching pants, walk through green woods, the filtered sun-light dappling the ground, the woodsy smell of damp leaves permeating the air, the dogs scampering in and out of lush fern undergrowth. She heard a cuckoo calling its mocking call and doves cooing. She saw the dogs chase a red squirrel up a tree and watched the man stoop to examine a wood sorrel. In the spring she saw him walk the same wood, now wearing a brown corduroy jacket and khakis, the ground bathed in a brilliant carpet of bluebells, and the musty wood smell mingled with the distinctive scent of bluebells. In the morning she had awoken to smell the same sweet fragrance on her sheets.

Another time he walked along the sea shore, his shoes in his hand, his trousers rolled up to the knee, the sound of gulls overhead and the waves rolling upon the shore, and the dogs in and out of the water. On this occasion she managed to move to his side, her shoes in her hand. He picked up pieces of drift-wood and threw them for the dogs to retrieve. She was glad that at least they were able to run toward her, or more precisely toward him. She noticed their footprints in the damp sand, his with a slight emphasis to the right, the dogs’ prints a jumble and another pair of human footprints, smaller than his, imprinted beside his. When she woke up in the morning she was convinced that she had sand between her toes.

Yet another time she saw him walk a country lane, the ground muddy from recent rains, the hedge-rows bursting with birds and greenery, the dogs running hither and thither in and out of the ditches. Their white fur dirty up to their bellies. She never heard the man speak but on this occasion she heard him laugh at their dirt and saw him pause when they shook their coats in front of him.

“Yes,’ she thought, “I like this man!”

In the fall the trees along the banks of the river Wear lost their leaves and gave Marian a clear view of the path on the opposite banks. It ran parallel to her window with one branch climbing the steep side of the river valley leading to a passageway under the buildings and out to the close on the south side of the Cathedral. That second fall after her move she had taken to napping in front of her bow window as she gazed at the changing scene before her. One afternoon she awoke to see a man with a barely perceptible limp, walking up the path on the opposite bank toward the Cathedral. She thought that he looked like her man as his gait matched that of the man of her dream. The only inconsistency was that he had only one white Westie with him. As she wondered whether she was asleep or awake he disappeared under the buildings. She knew that he must have taken the passage leading to the south side of the cathedral. She continued to stare; soon to her amazement, he reappeared accompanied by a small figure clad in the purple uniform of a chorister. They walked down the path toward Prebends Bridge. This is when Marian deduced that this was not a dream as he walked across her field of vision rather than away from, or beside her.. Soon she lost sight of him as the path descended to the edge of the river. That night she didn’t dream but the next day she stationed herself before her window and watched him walk up the path with his dog, and back down again accompanied by both dog and boy. After Marian had established that this walk was a daily routine she decided that she would take the same route to effect an encounter.

Marian didn’t know where the man came from or went before or after the bridge, so she planned to place herself there at the time that he and the dog began their climb up the steep side of the river valley toward the Cathedral. She underestimated her speed and was breathing heavily when she arrived on the west side of the bridge to watch behind him and then, taken by a wave of embarrassment, she hid in the Charles II hollow oak.

This hulk of an oak tree stands close to the east side of the bridge. It is dead and black inside. It looks, for all intents and purposes, as though it was burned out after being hit by lightning. Local myth has it that this was the tree in which Charles II hid after his defeat at the battle of Boscobel. It is true that the tree is hollow and a good hiding place, but as the battle took place in the south of England and Durham is several hundred miles to the north; this means that geography doesn’t support the claim. The smell inside was rancid; it consisted of an overwhelming the odor of urine. Marian shook as she stood and tried not to breathe the putrid air. The Westie approached and barked at her. She waved him away and listened as the man called,

“Wally, heel, Wally heel.”

Marian quivered at the sound of his voice. It was authoritative, but to her ears it sounded pleasantly inviting. Wally returned to his master. Although Marian couldn’t decipher their conversation she realized that the man and boy were talking. When they were half way across the bridge she emerged from her hiding place and followed at a distance. After all she had followed him so often that this action felt familiar. She was careful to note that they walked up the path to Pimlico. She heard a car start and assumed that they drove away.

“So,” she thought, “he isn’t a neighbor. Pity!”

