Phaedra lay half enveloped in the cold snow. Her body was becoming numb, her mind still. A deep peace came over her. The fear and panic of free falling through the air, the sheer horror of realising he had thrown her bodily from the bedroom subsided. Help was coming, was it not?
She had heard the wail of the ambulance; she would be safe in hospital. Disjointed sounds and fragmented voices swam in and out of her awareness, a vague sensation of being lifted, moving at speed, flashing lights, sirens whining. Then the people crowded over her, machines bleeping, monitors, pipes, tubes fixed to her body, aware of it all but not engaged in any of it. The circle of masked faces staring down at her, the bright light glaring, something over her mouth, a voice counting down,‘3, 2, 1 and, yes, she’s under.’
A rapid pulling and a sensation of release as she felt her consciousness detached from the broken body on the operating table. Detached from the drama unfolding in the sterile and white Theatre, she was aware of floating and looking down on the scene unfolding, watching events as through a curtain of gauze, the intensity and urgency of the doctors gathered around the body, her body, barely clinging to life, as the machines whirred into action. She wanted to shout out and tell them it was all right, she was free. The voice of authority cutting through the intensity of the scene,‘She’s going into arrest, stand clear!’
An intense pulsing flash as the volts from the defibrillator surged through her body, and as her body convulsed she saw a tunnel of pure white light, so clear and bright, pure like the driven snow and the light began crystallising and refracting a myriad of rainbow colours. Her awareness left the emergency room and focussed on the intensity of the light, which began to envelope her. In the midst of the light, the outline of a man began to materialise, his hand outstretched in welcome, calling her name, beckoning…
Phaedra became aware of her hand, stretching out to meet his, and her eyes connected with his deep cobalt blue stare and a feeling of joy as recognition of the man began sweeping over her. As their fingers touched, there was a charge of electricity, little blue sparks of light and then a tremendous noise like a sort of sonic rush and they were gone out of the white light and travelling at huge velocity along a tunnel of oscillating multi coloured stars.
Then they were there, but ‘there’ was nowhere whilst paradoxically being everywhere, and there they were but they were not. A realization of being without a solid human body, the man and she were numinous light bodies, floating, merging, at one with each other. A myriad of multi-faceted, vaporous colours, swirling all around. An incredible lightness of being and an understanding of being one’s true self at one’s highest octave, pure spirit. She felt a sense of being part of all that is, all that ever was, and all that would ever be, as her consciousness expanded into infinite space. The man was moving gracefully. Swirling her ecstatically, around and around in a beautiful waltz.
Dancing in the Light of Love.
Two eternal souls, in spirit form, dancing in the light, living in the moment and that moment was eternal. She was part of him just as he was of her, and they were no longer separate entities, but one being becoming the light. The feelings were so sublime, almost unbearably beautiful. In the Light, they became one in bliss. He looked deeply into her very soul, his thoughts resonated within her, and she knew everything else was an illusion and this was the Truth. And the Truth was beautiful.
Then everything began closing in and she was aware of becoming pulled once more, the light began fading and as she fought to stay in this blissful place, the force pulling her grew stronger. Her heart ached, torn away from the man. She was aware of a searing burning pain and she was back in the Emergency room, and the strong voice echoed around the sterile room, ‘Well done team, she’s back.’
Phaedra woke with a start. Her heart shape face was wet with tears, the dream still hanging vivid and lucid in the room. Tears falling for the hurt child within this woman, tears falling for the passage of so many years, filled with too many hurts. Tears falling for all those other souls in pain, whose hearts also ached from so much sorrow.
Phaedra woke with a start. Her heart shape face was wet with tears, the dream still hanging vivid and lucid in the room. Tears falling for the hurt child within this woman, tears falling for the passage of so many years, filled with too many hurts. Tears falling for all those other souls in pain, whose hearts also ached from so much sorrow.
Closing her eyes, she became aware of a soothing sensation, as if gentle soft hands were caressing her face, wiping away the tears, stroking her hair, as one would a child. She felt strong hands remove her evil husband’s grasp from her body. In her mind’s eye, within that special screen where clairvoyant scenes had played since as long as she could remember, an image began to form;-
On a black velvet pillow, a red organic mass, which she knew to be her heart, lay pumping and pulsating erratically, weak feeble beats alternating with rapid panic-stricken throbs. The tubes and arteries extended out across the darkness, connected to nothing, going nowhere. Blackened and wizened at the extremities. The heart was whole, but slowly cracks and fissures appeared rending it apart, huge chasms ripping the breaking heart asunder from the ventricles which fed it leaked weak rivulets of blood. The erratic beats started to slow, the pulsations now just involuntary spasms, the heart was dying and darkness was closing in. Then a voice, clear, strong, and powerful reverberated in the dark theatre of her mind,
‘This is your pain born of this lifetime, these are your wounds.’
