Wrapped in a red knitted blanket, Arabella stepped out to the patio for some air. She was greeted with a soft chill breeze making her shiver slightly. Winter was here. A thin layer of snow had delicately covered the leafless trees that surrounded the house. The ground glinted as though it was frosted in white silk, while the sky appeared like one giant pearl hovering from above. It was a beautiful quiet Friday morning.
Amidst a world decorated in white glamour and elegance, Arabella felt like a strange, misplaced red tint. Despite the cold, she sat on the old oak, cushioned chair as she continued to indulge at the beauty she was in. The sun had been completely veiled. Glancing up, she slightly scorned at the descending fog that threatened to mask her of her sight. Determined to turn a blind eye at the approaching thief who desired to take her newfound solace, she drew her attention at the cup of cold tea and blank piece of paper abandoned on the small round table in front. She meant to write the letter the night before, but alas it had only felt like agonising torment that would only lead to certain defeat. Arabella seemed to have lost the ability to form sentences, and even if she did have the faintest idea what she yearned to write, she didn’t know how to begin. Her mind felt like a tapestry of confused emotions and thoughts that culminated in an exquisite, sublime blank. Perhaps if she had loved him less, she might have been able to talk about it with ease. But to suppose the simplicity of the task would have meant the affection she felt was not as true as it felt.
She sat staring at the forsaken untainted paper, pondering whether she should– no, whether she could write to him. How does one even begin a letter consumed with so much pain and regret? Should it be a letter of anger and resentment accusingly blaming him for all that went wrong because of his coward attempt to love? Or perhaps it could be words of pain, for indeed distance was glorious to those who cannot bear to see the suffering of those they hurt. And while distance may be wondrous to those blinded with pride and ache, she believed those who hurt must be given the privilege to watch how their deceitful love destroyed those they leave behind so they can marvel at how disappointed love could cause them to wither away until they were nothing but broken. Or maybe she could foolishly shed a few more of the pride she had left and contemplate asking him to cast his duty aside, abandon his fellow soldiers, only to return to her. For what good is her pride when she has died every morning waiting in hope for him to come back? But if only she could but know his heart, everything would become easy.
The breeze began to turn into harsh winds piercing into her skin like sharp icicles. And yet she did not move. Arabella tightly held onto her red blanket wishing the wind would take her sorrows with it. As she closed her eyes, she could still see the stars gleaming brilliantly as they did that night. The memory that she had so preciously cherished had become a nightmare haunting her with every opportunity it got. She felt she had been robbed of hope and strength. She had no courage left.
But somehow, without the certainty of a reason, with pale numb hands, she resolutely reached for the paper and pen, and started to write.
E.E. Cummings once wrote, ‘Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backward.’ I wish I had been wise enough to trust you and brave enough to take the leap with you from the start. But to write words in regret and loss would merely be a waste of what could be a beautiful letter of treasured memories.
Do you remember the summer we met? The summer we removed the miles from the distance that kept us apart. There I was, outside the airport, carelessly dragging my suitcase while searching for my way out of the crowd. And there you were, right across me only a couple of feet away. You patiently stood, amused I can only assume, at the frustrated bundle of mess before you. You had a smile in the midst of laughter. With a bundle of white daisies and daffodils firmly clenched in your arm, you held aloft a placard with my name on it. I slowly approached you, prudent to capture the moment for cold mornings. ‘You’, I leisurely whispered as you steadily leaned over to give me a hug, flowers and placard forgotten.
We spent an unforgettable three months mostly on the road, driving around the south with neither a destination nor purpose. Summer was drawing nearer, and yet we faced more rainy days than dry ones. It is impossible not to remember you when it rains, as it is impossible not to miss your presence with the smell of dew. And whenever I close my eyes to the sound of raindrops, I am transported back in your old, dull blue BMW, impatiently waiting for you as you rushed back from the store, hurriedly scrambling back to your seat with a triumphant grin and gleam in your eyes, victoriously holding out the ice creams. With newly sprouted stubbles and freshly damp brown hair, you stopped for a moment to look at me, almost inaudibly whispering how that moment was so perfect that you were afraid it wasn’t real. Then you pulled my ear, placed a gentle kiss on my hand and started driving. We drove until we reached an area filled with tussocks, where we climbed out of the car with the red umbrella we had stolen from old plump Mrs. Petal. And there we stood, in the middle of the rain, in the middle of nowhere, with our ice creams and our red stolen umbrella.