Marian didn’t like being a stalker but she confessed to herself that this is what she had become. The following day she opted for a different strategy and called the pet store in Newcastle. When they confirmed that they could locate a female West Highland Terrier for her she made arrangements to purchase the dog and have it delivered to her home. She named her Phoebe and began a rigorous routine of training walks mostly along the river banks. By now school was out for the Christmas holidays and she no longer saw him or his dog or the boy. In some respects she was thankful for this opportunity for her and Phoebe to bond and for her to become fit enough to walk the steep river valley paths with ease.

It snowed during the night before the first day of the spring term. It was a light snow but it was cold enough for the magical dusting of white to last all day. When Marian took Phoebe out for her morning walk she noticed that against the snow the white dog looked almost grey. In the afternoon she timed herself perfectly so that she and Phoebe walked up Pimlico at the moment that he arrived in his car. When he opened the car door his dog immediately ran to Phoebe.

The dogs sniffed each other and twirled in a circle of noses and wagged tails. Then they ran off together into the undergrowth of the river banks. Marian wished that humans could accept each other and become acquainted so easily.

“Good afternoon.” She almost stammered.

He turned and looked at her. His face was clean shaven, his eyes a deep blue, his cheeks a little ruddy from the cold, his smile gentle and reassuring,

“Good afternoon,” he replied, his voice gentle and sonorous, “lovely cold afternoon isn’t it?”

“Yes it is, perfect for a brisk walk!” Marian said this by way of explanation of her presence.

He nodded as though he already knew why she was there. He spoke as he locked his car, “I agree, and look the dogs seem to like one another. They are already exploring. Perhaps we should join them?”

They fell into step together and chatted as they walked. After they crossed Prebends Bridge he hesitated,

“I generally go up the steep slope to the left to pick up my chorister son. Where do you go from here?”

“I think that I’ll wait here,” she said “perhaps we could walk back together?”

“I’d like that.” he replied as he took off his glove and offered his hand. My name is Michael and my dog is Wally. We are pleased to meet you.”

Marian pulled off her mitten and shook his hand. It was warm and slightly callused. “I’m Marian and my dog is Phoebe, we are likewise pleased to meet you.” She hesitated and then added “Could Phoebe accompany you up the hill – she and Wally are having such a good time together?”

Marian waited beside the oak tree. She enjoyed watching them walk up the path. It was a familiar scene; a man and two dogs exactly as she had witnessed so many times in her favorite dream. Soon she saw them returning. Michael introduced his son. On the way back the boy entertained them with his narration of the first day of the spring term.

When they reached the cars she asked whether she could join him again on the morrow and was pleased by his happy acquiescence. The next day, when they met, he told her about his son. He said that after his first wife died he had been lonely and had remarried a much younger woman who was the mother of this chorister boy. He told her that they had divorced when the boy was six years old. He mused that youth and old age don’t blend well in marriage partners. He explained that every school day he picked up his son and took him home to give him his tea and to guide him through his homework, so that his mother could pick him up on her way home from work.

Time passed and the walks became a central aspect of Marian’s life. By the end of the spring term he asked her to accompany him to Newcastle for a concert. Over the Easter holidays they spent a different time together until one day, perhaps loosened by wine, she asked him about his other dog.

“What happened to your second dog?’ She asked.

“Second dog?” He paused and looked at her quizzically. He reached for her hand, “No there is only Wally. Why do you ask?”

Now she had to tell him about her recurring dream and how she had seen a man going on daily walks accompanied by two dogs. She described the beach walk in detail. He nodded as she spoke, and stroked her hand. When she paused he responded,

“I’m glad that you told me this for I have had similar dreams. In my dream I am always accompanied by two dogs and feel a presence beside me. I wondered whether the dream was a subconscious response to the fact that neither Wally nor I have female company. My most vivid dream was walking along the beach, as you describe. The oddest part was that morning Wally had sandy paws and I, sand between my toes.”

Late Home – a short story

The sisters enjoyed their drive home. They thrived in each other’s company and had much to be happy about. As they exchanged dreams they agreed that prospects were good that New Year’s day. The party in Edinburg had been a success with a classic Scottish celebration. During their hundred-mile drive home they had plenty of time to make plans’ only regretting that they had started off late and would not be home until 3pm.

