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 SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story

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PostSubject: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sat Sep 18, 2010 9:06 am

SCENES FROM A LIFE………

1

Urs stood with his feet planted firmly apart and his hands shoved deeply into the pockets of his jeans. The only thing distinguishing him from the stone outcroppings around him was his hair being ruffled by the breeze. It had grown longer since the end of the tour and licked around his cheeks as the chilly wind blew against his back. His eyes blinked periodically but moved neither left nor right as he stared across the vast space to the hills in the distance.

It had been one of those trips where you are suddenly aware that you have arrived at your destination and nothing of the ride has registered. The walk to where he now stood had been the same. It was always the same, as if keeping it devoid of memory or feeling would allow him to find a blank canvas that could be painted with different images.

There were flashes, bits and pieces, but he could not collect any into a thought that would fix itself into anything that his mind could grasp. Slowly he lowered his gaze to the base of the trees, across the valley, spanning the river, coming to rest at the base of the precipice on which he stood. But the canvas had not been reprimed. New colors and figures could not be added to change the original.

Suddenly the remembered image was all too clear—the black and chrome bike bent, twisted and broken; Carmen, bent, twisted and broken lying a few feet from it. There was no dust, no smoke, not even the wheel still spinning as it reached into the air as if making one last effort to find a connection to the pavement above. The body beside it never moved, never made a sound. How could a tableau that had been so recently and so violently constructed be so silent and immobile?

The air was rent by an endless piercing scream, “Nooooooo….,” and he did not know if it was his voice in real time or if the air had recorded and replayed the original. What he did know was that Carmen was dead and that it was his fault and that he should have been the one lying one hundred feet below. And with that knowledge he crumpled to his knees under the weight of guilt.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:04 pm

2
“LiliAnne, you are more beautiful today than you were yesterday,” always smiling,Althea repeated this to the baby each day as she dressed her. Indeed the baby was beautiful; already her eyes had changed from blue to hazel and could become emerald when she gurgled and cooed with baby happiness. “We’ll put on your white dress today—it’s your daddy’s favorite.”

Althea thought of Urs holding his daughter tenderly, with a look in his eyes that could melt hearts and bring tears to eyes. If only he could look at her, Althea, with that sort of love and adoration—but all of that love, the love of a man for a woman lay with his heart at the bottom of a cliff.

She heard his key in the lock, his bag being dropped onto the entry hall tile floor, and the door closing. As his footsteps started down the hall, she took a deep breath, lifted the baby and stepped into the corridor just as he reached the door.

“Welcome home, Urs.” Her voice was warm but noncommittal—well rehearsed.

“Althea.” He could have been recognizing a servant. “Ah and here is my liebchen LiliAnne, did you miss your papa?”

The little girl squirmed with excitement in her mother’s arms and held out her own chubby ones to the man whose voice she recognized and whose kisses and tickles she adored. At just over a year old, she was her father’s daughter. Her hazel eyes scrunched and crinkled with delight—just as his once had.

He held her close, inhaling her fresh baby scent and savoring the feeling of her snuggling close to his chest. “Let me look at you,” he said, holding her aloft and rocking her gently back and forth so that she giggled with delight. Reaching out her tiny fingers, she tangled them in his long locks.

Althea stood frozen—seeing the baby’s fingers locked in his tresses, her mind flashed a moment that her own had done the same—tangled playfully then tugged with an urgency to pull him to her. A flush suffused her face and she glanced quickly to be sure that he had not seen this betrayal of memory.

“Why don’t you sit in the living room and play with her for a bit, Urs. I thought we could all have an early supper together and then do her bath and bedtime.” Why did the words coming from her mouth sound like a housewife from a 1950’s television show?

Handing the baby back he said, “I’ll take my bag to my room and wash up a bit.” LiliAnne began to fuss and reach back for him. Taking her fingers in his big hand he leaned to her and said, “Papa will be right back.” He turned and walked down the hall, not realizing that Althea’s breath caught in her throat as his hair swept across her cheek when he leaned toward the baby. She caught the smell of his cologne and the sobs were only in her heart—they could never reach the surface.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:05 pm

3
The dining room was formal yet comfortable. Urs had chosen each detail carefully. The room could be called eclectic yet it worked. The classic style of the room—high ceilings heavy beams, mullioned windows was enhanced by the simplicity of the furnishings. Table, chairs, and long buffet were graceful in construction and made of fine, dark, highly polished wood. Althea had set the table carefully—linens, china, crystal all sleek, all of highest quality. She lit three pillar candles of various heights that had been placed on a small silver tray. She looked at the scene with a practiced eye—ambiance but not overtly romantic. The light of the chandelier was dimmed, but not too much.

LiliAnne banged on the tray of her high chair with her spoon. Althea laughed as she turned her attention to the baby. Her chair had been placed at one corner of the long table. Urs’ place was set at the end with Althea on the side to his right. That made it convenient for either of them to help the little girl with her food. She was beginning to want to be independent in feeding herself and her parents indulged her in that as long as she got more inside than outside.

Althea looked around one last time as she heard Urs approaching. He had not missed a detail in the construction or furnishing of this room, but it, like the rest of the house was his handiwork. There was nothing here of her—but then, why should there be? He did not love her, had never planned a life with her.

When he had made the decision to bring her here, she had simply been shown to one of the guest rooms where she had unpacked the things she had brought with her and had made no attempt to put her imprint on the house. Maybe that was because she most often felt in limbo, she could be sent away as easily and as quickly as she had come here. If he saw that she was making changes, making it her own, it could hasten her banishment.

“Everything looks nice, Althea.” Urs was always careful to show appreciation for the care she took in running his house. His house. His and Carmen’s house. Only Carmen had never lived in it. It had only been the beginning of a dream—one he had felt compelled to complete without her—as though its completion would keep something of her that was to be—yet never would.

