by Robin Hamblin-Fuller
I sat... staring through the windscreen of the car at the scene before me. The sun had just gone down behind the horizon, leaving the sky a mixture of colours as a backdrop to the dark, dead trees, whose roots had long ago been drowned out by the swamp that had formed, when this road had been built.
The twisted limbs, where the bark had fallen away, were bleached, and weathered... giving the impression they were made of metal rather than once living material, and set in amongst them, a long-abandoned house, leaning in such a manner as to suggest it was about to give up the struggle and collapse at any minute, the black, empty windows seeming to stare at me in the way a blind person would... unseeing but aware of my presence.
Had I been an artist, I suppose I would have wanted to sketch the scene, or if I had been a photographer, tried to capture it on print... but nothing could have conveyed the eerie horror the place exuded... or that I felt at that moment.
Two days ago, in the middle of a blinding rainstorm, I had driven down this road, cursing my foolishness for having tried to take a short cut from the highway to my destination in the small town, that was on my sales route, but as it shaved twenty minutes of driving time off my already over booked schedule, I had considered it worth while.
I had come over the rise I was now parked on... way too fast for the road conditions, and totally lost control on the gravel surface, spun into the corner and off the edge of the road to finish up well and truly wedged in the deep, muddy ditch alongside it... in fact... I could still see the place where the tow-truck had hauled the car out... the torn grass and muddy tracks still in evidence.
After it had happened, once I recovered my senses and realised that apart from a bruise or two, I was okay... I had managed to get the door open, crawl out through the flood of mud and water the car was stuck in... and really cursed my stupidity and bad luck... "A hell of a birthday present this is!!" I can remember thinking to myself, as it was my big "Three-O" day... "And if the cliche... 'Life begins at Thirty'... is true... this ain't looking too good right about now!"
Almost instantly drenched from the deluge once I got out of the car... my raincoat being in my luggage in the trunk... of course... who thinks to wear one when driving... I felt utterly cold, and miserable at this point... and looked around for signs of life... and spotted a light not far off the road behind me.
I made my way towards it... and banged on the door of the house where the light came from. hoping that whoever lived there would at least allow me to try and phone for help.
"Who is it?" ...a woman's voice asked... a young one by the sound of it.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Miss," I shouted over the noise of the storm... "But I went off the road at the end of your driveway... Could I use your phone to call a tow-truck, please?"
I heard the sound of a bolt being drawn, the door opened slightly... and a young woman's face appeared... her eyes studying me for a moment...
I cannot begin to describe that moment... for an instant... Time stood still... I lost all feelings and awareness of anything... her eyes locked on mine... they seemed to bore into my very soul and examine me, my mind, every fibre of my being with such an intenseness I felt like a pinioned butterfly in a display case being examined under a magnifying glass by a collector, for flaws in my structure.
"Oh you poor man... you're soaked to the skin!... For goodness sake come in out of the rain... I don't have a phone I'm afraid... but you're welcome to shelter here until the storm blows over."
I know it's hackneyed term to describe a woman's voice... but I can assure you, it was like an Angel's choir... or what I imagined it to sound like... and as she open the door to allow me to enter... and the light from the oil lamp on the table allowed me to see her completely... all my resolve to remain a bachelor crumbled like dust in the wind... she was more than beautiful... she was everything every man could desire, wrapped up in a single package... she radiated something I can't describe in words... all I know is... I fell in Love with her within those first few seconds of our meeting...
The old man paused... his eyes staring into the distance, obviously miles away lost in memory... and Nurse Bailey waited quietly and patiently for him to continue.
She was rather fond of the "Old Bird" as he was known in the nursing home, where he had spent the last year of his life... and despite the predictions that he only had a short while left when he was admitted, he had quietly and stubbornly continued to live, and was now celebrating his seventieth birthday... something he had told her a long time ago... he HAD to do... and he was now explaining to her, the reason behind it... and she suspected, the first time he had ever told anyone about it.
She felt privileged in this. All who knew him had wondered about the fact he never had any visitors... why there was no family to be with him at the end, and why such a charming, uncomplaining man had never married, and she was about to find out his secret.
She watched as his eye's refocused, slightly misty after his inner recollections... and he began again.
I remember walking into that house in a dream, totally unaware of anything but her, for the longest while. I vaguely remember her getting me towels, to dry myself off... sitting by the wood-stove keeping warm, wrapped in a blanket, whilst she went about making me a meal and being utterly fascinated and captivated by her every movement. I must have been rather like a dumb-struck teen boy on his first date in her eyes, at first!
It was only after I had eaten and thoroughly warmed out that I began to take note of things around me other than Natalie, herself. The meal was a simple affair... and I realised there was little in the larder, but she had shared her meager supplies with me, and I made a note to offer her some form of repayment before I left.
The place was simply furnished, her budget being obviously one of limited means, and food was more important than frills around the place, but it was spotlessly clean, well-tended to, and well-loved despite its sparseness. Decorations were from the wild... like pressed flowers in picture frames... weathered, interestingly shaped small branches, decorated with dried grasses and birds' feathers formed center pieces on various shelves... and the creativeness of the arrangements told me she shared the same love of Nature as I did.. .when it wasn't dropping me in ditches in the middle of storms!
I hardly remember much of what we talked about. I do recall we shared so many things in common... including the fact it was both our birthdays that day... and whereas I was thirty... she was twenty... the gap in age meant nothing, the life she had led and described to me, gave her knowledge and years beyond mine. Her mother had died when she was young... her father was a trapper/hunter... and was currently away in the bush trying to make an income that way, and she had kept house for him, and herself for all those years.
She told me how she hunted, fished and trapped for food herself. How she knew just about every edible plant in the wild, and between the pair of them, they had managed to eke out a living without having to resort to using too much of the cash her father made over the year... and it was only then I realised that her dress was probably home made from simple material... and there wasn't much else under it but her. and she was barefoot... shoes being a luxury one didn't wear indoors, and the reason for the oil lamps, was because there was no electricity in the place.
It was whilst I was trying to imagine myself living in such a way... without all the conveniences and comforts I was accustomed to, and wondering if I could even last a week living as she did... and whether she could adjust to the way of life I led... or even if she would be prepared to leave her father, or would I have to have him live with us... Yes... I admit... I was already considering marriage, and I hadn't even indicated my intentions or feelings to her... when she dropped the bombshell on me.
She stood up... the light from the lamp behind her, outlining her body through the thin dress she was wearing... the glow of the lamp highlighted the tinges of redness in her black hair that fell over her shoulders, and accented the bronze tan of her skin, creating an almost golden outline of an Angel before me.
She asked quietly... "Do you think I'm pretty?"
"I think you are the most beautiful woman I have ever met," I replied honestly.
For a moment she stood there... again boring into me with those deep, dark eyes and I had stared back, feeling myself being drawn into something I had no resistance to fight, and when she undid her dress and let it fall to the floor, revealing herself to me, any misgivings I may have had, were quelled in the flood of passion and desire that welled up in me...
"Would you make Love with me?" The invitation, the promise in her tone of voice, left me almost speechless. All I could manage to say was "In every sense of the word Natalie"... and she had took me by the hand and led me upstairs.
Nurse Bailey once again remained silent, sensing the inner struggles the old man was going through... the desire to tell... and the respect for the person in the story.
He let out a sigh and continued.
Obviously I am not going to go into detail, but all I will say is... I had never known anything like that night before in my life, and since then, I have never wanted to know another woman next to me... nothing could compare to those few hours we spent together, before we drifted into sleep.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Natalie © 2000 by Robin Hamblin-Fuller
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