The red Volkswagen which they drove was their mother’s. She had lent it to them accompanied by the strict provision that they return it by 2 pm. They knew that they had promised, but didn’t consider an hour to be so critical; the worst, they reassured each other, would be one of her dramatic tongue-lashings. They expected that she would give them half an hour of berating. It would be half-an-hour in which she told them how irresponsible they were, how disappointed she was, et cetera, et cetera. They knew the routine and looked forward to the aftermath when they would apologize and kiss and make-up and their transgression would be forgiven and, more important, forgotten.

They were still giggling and happy when they parked the car in the garage next to their father’s Rover. They were a little surprised to see it parked there as he generally returned from his clinic later in the day. They accepted this break in his routine as a good sign, giving an additional boost to their joyous stance. They walked down the drive to their home with happy raised voices. Their father met them at the door, his normally calm face, which generally cracked a faint smile when he greeted them, was bathed in disappointment.

“How could you girls break your word?” he asked. “She had to leave your brother next door with neighbors and call me to come home. Then she had to walk to Dr. Shaw’s office. You know what a long hike up hill that is. How could you girls do that? How could you?”

“We didn’t know. It was only an hour,” hazarded the oldest, although, even as she spoke, her heart sank for she knew that her father was a stickler for honesty and for keeping one’s word. The younger knew that such an excuse wouldn’t appease him. She thought of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If framed on his wall and the maxim of honesty and perfect reliability which formed the foundation of his code.

“It doesn’t matter what you knew, you broke your word. You failed. This is not the behavior that I expect from my daughters.” His accusation carried sadness and disappointment tinged with anger. They shuffled uneasily from foot to foot, knowing how much his approval meant to them and how miserable they were, standing before him, having failed. They both wondered what they could say.

The elder volunteered, “Can we go and pick her up?”

But, just then the telephone rang. Their father answered it, “Durham 43068, Dr. Stevens speaking.” The sisters couldn’t hear the other end of the line, but, from his pallor they both sensed that something critical had happened. “I’ll leave at once,” he said. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

When he placed the telephone back on its cradle he sighed, “That was Dr. Shaw.” he said. His voice quivered; something his daughters had never witnessed before. From his face they both thought that he looked as though he was going to cry.

“What’s wrong? Is it Mom? Is she alright?” the elder asked.

Their father seemed to be taking his time in answering as the sisters watched the grandfather clock behind him ticking second by second. When he spoke, his voice was quiet with no anger in it, just an intense sadness.

“Dr. Shaw says that he suspects that it is an advanced colon cancer. Your poor mother, she had to walk to the appointment alone.” He paused and put his hand up to his face, shielding his eyes from their view. His voice rasped out, barely a whisper and yet full of intensity, “We all, and I do mean all, let her down, both you girls and me. I should have been with her.” Again he paused and now his voice was a little louder, almost a gentle wail, “She is my wife and she received this prognosis without me. I should have been with her.”

Taking their cue from him his daughters immediately wanted to cry; their mother had always seemed so full of life. What did this mean? How should they react to this change in the year’s prospects?

The following is advice, which no one gave the sisters. It is advanced to all those in similar circumstances:

“When you hear the news, act immediately. Don’t deny this event in trivia for it will change your life forever. Accept the inevitable, and take instant action. Quit your pressing education, career, and normal obligations; leave them behind and go home. In less than a year you can reassume your life with ease: right now your dying mother needs your love.”

“Sit beside her in the garden room among your father’s red fuchsia; enjoy the last whiff of her Fleurs De Rocaille. Talk to her about her beliefs, love her. Of course you love her, but does she know it? Did you show her instead of telling her? Show her when you cook her favorite foods. Let the house teem with the sweet aroma. Coax her to eat. Read with her, listen to her voice and ask her about her life. Immerse yourself in her precious last days. For this short interlude of time savor her life, by forgetting yours.”

© July 2015 Jane Stansfeld

Gin and It. – a poem

Doctor Jim’s ritual for harmonious life.
One dose a day, taken, punctual at six.
Medication served with tinkling ice
in shot glasses on a silver tray.
All must participate and,
sip slowly, savor every drop.
No substitutions or generics,
the best, essential for this love offering.