“I thought a light meal might be best,” she smiled as she removed the silver lid from the antique serving dish and watched his eyes light a bit as he saw she had prepared his favorite supper, roasted chicken with rice and baby carrots.

“I do appreciate what you do Althea. I know this arrangement isn’t easy for you….”

She interrupted by moving to her chair, which he quickly pulled out for her then pushed it to the table as she lowered onto it. She dared not let him finish his thought, couldn’t risk letting him put himself into an untenable position. She was sure that if the balance were tipped in any way her house of cards would come tumbling down.

The meal finished, they spent an enjoyable half hour bathing their baby and settling her into her crib. Even the nursery had been decorated for a baby girl before she and LiliAnne had arrived. Tears filled Althea’s eyes as Urs softly sang a lullaby. He turned to her and spoke in a low, matter of fact voice, “Althea, I want LiliAnne to have my name. I want to be her father legally as well as in fact. I must admit that I was surprised that you had listed, “father unknown” on her birth certificate. Will you be agreeable to change it now?”

The room spun and tilted dangerously. There was a ringing in her ears. She felt time rushing past but knew equilibrium must be restored immediately. She did not even take a deep breath, actually was not sure she breathed at all, “Of course, Urs.” Was that her voice—it couldn’t be—that speaker was the master of her own voice—as though the question had been some sort of mundane inquiry—Althea’s voice would have cried out—for what—for happiness that her child would have her father’s name—a plea for that name for herself as well? The last thought sobered her, “Foolish woman,” she thought, “he will never marry you.”

“Thank you, Althea. I will have the necessary paperwork drawn up. Goodnight.” He rose and left the room without hearing her whispered, “Goodnight.”

She listened as his footsteps faded down the hallway then opened the connecting door into her room where leaning against the frame of the partially closed door, she shook with silent sobs and breathed, “Urs, Oh Urs….”

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:06 pm

4
Urs stood under the hot shower, willing his aching muscles to relax. He had enjoyed a hot shower that morning three years earlier, before he had walked out onto the porch of the inn where the group was congregating. At first he was skeptical about signing up for the organized bike trip then thought, “What the hell!” He needed the diversion.

Il Divo had recorded and toured until they were worn out, body and mind.
He and Seb seemed to have constant colds, Carlos never complained but his sometime grumpy nature showed the strain he was under and even David had lost his sparkle and was just plodding along. Only onstage were they able to keep up the Divo appearance. They shook hands then hugged as they parted, each knowing that when they came back renewed and refreshed that Il Divo would be an absolutely solidified unit.

Urs stretched and blinked in the bright sunlight. He walked to his bike and was ready to mount when he noticed the rider two places in front of him in line. She was tall, nearly his own height. Long chestnut hair streamed down her back and tossed in unruly strands in the morning breeze. He realized he was staring as she gracefully swung her leg over and mounted her bike. A quick word from the rider behind him broke the spell and he hurried to straddle his own bike, put on his helmet and push out from his parking space.

Carmen Salazar was quite aware of her affect on men. She smiled as she looked at the image in her mirror, the man in the line behind her. Had she noticed him before she might have given him a ‘bit extra’ as she got onto her bike. She chuckled, no, she was not a tease. She was a very down to earth, forthright woman. She had learned at a young age that men were naturally attracted to her. She had developed skills in handling those situations—polite, letting down gently for the courteous, well-behaved ones—squashed like the bugs they were for the ones who were obviously interested in only one thing. She never had to rebuff them twice.

Urs was still staring, the beautiful dark hair, showing glints of red in the sunlight was tamed only when she donned her helmet. The litheness of her body was even more evident as she maneuvered her bike into the line. He chided himself about the necessity of watching what he was doing. The trip through the Pyrenees would be breathtaking—literally if one did not pay attention to the road!

The line of bikes roared in unison and the trek was begun. Urs enjoyed the scenery but could only think of how anxious he was for the day to end or at least a rest stop so that he could make the acquaintance of his traveling companion.

They were due to ride long today. Each had been given food they could eat on the road, a bottle of juice and two of water. The only stops would be brief ones at crude rest areas where they would have time only for the loo. Urs was not able to get near enough to have a word with the woman during either break. The women’s facilities were far enough ahead that by the time he had finished at the men’s, she was already on her bike and ready to head out. Damn, she did not take nearly as long as most women would have—obviously hadn’t bothered to take extra time to check makeup or whatever women usually did.

When they stopped for the evening she had already received her room key and was gone when he entered the lobby. The mountain inn was rustic but charming and comfortable. It also boasted an excellent chef. After a shower, Urs put on fresh jeans and a sweater and went down to the dining room.

The food was presented on a buffet—soups, salads, roasted meats and warm crusty bread. By the time Urs filled a plate, the table where she was sitting was already full. He remembered none of the conversation he shared with his tablemates. He kept stealing furtive glances in her direction and more than once caught her eye just before she looked away.

The meal finished, the trip organizer led an informal ‘get acquainted.’ They started with a simple go around the room introduce yourself, where you were from and your line of work.

Urs learned that Carmen Salazar was a marketing executive for a travel magazine.

Carmen learned that Urs Buhler was a musician. “Ah ha!” she thought. “Gotcha!” She had been wondering all day why he looked familiar. Il Divo! They had just finished a long tour and she was pretty sure they had recorded at least one album.

With the introductions over, the group began to mingle and get acquainted. Urs and Carmen watched each other circling the room and talking to other people. Each was finding that their traveling companions were varied and interesting but quite superfluous to the evening.

Finally, standing with only empty space between them, they looked at each other and both knew their worlds had just irrevocably changed.

The empty space disappeared. “So, Carmen, you work with a magazine.” God, could he have sounded more banal? He might have well been a teenager again. But it was hard to think of clever conversation when you were drowning in eyes that were deep dark pools and were looking directly into yours.