A pair of hands appeared over the stricken heart. Hovering over the heart drawing and pulling dark, shadowy shapes and forms from the crippled organ. As each dark mass was pulled forth, a fissure closed, the chasms began to shrink. The hands were now pulsating, beaming a high frequency of energy emitting particles of vibrant white light. Piece by sorry piece the torn and rent heart began to meld together. The hands of light picked up the heart from the blood soaked black velvet pillow and gently encased it within a warm and healing embrace.
Phaedra now clearly saw her strong, healthy heart. It was whole, complete, and no longer beating in the blackness, but held in radiant golden light. Suddenly filled with an electric jolt she felt the heart placed into her own body. The hands of light were now golden and held together in the prayer position. They slowly unfolded to reveal a holographic slideshow, of many people, times and places. The scenes played out and once again, the voice resonated over the moving picture show with the words:-
‘I have taken and healed your pain
Torn the hurst of many lifetimes
from the recesses of your heart’
As words and images faded away in a violet haze, Phaedra felt the soft brush of an Angel’s wing…Opening her eyes she saw a small white feather fluttering to the floor.
Phaedra was aware the sun was hanging low in the sky and would be setting shortly. She would need to make haste if she were to avoid the impending gloom once it disappeared into the horizon. Her mind had been full of thoughts of the talking Owl she had met in the Night Garden at dusk yesterday. She had been eager to share with Hepzibah, who smiling, had observed, ‘That garden is full of witch’s weeds, you need to realise that some of those herbs can be hallucinogenic, My Lovely.’
Once again, Phaedra was left confused by the paradoxes she was encountering in Wychwood. Either the veil between worlds really was very thin or else she was suffering serious delusions. As the overgrown dirt track meandered downhill, her eyes were firmly fixed upon her next step in an attempt to avoid stumbling on the loose pebbles. Nimbly side stepping one of the many offerings left by an equine traveller who had preceded her on the ramble, Phaedra looked up as a glint of light caught the corner of her eye. Stopping in her tracks, she became aware of a perfect circle of chestnut trees as she watched the sunlight dappling golden light on the rich green leaves. The branches slowly swayed to the music of a gentle breeze, leaves quivering and dancing to the soft low hum of the wind. Golden light twinkling and sparkling on the rich verdant leaves and the deep brown nuts that littered the floor, cracked open from their protective spiky casings.
Gently stepping over the fallen harvest, Phaedra answered their invitation and stepped within the circle of trees, noting by the girth of their trunks and the strength of the long outstretched branches, that these were indeed Grande Dames of the woodland. Their age and wisdom were apparent from their gnarled and knotted yet strong proud and beautiful trunks. Their outstretched limbs intertwining and interconnecting with each other, embracing each other in an intricate lattice work of wood which seemed to grow tighter and more close knit as Phaedra moved to the centre,
‘Ah, the circle is cast!’ she thought.
Within their protective conclave she became aware of a quiet communication, first between the whispers of the wind, and then between each sister tree. With a jolt, she realised that the trees were speaking not only to each other, but also to her, to Phaedra! They were imbuing her with a sense of themselves, of what it felt like to have roots that sank deep down into the verdant rich dark soil, their root systems mirroring the branches above, all interconnected and intertwined. Phaedra felt tingles in the soles of her feet and with a start realised that she had sunk ankle deep into the earth, but she did not feel any fear, just an awareness that her toes; the bones and nervous system and veins seemed to be growing and extending beyond the confines of her flesh.
She was growing roots!
Roots that meandered through the earth, touching, connecting, wrapping around those of the trees that surrounded her, and it felt good. Phaedra raised her arms up high in sheer joy, and once again the tingle, and her fingers seemed to elongate, the flesh, veins, bones, nervous systems stretching, stretching up to the tall branches, connecting, weaving, latticing into those of her sisters around her, for now Phaedra felt at one in the circle of the Horse Chestnut sisters.
Above her upturned face, the sun in a final swan song, burst through the density of the leaves, bathing Phaedra in a golden light. It felt so good to pull the light of the sun into her body. She felt it travel through her limbs and trunk, and then as the sun sank on the horizon she became aware that all was suddenly dark. From the blackness of this void a light appeared, whirling before her eyes, as its motion slowed to a standstill, there hanging in the nothingness was a perfect golden hexagon. And within the six points of the star, a silver tree was transposed, its branches perfectly fitting the three upper points of the star, and its root system stretched out in symmetry over the lower three points of the star. Then a blinding flash of light in the centre of her brain and the symbol seemed to be absorbed through her crown chakra with the words,
‘As Above, So Below.’