To start his prescription formula
two drops of Angustora bitters,
their aromatic flavor coaxes contrasts
brings spice to each life.
His Gin, one ounce Beefeater,
perfect, pure unmarred,
doused into the glass,
a pep, a pick me up.

His “It”, Martini-Rossi Italian Vermouth,
two ounces, one sweet, one dry
life experiences in harmony
He curls in a fresh twist,
of lemon peel, no pith,
it’s acidity sharpens senses.
Finally ice to fight the heat of ardor,
the whole, not shaken, stirred with love.

His served elixir, a recipe
for success of lives in his care.
His love seal to blend together,
family and all in his home,
his oblation of pleasure,
delivered to each as father, doctor,
selflessly served with equal reliability
and dedication given to all.

© copyright, July 2014, Jane Stansfeld

An Unanswered Letter – part 5 – Conclusion – a short story.

New York was still hot when I got there. I had timed myself to arrive by overnight bus so that I gave myself most of the day to find our meeting place on MacDougal. Of course I arrived early. I carried a small square travelling suitcase which I set upon the sidewalk and used as a seat. As I waited I watched the crowds on the sidewalk – the place teemed with activity. I marveled at the extraordinary mix of people with their unconventional clothing and seemingly carefree demeanors.

I saw Mike before he saw me, but I almost didn’t recognize him. Gone was the pale youth of our transatlantic passage. The young man I saw now was bronzed and muscular and exuded health and vitality. What a difference two and a half months had made! I stood up as he approached and greeted him unsure whether we should hug or shake hands. We indulged in a quick embrace which didn’t express any of my pent-up emotions. Mike was a little preoccupied because he had hoped that we could stay with Chris, one of his friends, in Greenwich Village. This friend turned out to be away on vacation; so, as it was getting late, we found a nearby hotel.

I shall always remember our approach to the reception desk. Mike asked about vacancies and when the clerk inquired whether we needed two rooms or one Mike turned to me. I quietly said, “Two rooms.” My motivation was driven by shame and anguish. I didn’t want Michael to discover my dark secret.

Yes, I had a dark secret. It was that, although I was twenty-one years old, I had still not reached menses. Yes, this is a medical anomaly, but is easily explained. My menses had been delayed by my long years of anorexia. By this time in my life I had overcome anorexia but the hormones of normal development had still not caught up. My chest was as flat as a boy’s although I disguised this fact by wearing a bra padded with bean bags. Of course I didn’t want Michael to discover my secret and, being premenstrual, I knew that I didn’t have the right hormones for intercourse. So here I was, a prim virgin, in the middle of Greenwich Village having to deny the man of my dreams. It was an act to hide a secret and an act which probably affected the direction of the rest of my life. I often wonder what would have happened if I had said, “One room.”

We didn’t spend long in the hotel and were soon out on the streets of Greenwich Village. Our walk was directionless as we wondered among the crowds on the street. Mike seemed to be perfectly at home in this sea of activity but I was unaccustomed to seeing so many unconventional people. We watched a spontaneous concert in Washington Square and eventually found a small restaurant where we ate. When we entered the restaurant Mike turned to me waiting for me to select a table. I looked at him. That is when he told me that American girls always select where they are to sit in a restaurant. It appeared to me that he did not like this custom but was determined to make me do likewise. I think that he liked making me choose, not because he approved of the arrangement, but because it amused him to see me doing so.

The following morning Mike called Barbara who had a flat on East 56th. She told him that she would willingly put us up and so we checked out of the hotel and made our way to her apartment. Barbara impressed me immensely with her long blonde hair and elegant thin body. I got the distinct impression that she disapproved of our liaison as she hardly spoke a word to me. I even wondered if she had one been one of Mike’s girlfriends, for her distaste was undisguised. I soon discovered that she worked for Time Life Magazine and had aspirations of becoming a novelist. She made us laugh with her descriptions of life on the magazine which centered on cutting, cutting and more cutting. She explained that this is the key to good writing.