“And you are the Swiss tenor of Il Divo.” The pools changed, shadow and light as they mingled with his amber gaze.

The charged moment lightened as he chuckled, “Guilty.” They chatted, learned each other’s recent history, and enjoyed an after dinner drink. They laughed as they discovered this trip had been a last minute decision for each—a desire for some relaxation after finishing a grueling job.
Il Divo had found what it was like to do a tour that tested not only their talents but their physical stamina as well. Carmen had spent an equally taxing few months supervising a tour of South Pacific islands to do a layout for her magazine.

Conversation lagged, Urs shuffled his feet, Carmen looked into his eyes and seeing her question answered, she said, “Would you walk me to my room?” Placing his hand on her back he guided her into the corridor.

Taking the key from her he unlocked the door and as he turned, she crushed against him, their lips met and they stumbled into the room while grappling with clothing. Urs pushed the door closed with his foot as her hands and lips pulled him toward the bed.

Raw passion consumed them and Urs remembered once thinking that he hoped the walls weren’t too thin. The flames burned quickly, danced and subsided. They lay side by side, touching, trying to catch their breaths.
When she could speak, she said, “Now that we have the sex out of the way, will you make love to me?”

He could hear the teasing in her tone and replied in the same manner, “I think I can manage that.” As she rolled toward him he pulled her close.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:07 pm

5
Idyllic days passed all too quickly. As they rode, their appreciation for the magnificent scenery was enhanced by the love in their hearts and the romantic feelings they shared. The sky was bluer, the mountains more majestic, snow purer and lakes as reflective as glass. They rode separately yet were one in their vision and reaction to their surroundings. At night they spoke in wonder and amazement at what they were experiencing.

Very matter-of-factly they had approached the group leader and told him that they would be sharing quarters, whether it be a room at a wayside inn or a tent on a mountain meadow. There was no point of pretence or trying to hide anything from their companions, neither did they flaunt their relationship in a way to make others uncomfortable. They mingled and interacted with the group and shared the camaraderie. They earned the respect and friendship of the entire company.

At night, in those rooms and tents, there was only each other.
**

“These stone walls will not keep our privacy if you keep laughing like that,” Urs’ own voice showed no restraint in volume. His laughter joined hers and they roared then subsided into giggling fits.

“Well,” Carmen snickered, “you gave such a description of watching me mount my bike that first day, I just felt inspired. What you didn’t know was that I was watching you watch me and for just a moment, I thought about what I could show you if I really wanted to. And then while riding along one day I just started fantasizing this little scenario but decided I had better save it until just the right moment—which with these thick stone walls of this inn, seemed to be the most opportune time.”

He pulled her to him, kissed her hard and laughed again, “You are a wicked, wanton, calculating woman!”

She looked at him coyly and said, “Well, yes, that too!”

“Could we have a rerun—just like the movies—play it again?” His eyes held a facetious beseeching look.

“I have a better idea,” she replied as she traced her index finger across his lips, “close your eyes and replay it in your imagination.”

He opened his eyes widely in query then slowly lowered his lids. His lashes swept across his cheeks and the tip of his tongue moistened his slightly parted lips. His breathing became shallow and quickened and she knew he was deep into the memory.

They had begun undressing each other as soon as they had entered the room. She had put her hands on his shoulders to call a momentary halt when the disrobing was finished. He had given her a questioning look but she quickly began to explain about having watched him watching her mount her bike and the thoughts that had fostered in her fertile imagination.

A lazy smile turned up the corners of his lips. With one hand, she firmly pushed him backward onto the bed, “Urs, you are a motorcycle!” She leaned forward, placed her hands on his biceps, knelt on one knee beside him and then swung her leg over.

They made love with complete abandon. When they were spent, she collapsed onto his chest and the laughter had begun.
***

“I seem to have reached a place where I can’t remember what happened next,” he managed a whisper. His eyes were still closed. He raised his chin to tip his still parted lips upward and as he had anticipated, they were met by hers, soft and full as she whispered against his, “Then it must be time for that rerun.”

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:08 pm

6
Urs sighed as he turned off the water. The hot shower had relieved some of the tension in his muscles but not the weariness in his mind. He wrapped a towel around his hips and walked into the bedroom. The huge bed dominated the space.

*******

“There is our bed!” Carmen had shouted. She dragged Urs into the antique shop where the massive piece of furniture filled the entire display window. She unabashedly flung herself into the middle of it.

“Well, it’s a good thing they actually have a mattress under that coverlet or you would have found yourself going right on through to the floor!” Urs smiled as she sat up, grabbed his hands and pulled him toward her. He offered no resistance but sat beside her. “The frame is solid and the construction seems good.”

Now it was Carmen’s turn to laugh, “Afraid we’ll break something ‘less sturdy?’”

He had no chance to reply and they both sat up primly as the small, wizened man approached. “Ah, I see you have found the magic bed.” They faced him with questioning looks and he began to spin them a tale of a wonderful ancient craftsman who had built the bed for the love of his life. As the story unfolded they heard of lovers of several generations who had shared happy lives but finally the family had ceased to continue as the only son of the last couple had entered the priesthood.

“And now the bed is here, bringing its legacy of happiness and ready to renew its story with a new family.” He smiled, knowing he had made a sale. Urs looked into Carmen’s eyes then did not even haggle over the price. He simply made arrangements with the proprietor to store the bed until they would have a house to which to bring it.
They walked out of the store hand in hand. The old man smiled as he watched them go. A shadow flitted across his face as he turned slowly and called to his young helper to arrange to dismantle the bed and store it.

“I love it, simply love it! Carmen repeated for the tenth time.

