Eileen (Part One)
The wind howled like a pack of wild wolves. The leafless trees violently swayed within that fierce wind. Snow fell from the infinite sky above me. That falling snow collected on each branch, on each downed tree and onto my wide brimmed hat. Snow was everywhere; it blanketed everything in a veil of white. There was no horizon nor was there an indication of up or down. I was alone.
Somehow I found myself lost in all sense of the word. I had no future to look forward to and no past to fall back on, and the cold woods can be a lonely place. Solitude is something that encompasses you; it fills every portion of your body, mind and soul. It is something that causes many to be frightened. The fear sometimes consumes and convinces you to attach yourself to situations and people that you will not benefit from in the end, and the end is all that matters.
I was alone apart from my footprints following me in the snow. The sun never seemed to shine through the overbearing clouds. In every direction I was blinded by a wall of white. All sounds, if there were any, had been obscured by the cries of the February wind. What kind of place was this? Had I really believed that an escape would suffice? Had I thought it would solve the ills in my world? Ills I may have caused. Cowards retreat, cowards hide from what scares them, this I had done. I had become a coward in a world where only the fighters make it over the hill.
When what was surrounding me became unbearable I found my escape in old forgotten words I had put on hold. But in times of need these old words were put on a somewhat intangible loop. While in deep sessions of thought I’d find myself reaching for the images they conjured up. But they were dead and in the past, buried somewhere near the remains of what I once thought was a reality. Missing it all was what brought me to that state of vanished limbo. How could something that was so meaningless long ago hold such an apparent weight of me? Maybe I had been to that place before, stuck between what I needed, missed and wanted. As I’ve aged I‘ve found that what we want is temporary. The pain we go through we bring on ourselves by coveting memories, possibilities, objects, lifestyles and vanity. Being lost out there I found this within myself. Through this I realized that what was spoken to me and of me when I was young still remained. It consumed me, it surrounded me. I was drowning in it, somehow lost out at sea with only retired words as a map to guide me. But to get somewhere you have to put one foot in front of the other, I took myself there. That isolation in the snow covered wilderness was what I had sought, so I could only blame myself for the position I had fallen into. Wonder what Eileen would think of me? Was I even a man anymore? Did it matter? Lucky for her she was still protected by the blurry past which had become a stone castle for her. She was too long ago; the face and the name would no longer be the same.
It became too much. That bitter wind attacking me from all directions. Trembling branches crashed to the ground cracking the ice covered snow. Rocks slid off the tall mountainside dissipating into the white glow below. I had been up for days forcing myself through the frigid pain. My boots were wet and began to harden under a thick sheet of ice. I looked above me for any sign of the sun but to no avail, everything had become white. Night to day meant nothing to me; the sky had seemed to forget to change with the ticking of the clock. I had to laugh at that thought. When I fell to the ground in exhaustion I could almost see the hands of an ancient clock spinning in a blur looking for a time to pick, but they were just as lost as me.
When I woke I believed it to be dawn. I could faintly hear the chirping of varied birds off in the distance. After a moment of struggle I found myself standing again. For some obscure reason an image of Eileen flashed within my mind. She was a memory to heavy to bear and too strong to keep shackled to the floor. Her ghost had a voice that wanted to be heard or just eyes to see. I wondered if mine ever went to her and if she welcomed it.
Behind me an old tree fell from its vertical stature briskly to the earth. It snapped off at the center resulting in a sound louder than a thousand gunshots. Each branch shattered like glass upon impact. Echoes of it bounced off of the mountain walls followed by deafening silence. I mumbled a few words to myself before I turned towards my destination; it was a place that I only remembered existing. Places are as obscure as the people that have been to them. We just become varied shadows on the floor where our footsteps once were.
My stride had decreased within minutes of my distorted journey. Each footstep was slower than the first. Where I was going I truly did not know, but I knew I would never get there at that rate. I had various images of what I wanted or expected if I arrived but they changed with the wind. The truth at that moment was that I couldn’t seem to find anything anymore, even the feet that carried me there.
Halfway up a slick steep hill I felt true mortality. A few falls through the day caused some cuts and bruises but that became more and more ordinary as time went on. Each fall took me further down making my climb up that more challenging. Once I had finally crossed a slope that kept me from progressing I suffered the worst plunge in my time there. What I can remember of the incident was watching the surface I had thought could hold my weight crumple underneath me like dust. I cannot truly say how far I had fallen; all I know is that when I awoke wherever I had fallen from had disappeared above me in a wall of white.
