Disappearing into Wind
Place: Hermit cottage.
Time: 3:30 a.m.
I stopped quick.
At the end of the blade stood a tall man. He looked spindly and old and had a wiry not-quite-filled-in salt and pepper beard, shaggy ginger hair pushing out from under his wool hat, and green eyes—electric and young.
“Will,” I replied, sharp and shaky. “My name is Will. And, and this is Aylin.”
“And just who might ya be runnin’ from, Will and Aylin?”
I looked down at the blade and into his flashing green eyes and did not hesitate.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “A bear—several bears.”
He dropped his blade and stepped aside, motioning with his free hand for us to enter.
“Uh, thank you,” I replied.
“Yes, thank you. Indebted to you good sir,” said Aylin.
“Oh, you’re not safe yet,” he replied with a laugh and slammed the door behind me.
The cabin felt more inviting than I thought it would. And larger too. It was laid out in one open room, with a staircase to the right of the door that led to an open loft. Across the room, a fire burned bright, and something steamed in a large cast-iron pot over it. And I thought I smelled baking bread.
We entered the cottage, but I did everything I could to keep my wits.
“Running from bears,” said the man. “Now that’s something I haven’t heard in a long time.”
“You’ve heard it before?” I said, still out of breath, mind racing.
“I’ve heard the tales. Mostly from the birds,” he said with a chuckle, happy with his quip. “Anyway, the two of you look harmless enough and it looks like you could use some mending. Help yourself to the towels over there in the washroom. It’s just across there. Just don’t touch anything. Got it?”
He pointed towards a dim hallway to the right of the entrance all the way across the room. Immediately to our left, he’d situated a rustic kitchen. The light blue cupboards, the old farmhouse sink, and the dried flowers hanging from the window, which looked out over the river, suggested this old man was more than he seemed. A sensibility hung in the air; the kind uncommon in these mountain places. The place felt like a home.
“Thank you,” I said, as I led Aylin across the room to the hallway. My heart rate slowed, and I started to feel like we’d slipped away from whatever that was that attacked the cabin. “And, sorry about the bridge. Did you see what happened?”
“Why do you think I held my old dagger to your throat when you walked in my door. I heard the crash—who wouldn’t? It’s not an everyday occurrence that you find two young people running in the snow in the middle of the night along a dangerous river. But there’s no one else up here for miles and miles. So there won’t be a rescue party for you. Besides, nothing’s getting across that gorge now. Unless … well, anyway, take your time cleaning up. I’ll just be out here tending my soup and bread—got a fresh loaf coming any minute now. Name’s Turner, by the way.”
“Right. Uh, yes. Nice to meet you, Turner.”
“Yes, so lovely to make your acquaintance, Turner,” said Aylin over her shoulder.
I sounded so dumb when Aylin talked after me.
My eyes adjusted to the light of the cottage. Even with the fire raging, it was dimly lit. Nooks and crannies everywhere. But there was something else, something out of balance in the cottage—not in an uncomfortable way, but in a lurking way.
The space shimmered with an inviting air, like the enchanted vermillion of an autumn sunset. But then there was Turner’s blade. He’d pitched it, unsheathed, on the kitchen table—a table covered with drawings set on large sheets of paper. I couldn’t make out sketches for all the shadows, but it was clear Tuner was an artist of sorts.
And then there were the books stacked along the fireplace wall in chaotic towers with papers and dried flowers peeking out here and there. No bookshelves just stacks of books everywhere. In the back of the room stood a large wooden chest, the top of which looked like it had been retrofitted into a sideboard with a small lamp, an enormous magnifying glass and a heap of old National Geographic magazines.
But the wall behind the chest. It wasn’t wooden. I stared at it as we crossed the room. The fire on the opposite wall threw light into it and it sparkled with a strange glint and shadow. As we entered the hallway, I touched the wall. It was no wall at all. It was cold to the touch, but in some places warm.
It was solid rock. The mountain behind the cottage. Or the cottage in the mountain.
At once, balance and chaos gathered in the home. I waited for Aylin to finish washing and tending to the cut on her head. I faced the open room and stared at the wall of stone. It seemed to move as I watched it dance in the firelight. The movement of the light and shadows gave the cottage a strange life. Then I walked towards the fireplace to inspect the painting hanging over it.
“Excuse me,” I said, unsure of how to address him properly. Do I call him Sir, or simply Turner, I thought? Should I even start a conversation with him at all? “Where—um, where did you get this painting—the one of the snowflake over the fireplace?”