In that moment in time, Phaedra knew the cosmic synergy of heaven and Earth and the importance of the trees as fully sentient beings upon the Earth, working in Divine Service of Source.
Then nothingness, the void.
The loud chattering of the birds stirred her to her senses. Phaedra was surprised to see the Sun was rising, no doubt awoken from her slumber by the sweet call of the birdsong.
She was lying curled up on a carpet of springy moss and sweet smelling chamomile, under the protection of one of the huge Chestnut trees. Stirring to remember how she had come to be here, a whirl of thoughts flooded her mind and senses…feelings of being one with the trees, of having roots that stretched deep down into Gaia’s warmth and received sustenance and grounding; of having strong branches that stretched heavenwards. She felt the warmth of the sun bringing life giving energy down through her body, she recalled the feelings of pleasure of having beautiful leaves, and bearing flowers and fruit that in turn delighted and nourished. She was pleased by the shelter she gave to the birds of the air, the insects, and creatures of the forest. Of the pleasure of the wood nymphs coming to dance and play, and the heavenly delight of being of service to the Light of Source and beloved Mother Gaia by providing oxygen on the Planet.
As Phaedra stood and stretched, she noticed a young sapling delicately rising from the rich earth just by the strongest and oldest tree. From one of its tender young branches a glint caught Phaedra’s eye. Stretching out her hand, she felt a familiar tingle, and there in her palm was a perfect silver six-pointed star pendant, on which a tree was wrought in gold.
The young tree seemed to whisper on the wind…
‘My gift to you, Mother…’
Phaedra knew her child, laying still within her womb, would be born with the wisdom and strength of the trees.
As the Orchestra struck up the music and the dance floor of the Waldorf Astoria glittered into life, Florence stood up. She reluctantly took the outstretched hand of her long time dancing partner, Old Nick. As he swept her elegantly into the diaphanous throng of chiffon and lace she stumbled. His vice like grip on her arm and steely glare ensured she would not cause him further embarrassment. She flinched and blinked away hot tears of anger and shame. It hadn’t always been like this. They were so in step before…
Florence once thrilled at being in the company of rich and influential Nick Mephistopheles. He wasn’t handsome and his age was indeterminate, but he had charisma and a dark charm. Nick’s business practices were more than shady, but as long as she was on the receiving end of his largesse Florence didn’t give a damn what people said about him. There were rumours he was part of the underworld, they said there were other women but she didn’t care. Florence was a night girl, drawn to danger. Nick’s lifestyle was an aphrodisiac. They said he ruled New York City and went for the jugular of anyone who opposed him. Was she afraid? No, it didn’t seem to worry her, it gave her a rush. She didn’t give a thought that there may be a heavy price to pay for his patronage when their first dance had begun all those years ago.
“What kind of business are you in, Nick?” Florence asked with an engaging smile,
“I’m a people person, a collector,” his reply was enigmatic and further enquiries subdued by the string of exquisite black pearls he draped around her slender neck.
“How can I possibly repay your generosity, kind Sir?” She already knew she would do anything for him. The lavish Manhattan lifestyle was highly addictive for a girl from a Brooklyn brownstone.
“Oh, I guess body and soul should be payment enough, yours and others I send you to collect!” There was a twinkle in his coal black eyes and she thought he had jested. Back then. Back when the dance had begun.
Nick was generous. Florence only had to express a desire and it was hers for the taking, fabulous jewels, designer clothes, the Fifth Avenue apartment and the prestige of being on his arm. All the hedonistic delights the city offered were hers for the taking. New York was his plaything, a bauble in his hand. No one quite knew where Nick’s power came from. No one dared to ask…
Nick liked to work hard and party hard. He liked all eyes on him and he had a ruthless and vindictive streak with rivals in both the ballroom and the boardroom. Florence was a huge asset to his dealings. Nick rewarded most handsomely when she performed. With a Siren’s call her beauty brought victims to Nick’s lair. It was all a game to Florence, well paid with a hint of danger. She liked that. The glitter and glamour were as seductive as hell and Florence willingly checked in all morality and conscience. The years passed and she continued taking to the dance floor and dancing to Mr Mephistopheles tune. No questions asked.