“I think the woman loves it,” Urs’ eyes crinkled as he stopped and pulled her to him where their kiss became passionate. They reluctantly broke apart and gave furtive glances to see if they were being observed. Noting that they were alone on the winding street of the quaint village, they kissed again.

“We’ll make our babies in that bed,” Carmen’s voice was soft. “Will you give me babies, Urs?”

Urs looked at her in awe. This woman would be the mother of his children. The tenderness of his emotions overcame him and tears glistened in his eyes as he gathered her close to his chest and whispered, “I love you beyond belief—and I will give you many babies.”

****

He lay on the bed in tormented solitude where sleep eluded him until his memories lost their battle to fatigue.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:09 pm

7
Urs opened his eyes to bright sunlight streaming into the room. He was surprised to find it was late morning and he had slept late in spite of the cheery brightness spilling into every corner. He stretched his arm to the other side of the bed—where Carmen should have been but felt only an empty pillow. He had considered not keeping the bed but he could not bring himself to part with it. All of the early owners had lived happy lives together and he had no doubt that he and Carmen would have continued that tradition. She had been filled with such anticipation when they had found it. Oddly enough, keeping it was a bit of a comfort to him though he could not have explained why—but it would stay in this house.

Pulling on a tee shirt and jeans, he padded barefooted into the kitchen. He found a pot of coffee had been brewed and a selection of breads, bagels, and cereals set out. Opting for a slice of toast and a cup of coffee, he carried them to the small table in front of the bay window that overlooked a large back yard.

Laughter greeted him and he looked to see Althea and LiliAnne sitting on the grass picking daisies and removing the petals one by one. As Althea plucked them and loosed them into the breeze, the baby would grab for them and giggle with glee.

“He loves me—he loves me not….” Althea’s voice carried on the clear morning air. She paused in her task and let the half finished blossom fall into her lap. “He will never love me,” she whispered.

Her last comment was inaudible to Urs but he saw the sadness on her face and watched her brush a tear from her cheek. He turned away, unable to deal with thinking of her. She should not be here—she should not have been the one to give birth to his child. She…….but…it…was…not…her…fault. That admission forced itself into his mind for the first time and for a moment he felt rather surprised that he had let it creep in. It was not her fault.

He was the one who had reached out to her. He was the one who had lost control in his need to be with a woman. He was the one who, at the moment of fulfillment, called out another’s name. He was the one who had made her feel shame for being pregnant. He was not faring too well with himself in this inventory, but he did not discard these insights.

He had not apologized—that would have made him deal with the reality of her—and that was impossible. His love for Carmen was still his reality and to have any shred of that ripped away was unthinkable. Instead, when he had approached Althea, he had appealed to her love for the baby—a good home, two parents—for the sake of the child.

And she had accepted—for the sake of the child.

And so they lived at a stalemate, in limbo, in sterile politeness—for the sake of the child.

LiliAnne reached for the remains of the flower and laughed as she pulled on the last petals with her fat little fingers. Her world was perfect—it was not devoid of love. Her solitary parents were united in their devotion to her.

Althea lifted the little girl onto her lap and cuddled her close until she pulled away and tumbled in a giggling heap into the grass.

LiliAnne picked a flower and studied it carefully. A passing butterfly caught her attention and as she watched it fly away toward the house, she caught sight of Urs in the window.

She reached out to hold onto her mother’s arm so she could get to her feet, then toddled unsteadily toward the house. Holding out the flower she called, “Daddy.”

Staring out the window, Urs’ heart broke. “If only….” But ‘if only’ could never be. Walking outside, he scooped up the baby and hugged her. Taking her offering, he said, “You have a flower for Papa?” Walking forward, he said, “Good morning, Althea.”

“Good morning, Urs.”

Status quo.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:11 pm

8


Carmen was dead—life was a vortex, swirling around him, never focused, a cacophony of sound, a blur of sight, a passing of time, a scream in the night, an awakening to find sheets soaked in sweat and the pain in his voice still echoing from the walls.

Individually, by twos, or as a group, David, Carlos and Seb offered condolences, support, gentle advice and comfort, but it was only words to him, the truth of which could not breach the impenetrable wall that grew around him.

They were in a quandary, fearful and saddened by their inability to reach him. Simon had no more success than they and immediately knew that the only thing he could do was back away from his friend but remain vigilant for an opportunity to be of help.

And then Urs was gone. He left no trace. His phone was shut off. The three Divos tried all avenues they could think of but could find no trace of him. They consoled each other with their shared knowledge that Urs held life sacred and would never do himself harm. They could do no more than wait.

***

And Urs served his season in Purgatory.

*****

The time had arrived that they were to go into the studio to work on the new record and no one had any idea if it would be started, much less completed. The three of them collectively decided they would proceed and see what happened.

“Are all of the musicians here?” Three men jumped as though shot from the proverbial cannon, whirled in unison and stared equally open mouthed at Urs Buhler. His uniform of jeans and tee shirt fitted his slender frame a bit less snugly, his signature curls had a bit less luster and his face showed more pallor but Urs demeanor gave no indication that anything unusual had taken place between the end of the tour and this moment.

The initial greetings quickly declined from the excited enthusiasm expected to barely more than casual greetings. Urs’ demeanor and responses left no doubt that there would be no discussion of the past, no place for pity.

Il Divo life moved forward. David, Carlos and Seb gradually felt more at ease as Urs behaved normally with them. The man who had returned to them was able to share occasional dinners or special occasions in their lives, but he moved through his social world as one dimensional as a cardboard cutout. He made the right gestures, spoke the right words, but they were the façade he had constructed to hide the emptiness they fronted.

Only on stage was he alive. The facsimile took shape and depth, then breathed. The music flowed from him, over and around him and he lived. The feelings, passions and emotions that were not allowed in everyday life were in the notes, each shaped by love and loss.