A week before our summer ended, you had taken me up to Lake Alexandrina. I remember how much you loved that place. We would walk to the lake from the bach, as you continued to tell me of the previous times you had been there. Without the disturbing noises of powerboats and yachts, it truly was incredibly peaceful. There was hardly anyone up there, almost as though we had found our own little paradise. We spent most of our mornings walking down the trail as ducks walked past our feet with their ducklings in tow, as tiny birds followed us down the track, moving from bush to bush. And in the evenings, we would be back in the bach, spending the rest of the day sitting in the armchairs in front of the window, occasionally pausing to stare across the lake, as the trees and hills disappear into the distance while the sun closed in. It was beautiful. It was a summer we would forever remember.
Alas, all good things have their ends. I was too happy. It not only frightened me, it terrified me. You were the reality I had always been afraid of. I don’t blame you for running away. But to war? I can only hope it isn’t rage that led you there. Without a word of explanation, you chose to fade away. You held onto solitude. I held onto pride. Though I only had to learn to trust each you. And you needed only the courage. I don’t know what a love willing to leave loved ones for, a love to cross oceans for feels like; but if I ever have the chance to have a glimpse of it, I only hope I have the courage to seize it.
I had tried to hold onto you with my staggering pride, but you tried so hard to say goodbye I knew I had lost before the battle even begun. You gave me everything only to take it all back, stealing my heart along with you. And all that was left was sweet nothing.
Perhaps what happened had to happen for the betterment of our circumstance. Maybe it was never about the war nor was it ever about us. We had battles of our own that we needed to fight, and to merely soldier on with what we had would have meant losing the magic we had started with. I have not the pleasure of understanding you. Though I may not understand your decision and reasons, I do accept that you had to leave.
But it is quite a funny thought how irony played a nasty trick on us. Because the honest truth is, you were never really mine to lose.
Nothing had changed except the days of the month. She had not moved. She spent her nights cold and awake in bed, and her mornings on the patio staring into the distance waiting, gravely anticipating for a six-foot-four shadow to appear in the fog, safe from the war, coming home to her. Her sorrow had become a bitter void that have turned to sad guilt and worry as the days went by. It had been three months and six days and yet she heard nothing from him. It was cruel revenge if it were intentional.
The trees stood barren, as lifeless as Arabella’s pallid face as she sat on the old oak cushioned chair, as if they too were in restless anticipation. The depth of the cold winter had gone and no longer were there harsh winds to snap her back to the present. Her knees languidly lie near her chest as her head quietly rested on a pillow. She was a sad sight in white. And of all the literary comparisons one could deduce of her, one would without a doubt would think she had become the pathetic figure of Miss Havisham at that very moment. The thinning snow had left the ground damp and slippery. The sky was a magnificent display of splendor rich with colours only the heavens could create. Winter was ready to bid her leave. Arabella, however, was indifferent to her surroundings. Winter had chosen to stay with her.
Her mother called early that morning, overcome with concern as she brooded over her daughter’s well-being as she was with the understanding that Arabella intended to return over three months ago. But every week when Arabella would call her all she got was a cryptic ‘this is where I need to be at the moment, mom’. She claimed to be well, convinced for some obscure reason that the stars have aligned for her to be there. Arabella could not understand it herself, much less explain it.
“Arabella, it is very unlike you to stray from your plans, more so leave your job and move at a moment’s notice.” Her mother remarked, worry still apparent in her voice.
But fact of the matter was, Arabella did not move, she simply never came back. She was certain her mother was right. Her judgment told her to go back home, as change was sure to bring some clarity to her senses. But alas, the heavens had whispered to the stars, a new constellation had formed, an unknown destiny decreed for her. She had assured her mother she was building a life for herself coupled with a few potential job interviews in line the next few days. Evidently, that was untrue. But she did not need to burden her mother with her confused state of distress. At the back of her mind, she was confident she would figure it out. Despite her exasperating sense of logic, she believed beyond anything else that leaving would only plague her with the undying ‘what if’, and Arabella had always been one to accept defeat by all but regret. She had three hundred sixty five tomorrows to figure her future, and those tomorrows neither started that day nor the next.
Her thoughts were a jar of perplexed wonder. Though her days were clouded by nothing, her mind raced as though she was in a whirlwind of happenings. Three months had gone since she wrote to him, and it had only been at that moment that she had felt hope. Perhaps it may be inasmuch that it was the closest she could be with him.