Tonight, there was unease in the air. Florence was tiring of their ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’and told him she wanted out. She told him she wanted more, she wanted love. Nick laughed in her face then grew possessive and wrapping his strong fingers around her neck he drew her close.
“Florence, we have a contract. I own you, body and soul.”
As she tried to pull away he kissed her hard on her ruby lips. There was none of the usual passion, just a stamp of ownership. She shuddered. The ballroom had become a prison and her dancing partner her gaoler. They had sealed the deal a long time ago – When you dance with the devil, there is no way out…
It was time for a new dancing partner. Nick would have to go. As the thought crossed her mind, she saw the Stranger and he saw her. And Nick saw him too. Savagely he grabbed her wrist, and snarled,“Stay with me, Florence. Better the devil you know...”
Florence broke free and without looking back made her way across the empty dance floor. All eyes were on her, but she saw no one only the charismatic stranger. He seemed to emit a numinous light. Music sublimely filled the ballroom and she moved inexorably into his arms.
“Do you want to dance?” she whispered seductively.
“Only, if you are willing to forsake Nick’s protection and come with me to the end of time, Florence.” He brushed her face with beguiling lips and shuddering she realised his mouth was as cold as the grave.
“I will…” she paused looking back at Nick’s table, but he was nowhere to be seen.
As the stranger held out his hand, it dawned on her he knew her name, but she did not know his. Just who was this beguilingly beautiful man? With prescience, he smiled and answered the question swimming in her mind.
As she gasped, he swept her into his arms and onto the dance floor. The Orchestra struck up the music and the plaintive strains of Sibelius’ ‘Valse Triste’ filled the air. The Last Waltz would truly last forever as Florence danced with the devil to the edge of darkness…
I’ve always been fascinated by abandoned places and the fragments of the past lingering in the stale air. Is it the remnants of lost hopes, I sense? Fragments of dreams and burnt out desires? The Croft was one of those places with so many stories to tell and I wanted to hear them.
Tapping into residual energies? It is what I do and I’ve never questioned it, accepting it just ‘is what it is.’ They never leave, those old ghosts from the past, their memories becoming just another layer on the atmosphere. And if they chose to reveal their secrets, as a whisper on the wind, then I have a greedy ear to listen.
I walked over to a small wooden framed window, dirty panes of glass, eyes dully staring without seeing, the wild beauty of the land. The taste of sea salt hung in the air flung up by harsh waves beating down upon soft silver sands. Who stood there, looking out at me looking in? Did they ever wonder what lay on the edge of the horizon, what lay over the sea from Barra to Skye. Intrigued and wanting to know more I approached the door, coated in peeling paint of soft pink and covered in lichen. It beckoned to be opened. I reached out and grasped the iron handle, blackened and rusted with age, expecting it to be cold to the touch. Instead I felt it crackle as a jolt of electricity ran up my arm. The magic had begun, hands from the past were still imprinted on the handle. A melancholy creak and the door opened, allowing me admittance to a forgotten world. Who would be waiting and would they be willing to speak? Would I have too many questions, for which there were too few answers?
And then I heard her! A soft whisper in my ear as gentle as the kiss of a summer breeze.
“I’m still here.”
“Talk to me,” I said, “tell me your story.” And she did.
Flora was her name, a bonny lass with red hair, flowing like molten lava down her slim back. She shyly lifted her head to look at me, her eyes filled with innocent guise, and matching her simple muslin dress, a splash of cobalt blue in a grey place.
The impressions came flooding in, gossamer threads of the fabric of her life. She’d loved him and leaving the comfort and protection of her Father’s castle walls ran away with her Sailor boy, freely crossing over the sea from Skye to be with him in the croft.
Life was harsh but Flora comforted herself when it was cold outside the flames of passion and desire he ignited in her were all she needed. The warmth of his love and the fire burning brightly in the grate would keep bad at bay. Until the fire went out, leaving ashes and dust…
Slowly Flora came to realise she was not enough for her man. She shared him with his Mistress. It was a bitter blow to see his eyes light up when he heard the siren’s call, in a way they no longer did for her. With sad resignation Flora knew, once his Mistress summoned him, he would go. Much as he loved his young wife, when the sea whispered his name, he was lost.
Many a moon tide she stood waiting upon a lonely shore, looking out to sea and praying for his safe return. He would return. He always did once the yearning to be free and sail the seven seas had been assuaged, then he would hold her and love her and she would forgive and forget. Hope burnt brightly within her innocent heart. He was her lover, her friend and husband in the eyes of God above and father of her children yet to be born. Bonny bairns who would play at her feet. Strong sons who one day would go to sea and ease their poverty, such dreams had she!