After each concert, he quickly sought his bed. In earlier days he would have stayed awake for hours, replaying each note and nuance in his mind. Now he yearned to sleep as quickly as possible for only in his dreams after a concert did Carmen live again. And in his dreams, she had not been taken from him—they shared love—and hope—and a future. Every moment they had shared was given life in the night.

Then morning dawned and brought truth and reality and life drained from him.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:11 pm

9
“My name is Althea Leigh Matthews and I am pregnant and it is your baby.” Her voice, while emphatic, was very quiet.

This was not going well at all. She had found it incredulous that she was pregnant after being with him only that one time. She had spent weeks in denial and then weeks in determining what to do, then more time in gathering courage to tell him.

Abortion was not an option for her. Having the child on her own would be difficult, as she had no family at all for support. But when she thought about it, he deserved to have a chance to choose whether he wanted his child in his life.

Urs looked at her in disbelief. When she had approached his table, he thought she looked vaguely familiar. Her words slammed against his brain.

“I need to talk to you,” she had begun, but then it came tumbling out—who she was and about the baby. Uninvited, she sat on the chair opposite him and tried to gain control of her emotions.

Urs stood, “I don’t know what game you are playing, but if this is a joke, it isn’t funny and if it’s a shakedown now would be a good time for you to walk away.” He had begun to tremble.

She looked up at him and managed to speak, “It isn’t a game and I want nothing from you. I…I just felt you had the right to know that you are going to be a father.” Her woebegone face was turned upward.

“I don’t believe you for one moment.” He turned and walked away. Walked when he wanted to run. Silent when he wanted to scream. “Damned canceled flight!” In that instant he remembered. Remembered the night that he had buried deep within his consciousness. Remembered the night the flight was canceled. Remembered the night he drank himself into a stupor. Remembered the night he had betrayed his love for Carmen. Betrayed, because he still loved her as much as when she had been alive to share his life. It was no less a betrayal because she was dead.

And in that instant he knew she was telling the truth. This woman, this Althea Leigh Matthews was carrying his baby. A baby he had promised to Carmen. Then he ran.

****
Althea placed the baby gently into her crib then went to answer the door. Her feet instantly rooted to the spot. Finally she whispered, “Urs.”

It had not been too difficult for him to locate where she lived. He had not made any detailed inquires about her or the baby—he knew only that it was a girl. He wanted nothing to influence the decision he was making.

The tour was again finished, the house had been completed and all of the things he had bought to fill it had been sent and placed. And he had made the decision that his child would live there and that would require bringing her mother.

Althea protested. The idea was preposterous. She and LiliAnne were doing just fine on their own. But in the end his quiet Swiss logic and a mother’s desire to have the best for her child prevailed. And so they had to come to live in his house.

And love had entered his life again, because very quickly the little girl had made a place for herself in his heart. The first time he had reached out to hold her, she had pressed close to her mother but looked at him with great solemn eyes, then after a moment reached out to his arms. Giving him one last careful look, she lay her head on his chest and listened to the beating of the heart that was now hers forever.

Urs lay his cheek against the soft curls on the top of her head, closed his eyes and tears glistened on his lashes.

Althea watched them and knew she could forgive him much and hoped that someday it would be mutual.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:13 pm

10
The fog did not lift. The airline had finally canceled the flight and sent the passengers to a nearby hotel with the news that clear weather was promised for the following day.

Due to the lateness of the hour the hotel restaurant was closed. Urs had started to order room service but had rejected the idea as he felt the walls closing around him. He walked around the block in the quiet whiteness then headed into the hotel bar on his return.

He ordered a sandwich from the late night menu, but after a few bites pushed the plate away. He nodded at the waitress—often—and with each nod another drink was brought. He had lost count but was surprised that the room spun a bit as he got unsteadily to his feet. He signed the check to his room and picked up the last drink to take with him.

Was there a lump in the carpet, a chair leg sticking out, fate? As the drink poured onto the woman in its path she jumped to her feet and seethed, “You jerk!”

Urs was lucid enough to reply, “That I am Madam. I am very sorry.” He swept an imaginary hat to the side as he bowed. Off balance he stumbled into her.

Looking up, Althea was ready to berate him until she looked into amber eyes and saw the despair of a damned soul. She also recognized him as one of the other passengers from the flight that didn’t fly.

“Look, I think it’s time the evening ended—you look a bit groggy and I look a bit soggy!” What an absolutely ridiculous thing to say—well, the situation was ridiculous. Both chuckled. He was obviously in need of assistance before his exit became even more of a fiasco.

He offered no resistance as she guided him out of the bar and toward the elevator. When she asked what floor he wanted she was surprised to find it was the same as hers and even more surprised when he walked unsteadily the same direction she was heading down the hall.

“Well, goodnight,” she said when he stopped at a door and fumbled a key out of his pocket. She smiled as he mumbled a reply that at least acknowledged he knew where he was.

Althea slowed her gait as she walked down the hall. Why was she wondering why this man felt the need to drink as he did—was it a usual thing for him—oddly, she somehow knew that it wasn’t. She had glanced his way a few times in the bar and it was obvious that some burden weighed heavily upon him.

When she reached her door she turned and looked back down the hall. He was jabbing the key at the door with no apparent success. Finally he simply hung his head and looked at the key as if it were some foreign object.

Turning, she walked back down the hall. “Looks like you need a bit of help with your key.”

“The door keeps moving,” his speech was slurred but he gave a lopsided smile.

She took the key and opened the door so that it swung in for him. She started to leave but he was slapping his hand on the wall inside, having no more success with the light switch than he had with the key. She shook her head and with a grin brushed past him and stepped inside.


The switch turned on a soft light in a far corner of the room. As her hand found the switch, his hand closed over hers and he pulled her clear of the door. She started to protest but his mouth covered hers. She was trapped between his body and the wall. Panic began to set in as the door, no longer blocked, swung closed.