“What do you mean where did I get it?” he said from across the room, busy pulling his sourdough loaf from the oven and filling his Dutch oven with another lump of dough. “I painted it. Look around you. You are standing in a museum of snowflakes,” he said.
“You painted it?”
“Yes, I’ve painted thousands of snowflakes.”
“I have one just like this that my great grandparents gave me. Well, I inherited it when they died. It’s in my attic now. I’ve forgotten it all these years. But now seeing your painting here reminds me of it. Could my snowflake painting be one of yours?”
“Possibly. Where did your great grandparents purchase it?”
“In Lake Tahoe, in the Truckee gallery.”
“Then it is certainly my painting.”
I stood stunned.
Then I took in the room for what felt like the first time. Turner was right. Everything was a snowflake.
The kitchen table was no mere table. It was a large wooden snowflake—carved to precision. Almost the entire house was carved into a snowflake. The details on the floor, even the mantle was carved into a string of falling snowflakes connected through intricate detail of falling snow—well, snow being swept to the side, a blowing snow. All of it looked just like his painting. I gaped in awe of all the carvings.
“It was so long ago or seems like it anyway,” I said, trying to keep my composure.
“What’s that,” Turner cackled from the kitchen.
“Nothing. I was just remembering the one year my great grandparents visited us at Christmas.”
“Ah—yes …” He grumbled something under his breath trying to stay engaged or at least trying to sound like he was.
“They’d recently taken a cross-country trip. They loved Lake Tahoe. Every story went back to Tahoe. They fell in love with the art gallery there in Truckee. They were taken by the painting—your painting, I suppose—and they decided to buy it, though it was extraordinarily expensive.”
“Well, I am Turner,” he said, chuckling at his self-deprecating tone, while he cleaned the counter that was a mess of flour, measuring cups, and vegetables.
“They said they wanted to remember the wonderful light snow of the mountains. Funny how now, here, standing at your fireplace all these memories seem to be flooding back to me.”
“Yes, funny,” said Turner, clearly preoccupied and a bit annoyed.
“When I would visit them, I’d stand and stare at the painting. Man, I loved it. They left it to me,” I said, trailing off and lost in thought.
“Yes, you’ve said as much.”
I stood there staring at the painting above the mantle. Then I turned once again toward the cabin, taking in all the carvings of snowflakes and the snowflake mural painted across the walls of the kitchen—which I only noticed as I turned to inspect the cabin once more.
—How I loved that painting, I whispered.
I remembered myself as a young boy in my great grandparent’s small home along the Carolina coast and staring at that snowflake over their mantle. So out of place in the coastal south. And yet, in the exact right place. And then how that same painting found its way into my life, and how it stunned me all those years. The detail. The wonder. I got lost in it. Just like I was getting lost standing there in Turner’s strange cottage.
But eventually, I moved on. I suppose my tastes shifted. The snowflake seemed naïve to me now. I stored the painting in my attic and replaced it with something more sophisticated; a local artist who liked to paint squares—more modern. “I like to experiment with space,” he said at his gallery showing.
And so, I had shifted. But the snowflake hadn’t. There I stood facing my past. And all the memories stored in the delicate angles of the snowflake rushed in on me.
But ever since Sara’s plane crash. And the loss. Those feelings—I did not let them in. I felt like I was betraying the memory of my uncle and the twins. How could I fawn over the beauty of art and snowflakes when my sister’s life was forever changed by tragedy? No. I pushed the memories aside.
But that’s not true.
It wasn’t that I didn’t let them in. They lived in there, in my memory. I just smothered them. And always the tension. I felt like the innocence and beauty I knew earlier in my life cost too much and did nothing for me in return. I kept the snowflake hidden. And yet here it stood staring me in the face.
“Thank you for waiting, Will. I’m finished. Are you alright?”
Washed up now, Aylin looked unscathed by the crash. Her face looked fresh and awake. Her eyes looked at me with real concern all the while dancing in some far-off delight.
“Huh? Yes—uh, sorry. Yes. I’m fine. Just caught in thought. Sure thing. I’ll be right out. Keep your distance from Turner,” I said quietly as I passed her. “Still not sure about him.”
“Okay, Will. I will show caution,” she said.
I took my turn in the bathroom. I did not want to leave Aylin alone for too long with Turner. My mind raced. The bears, the wolves, the crash, our escape, Orion’s fall.