I sensed the atmosphere change. Anticipation, excitement and the thrill of laying in his arms replaced by a dull dread.
Silence. She was fading.
“What happened, can you tell me?”
Outside the sky was blackening, dark storm clouds approached. I smelt the promise of rain, harsh and bitter.
“Ohh..Flora…” I felt her pain, “Talk to me…”
I heard the rasp of the door swinging open.She had no words left. It was time to go. I took a final look around and followed her out. The croft was empty, love did not live here any more.
The tide was going out and I made haste down to the beach, passing a rocky outcrop of granite monoliths. Had she too passed this way? Were the stones silent sentinels witnessing her silent scream as day became night and night day as she waited, fear descending as a clammy shroud.
At the closing of the day, as the light was fading away, I saw her standing there upon her lonely shore. Calling, calling…
But her love did not hear, for he was lost to the deep embrace of a cold, cruel sea. The siren had called. He would not return.
Her words were carried on the wind over the sea to Skye for no one to hear but me…
Deep within the darkest heart of night dance slender beams of soft Moon Light.
Brushing aside the despair cloaking the ancient ruins, La Luna’s children playfully danced amid dank and gloomy walls all that remained of the glories of the past. With carefree abandon the darting moonbeams brought illumination to the derelict Eastern Tower, a silent Sentinel withstanding the ravages of time, proudly giving testament to the pride and glory of bygone years. Those who once lived and loved within the Castle’s protective embrace are but jagged shards of memories, forever entombed within decrepit walls. Yet there remains a solitary voice from long ago compelled to whisper her sadness upon the wind. Trapped by her heart she cannot leave her lonely Bower within the Castle Tower.
By the light of the moon, at her lonely loom, sits Lady Perdita. The passage of time has ravaged her home but not she, for the lady is comely still. With hair as dark as a Raven’s wing and eyes of cobalt blue, her beauty beguiles the starless night, for there is no other to gaze upon her countenance within these torn and empty walls. Softly, she sings a sad lament, fragments from a Troubadour’s tale of a love long lost. Sorrow clouds her as a shroud. With downcast eyes and ethereal hands she takes soft strands of numinous threads and weaves silently through her tears. Through the telling of her silken tales there begins to unfold a story of love, a story of loss. The lost love of a Knight of old. Her Knight…Her story…
To the soft strains of a melancholy Mandolin every stitch of the Knight’s chivalrous deeds begin to unfold upon her fragile tapestry.
Sir Allard, encased in his suit of armour and clutching his sword of steel, mounted his dashing destrier. He basked in the admiration he drew from the assembly of illustrious Lords and Ladies, all too aware all eyes were on him. He smiled knowing both damsels and Dowagers were dazzled by his presence. As he graciously bestowed generous glances upon the Ladies fair, Perdita smiled trustingly. She knew within his brave breast beat the chivalrous heart of one who only had eyes for her. And so with a righteous fire burning in his heart and mounting his noble steed the valiant Knight bade Adieu to his assembled Court and proudly rode to war.
Satisfied with the vibrancy of the first scene, Perdita left her loom and her labour of love. Gazing out of the window her searching heart went forth once more into the blanket of night, looking and longing for her Gallant Knight who had sailed from England’s green and pleasant lands to faraway shores. With a sigh she returned to her tapestry, intent on weaving the threads of her fragrant memories, did she know how their story would unfold?
There is a chill that pervades her bower, yet her shivers are not from cold, but the delightful anticipation of her noble Knight’s triumphant return. The glory! The honour! How her heart sang joyfully for him! She wrapped her self in the warm glow of the sweet words of eternal love he had spoken. How her heart ached when she recalled her initial reluctance upset him so. His entreaties were urgent. Why would she not acquiesce to his burning desires? He protested his Lady was so cruel to tarry, for he had great perils to face. The sweet memories of her succour would comfort him upon the bloody battlefields. Surely his heart would rend in two if she did not return his love! Perdita was torn. She cried bitter tears. As a highborn Lady she would bring dishonour to her family if she lay with him without the sanctity of a wedding band. Kissing her tears away, her chivalrous Knight declared they would marry upon his victorious return from the beast of war. With lyrical persuasion Allard’s conquest was assured. Cautioning Perdita to keep her own counsel and keep their tryst secret, he gave her a ring of gold set with a ruby. The dazzling red gemstone held the promise of eternal love and bought her silence.