She pushed with all her strength and said, “No!” Urs took half a step back and released her. He began to mumble an apology.

She looked at him. She was breathing heavily and confusion furrowed her brow. What was she thinking? She wasn’t thinking. And then she was. Thinking of the feel of his lips on hers. Lips that were still so close. Lips that wanted to kiss her. Not Kevin’s lips—those had been kissing someone else. The someone else he had brought to their bed when he thought she was going to be away overnight.

Althea looked at Urs again and knew she was lost. Nothing of this situation made sense. It didn’t have to. The need was a thing with life of its own. Need to connect in the most intimate of acts is a driving force to those who have so long been without that connection. Those whose illusions have been shattered, whose love has been taken away, those are the vulnerable ones, the ones who cannot help reaching out when what is being offered is so close and so tempting, so desperately needed.

She stepped to him, raised her arms, tangled her hands in his curls and turned her face upward to meet his lips.

There was tenderness and passion. There was urgency and patience. There was ascension to the heights. The warmth of contentment she felt spreading through her turned to chards of ice, ripping into her being as he cried out, “Carmen!”

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:14 pm

11

Status quo. Only their complete devotion to their baby provided enough love for the two of them to sustain life in their hearts. They dealt with the lack of love between a man and woman by ignoring it. Deprivation made them hollow eyed and melancholy.

Urs went on with his career by rote. Still onstage, his voice was better than ever, his performances flawless. His professional life was as it had always been. His interactions with his band-mates were as they had always been. Everything had been placed into its niche.

His homecomings were always the same. Politeness and impersonal calmness reigned in his castle. If there was any inner turmoil, he never allowed it to show.

Althea realized that she needed some emotional outlet to be able to continue the charade that was her life. Quite by chance she had stopped by an art exhibit while on an outing with the baby. LiliAnne had looked at the large canvases with the bright colors and waved and chortled.

And so Althea had taken up painting. She was amazed that she seemed to have a talent and her abstract beginnings began to take more shape and polish. During Urs’ absences, she spent some time with a teacher. The paintings were a cooperative effort—while mother painted, daughter would watch wide-eyed or toddle to dip fingers into paint and proceed to add her touch to the newest work.

Althea’s room was her studio and the master of the house was completely unaware of her newfound outlet for the emotions she could not express outside that room.

For she loved Urs Buhler. She had loved him from that first night. The night when she felt desire for the first time since the man she was supposed to marry had betrayed her. The night when Urs had called out another’s name and it rang in her ears until shame replaced the momentary joy she had felt. A one-night stand—with someone whose name she did not even know—a man who had not even remembered her!

She had fled his room. She did not take that plane the next morning. Her despair and despondency had reached an unbearable point. Her life was saved when she realized that there was to be another one for which she was responsible.

And they had all come to this point. Tomorrow would be LiliAnne’s third birthday. Urs was home and had invited her to go on a shopping trip so they could choose presents together. For the past year there had been some times together as a family with the baby. Tentative at first, the excursions went smoothly and became more frequent.

Urs was intent on something in a store window when the light changed. Althea pushed the stroller into the crosswalk, knowing he would catch up before they finished crossing the street.

Hearing the screams of nearby people, she looked up to see a car careening toward them. She wheeled the stroller around, saw Urs start to bound forward, a look of horror on his face. She pushed the stroller from her with all her might in his direction.

Her world exploded. She felt a brief sensation of flying through the air but never felt the impact when her body hit the pavement twenty feet away, nor did she feel the wet stickiness of the blood pooling beneath her. She could not hear his agonized scream above her.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:16 pm

12

And now life’s routine was different.

Althea lay in her hospital bed amid the quietly whirring machines. Nurses checked and cared for her regularly. Her cuts and bruises had healed. Had the tubes been taken out and the equipment wheeled away, she would have looked to be sleeping—but the coma persisted. The doctors had no answers—brain function seemed normal—she could wake up tomorrow—or never.

A shadow stirred in the chair beside her. The ghost that had haunted her bedside for the past several months. Urs who had watched her and pondered the things he had found lurking in cracks and crevices and secret places of his mind.

His career was on hold. He spent his hours with his daughter or sitting beside her mother. The nurses kept her golden hair brushed and it lay in a halo on her pillow. Her face was pale and he suddenly had the incongruous thought that she needed something with more color than the white hospital gowns. She must have something he could bring for her.

*****

Urs had never been in Althea’s bedroom and he paused before entering. Light streaming through the windows illuminated a scene that sent him reeling. When he regained composure, he looked at the long wall that had become her gallery.

The paintings were varied in size and in skill of execution, showing the progress of the artist. Their subject did not vary—LiliAnne. Althea had painted their child in different settings, all conveying the baby’s joy and love of the world around her. She had put herself in some of the portraits, but always with her back to view, sometimes walking and holding a little hand in hers, sometimes lifting the little girl into the air as she raised her arms to fly.

When he reached the end of the room Urs stopped—stared—the last canvas was small compared to the others and he would have looked away had he possessed the ability. It was a portrait of him. She had captured his individual classic features yet they were hard, more carved than painted. On closer examination of the misty garden background, there was a picture, hidden within a picture, he found the same face—same yet different. The features were the same, but this time his eyes crinkled with mirth and his lips curled in a beaming smile.

“Daddy,” he had not heard LiliAnne toddle into the room. She scampered over to him, holding up her arms. As he scooped her up, she pointed to the picture and again said, “Daddy.” Then pointing down the row, she said, “Mama,” in a plaintive voice.

His heart broke. He hugged her close and noticed the nanny had stopped in the doorway. Shaking his head, he motioned her away.

Urs carried the little girl to her room for her nap. He told her a story of a beautiful and good sleeping queen who would soon return to her little princess who missed her so. LiliAnne whispered, “Mama,” and fell asleep.

