Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another Short Story by John Nichols

Good Enough
John Nichols

Rachel stood from where she knelt on the ground, silent tears streaming down her tired, pale visage. She let her long, swirling black hair down from the bun in which she had it to keep her lush tresses from blocking her sight. Her light, blue-green eyes stared down into the hole between the floorboards where she buried her heart. Where she buried everything that she once loved. Her hands, clad in gloves, soiled and brown with the fingers missing, reluctantly released their grip on the small heart shaped box, a once sparkling silver box, beautiful, but now dirty and grimy. She reached down into the hole and scooped dirt over her heart with a calloused hand until the box could no longer be seen. Then she turned on her heel and left the study, looking back longingly after each step. There could be no mistaking the pain she felt in leaving her heart behind.

She only hoped it would be enough, that giving up everything she once loved would be good enough.

She entered the library of the old rotting house. Sunlight streamed in through holes in the roof and between gaps in the ceiling boards. The dirty fingers of her left hand touched the spines of the many books lining the shelves as she walked along, her heels making the only audible noise on the floorboards. Her gait was light, as though she had dropped a heavy burden and now could run freely among the fields surrounding the house, yet she continued on her tour of the dilapidated home.

This was her home, since as the saying goes, the home is where the heart is.

And she had just buried her heart. Here. In this house. In the home.

There could be no turning back, she knew. She had to press on, had to make sure there was nothing else she needed to bury, no more pieces of her heart lying around. What was this life she now lived? Why did she need to bury her heart, and leave it behind in this...this home?

Because the home is where the heart is after all...

But did she want this to be her home? She only hoped that her sacrifice would be enough, that giving up her heart would be good enough.

The tears rained from her eyes in a steady shower, streaking her cheeks, ruining her mascara, and dropping to the floor, leaving a trail of droplets wherever she went. Rachel turned to look back the way she had come, and a tremble struck her lips. Her lipstick was a pale red, but only accentuated her tormented beauty. She wore a blouse, once white, now light brown and a black skirt, torn ragged by time and wear. Silence save for the muted thudding of her heels against the wooden floorboards filled the house, the home as a bank of grey clouds passed over the sun, dimming the light streaming in through the rafters. Her black hair curled beautifully around her as she strode weakly toward a bookshelf, standing alone in the middle of the room, much like Rachel stood alone in her world where everything she once loved now resided in a hole filled with a heart-shaped box, her heart, her box. Her misty eyes focused on a black leather bound tome, filled with blank pages, waiting to be written in. She removed it and cradled it in her arms as if it were a newborn baby. She slowly made her way over to the desk in the library, where she sat down and removed a quill from its inkwell. She began to write in its pages, slowly and irregularly at first, then with a measured rhythmic pace.

She could only hope it was enough, that emptying her mind into these pages would be good enough.

She wrote about her life, the things that had happened to her when she was a young girl, living with her father (how she hated him) and her mother (how she missed her). She wrote about the things the man she was told to marry did to her, the abhorrent things she feared to mention. Rachel needed to get them all out, or she would never be able to start over, to leave her heart, her mind and everything she once loved behind in this house, this home where her heart and soon her mind would live, or die, she did not care.

She set the pen down and stood, the tome of her life finished, the ink smeared where had not yet dried. She wrapped her hand around a pewter candlestick, the wick burning and the wax slowly melting, dripping, much like her life falling down around her. Her hand quivered and she released the candlestick. It fell briefly through the air, landing on the page before her which caught fire and began to burn rapidly. Her face showed no sign of fear, no mark of surprise, and her gait gave no signal of hurried movements as she walked out of the room and into the foyer.

She only hoped the fire, the cleansing fire would be enough.

The flames quickly spread through the library, consuming everything. Rachel stood in the foyer, staring blankly at the door in front of her, the portal to the outside, to the wild unknown where nothing of hers resided. Instead of reaching out to open the door, she waited.

She could only hope it was enough, that her sacrifice would be good enough.

The flames rushed into the hall, the creaking sound of falling timber crashing around her filled Rachel’s ears, but she did not listen. The burning fingers of the fire curled about the hall, nearly enveloping her in their embrace. Still she did not reach for the door. Black smoke choked her lungs and stung at her eyes. The flames crawled closer, as if they were being cautious of this...woman.