Arabella reached for one of the blank papers and pen on the table that had since rested there for so long. But like the first one, she would neatly fold this one too and carefully place it in the box by her bed. Though she wanted nothing more but let him know she was waiting for him, she could not bear the possibility of another goodbye. Thus she resolved to wait for him there, knowing he would find her if he really wanted to, while she gathered enough strength to face the possibilities of cruel tomorrows.
Winter. Winter and her mysterious breezy air and mischievous winds.
Mrs. Petal came to visit the night before. She came with Charlie bearing a basket of vanilla cupcakes. The last I saw her was the day we ran away with her umbrella. I’m afraid she has figured us out. The red ‘missing’ umbrella, she saw was still on the hood of the BMW. She didn’t, however, say anything. She only shrugged it off with a wave, smirking as she slowly left. Though it was in some measure wonderful to have company other than – well, myself, but my dear Robert, Mrs. Petal is quite the woman. She was politely rude, sympathetically critical and subtly showed disapproval every time I blinked. But she is quite the extraordinary, the strength of her mind almost admirable.
I am told she is to leave in a few days for two weeks up north to visit family. She didn’t appear at all thrilled at the idea, but I imagine it is only a façade she keeps because goodness forbid people would see that she has any other emotion other than displeasure. It is a lonely life she lives. Yet pity we mustn’t feel for her. She speaks with conviction that there is not a decision she has lived to regret. I wonder, however, if those are words she truly believe or words she consistently say in hope that one day she would finally convince herself that the choices she made in her life were indeed for the better. Do you suppose we will grow old with the same belief that we honestly without a doubt have made all the right decisions, even the wrong ones?
Mrs. Petal stayed the hour; we drank tea and ate the cupcakes, which were deliciously sinful. She promised to make some again when you return. ‘A hero’s treat’ she says. We spoke mostly about the weather, the ‘inappropriate place’ I lived in and her trip. I also have Charlie to accompany me for now. Mrs. Petal left him to my care until she returns. She assumed I needed his company more than she did. She was kind enough not to mention you until before she left, which I figure she could no longer resist the temptation. She really does have quite the curious nature.
Something she said had me frazzled in thought, however. I believe her exact words were, ‘Wait if you must, but don’t let the fog blind you of a future that you deserve. His decisions were his to make, the consequences of those actions are his mistakes. You have aplenty, there is no need to own his. Love is a wonderful thing, dear child, but losing yourself to it is tragical.’ And I can’t help but wonder, for someone who spent all his life trying to survive a broken home would subject the rest of his life to the violence of war. All this time I have been under the impression that you had gone because my indecision, but perhaps I may have been wrong. I’m afraid the threat of my presence is not what you feared, it is the presence of your past that still lingers, haunting you. I still don’t understand, dear Robert.
I miss you. And if ever you decide to never return, I shall miss you for the rest of my life.
With the light of a new season, Arabella was consumed with the dark threat of being sent packing out of the country. For nine months she remained unemployed without the slightest incentive to find employment. She remained nestled in her fort of sorrow, carefully weaning all the hurt she could remember. When she thought she was able to rise again, she unlocked a distant memory of pain to, almost intentionally, burden herself enough to convince herself to stay in her hollow of solitude. Everyday, she battled to find a reason to keep misery from leaving her. The chance of his return had drastically diminished and his death in war became more of a possibility than she could bear. Where there had been hope, there was only confusion and doubt. It had been another three months since she last wrote to him, and all the faith she had then have been swept away with each passing day.
Mrs. Petal had returned from visiting family up north, but she had allowed the golden retriever to remain with Arabella, much to both their relief. Charlie and Arabella had come to visit her the day after she had returned, bearing an apple pie and a basket of wisterias she had bought from the flower market on their way. They found her by her garden tending to her newly planted flowers, bearing no trace of weariness or exhaustion from her stance. Her greying hair carefully pinned up in a tight bun only made her expression seem sterner than she probably cared for it to be. But the delight she could not hide in her eyes when she saw them coming assured Arabella of her approbation of their visit. Charlie remained by Arabella’s side, indifferent to the presence of his owner. “Keep him,” she shrugged keeping her eyes on Charlie. She tried to look nonchalant on the outside, attempted to feel displeased on the inside, but all she could muster to feel was relief. She was never fond of her late husband’s golden retriever, and as much as she wanted him to be a pleasant reminder of him, she only saw him as a painful memory that kept causing her to remember of what she once lost. Much to her surprise, however, Arabella found herself enjoying the company of Mrs. Petal. Apart from the days when hunger necessitated her to leave her fortress, the only time she had gone out was during her visits to Mrs. Petal. Her visits were short, and their conversations contained more silence than they did words, but neither party seemed to have mind. The oddity each felt for the other washed away by their desperate desire for silent companionship.