Urs returned to stand before the portrait. He trembled under the knowledge of how much this woman loved him—for she did love him—it was there in the misty features she had painted. A love he had not wanted, had never given her hope that it would ever be returned, yet she had painted her hope in that obscured visage. Was it only her hope, or had she seen more—seen deeply into dark recesses where he had not dared let his thoughts venture?

Urs felt dazed. Demons danced and taunted him. A laughing girl with a cloud of raven hair floating around her reached out to him. A woman let her long blonde hair fall about her face to hide her tears.

Uttering an agonized sound, Urs ran from the room, out to his bike and roared away from the haunting images on the wall and in his mind.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:16 pm

13

He had ridden the road dozens of times--too dangerously—too fast—too carelessly. Today he rode with care. He was nearing the spot. The spot frozen in time. The spot where his heart had died. He slowed to a snail’s pace.

Time flowed backward—to that day. Had there been oil or something slick on the road? Had there been loose gravel, a single stone? There would never be an answer. One minute she had been riding beside him, the next she was gone, barely a sliding sound, then empty space where she had been.

What he did acknowledge was that it was not his fault. He had not bought a bike too big or too powerful for her to handle. He had not challenged her to ride beyond her capabilities. The guilt he carried was not deserved. Through the tears, in that moment, he forgave himself, not for causing her death, because he had not caused her death—he forgave himself for the misery he had caused by blaming himself. He had to forgive himself before he could ask others to forgive him.

Neither was it Carmen’s fault. For a time he had blamed her, been angry with her for leaving him. But the blame was not hers either. She had not been riding too fast for the road and she would not have been guilty of inattention. And when his anger subsided, his self-imposed guilt was there to provide a reason for the unreasonable. There was no blame to be affixed. It had simply been a freak accident—a cruel freak accident.

Parking his bike he made the familiar journey to the edge of the cliff. Today there were no ghosts, no visions, no echoing sounds of torment. He sat cross-legged close to the abyss and felt calm as he breathed deeply and surveyed his surroundings.

He spoke aloud, his voice quiet though emotional. “Carmen, I have missed you so, I thought I could not go on. You were the other half of me. I will always remember you and always love you, but I have come to say goodbye. I have to let go. There’s LiliAnne, my precious girl, the child that for so long I thought should have been ours. Then I understood that if that were the case she would not be who she is, and Carmen, you would love her—she is so perfect. She is my world.

And there is her mother, Althea. She is a good mother, a good woman, and I haven’t allowed myself to even get to know her. She has been patient, never demanding, willing to live entirely by my rules for the sake of her child. She deserves better.”

He sat quietly until long shadows prodded him to rise. He walked to his bike and began the ride home. “Goodbye, my love,” he whispered into the wind.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:17 pm

14

Today he broke the routine. LiliAnne had been asking so pitifully for her mama that he had decided to take her to see Althea. The nurses had minimized the amount of equipment she would see. He had explained to her that mama needed to sleep and would not wake up, but that she could talk to mama.

A grave faced little girl stared at Althea. Looking up at Urs she said, “I want to lay by mama.”

Very carefully he lifted her onto the bed, “You must lie very quietly and you can put your head on mama’s arm.” He held back tears as he helped his daughter snuggle next to the mother who might never again hold her. After a few minutes he said, “Very gently kiss mama goodnight.”

The little girl ever so carefully roused herself and moved to brush a kiss onto her mother’s cheek. Urs gently picked her up and carried her out of the room to the waiting nanny. “I’m not sure what time I will be home.” The woman had heard this phrase many times so only nodded.

Urs sighed deeply and took his usual chair at the edge of the bed for vigil. He took her pale hand in his and quietly spoke, “That was our daughter, Althea. That was LiliAnne. She misses you so terribly.” After moments of quiet, he continued, “I saw the paintings, Althea.” Another period of silence and then, “I have been such a fool, Althea. I couldn’t let go of the past and that left no place for the present or the future. I love you, Althea,” the words were whispered over and over.

“I don’t know if you can ever forgive me. I don’t know how you could—I have caused you so much hurt and pain. From cruelty to indifference, and you bore it all with grace and calmness. How did you do that? How could you love me in spite of all of that? And I know you love me—had faith that I would come to my senses. I saw it in that portrait. How you must have thought your hopes were going to be in vain. Well, they’re not in vain and I won’t believe it’s too late.

I want a life with you, Althea, a real life. I want to watch sunsets with you. I want your beautiful face to be the first thing I see at sunrise. I want to spend the hours between making love with you. I want to know you—I know your patience, your kindness, your generous spirit. I want to know what makes you laugh, what touches your heart, what you find unbearably beautiful. I want to be your lover, your friend…your husband. I want to marry you. I want to grow old with you. Come back to me, Althea.”

Still holding her hand he lay his forehead on the edge of the bed and prayed. Prayed for the soul of Carmen. Prayed for the life of Althea. Prayed for a mother for his child. Prayed for a future with the woman he loved. Prayed until, emotionally drained but cleansed, he drifted to sleep.

His dreamed, not of his night with Althea, but of the nights that could have been. She was full of laughter and twining her fingers in his hair.

He felt a gentle tugging at his hair as he realized he was no longer dreaming, but awake. For a moment he could not move, then slowly raised his head while disengaging the fingers from his curls.

Looking up, he stared straight into Althea’s open eyes and in doing so, knew he was not only looking at a present, but a future.

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:18 pm

15

God is merciful—Althea remembered nothing of the accident and her long recovery. Urs and the staff slowly filled in the gap in time for her. The only thing that mattered to her was the gradual awakening—she had heard his voice, in a dream at first, saying, “I love you.” And then it wasn’t a dream and her fingers had twined in his curls and life began again for both of them.

The doctors had promised only a remaining week in the hospital for tests and then she could go home.