Lying there I heard Eileen’s gleeful laugh echo. I could not tell its origins. Had it been in my head generated by an old memory or did it come from somewhere within that mess? If Eileen was there with me at that moment she would smile at that barrier of fear and pain. She could shatter it with that twinkle in her eye. I on the other hand could never find that much joy within what appeared to be darkness. When I was down I was down, there was no other way for me to look at it. When Eileen was down she was up and flying with the birds. I’d look up at her with my hand out for help like a wounded bird begging to fly again. She’d always take my hand, curing me of all my ailments with just one touch.
All I received from her was her joyous laugh that day, a day when I needed her more than anything in the entire world. I wondered if she could still face pain the way she had done so many times before. Sometimes what aided us before becomes a crutch. It tends to happen at times when you need it most. You become blinded by the surprise of it. Your weapon no longer reloads, the trigger doesn’t pull. In times like that the game has shifted like an image in water, you have to relearn sight.
I felt like I was lying in the threshold of death. Caught in-between my past and what would soon come, neither one was appealing to me. But whichever option I was heading for standing to my feet was the only way of getting there. Reluctantly, forcing myself through various shots of pain shooting through my bones, I stood. Once up I immediately began walking where none of the fossils of my past self were. No littered footsteps leading in any direction, no broken twigs or fallen trees. The world shifted with each blink blurring the lines between reality and just another dream. I had to mutter to the sky in some hope for an answer “Eileen could I have another cup of coffee? I’m tired of this.” Of course the thunderous silence was all I got. But silence is far better than the clatter of a thousand shouting voices. Silence offers to you no opinion, no rule or suggestion; the mistakes you make within silence can only be blamed on yourself. I accepted at that moment that 90% of my decisions were in fact a mistake made while buried within my own silence while I was encompassed by the sound of others. All bets were off.
When the sun managed to pierce through the foreboding surroundings it quickly succumbed to a quick death. Any light that did shine, no matter how dim, bounced from snowflake to snowflake dazzling my eyes. I had never been so frightened in my life while still finding joy within things. Everything around me provoked an array of feelings ranging from anger to tranquil meditation. Past Christmas’s crossed my mind, the smell of old photographs, voices I hadn’t heard in years all came flooding back in a surreal way. It made me wonder why I had ever left.
Then from nowhere came the crackle of a fire, echoes rose from the distance like scattering birds. The sky was pitch black and littered with stars. Snowflakes twirled in suspended animation before me. Perfume lured me further through the abyss as if it had formed an outstretched hand to beckon me. Nothing was visible to me apart from the dismal scenery. What could be over the hill? What had made the effort to find me? Or did I find it?
That scent triggered a flash of images I had forgotten. Eileen running after me through the rain screaming with tears trickling down her face. My solemn expression as I stared up at her on the foot of the stairs. A blurry night spent surrounded by people we never knew with faces that were all the same. A song a man played on an old piano at the corner of the street. Dreams we had of a life we thought we knew. The blindness we fell into during our youth. The lies we accepted as truth for the lies we were telling ourselves. And the way we said goodbye.
The pessimism that crowded my mind had been somehow replaced by an urge to continue. I forgot the helplessness that surrounded me. I knew that before me was something different, at the time I had no idea as to what it could be but anything that differed from where I had been I welcomed. When you are desperate change is the only thing that helps you open your eyes. The mundane is blinding.
Sitting before the fire was a young woman wrapped in a blanket. I stopped my progression to take cover behind a tree. Who could this woman be? Worse yet why would she be there in a place for the forgotten surrounded by things no one remembers. I kept myself shrouded in the shadows as she set before the fire. Her hair was a dark black that shined like a diamond. I could see the flicker of flames in her bright green eyes which stared aimlessly at the flames. They danced before her in a hypnotizing fashion, possibly pushing her into a trance.
“You’re acting like I can’t see you. Do you think you’re clever or something, hiding like a coward? Shadows can’t hide everything, trust me I’ve tried them.” She spoke in broken English, her accent was unfamiliar to me I could not place it. Instead of continuing my charade I stepped out from the comforts of the night. As I approached her she did not look up to watch me. I expected hesitation, strangers are never trusted and I was a stranger.
“Can I sit here?” I said in a voice that I had not heard in ages.
“Why not, it’s a seat isn’t it?” I felt comfort in her words but she did not speak them in a way that should have convinced me. It’s funny how you perceive things when you think you’re mind is clear, but it always takes a turn and you find yourself blinded by someone else’s lies.