Mike spent the next two days whisking me around New York. We visited the East Village with its small art galleries and even attended a discussion about art in one of them. We visited Sheridan Square with its famous bookshops, brownstone houses which reminded me of England, the Seagram Building, Lever House, and the Lincoln Center. At the Lincoln Center we saw some Calder sculptures which Mike liked. We wandered into many art galleries, the one which I remember best was the Frick collection with its calm interior courtyard and famous art including Vermeer’s Laughing Girl, JV Eyck’s Virgin and Child and El Greco’s Clearing of the Temple.

Mike made contact with his friend, Chris, who, although still away on vacation, gave us permission to use his flat as a pied-a –terre. I found the ferocious untidiness of his abode in stark contrast to the expense of the furnishings and world class art on the walls including a Chagall. Mike and I adopted it as a good place to hang out and enjoy each other’s company without the watchful eye of a hostess, as was the case in Barbara’s apartment.

My last memory of Mike is of the Sunday afternoon which we spent in Central Park. That’s when he told me that he felt that he had squandered the weekend and that he felt depressed. He told me that girls of my class are cold, and that American girls attack the male. It was obvious from this comment that he did not like the attacking woman but somehow seemed to wish that I were more sexual and did just that. Perhaps this was the moment when I should have come clean and told him about my dark secret but I didn’t. Pride is a terrible thing.

When he made his declaration of love, I did not understand what he was saying. His declaration came in a riddle which I pretended to understand but didn’t. He said that the new Beatles song ‘I’ve just seen a face’ summed up his feelings and made him think of me. I, of course, had never heard the song, and so did not know what he was telling me. But again pride took hold and I didn’t say anything. When I got home I bought the record and cried bitterly when I heard the words. Even now years later those words ring my heart and bring tears to my eyes.

‘I’ve just seen a face
I can’t forget the time or place
Where we just met
She’s just the girl for me
And I want all the world
To see we’ve met
Mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm mmm mmm

Had it been another day
I might have looked the other way
And I’d have never been aware
But as it is I’ll dream of her tonight
La, di, di, da di di

Falling, yes I am falling
And she keeps calling
Me back again
I have never known the like of this
I’ve been alone and I have missed things
And kept out of sight
For other girls were never quite like this
La, di, di, da di di’
‘Oh, falling, yes I am falling
And she keeps calling
Me back again’

Calling I may have been, but after we parted I spent a few more miserable days in New York and an equally sad nine-day oceanic crossing before taking up my next year at university. I don’t remember if we exchanged letters, I rather think that we didn’t or if we did they were few and far between. Certainly, on my side of the ocean, the demands of everyday life including my mother’s illness and death eclipsed any thoughts of trying to stay in touch. By the time that my menses occurred two years later and I became a full woman we had already lost contact. That’s when I wrote the first version of the letter that was never mailed. That’s the letter which I have now rewritten and have nowhere to send.

I add this conclusion to my ‘Unanswered Letter’ in the second edition of my anthology of short stories. It wraps up Mike and my encounter of 1966. When the first edition came out in 2013, I undertook an extensive promotion tour to assist with sales. I orchestrated the tour so that it followed the path which I had taken forty years earlier. It was a nostalgic decision which gave me pleasure but I was not so wrapped in the past to travel by Greyhound. No, this time, I travelled in luxury in an RV camper. Moreover, I didn’t travel alone as my son, now a freelance photographer, accompanied me acting as chauffeur and companion. He helped fill the vacuum left by my husband’s death and used the trip to chronicle America on film. We stayed in good hotels, and ate well. I enjoyed this chance to travel with him and was thankful that he was beside me to soften the sting of loss and provide companionship.

I developed a routine in which I would read excerpts, always the same excerpts, answer questions, and then sit at a desk signing books with a blue felt tip pen. At each venue I scanned the audience in the hope that, perhaps, I’d see a face that I recognized. Well, actually, I didn’t care about just any recognizable face all I wanted was that one face, the reason for the story, which I did not explain to my audiences. Each time I rationalized my disappointment with the consolation that the more people who came, the more the book would be read the more likely it was to draw the response which I craved.