Urs entered the room with a spring in his step and his arms loaded with flowers—daisies today.

“Urs, the room already looks like a florist shop.” Althea laughed and held out her arms to him. “What beautiful daisies.”

Dropping the flowers onto her bed table he gathered her into his arms. “The last time I saw you holding daisies, you were so sad—I wanted to replace that memory. I want to replace all of the sad memories that I gave you.”

She placed a finger against his lips then spoke, “Urs, you have already accomplished that. Everytime you kiss me, hold me, one by one they have slipped away.”

He moved away from her, but only far enough to look into her eyes. When told she would be coming home in a week, in his excitement in discussing preparations for that event, he had mentioned that he was buying some new furniture. She had protested that everything in the house was perfect and not to change a thing. He had promised, but now felt that there was something he had to share with her so that it would not be a secret hanging between them.

He told her the story of the bed and that he was going to replace it before she came home.

Her cheeks warmed at the thoughts of what would be taking place in that new bed and as he noticed and read her thoughts, his eyes lit up and they both chuckled. “Oh, yes, that too!” he said tenderly.

“Urs, you don’t have to replace the bed. Its story is such history and for the most part happiness. We can continue that history. Your love for Carmen no longer holds any threat for me. Loving her as you did is part of who you are. I love who you are. If you find that you can share that bed with me with no regrets, no ‘if onlys,’ then it should stay. It can have a new beginning with us.”

Tears glistened in his eyes as he looked at her. This woman continued to amaze him. From the beginning, to the present day, he was astounded by her capacity to love and forgive. He took a deep breath and spoke softly. “Carmen was the first true love in my life. She was a comet that burst into my universe and together we blazed across the sky. When she was no longer with me I fell to earth, cold and with no light of my own. But Althea, you are my north star, the constant in my universe. You reached through the darkness and guided me even when I didn’t realize it. I know you will always be there. And I want to be the same for you—I want you to always be able to count on my love for you.”

Again she placed a finger to his lips. They leaned toward each other; their lips met in a kiss that sealed a promise.

“Two more days, and I can bring you home.”

“Two days.”

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:19 pm

16

Going home day! She waited anxiously for Urs to arrive with clothes for her to wear home—she was not going in bed clothing!

He draped the bag over a chair and practically ran to the bed to hold her. “If you don’t let me go so that I can dress, we won’t get home today after all,” she laughed.

Unzipping the garment bag, she looked at the simple, flowing white dress then looked at him quizzically, “You bought me something new?” He helped her slip out of her gown and into the dress.

He dropped to one knee before her. “Althea, you came to my house under circumstances that you should never have had to endure. You came as an invited but unwanted guest. I want you to return as the mistress of the house. Please say you will marry me.”

She could only manage a whispered, “Yes.”

It was required that patients ride in a wheelchair to the waiting car. As Urs pushed her into the hall, waiting nurses and doctors were there for smiling, ‘goodbyes.’

“Urs, you just made a wrong turn, the front door is the other way.”

“No, I think we’re going the right way,” he was probably breaking wheelchair speed limits by now. She had no time to quiz him further as they stopped before the door to the hospital chapel. “I meant it literally when I said you were to return to the house as its mistress. All the paperwork is done, you have only to sign your name. Marry me now, right now.”

Again, she could only whisper, “Yes.”

When he opened the door and wheeled her inside, she was speechless. There were bouquets of white roses. LiliAnne was there in an adorable new white dress. The priest was there. David, Sebastian and Carlos were there. She had not met them, but felt she knew them.

LiliAnne ran to be gathered into her mother’s arms. David broke the silence when he stepped forward and smiled, “I’m here to offer my services as your ‘maid’ of honor.” His first words to her were a joke that she would always remember and in that moment she knew she would hear many more of David’s jokes.

Seb smiled shyly as he introduced himself and said how pleased he was to stand by Urs as his best man. The look that passed between the men spoke of their deep friendship and Althea knew that this man would be her friend as well.

Carlos stepped forward, “It would be my honor to give the bride away.” Althea was so filled with emotion she could only swallow hard and extend her hand to him. He helped her from her chair and placed her hand on Urs’ arm.

Linking her arm through Urs,’ she took a deep breath and felt the lightness of no cares or burdens resting on her shoulders. Carlos lifted LiliAnne into the crook of Urs’ other arm. The group proceeded to the altar to meet the smiling priest where during the next moments, the Buhler family truly became a reality.

The beginning!

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PostSubject: Re: SCENES FROM A LIFE By:Marie (Humphrey) Short Story    Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:19 pm

EPILOG
I want to thank all of you who supported this story. I can’t believe the number of views and posts for a story that only lasted two weeks.

I did enjoy writing it and as I said, I don’t seem to have the time or inclination for a fully developed piece. I like doing the short scenes—the bones that could be fleshed out to make a complete look at the lives of the characters.

Now for the epilog part—sorry, it isn’t really a chapter—just what would have happened in their lives.

1.Althea would have healed completely during her coma so that she suffered no pain and remembered nothing of the accident.

2.She would have heard much of what Urs was saying at her bedside—there would have been tears, gentle touching, words of love (at least half a box of tissues worth)LOL

3.He would have carried her into the house when he brought her home. Lovely scene with their baby.

4.A very special scene where he takes her to ‘their’ bedroom—he tells her the history of ‘the’ bed, offers to just share her room until he can get a different bed—she makes a lovely speech about the two of them renewing the history of happy couples who shared it.

5.They share a lovely evening with Lilianne and after tucking her in, they link arms and go to their room.

6.They would have a night of love that I would only be allowed to describe as unfolding blossoms, waves crashing on a beach…..well, you get the idea.

7.And I would leave the deliriously happy couple knowing they were giving Lilianne a sibling.

Again, thanks to all of you who read—I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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