The morning she received the letter enquiring about her employment status in the country shook her out of her reverie. Her mind awoke with a sudden jolt demanding a series of commands, but her heart remained unmoving, unaffected, still searching for its missing piece. She sat on the steps of the house for most of that day, Charlie always at her side, as she stared blankly at nothing.
“We have two options, boy.” She softly spoke to Charlie gently rubbing his ears. “I stay the remaining three months I have here and try find us work, or I give up and leave now.” Charlie gave a low bark in reply, quietly placing his head on her lap. They stayed there until sundown, nestled in each other’s embrace, silently seeking for divine guidance.
That evening, she took hold of the pen on the patio that had remained there since she last wrote to him. She moved the cherry blossoms that lied idly on the table and began her third letter to him.
Spring has finally arrived. The season that’s said to be the period of new beginnings where newly sprouts of green are seen, flower blossoms bloom all week long and birds chirping on trees filled with green life. They describe the world as though it has magically transformed from a dire state of white cold to an enchanting beautiful land where grass grows into emeralds and the air surrounded with pink mystical flower dusts. They embrace change so easily with gentle arms I am confounded with the inconsistency we live in, for surely when winter began, they all rejoiced at the sight of delicately designed snowflakes gracefully falling from the sky. And how they joyed at the majestic beauty of it then.
A gush of night wind distracted her as Arabella tried to save the cherry blossoms from flying away. She took one in her hand, examining it as she twirled it with her fingers.
“Permanence,” she whispered inaudibly to Charlie never leaving her eyes on the flower. With a sigh, she continued to write.
Permanence. A world without change. A world where there is only absolute certainty of what tomorrow brings. A world where no one has to bear the memory of loss and struggle. What would a world like that be like, dear Robert?
I am being evicted out of your home in three months if I remain to be as idle as I have become. I concur. I should be evicted. In fact, this may what I have been waiting for: a push. You are not coming back soon, if ever, and waiting for you will not change that. There is no future that awaits those who remain bounded by yesterday’s sorrow. Perhaps I have known that since the day you left only I refused to leave the only place that finally felt like home.
Charlie has been such a wonderful companion that I am most reluctant to leave him. But I cannot take him and strain him with the load I carry on my shoulders. He belongs here with the vast greenery of the fields and sea.
I haven’t an idea where I’ll go, but perhaps a good place to start is the beginning. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I stand with certainty knowing there is a missing piece that I need to find. Perhaps it is your absence I seek, and maybe I shall be forever in search. Yet I could hope for something that would slowly in time patch the threads of loss.
If perchance along my journey, destiny permits me to meet you, I hope when that day comes, we have both found forgiveness and serenity within ourselves so we may learn to forgive and understand the actions of those around us.
She placed the letter in the box above the other two she had written, taking a few petals of daffodils pressed beneath the letters and setting them above them. She closed the box steadily brushing against the inscribed characters that he roughly engraved with his pocketknife, fondly rememberingthe day she received it in the mail.
9,295 Miles Apart.
A week after receiving the notice, the sun had finally risen from his deep sleep, and for what appeared like decades, Arabella rose with purpose. Pulling her suitcase out with her, she gave the lock a final click and walked away, leaving his house and car exactly as they were. The smell of spring was apparent, and there was hardly any trace of winter’s bitter chill. Where she was once surrounded with barren branches, she was now surrounded with blossoms from ground to sky. The flowers took no shame to flaunt their colours, and the trees stood tall like a man filled with only but pride. She set a last visit to Mrs. Petal only to leave Charlie to her care once again. “I’ll be back”, she promised in his ear only to leave him sulking even more at her feet.
“I’m sorry,” Arabella said, straightening up to hand Mrs. Petal her red umbrella, who in response kept her hands to her sides, slowly looking up the sky. Arabella followed her lead, squinting as the sun victoriously shone above her radiating with pride against his victory with the now absent clouds.
“Keep it, looks like rain.” Mrs. Petal replied shortly, giving her half a kind smile, and Arabella knew better than to argue. She took a few steps back, trying to gather the strength to keep her tears from falling, managing to whisper a thank you before heading out. There was nothing else to say, and that was what she liked about Mrs. Petal. There was a sense of mutual understanding without the need for any flagrant words of explanation.
She continued to walk, expecting herself to look back. But Arabella did not look back. There was nothing back there for her. The world had moved on, and it was time she did too, with the hope that she would find some clarity in her journey back home.