We set in silence for several minutes. Surrounding me was warmth which was something I had not felt the whole time I had been there. Her perfume masked the scent of the forest in an aroma of sweet fruit. Something felt right within me, I was not use to it.
“Do you have a name?” She asked me with her eyes still facing the fire.
“If I did I don’t remember it, some things aren’t important enough to remember.” I heard the call from a bird past the hill I had come over. The night covered up everything that could have been seen.
“You don’t remember your name but you still know how to speak. Am I right?” After she spoke she looked at me with a gentle smile but her eyes told a different story.
“Yes, I can speak.” Nervously I had answered her.
“What about manners? Do you still have them or are they not important enough to remember?” I felt as if she was attacking me.
“Yes I still have them.” Something had changed within her, maybe I had offended her.
“Then ask me my name. I asked you yours now ask mine. You did not offer to shake my hand when you set. I did not hear thanks come from your mouth when I said you could sit near me. The least you could do is ask me my name.”
“What is your name?” After I parted with the words her smile widened but her eyes still held something I had never seen in someone’s before.
“Abigail, my name is Abigail.” The flicker of the fire glowed on her face. She turned back to it as if she had gotten what she needed out of me and was done. Normally I would have accepted the silence since I desired it myself but Abigail was too illusive to leave alone.
“How did you find this place?” Abigail turned her head slowly towards me thinking. She bit her bottom lip with a frown.
“I don’t think words can describe it, at least the words I know. Use yours and tell me.” I wondered if I was dreaming.
“My story or yours?” I wondered.
“Whichever you know more about.” Abigail whispered with a turn of her head. I stared blankly choosing my words carefully before I spoke.
“I came here because of everything I had seen and everyone I was stuck with meeting. I came here because of the places I was at. I came here because of the places I would never see. We’re all born with nothing Abigail and some of us are left with that. Not everyone is supposed to be with the others, we stray and fall off of the road. We blend in with everything that surrounds everyone still safe on that road.” Abigail spoke immediately after I stopped; I had expected another lull of silence.
“But we’re happier off of that road. At least we think we are for awhile.” Her green eyes pierced my blue ones.
“None of us are happy Abigail; we just forget we’re sad sometimes.” I held something in those words that Abigail took to heart. Somehow we had found each other out there. Both of us had put on masks long ago that said we knew why. Cluelessness is divine in the world we had both run from where nothing made sense except to be lost. It made the ugly elegant, the weak strong, and the speechless fill up with words. But the lost could never see that until it was too late.
Abigail threw a stick into the flickering fire which was quickly diming. The moon had found a cloud to hide itself behind leaving us blind with only the remaining flames as our eyes. I looked at Abigail’s face as the flames danced off of it. Even cloaked within the nights shadow her green eyes glowed. I knew there was beauty hidden within her even if she had no intentions of finding it.
A wall of silence formed around us for several minutes. When Abigail’s voice shattered that wall I almost jumped in fright. She spoke to me in the best English possible. “When I was very young, still at home before I decided to run, I saw a boy drown in a neighbor’s pond. He could not have been more than six or seven but he screamed like an adult man. His voice was strong; something that would normally come with age but fear brought it out of the boy. I could almost see the reaper standing in the water next to him with a grin. I was too far away to save him; I tried to run to him as he cried. His screams were so loud that winter morning, I’ll never forget them. They roused everyone out of bed. They stirred my grandmother out of a deep dream. I could see his frightened face as he struggled, his eyes red from weeping, his mouth wide open taking in the water. His hands were rendered useless by his fear; he had forgotten how to tread. I saw his mother running from their home towards the pond in hopes of saving him. I knew neither of us would make it to him in time. I saw the reaper rest its hand on his shoulder as the boy’s body went limp. His struggle had finally ended as he floated face down in that pond. I had gotten to the pond when the last ripple touched the grass.
“His father grabbed his mother before she could get into the water. He held her close to his heart as she cried. He whispered something comforting in her ear in hopes to calm her. I watched them as I stood shocked next to the body, wet from the icy water. The father looked to me for an answer to his boy’s fate. My somber expression answered his fears. Emotion took hold of him. Tears ran down his face. His eyes looked much like his sons, filled with fear and tears. I didn’t know what to do other than drag his body out of the frigid water. By that time my father had come to me with help. My grandma rushed to the boy’s parents to hold them.” Abigail looked deep into the fire for an answer. “He was so young, a boy who died a man’s death.” The remaining hours of the night were left in silence.