—How was Aylin? How was she feeling about the loss of Orion and where we’re going now? I felt woozy. The flood of it all was hitting me even as the memories of the snowflake invaded.
So, I splashed my cuts and washed my face with cold water. I was tired, and the water felt good. It settled me down. My arm felt normal—no sign of breakage and it wasn’t out of socket. I rolled my shoulder around in amazement shaking my head in the mirror. I emerged from the bathroom to find Aylin and Turner in mid-conversation.
“I am tracking the blackness of the, or should I say in the sky. A hundred and fifty years ago Ruskin noted this decay in the air brought on by the filth of industry. And I have removed myself from this manufacturing crazed world in which we produce nothing of worth anymore—only grimy kitsch—in order to detail the results of this despair—a despair we can see and smell and nearly touch as it rides along with the winds and into the air we breathe! That’s one reason I’m here. The other’s a bit more complicated.”
Whatever Turner was talking about, he was very convinced of it. And Aylin looked enthralled.
“Quite interesting, Turner. How long have you lived here?” asked Aylin.
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s been some time.”
“Where did you live before. You have a unique look—dark features, yet green eyes and a rusty hair colour that puzzles me, but in a good way.”
“You’re quite perceptive, my dear. Very well. You seek the story of Turner—and the more complicated answer to your first question of ‘Why?’ Yes, that is what you seek,” he said grinning mischievously through his beard. “And so I shall give it. Can I first interest you both in some of my homemade soup and some fresh sourdough?”
Aylin had disarmed Turner. I wasn’t surprised. She could disarm a nuclear warhead just by looking at it. She had a way, a charm, that put you at ease and invited you to be, well, yourself. And it seemed like an at ease Turner was rather eccentric. I never knew if he was going to shout or laugh. But Aylin didn’t mind. She was in the moment.
“Oh yes. Please! I love soup. But I’ve yet to try this sourdough you speak about.” Aylin smiled and giggled at Turner and took her warm bowl of soup and a slice of steaming bread from him. She sipped the soup without the spoon once again and tried dipping her bread in it. She turned and looked at me and whispered through her smile, “More soup, Will. And this bread! It’s a good night after all.”
I couldn’t help but laugh, which caught Turner by surprise.
“Eh-hum, uh, no—sorry. Thank you, Turner,” I said, taking the bowl. “Smells wonderful.”
—I suppose it might be easier to sip than use the spoon. Maybe Aylin’s on to something, I thought.
I stayed standing, close to the table but also close enough to the fire to feel it on my back. And there we gathered in Turner’s ramshackle cottage sipping and dipping and listening to Turner tell us his story.
“I’m an Old man now, but it wasn’t always so—I was much older years ago,” he said, grinning at the paradox but giving no explanation of what he meant. “My mother and father were old souls. They met at university in England. A Cambridge couple they were. My mother the eldest of the two lovers, she studied the Greats. She was a poet mother—a native American and studying on scholarship.
“My father, the younger, was the tortured of the two. He didn’t make it through the course as a painter because his parents pressured him so much about it. And so, he took up the study of the law. He withered. Or so he says.
“My father was French. And once he graduated, they two moved back to his homeland. Then I arrived; their first and only child. We lived in the south of France together. I remember the countryside. The warm air. But my father wanted to start over. Get away from his family. So, he moved us to California to begin a new life. And, it was closer to my mother’s roots.
“I was 12 when we moved. And it was that winter of my twelfth year that I saw my first snowflake. I was amazed. I wanted to know it. I wanted to know them. I wanted to know their true beauty. Its form and balance—beauty’s form and balance, that is. It’s origin. How could such a thing exist, and we live as if its wonder does not matter. ‘Mother, where does beauty come from,’ I’d ask. And she’d smile and say she’d tell me someday. As if she knew this deep secret. But I was already convinced beauty lived in snowflakes.
“So, I wanted to really see them, you know, up close. Intimately. I began sketching them, like any young kid too innocent to know the truth of something until it is revealed to him through experience.
“Then one day my mother showed me a trick. She showed me how to catch snowflakes. It wasn’t really a trick. Just science. But my mother liked to turn everyday things into magic. The world was a faerie tale to her.”