She began to cough, and as she felt the burning heat scald her back and the flames nip at the hem of her skirt, she lunged for the door, throwing it open. Rachel tumbled out of the burning house that crumbled all around her. She stumbled blindly down the steps of the porch and tripped. She fell headlong into the grass, the soft damp bed of the earth. And she lay there as her past crumbled and fell into a smoldering pile of rubbish behind her.

She could feel the burns on her back. She could hear the rasping in her lungs, and the smoke still darkened her eyes. She knew in that moment the fire feeding on her skirt would soon engulf her entirely. She knew she would die.

She could only hope that what she had done was enough, that by burying her heart, giving up her mind, and burning her body would be good enough.

She did not scream out in pain. There was no need, no one would hear.

Then it began to rain. Nay, it began to pour, to shower with a gentleness Rachel had never known. Grey clouds darkened the sky as the droplets fell from the sky onto Rachel’s back like the cleansing tears that rise to one’s eyes when a great pain has yielded to hope and happiness.

The heavy rain slowly began to subside, but it never completely ceased showering the land, leaving everything refreshed. Rachel lay still on the grass, green as emeralds, and slowly slipped into unconscious contentment as the dark grey gave way to an almost white grey sky. The sun slowly pierced the semi-darkness of the clouds, its rays falling from the ancient welkin and onto the ancient earth.

Though her body lay still, her mind raced, the thoughts coming as fast as she could think them. Why can I not just die? What purpose remains for me here in life? After all that’s happened, after all of the pain, all of the loss, all of the suffering, why must I still live? God, just let me go.

Her mind froze briefly. Where had that last thought come from? She pushed it aside and began grieve. She lamented the loss of her heart, everything she once loved. She wept for the loss of her mind, everything she once knew. And as the pain from the burns set in, she shed tears for her torn and broken body. The pain seemed to increase, and Rachel gasped, curling herself into a withering wet ball of flesh. Her makeup had been washed off of her face, and her hair had fallen about her shoulders. Now, she was a damp whimpering child, lost in the world, everything she once was, save for her body, lost in the smoldering ashes behind her.

But would that be enough? Would the loss of her heart, everything she once loved, the loss of her mind, everything she once knew, be good enough? Am I good enough? she asked herself.

Another spasm of pain wracked her body. Her face contorted in soundless pain, her mouth open in a wordless gasp. She was dying, she knew she would last only a few more minutes. The sun streamed through the clouds now, each of its separate tendrils of warmth, light, and life breaking through the pall as candlelight would cut through the holes in a plank of wood.

She fell onto her back, her wet hair splayed out behind her like a brown halo, one knee bent across the other leg, her arms out from her sides. She heaved a heavy gasp, and with a sputter of tears and breath, Rachel slipped away. Her pale skin, as beautiful as ever against the grass, was no longer dirty; it had been cleansed by the rain. Her blouse, once white now brown, was white again, whiter than ever before. With her makeup gone, her skin shone with a beauty seldom seen by even herself. Her green eyes shone like emeralds in the sunlight.

As the warm fingers of the sun wrapped themselves around her body, a voice whispered on the wind, I will never let go of you, my daughter, my child.

She had never been able to hold on to anything good enough in life. Now in her death, she would have her peace. Her sacrifice would have to be good enough. The life slowly drained from her body, her skin paling, yet her beauty never failing. The rain still fell and the sun still shone upon her; life continued around her cold body.

Yet death was not to be her end.

Again the voice whispered, You have died to yourself, my daughter, now rise in new life.

Slowly, yet surely, the burns on her skin began to heal. The skin closed around them, and they were gone. The pallor of death was slowly forced back from her skin as the rosiness returned to her cheeks. A breeze blew over her, and flowed into her mouth like a breath of fresh air. With a gasp and a stream of tears, her back arched off of the ground and she collapsed onto the grass. Her emerald eyes stared blankly at the sky, and only one thought filled her mind.

Am I good enough? she asked herself weakly. Am I good enough for you to love me? Am I good enough?

The wind whispered a third time. My daughter, you are more than good enough for me to love you, and I will never stop loving you. I have died so that your life might be restored, now rise up and live your life. Leave the ashes of your past behind you, and step forward over that hill into what lies ahead. My daughter, I will walk with you every single step.

Rachel slowly rose and shuffled through the grass over the hill. She would hold on to this feeling, this love, because it was good enough.


1 comment:

poetreader said...

Words fail.
This is a powerful piece.