Through the cloak of darkness a mote of light broke through the night, bringing momentary illumination. Perdita’s fragile heart skipped a beat. Was that her Knight she saw? Cruel memories came crashing into her dreams. A tear fell. Her beloved had sailed away across the seven seas. He had abandoned his Lover to her fate and all for the King’s glory, crusading in a faraway Land. Watching the passage of many Moon tides from her lonely Bower she entreated the star clad night to light his way home, before her shame was there for all to see. Highborn Lady Perdita, who some may say was without blame, could not be seen to be robed in tarnished garments of dishonour as the seed of new life grew within her belly. Yet she held her head high, comforted by their unborn child’s quickening and Allard’s reassurances. For her Knight would surely return and she would be his wife, and all judgement would pass, would it not?
The dying embers of the old year brought tidings of great sorrow. Sir Allard would nevermore see the sunrise or set upon England’s Sceptered Isle. Nor give his child his rightful name. Enemy and Gallantry had brought him to his knees. Ever true to her Love, Perdita kept her counsel well. For the Templar’s cause her brave Knight willingly gave his life. For her family honour, Perdita gave hers.
They found her at the break of day, her lifeless and broken body lying at the foot of castle walls. A ruby ring upon her unwed hand glinted in the pale winter sunlight. The fallen Lady was laid to rest beneath her lonely bower whilst far away under an Eastern Sun her Lover sleeps beneath shifting sands.
The solitary passage of time has shrouded the castle walls in creeping ivy, shadows and gloom. Yet awaiting her Lover’s return Perdita’s ghost still sits by her loom, lingering midst the rot and decay, trusting Love eternal will raise their hearts from the ashes and dust of betrayal. Her Love lives on, though they are all long dead…
Perchance, your steps take you through the ruined walls of the Castle Keep, they do say by pale moon light and night’s embrace, you may yet hear the strains of a mandolin as the lonely Lady weeps within her ghostly bower.
Deep within the darkest heart of night dance slender beams of soft Moon Light.
Thank you for reading a ghostly tale from my latest book!
It is said every soul who walks upon the Earth is assigned a Guardian Angel ~ there are times the Angel may walk beside a soul, there are times the Angel may carry a soul and then there are times the Angel can only stand and weep…
Midwinter. A fog began to descend over the grey London skyline. Dusk had stealthily crept in and stolen the remains of the day away. White stucco walls cloaked in numinous mist and the elegant terrace of Victorian villas took on a ghostly air, Window panes glowing warm orange, reassurance that all was well within. Fire light, fire bright, all is well tonight. Smoke snaking from tall chimney pots into the chill air warned preternatural creatures of the night to stay away. One house stood apart from the camaraderie of its neighbours, no warmth or light was to be found within its walls. As dusk gave way to night the fog began to lift. Lights were extinguished and weary folk made their way gratefully to bed, giving thanks to the Lord for the day that had just been done and the morrow yet to come. The interior of number four was just as bleak as the façade. Winter’s icy fingers reached into the very heart of the despondent house, into a cavernous bedroom dressed with heavy furniture of a bygone century when the house was proud and new. A huge mahogany bedstead, barely discernible in the gloom, rose as a dark island in a sea darkness. An oak armoire and a Chiffonier threw dark, dancing shadows. A huge black Victorian cast iron fireplace, inset with tiles glazed with an elegant William Morris floral design took centre stage. It was too dark to appreciate the contrast of the beautiful pure white flowers, against the blackness of the cold and empty hearth. Lilies for the departed soul now restored to innocence after death. The room was out of step with the modern world unfolding beyond its ornate walls patterned in rich shades of gold and teal. Heavy brocade curtains dressed window. Although slightly closed they admitted a pale sliver of moonlight to come creeping in and illuminate the scene within the room.
