The Seated Woman, Part Two

Last week I posted Part One of The Seated Woman, a piece I wrote many years ago. Here is the final part. Enjoy and share.

 

The Seated Woman

 

The Seated Woman (part two)

He wouldn’t say anything about what made him so jumpy. “Come by my house. I have some poems I want you to listen to that I wrote for Creative Writing class.” He hustled her out of the cemetery and Kayla let herself be hustled, but only for the moment.

The next afternoon Kayla didn’t even bother to go home first. Mrs. Dettering had caught her daydreaming in biology. She had almost fallen out of her seat when old Dragonbreath bellowed in her ear: “Miss Waites, are you with us?” Everyone looked at her, laughing, and she reddened, managing to mumble something.

Once in the cemetery, she stopped to breathe in deeply. Now, she could be at peace. The early December air didn’t bite. It was still early enough in the season for the days to be pleasant. Kayla sat under a large bare oak and tried to capture her dream visions. Marguerite watched from across the clearing. Strangely the images did not come. Her flow was gone and her hand felt like lead on the paper, which shook as she doodled, waiting. Emptiness chilled her.

Finally she gave up. She would go home and forget this place, forget Marguerite and the eyes that beckoned her. Too much sadness. She could not alleviate the pain she saw there. It was carved in marble but might as well been carved into her heart. Maybe Edward was right. Maybe she should get away from this place of mourning.

She was lying to herself. She could not, would not abandon the one who sat there as she must have through all the long seasons. Longing for something, someone she could not have. She tried to bring those eyes alive on the paper, the pleading look that caressed her. She let it all pour forth: the pain and sorrow for her mother, for the life she, Kayla, could have had, even for the woman’s lost ones. For those things gone. She wanted to giver herself over to the woman, let herself be wrapped up in those arms. She remembered her mother holding her. Could she turn stone to flesh? It was a foolish thought but nevertheless, it flittered through her mind.

She lay down, resting her head against the stone base and slowly fell asleep with the whispers of the dead all around her.

Something soft tickled her chin and she opened her eyes. Kayla found herself being cradled by a woman so ethereally beautiful, so otherworldly, she could have claimed descent from angels. Her eyes were a silver violet and she pressed soft lips against Kayla’s cheeks and brows, her warm breath sweet. White-blonde hair glinted in the moonlight that penetrated their secret grove.

“Mother?” Kayla asked and the woman’s soft laugh was like silk. Small animal sounds scuffled in the dark and Kayla realized she must have fallen asleep in the cemetery. She looked up again at the woman holding her and gasped.

Marguerite!

Not Kayla’s mother but what did that matter? She nestled into those arms of protection. The woman smelled of orchids and spring breezes and promises. For the first time in many years, Kayla felt content and secure.

Time passed. Fear came with awareness, slow yet inevitable. She slid down from the woman’s lap.

“No, wait,” the woman said, trying to draw her back in but Kayla stood away, just out of reach.

“Who are you?” she asked the woman, her voice full of fear and awe. There was power in the embrace of the dead. It felt as if the outside world no longer existed, that only this tiny corner of a forgotten cemetery held anything living. They faced each other, the woman with sad, wonder-filled eyes and Kayla hugging herself as if to ward off any spells.

“I don’t know, don’t remember,” the woman said, musing. “I was someone once. I must have ate and drank and breathed. I know I must have because I miss it all so much.”

“Are you dead?” Kayla asked, unwilling but unable to stop looking into those eyes that held her in thrall as much in the flesh as in stone.

“I don’t know. Perhaps.”

The woman was evidently perplexed. A vague air had settled around her like a fine mist. Kayla figured it would be a good idea to run yet the eyes even now compelled her to sink herself in them. There was love in those eyes, those arms. A mother’s love. But she also felt other things, dark things she could not explain. If this woman could give her warmth and understanding, then running would ruin everything. It would destroy the dream, break the web of understanding that had been woven between them.

For a long time neither spoke. There was only the wind and the crickets singing. The woman stared all about her, at the trees, the tombstones, the moon above. To Kayla it seemed as if the woman was trying to comprehend who and where she was.

“Come and sit here. Let me hold you again,” the woman said, her arms outstretched just like they were when Kayla had first stumbled upon her. Kayla hesitated, fear and yearning wrapped in her heart like two snakes entwined in a struggle.

Kayla then moved forward. The woman cooed in her ears as Kayla yielded herself up. How much like her own daughter Kayla was, she said. That much she remembered. It was coming back, bits and pieces of a long ago life. Marguerite whispered in her ear of a slower time, when women wore bustles and crinoline. A time of sashes and bows, waltzes and hansoms. “How could I have ever forgotten those sultry summer nights? Ballrooms filled with powdered faces and bosoms, waxed moustaches and light satin slippers dancing on hardwood floors,” she said, her voice faint with memory.

Marguerite told her story with a certain detached horror, holding Kayla close. They had become ballrooms of grinning skeletons. The stench of mass graves filled the air. Dances long forgotten as the fever swept through the towns like a deadly wind whipping past with its foul breath. A touch, a whisper and you were helpless, a wretched and retching thing. The woman shuddered and touched herself, now whole flesh again.

And years and years passed. She had watched the centuries roll by, longing for a way through the wall, past the gauze that kept her prisoner as surely as any bars. As Marguarite told her story, Kayla felt the weight of years descend. At the end, the sat in silence listening to the sounds of night, amplified in the darkness.

“Please, sit here while I stretch my legs. Just for a minute?” Clarissa finally asked.

Oh, it felt so good this smothering. Kayla pressed against the warm fragrant neck, nestling her face in the long hair. Like food to her starved soul. Like when she was five and the world was still open to her and there were no barriers, no sadness.

Kayla slid from the woman’s lap onto the cold, stone seat. The woman rose slowly, unsteadily. She took a few furtive steps, shuffling in the dead leaves. An owl hooted and Kayla looked up. The moon was gone. Surely her parents would be looking for her now.

She watched the woman raise her arms in the air and swing around, her long skirt flaring out, like a pinwheel. She ran her hands up and down her body, kicked out one foot then the other and took a deep breath.

She turned to Kayla, her eyes no longer sad, only regretful. “Thank you. I won’t forget you.”

She walked away, indistinguishable now from any modern women, her old-fashioned clothes gone. Kayla reached out but already her feet and legs had hardened, wrapped in an unfamiliar long, crinoline-lined skirt. She tried to wrench herself free but she was welded to the stone.

“Wait! Come back!” she called just before her throat hardened.

 #

            Sometime later, voices echoed through the trees, someone calling her name. She tried to answer but it was useless. They found her sketchbook lying beside a white cemetery statue. She saw her father’s shoulders droop, his eyes fill up. She was reaching out to him, her eyes pleading for him to release her. But he did not recognize the old-fashioned girl sitting there and he walked away with the others.

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