For The Woman Who Has Everything
by Quent Cordair

 

 

Sarah woke to silence. Thin lines of moonlight lay in diagonals across the floor and rose in needles up the walls. She listened for awhile. The only sound was the soft crush of her hair against the pillow.

She slid her legs from beneath the layers of blankets and let her feet touch the chill of the hardwood floor. As she walked, a line of moonlight slipped around one ankle, then the other, ascending deliberately, scanning and measuring her body in strict undulations. At the west window the moon caught her fully, a slender white animal beneath the new winter’s sky.

To the north the terraced lawns twinkled with frost as from a sprinkling of ground glass. To the south the meadow’s tall grasses were broken, the stalks strewn like fallen soldiers, the stumps standing like nails on the hills. Below and before her lay the expansive gardens. The moonlight was caught in webs of shadow beneath the bare rose bushes and in chains of diamonds beneath the arched trellises. Beyond the gardens the shadows converged in thick venous networks that covered the forest floor and stretched down to the lake. The black water held a solitary, struggling prisoner, the twin sister of a star above. Beyond the circle of the horizon lay the borders of the estate; within, the only movement, the only sound, the only life was the faint beating of Sarah’s heart.

She wrapped herself in her white terry robe and stepped into the matching slippers. The bed hardly looked slept in. In the hall, the moonlight floated in slanting shafts between the skylights and oblique rectangles on the wall.

It was still habit to pause at the children’s rooms. The light glinted from a fleet-footed Mercury atop one of Kelly’s trophies. Her stuffed animals waited patiently on the bed. Kelly was doing well in law school; the holiday visits were rare. Paul’s model airplane hung in a banking climb above his darkened computer. He was flying his own plane now, from one development project to the next. The last she had heard, he was somewhere in Argentina. Jonathan’s first sculpture, a lovely nude, reclined on a stand in the corner of his room, as comfortable as the day he had put her there. He had been so proud of that first effort, and rightly so. He lived in the city now, with his wife and two young children, next to his new studio. They hadn’t been out to see her in awhile. Sarah had hinted that she might drop by, but Jonathan had demurred. He was trying to finish something before a deadline; they would be out again soon. Of course she understood.

The desk light in her office illuminated the neat stacks of papers. It was the one light in the house that she left on at night. After toiling into the small hours beneath its glow, it was still there for her when she woke before dawn, a lightship guiding her back into its harbor.

The day’s priorities filled three pages of yellow pad. The computer was flashing an urgent message from the Hong Kong office, and Zurich wanted her to call immediately, before the close of their business day. She found herself staring at the pencil on the desk. She had meant to pick it up, but her hand was still on the back of the chair. She switched off the light and looked out the window. The sky had shifted to a somber slate-grey. The silhouetted branches of a towering fir sagged in anticipation of the coming snows.

The library’s fireplace was blackened and cold. The leather recliner loomed in the shadows. Sometimes, she could still smell the burning oak mingled with the sweet scent of pipe tobacco. The boys would be perched on the arms of the chair with little Kelly nestled into her father’s lap, his golden baritone holding them in rapt attention as he read. Last year, Sarah had called the movers to take the chair away, but when they arrived, she wouldn’t let them touch it. The chair remained, the sole monument to the years. He had taken his books. She had tried filling the spaces on the shelves with figurines, vases and rarities.

As she drifted through the great room, her finger followed the edge of the grand piano. In the kitchen she circled the island, hearing the laughter of friends and the tinkling of champagne glasses. From the oven had come the rush of heat and the smell of baking bread; she opened the French doors to the patio, and the cold splashed her face and hands, spilling around her wrists and ankles, rising beneath the robe, around her bare legs.

A morning mist had settled about the gardens, wetting the frost. The daily routine led down the walk of patterned stone to the greenhouse, where reflexively, she turned to wind through the boxwood hedges, following the serpentine route that allowed inspection of each well-groomed plot. There was nothing left to be done in the gardens. The pruning was finished. The perennials were trimmed and mulched. The tulips, larkspur and peonies had been tucked under. In the vegetable and herb beds, the clods of earth lay belly-up to the sky, awaiting the blanket of snow.

By the time she reached the back of the gardens, the shadows had dissolved. The dawn’s silver twilight seemed to rise from the earth itself, the moon only a paling wafer lingering in the haze above. Along the path through the woods, the moss on the trunks glistened with frosty dew. The carpet of dead leaves and rotting branches offered up the crisp pungency of decay. Ahead, the black water lay beneath a shroud of mist that veiled the far shore.

She paused at the gazebo. The swing hung empty and still at the end of its chains. It was there that Douglas had left her sitting, too stunned to cry. From the supply in the covered bench she took a fresh towel and draped it over the railing. Beside the towel she draped her robe. Below the robe she arranged her slippers.

This year, the ritual of her morning swim had extended past the end of summer and on through the autumn months. She didn’t know why. The water’s embrace was simply something she needed, like the light on her desk. Lately, when she reached the middle of the lake, she would float awhile, then let her body slip quietly beneath the surface and slowly down through the ever colder, darker depths. The feeling of mud closing about her feet had sent her swimming for light and air—but it was only mud, she had been telling herself, the same as the stuff in her garden, beneath a rainy day.

The path to the water’s edge passed through the final feature of her landscaping, a circular haven of evergreen. She was stopped there—startled.

There had always been the stone bench on the one side, but she had never found quite the right ornament for the view opposite. Her first thought was that the sculpture’s style was unmistakable—and then she couldn’t think anymore because her body was straightening to match the bearing of the marble figure, an ageless beauty in a summer dress, hands resting lightly on the hips, looking out into the world with strength, resolve and a peaceful joy. Sarah could feel her son’s hands gently pushing on the small of her back, pulling on her shoulders, lifting her chin. It was a perfect likeness of her. It was her own lost soul, and as she stood before the vision, it filled and filled her. The base was engraved: For the woman who has everything. Happy birthday, Mom. Jonathan.

She had been standing there a long time when the sound of a horn came from the direction of the front drive, followed by the shutting of car doors and the laughter of children—Jonathan’s.

She turned and walked briskly toward the gazebo. There was hot cocoa to be made, and muffins. As she tied the belt of her robe, she glanced back to the lake. As soon as it froze over, she would be out on the ice with the children, teaching them how to skate. Smiling at the thought, she tucked the remaining towels beneath her arm and turned toward the house.

Above the circle of evergreen, the first snowflake of winter drifted down, turning in a fine pirouette. It came to rest on a sublime marble cheek, and melted there.

Quent Cordair’s short stories have been published in The Atlantean Press Review. As a painter, his oil portraits and other figurative paintings are widely collected.

 

Copyright © Quent Cardair, all rights reserved