From the remote island of the big bed, a young child sat up, big hazel eyes wide open, scanning the room for an unknown yet threatening Presence. She drew an eiderdown tightly around her tiny body, tucking the edges under her tiny chin. The warmth was reassuring, providing a degree of safety and comfort. The big bulky frame of her Father lay beside the little girl. He was sleeping, heavy breathing reverberating around the room, chasing away the creeping silence. Shadows danced on the walls, intermittently thrown up by arbitrary moonlight. A gilded mirror hung above the fireplace and the child was mesmerised by the forms within its silvery depths. Were there phantasmagorical creatures living in the mirror, inhabitants of a world within worlds? A ray of capricious moonlight fell across the hardwood floor, illuminating a languid, white, and crumpled body. Comatose, the flaccid form lay curled in a foetal position, an empty brandy bottle clutched in a lifeless hand. A strangled sob escaped into the gloom alerting the man, and on seeing his tiny daughter was wide-awake, urged her to snuggle down and sleep. Having witnessed the scene for far too long and powerless to change things, he had ceased to care a long time ago. Defiantly, the child shook her head, soft auburn ringlets swaying around her little heart shaped face, big hazel eyes luminous and anxious. She enquired tentatively whether Mummy was cold, laying there on the floor? Why was Mummy on the floor yet again, and not snuggling up with them like she used to? Should Mummy get into bed too? Should they cover Mummy to keep her warm? Thinly veiling his feelings of revulsion and contempt, voice laden with disgust, the tired man reassured his tiny child that Mummy was fine. So many questions, so few answers. The floor was where Mummy wanted to be, so they should leave her there and go back to dreamland. Then he rolled over and went back to sleep. The little girl burrowed under the covers, and lay down with her tiny nose snuggling into her Daddy’s warm back. Mummy was fine, Daddy knew best. Her worries alleviated, she slept the rest of the night comforted by the deep sleep of the innocent. In her dreams, the child called for an Angel, an Angel of Love and Light, and the Angel hearing her call, came.
Suddenly, a luminous golden glow bathed the room and the Angel stepped out of the Light with her arms outstretched. She held a gossamer blanket, woven from the light of the stars from the heavens above, and gently she wrapped the child’s Mother in love and light and tenderness. For the Angel knew, just as the child knew, that the woman although bound by addictions and barricaded into her own pain was still a beloved child of the Godhead, of Source and deserving of love and forgiveness and understanding. The Angel prayed a quiet benediction over the child and her Mother and the man who had long forgotten the truth, as he slept in his warm bed whilst his wife lay on the cold, hard floor. A fragrant blend of frankincense and lilies filled the room. The sour smell of stale alcohol pervading the air now dissipated. The man did not smell the fragrant perfume purifying the woman nor did he see the blanket of stars that wrapped her. He did not see the Angel of Light tending to his wife as the Celestial Being tried to remove the vicious demons of addiction from her. He did not see the tender white lily the Angel placed in the woman’s hand as she took away the empty bottle. He did not see these things, for he too was enslaved by his own addictions.
And the Angel stood and wept silent tears for the man and the woman who could not see, as their child could, the Presence of Angels.
“I knew these people…once…It was a long time ago…”
She looked like she needed to talk, some fragmented ghost of a memory rattling around the caverns of her mind seeking to find a voice. So I pulled up a chair and sat down beside her and prepared to listen. After all, it is what I do. Listen. I listen a lot. People tell me things, always have. Seems to come from nowhere, the torrent of words, the secrets and the shames. I never judge. That is for the Man above not me.
A waiter came over. Smartly dressed with slicked back black hair, just a hint of grey kissing his temples and a smile that reached his rich brown eyes. I noted he was deferential without being subservient, in a very European way. I liked him and resolved to leave him a good tip. I saw he liked her, a lot. Did she like him? It was difficult to tell. There was a story hiding behind his smile, but that would be for another time. Right now was her time. She had something to say and I had a strong intuition I needed to hear it.
I ordered a pot of English Breakfast Tea, toast and marmalade, “Make that for two, please,” I glanced at her and she nodded her approval at him.
“Très bon,” he rewarded us both with a smile, hiding just a soupçon of merriment. This man did not take life too seriously at all. He really was very handsome and as he walked away a delicious hint of citrus and spice lingered in the air.
“Mmm,” I sniffed appreciatively “Do I detect patchouli and sandalwood?”
“Indeed you do. Top notes and base notes. Quite enticing, isn’t it? Clive Christian 1872,” she replied with authority and I wondered if she was the one who had gifted him a very fine bottle of cologne.
We sat in comfortable companionship in the beautiful glass roofed Courtyard. Soft pink stucco walls wrapped the restaurant with the elegance of a bygone age. She asked me if this was my first visit to the Wallace Collection. I smiled and told her I often came here to Hertford House and take yet another admiring stroll through the sumptuous rooms of the museum, admiring the works of fine art, especially paintings depicting angels. I told her my Mother had first brought me here as a little girl.
“Mummy are Angels just make believe or are they really real like the elves with their black patent shoes with big silver buckles and fairies with their gossamer wings in my big picture book?” I had made earnest enquiries.
