circa 1980’s The Bay Area
As Samuel drove home, he felt good, really good, about his gift. He had made an old lady truly happy and perhaps, even given a dying girl a hope to live for. In the process he kept his promise to the mysterious Rachel Harrison. He had given her portrait away, not sold it. How could she fault him for that?
During the next several weeks, Samuel found it difficult to concentrate on his work. He spent most of his days wandering on the beach and wondering about life.
Samuel’s reverie gradually ended as his mind returned to the present. He looked about him and sighed.
My whole life has been a menagerie of new languages, new places and new people, he thought. In all of this, I have never met anyone just like Rachel Harrison – so overflowing with luxuriant life, so voluptuous yet so distant, so coldly untouchable. And Anna Rachel Stapleton – so elegant yet so devoid of essential vitality. So lifeless, yet in her sparking green eyes, there beamed a light of serene contentment which could not be extinguished by physical disability and the approach of death. She had the same enchanting qualities of Rachel Harrison, yet Anna Rachel possessed a reality that I can’t explain. A girl comes into my life for one day and then vanishes. Then I meet a dying girl who will never know life, never know romantic adventure, never know love. Somehow, it is not fair. Just isn’t fair, just isn’t. Why? Why?
After an hour Samuel decided to leave the beach and go to the Golden Cowrie. There he could drown his sorrow of mind in his work.
Dolefully, he dragged himself to the restaurant. Sitting down at his table, he began to paint a coal tar fog around an 18th century lighthouse.
His mind wandered. Depression will be the perfect name for this. The whale oil is almost gone, and life on the sea dies when the fuel runs out.
His concentration was broken when he heard someone pouring fresh Neuville’s French coffee into his cup. Looking up, he saw Rachel, dressed in the same white cotton dress and yellow sunbonnet, yet she seemed different. As he studied her, a frightful realization overpowered him.
“Miss Stapleton?” He asked unbelievingly.
“Yes, Mr. Taylor, you seemed surprised and unsure. Let me explain.”
“Please do,” he stuttered.
“I have a confession to make. Rachel Harrison and Anna Rachel Stapleton is the same person.”
Samuel felt a surge of anger. Unintentionally, he exploded, “You mean that I have been through the most depressed period of my life because you and your mother played a mind game with me.”
“Samuel, please do not be harsh. Let me explain.”
“There is no need for explanations. If you get your jollies out of pretending to be dying and playing cruel, emotional games, you certainly chose the wrong person this time. I have no intention of allowing you to sit there, in order, to convey to me how much of a fool I am!” He shouted.
“Samuel, please do not yell at me.”
“Oh! No, I forgot how ill you are, Miss Stapleton. Mentally ill that is!”
“Samuel, it is not that way. Please let me explain. I beg of you.”
“Why should I?” He demanded.
“Because I love you,” she began to cry.
The word ‘love’ shocked him. Before him sat the one woman on earth, who he loved more than his own existence. He had not allowed her to explain. He had assumed the worst because he was afraid of the truth.
“Rachel, tell me the truth. I will try to be calm.”
Looking at him, she replied sharply, “I have been attempting to do just that.”
He smiled and placed his hands on hers. She smiled in return.
“My mother placed your portrait in my room. The more I looked at it, the more envious I became of her. She had her whole life before her. She was free to walk, to dance, to race across the beach and to feel the waves beat on her legs, to get a golden tan and most of all, to love and to be loved. I was a prisoner, trapped in a useless, decaying body. I wanted to die, to become a faded memory, but then I remembered a dream, a dream of which I had told my mother earlier but which I had completely forgotten. I dreamed that early one morning I walked, I walked, to my clothes closet and took out a yellow sunbonnet, a white dress and white shoes. I dressed and came here. By what means I do not recall. I met you. I pretended to be my great-grandmother. That day was the most joyous day of my life. The Neuville’s French coffee, our talks and walks on the beach all happened, Samuel. I thought it was a dream, but somehow, either by magic or by some other means, that day existed and is real.”
Samuel sat stunned. He had pictured the scenario totally opposite. He had assumed that Rachel’s paralysis was acting. Now, there seemed to be a mystical quality surrounding this that went beyond the rational.
Rachel continued her tale. “Last night I felt that I was dying. As I looked at the portrait for the last time, I longed for life, a life unchained, to do all the wonderful things that I could not do. The portrait seemed so alive, so powerful. Early this morning I awoke, and truly a transformation had occurred. My body was radiated with strength, and I could walk perfectly.
The portrait was gone. Just the canvas remained.
You made it possible, Samuel. I do not fully understand how, but I know that you put so much love into that portrait, and that love, your love, liberated me from mental and physical slavery,” she beamed with happiness.
For several moments Samuel stared at her with an incredulous expression. Rachel could feel her heart beating faster with each passing second.
What would she do if he rejected her? How could she live her new life without the man who made it all possible? Doubts and fears raced through her mind, chasing away her joy. She felt that her tears would come any moment unless Samuel believed her and accepted her.
Samuel thoughtfully asked, “One question, Mademoiselle Stapleton, do you have to leave by sunset?”
She exploded in laughter as her tears of joy ran down her face. “I have no sunsets in my life now, only sunrises.”
“Would you like to do dancing and after dancing, go running and playing on the midnight beach?”
“Yes, if I can do those things only with you.”
“I believe this is the beginning of a new life for both of us, Rachel, my precious lamb.”
“You know. I fully agree with you,” she smiled.
Looking into each other eyes, they instantly felt an earnest longing, racing through them. Samuel took Rachel in his arms. As their lips met for the first time, the air about them seemed filled with a choral melody of romantic French music.
G. D. Williams © 2011