By the time that we had been on the road for two months we were both ready to go home and headed south from New York with only one stop planned in Fort Worth. Here, the second signing was in a boutique store. As usual I scanned the audience without recognition. I gave my reading, answered questions and settled down to signing books. When I thought that the last book had been presented I looked up at the room to see if my son was close. That was when I felt a warm hand on my neck. I experienced an erotic wave of excitement. Only one person had ever touched my neck in this manner causing such a tremor of desire. A clipped voice spoke, the sound transported me back four decades, “Hi Susan, it has been a long time. How are you?’

I didn’t have to turn. I knew. I said, “It’s you Mike, isn’t it?”

I didn’t have to ask how he was I could feel strength and health in his touch. It was the same vitality of 1966. Slowly, enjoying every precious moment, my heart pounding, every second in slow motion I turned to look into his face. The rest of the room became a blur as I looked at him. In those long nanoseconds I saw beyond aging skin, beyond graying hair, beyond creases around the eyes and mouth, into the depth of the blue eyes. Their color was unchanged and they still shone with intelligence. I wanted to plunge into their blue, to swim in their pool of intellect. As I faced him I felt his hand still warm and caressing, touching the erotic places on my neck. I sensed his strength and lost myself in the ecstasy of the moment.

Slowly, ever so gently, he bent over and brought his lips to mine for a kiss. It was to be that sweet kiss which we had never exchanged.

© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, January 2014

Leap at the Grand Canyon – a short story.

“Don’t jump, don’t jump,” Bryan’s voice was coaxingly gentle.

It was the sweltering hot summer of 1966, and he didn’t want to frighten the girl because she was sitting so close to the rim. One false move and she would be over. Bryan recalled his training as a park ranger in which they were given counsel on how to spot and respond to visitors who appeared to be intent on suicide. Their training ranged from learning to look at steering wheels in parked cars for last adieu notes; to spotting people standing on the rim contemplating their jump. The girl’s proximity to the rim and her pose fit the description of someone about to leap.

Bryan loved the splendor of the Grand Canyon and had often wondered why it attracted suicides. Was it the steep drop with its promise of an answer to the nagging question of what goes through one’s mind as one hurtles through space into oblivion? Happy though Bryan was, he had entertained this thought himself, and had often spent time on the rim pondering what thoughts would pass through his mind and whether time would move slowly as it was purported to do at such critical moments. Or, he wondered, would the fall be so quick that one would scarcely have time to reason. The answer had never seemed important enough for him to jump.

Bryan also knew that some authorities maintain that the suicides are attracted to the beauty of the Grand Canyon wishing to meet their end in a place flooded with the serenity of nature and the vastness of the universe. He wondered whether the awesome impact of the place somehow brought the suicides closer to the finality of what they were about to do and, in doing so, gave them courage and peace. Long ago, he had determined that he, like most people, preferred to admire the beauty rather than embrace it.

The girl had started when he spoke, but otherwise ignored him. She was sitting on a small box-like suitcase approximately one foot square. She had her head in her hands and her elbows on her knees, almost Rodin’s thinker’s pose. She wore an unusually immaculately clean white shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. Her arms and legs were long and tanned golden. Her hair hung in two fat ginger braids down her back. Her form was silhouetted, golden, in the oblique rays of setting sun on the west side of the canyon. Bryan cautiously stepped closer and made his voice as tender as possible.

“Don’t jump, don’t jump,” he urged.

This time she responded and turned to face him. “I’m not going to jump.” Her voice was melodious with a distinct English accent. He stepped closer so that he could reach and touch her or restrain her if she tried to jump. “Then, why don’t you move a little further back?” he pleaded, “Then I could sit beside you – that’s if you don’t mind.” She rose and, for a split second, Bryan thought that she was going to jump; but she turned and picked up her makeshift seat and moved it a few feet back from the rim next to a large boulder. She didn’t look at Bryan merely took up her seated position again. Bryan followed her cue and sat on the boulder beside her.

Sunset in the Grand Canyon is stunning as the oblique golden rays silhouette individual rock formations teasing glorious color from their forms. For some time they sat beside each other marveling at the beauty before them and watching the depths gradually disappear into the shadows below. As they watched, Bryan still wondered whether she was contemplating suicide and had merely delayed things to placate him. He had watched the sunset over the Canyon many times, always with a sense of wonder; but this time his heart pounded unnaturally whether because he sat next to a potential suicide, or because she was so young and beautiful or perhaps a combination of these factors. When the sun finally dipped below the horizon, he looked at her again. She was now more erect and was rubbing her hands together in an action which conveyed an anxious mind.