“Indeed they are Evie,” Mummy had replied, “Would you like to see the lovely paintings of the Angels in Hertford House? We shall look at suits of armour and you can see for yourself knights who protected princesses were very real too! We shall have tea and toast and yummy jam when we finish. ”
My Mother always had a special way of making the most magical things sound a natural part of everyday life. I missed her and gazing at my elegant companion momentarily wondered would Mummy have looked just like her if the sickness had not came and took her away much too soon. Would we be sitting here now recalling my delight at the moment I had gazed on the beautiful paintings of Lords and Ladies of long ago. Entranced by the many treasures housed in the Wallace Collection, I had moved from one sumptuous and ornate gallery to the next, each filled with armour, fine porcelain, ornate snuffboxes and gorgeous fireplaces and rococo chandeliers. And I had seen the Angels. And I had believed.
I saw I was under close scrutiny, “I like it here,” I told her, “ I like it a lot. It’s been a long love affair,” I said.
She smiled and told me she loved it too, had been visiting the imposing Georgian house, standing proudly on London’s Manchester Square, for as long as she could remember. She said that she loved the Gainsborough’s and Fragonard’s. She smiled in appreciation as she divulged her favourite painting and said she found Scheffer’s “The Ghosts of Paolo and Francesca Appear to Dante and Virgil” hauntingly beautiful. She said it made her cry. She told me she hugely admired the serenity of Velázquez’s black veiled beauty “The Lady with a Fan” and shared she was intrigued by sculptures depicting veiled beauties. She wondered if Raffaele Monti’s emotive statuette really depicted a Circassian slave? Perhaps, she postulated, she was truly free and her beautiful veiled countenance was an allegory for her seeing ‘beyond the veil’ into numinous realms. She said her name was Evelyn and she had a town house close by in Crawford Street, she was a Writer and she was glad of my company. A lot of words as one would expect, but not what she really needed to say.
I shivered involuntarily. Crawford Street was a place I knew well, having grown up in an elegant stucco fronted Georgian house. In different circumstances I would be living there now, but for the premature loss of my darling Mother. That house held many happy memories and I had vowed one day to return, that it would be my home again. Meeting Evelyn was proving to be more than a touch synchronistic.
Our tea and toast arrived.
“Those people…?” I tried to engage her to take my mind away from wandering down dark avenues from the past.
I poured tea, fragrant with freshly pressed leaves, from a pewter pot into our cups and she added the milk and sugar. The toast was good. I ladled on rich yellow butter and a generous helping of deliciously bitter marmalade and as I savoured the flavours I waited for her to speak. You can have an intuition on what they may say, sometimes hear the words before they actually speak them. Then when they do speak, the emotions come in, sometimes softly flowing, sometimes a tidal wave. And I have it all hitting me, sometimes it’s hard to remain inscrutable, to just listen. But it is about them, not me, so they never know I have eyes that look into their distant pasts and possible futures, their right here, right now’s or just how much I know…
She was different. Looking at me quizzically with intelligent eyes, and with a start I realised she was reading me reading her. A feint smile. I winked at her, knowingly. We laughed conspiratorially.
Sunlight, delicately streaming through the glass roof caught her hair. Cool blonde with strands of silver pulled off her face by a black velvet band. A woman of a certain age, but what that age was I would be hard pressed to say. Quietly understated elegance. She wore pearl earrings. Beautiful pearls, soft as moonlight. I admired them.
“Indeed yes, they are beautiful. Tears from the moon.” Her eyes misted. I reached over and covered her hand with mine. A simple gesture, speaks more eloquently and deeply than words ever can. She had long slim fingers tipped with manicured nails varnished the colour of her pale pink pearls. Her hand was surprisingly cold.
“Those people…” I encouraged, knowing the earrings held the key to her story, as did love. Was it lost, unrequited, had her heart been broken or did she carry the heavy weight of human frailty having inflicted pain and hurt on another? I munched my toast waiting for her to reply. The toast here is really very good. My reward for patience just a flicker behind her grey eyes, a wry smile and the deafening sound of silence. Perhaps a guilty conscience lay behind her insouciance? I truly hoped not.
Suddenly I had a very strong desire to know and held her gaze searchingly. I saw the relief in her face as the waiter returned with a fresh pot of tea and she took the opportunity to slip her hand away from mine, the shutters were down. The moment had passed. I got she was uncomfortable with my touch, the warmth of another human reaching out to her. I wasn’t sure if she would tell me her story, or keep her secrets to be shared only with the ghost living in the caverns of her mind. With a start, I realised I could not read her, looking into her eyes all I saw was myself looking back, my pale pink pearls catching rainbows of light as the sun danced through the atrium.
She may well have a lifetime of stories to tell, but I was going to have to live them before Evelyn shared our secrets with me, Evie…