“Don’t think about jumping. Please don’t jump. Tell me how I can help.”

This time that she spoke her voice was matter-of-fact and a little dismissive “Don’t worry; I’m not going to jump. I came to see the Grand Canyon and marvel at its beauty. I have no intention of jumping.”

“That’s good to hear, but you do seem worried. I’m right you are worried aren’t you?” She gave a slight affirmative nod, so he pressed on “Tell me what’s wrong, perhaps I can help?”

She now turned and looked him in the face, “You are right. I am worried, but not what you might think. I am only worrying about where I shall spend the night.”

Her eyes were like deep pools, as dark as the shadows in the canyon. Bryan was drawn in, “What do you mean? There is lodging on this side of the Canyon.”

She nodded, “I know, but everything is full, even the camp sites. You see I came in with friends on the bus which arrived at three this afternoon and the last bus back to Flagstaff left at five. They took it but I couldn’t entertain the thought of coming so far and only staying two hours so, although I could not find accommodation, I could not leave on that bus.”

“You couldn’t find lodging anywhere?” There was a hint of disbelief in his questioning voice.

“No, everything’s full. I should have booked a long time in advance but that wasn’t to be. I’m a little worried, perhaps even scared but,” here she intensified her gaze, “I’m sure I’ll be okay.”

“You are going to be okay because you can stay in the ranger’s cabin.” Bryan knew that this was against rules, but he had to offer. Surely, he thought, some rules are made to be broken.

For a moment she was silent and looked back over the Canyon. Then she turned to look at him again, perhaps really seeing him for the first time, “Thank you. That’s very generous, but you realize…..”

“Yes, yes,” he interrupted, “you will be fine, I’ve got a sleeping bag, I will sleep outside. No one will hurt you! You can trust me! By the way, my name is Bryan.”

“Mary,” she stretched out her hand for a handshake, “pleased to meet you.”

Bryan felt a tingle of pleasure as their hands touched. He was glad that it was now dark so that she couldn’t see his flushed face. He spoke again, surprised at how husky his voice sounded, “Now that the sun has set why don’t we go back to the cabins? We are having a hot dog cook-out this evening I invite you to join us.”

Mary acquiesced. Together, they followed the rim until they came to the place where the park rangers had set up their hot dog picnic. Eyebrows were raised as the other rangers were introduced but Bryan protected Mary as though she were his sister. The night was balmy and the stars bright, the sort of night when a boy and girl can fall in love. They talked all evening as they discovered more and more reasons to justify their mutual attraction. Mary told him that she was an English architectural student travelling the US on a greyhound ninety-nine dollar, ninety-nine day pass. Bryan was astonished for he was also an architectural student and was working as a ranger over the summer. When she told him of her home town of Durham he knew the cathedral and told her that he fully intended to visit it the following summer. She told him that she would love to host him when he came.

When they turned in Bryan kept his word and escorted Mary to his bunk in the cabin without making an advance although he dearly wished to kiss her. It took him some time to fall asleep on the ground in his sleeping bag but sleep he did.

They were in Durham Cathedral it was as magnificent as Bryan had learned from his architectural history classes. The giant carved stone aisle columns rising to the stone vaults above and the east-end rose window casting an eerie light. They held hands as they went to the north-west corner of the north transept and bought tickets to the tower from the red-robed verger. They almost ran up the stone steps until they came to the attic over the roof. Here they paused to wonder at this space as they followed the way to the last stairs up the tower located immediately over the crossing. The tower stairs were steep and narrow. Each tread was worn into a concave dip by the passage of many feet. Mary went first, Bryan followed behind. A final twist and they passed through a narrow door onto the gallery on the top of the tower. Mary took his hand and led him around pointing out landmarks in all directions; her home, the castle, the river, the market. A breeze came up and she stood with her face into the wind and loosened her hair so that it flowed behind her. Then she took his hand and climbed up onto the parapet. They stood together leaning slightly into the wind. Bryan murmured,

“Don’t jump, don’t jump!” But he already knew that they were going to jump.

Her eyes sparkled, her voice teased, “Yes, jump, jump!” and she swung up her arms as she leapt. Bryan went with her. They floated gently down and all he could think about was how happy he was to be holding her hand. For a moment everything went blank; and then his body shook and he felt a gentle kiss on his face, and then on his lips. He wondered if this was the kiss of death, thinking that it was too enjoyable to be death.. He could still feel her hand, but it was backward. He opened his eyes. Her face was next to his, ever so close, her hand clasped in his. He was lying on the ground. “Where am I?” he asked.

“Good morning!’ she laughed, “You are here in a sleeping bag on the top of the Grand Canyon. Thanks to you, I had a great night and managed to rise in time to catch the dawn over the Canyon. It was magnificent. Sitting on our boulder listening to the birdsong and watching the sun picking out individual formations filled me with the wonder and love of life. It made me realize how lucky I am and how special you are, Bryan.”

Bryan breathed in her vitality and vigor. He sat, releasing her hand and took her in his arms. He grinned, “Yes,” he murmured, “good morning. It is a good morning isn’t it?’ He hesitated, and gently commented, “I was dreaming. I was dreaming about you, Mary, and about Durham Cathedral.”

Mary waited while he dressed and prepared for the day. She planned on a short hike down the canyon with a return in time for the five pm bus to Flagstaff; and he had to take up his Ranger duties; but they found time to return to their boulder for a few minutes. As they sat filled with wonder at the scene before them they both realized that they had jumped. The leap which they had taken would be as life changing as a jump off the rim, although it promised to be infinitely more enjoyable.

© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, November 2013

Hippo – a poem

This is my first attempt at a Shakespearian sonnet with its iambic pentameters. I found the rhyming scheme and the rhythm difficult as I seem to think in rhyming couplets and had to shake off this habit. I hope that you endorse the love theme as appropriate for a sonnet although I couldn’t go too cerebral.

Oh, when did my sweet love of thee begin?
Hippo dear, was it thy tiny eye and ear?
Surely it wasn’t thy wrinkled tough skin
Or the plunge thou takes when I draw near.
Is it envy of thy water-hole day?
Or ev’ntide, when I see thee lumber on shore,
Carefree, no enemies upon thee to prey
Then thou eats ‘til thou can eat no more
Oft times thy mouth gapes open at me
No loving kiss but yellow teeth inside
Then thy roar matches in ferocity
And I know that ‘tis best I go and hide.
Come now, why is my love not returned,
Even when methinks that it is earned?

Copyright © 6/6/2013 Jane Stansfeld

Marriage – a poem

‘The Wind’ by C Dale Young is a haunting poem. In this poem I plagiarize by taking the first line of each stanza of ‘The Wind’ (at times modified slightly) and work it into my own interpretation called ‘Marriage’. I wanted to post a link to C Dale Young’s poem that you could read it but I couldn’t find one, so if any of my readers requests it I’ll post it here. I refrain from doing so now as I don’t want to be compared with a master like C Dale Young.

But I was afraid then. I remember still
menacing water on my face,
my anguish, as I lost my grip on the shore.
Where were you, partner, when I stepped in
alone, to brave the salty deeps,
abandoned, to my frigid fear?

Unlike you I was lit by panic then,
waves sucked me into their embrace,
Could I yell for help?
Many were there immobile, impassive
but you mouthed ‘I love you’.
Then, you told me that

there shall be no fear. But I was afraid.
Yesterday I watched my friend
walk the same path to the vows altar.
I heard her dismayed cry as
her craft swirled on wild waters.
The current spun her fast, she

who has only just learned to be carried by it.
Do not shrug, I need you beside
to brave life’s treacherous eddies
Together we sail swirling seas to eternity.
I need you to buoy me up,
To save me; you, who keep my heart

in your rooms. Now, the old man says
we must face life together,
what God joined no man shall
put asunder. The lifeboat of union
needs two at the oars.
You and I together, for a third.

But this, this final step … Do not laugh.
when a child joins us in the
waxing and waning of life. We are bound,
watertight, as a deft dry family
rowing serenely over the expanse,
hereafter, to never dive alone.