“Son,” she said. “All we’ll need are a few simple tools: well-chilled black velvet, some glass slides, and a solution of polyvinyl formal resin. We’ll dissolve that in some ethylene dichloride, and then we’ll be able to trap the snowflakes in between two worlds. Their northern world of cold and our warm world where the cold disappears,” she said to me with eyes full of wonder.
“Mother,” I said to her, “How do you know all that?”
“That’s what books are for, son,” she said with a laugh. “Oh, my young artist. Have you forgotten these mountains? They are my home. And the snow? It is the dress of my home. Of course, you’ll need to bring along your patience too, my love. We cannot see the lovely unless we learn how to wait, and explore, and wait some more.”
“Ah—patience,” he said, his eyes squinting then relaxing. “A lost art in our time, no?
“So, she drove me up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There we’d walk the wilderness trails and catch snowflakes. She told me stories of their beauty. How so much was captured in their form. So much unseen by we humans. She hated how we annihilated space with our pace of life. Running here and there and for what? She told me that if I had the patience, one day I would discover the true beauty of the snowflake.
The further into his story, the more animated Turner became. Quite interesting to watch and listen to. And equally as unnerving given the connection I discovered to his painting. Aylin sat on a chair by the table glued to his every word. His soup was tasty, the sourdough even more so, and the fire warm. It was almost as if we’d walked into some type of hidden retreat and time stood still, and the events of the night calmed. It’s hard to explain, but something was in that cabin or around it, protecting it and giving it its own kind of life.
As I listened to Turner, I grabbed my shoulder again to see if there was any sign of tenderness. But it felt fine. My body ached some, but not like it should have after careening down to the river in the old Rover and running from the bear. The three of us sat in Turner’s kitchen and listened to him tell his own story as if we’d gathered to take Holy Communion at weekly mass. I didn’t feel threatened, and I didn’t feel like we had to keep running or get back to town. I just felt, peace.
And yet the connection to Turner bothered me. It bore into me like getting a bur in your hiking boot. Those memories, that painting, I’d moved on from all that years ago. It bothered me that now they resurfaced on the anniversary of Sara’s accident. I listened to Turner’s story. But the more he shared, the tenser I became—fighting with the peace of the cabin and the ache of my memories.
“Quickly I graduated from sketching the shapes of snowflakes to painting them,” Turner continued. “Watercolors, oils, acrylics, I experimented with all the mediums. I wanted to capture the colour I was seeing against the velvet. I kept whole sheets of snowflakes in my father’s freezer. We barely had room for meat and ice cream. It was a magnificent world of colour. Snowflakes resembled sculpted diamonds more than mere flakes of frozen water.
“The more I witnessed the intricate detail and contemplated the sheer abundance of beauty and that no snowflake is ever the same, I—I don't know. I had to make what I saw, real. I had to bring out the snowflake in everything I saw. Soon I wasn’t just painting snowflakes in their micro detail. I was carving them. My mother even let me carve falling snow into her bedpost.
“But I could never get the snowflakes right, you see. Always a detail out of place. Always a failure to catch them on canvas or on wood falling as they do so gently. They possessed some other quality I could not see, even as I studied them closer than most people—no one in the world looks at a snowflake trapped on velvet through a microscope, photographs them, and works for weeks painting their features. And so I was alone in this endeavour. And I loved that I was. But no matter how much detail I managed to capture in my paintings. I could never get at the source—that something beyond the flake that made it so, well, wonderful.”
Here he trailed off for a few moments, caught in his thoughts, running his hands along the kitchen table, which was itself a snowflake. And then, almost sadly he resumed his story.
“And I became famous for painting snowflakes,” he said in a burst of new energy. “I was still quite young. And the stardom stunned me really. I didn’t care for it—the stardom I mean. I just wanted to be about my work. I took long trips into the Sierras to collect snowflakes. I’d spend weeks there alone. Even whole winters. I flew to Iceland to compare snowflakes. I trekked into the remote mountains of the Himalayas just to get at the high eastern snow.
“One of my early benefactors owned a rather ostentatious home in the Sierras and he let me use it whenever I pleased. And so I pleased. Often, I pleased. I spent winters there capturing snowflakes. But then odd people wanted to franchise my work. They wanted my snowflakes on stamps, in the lobbies of skyscrapers. On greeting cards. The money came in as my soul went out.
“And I fell into it. I did. I bought the lie of the marketplace. ‘Oh Turner, this is reality,’ they’d say. All my supposed friends. How else was I supposed to live and be an artist? ‘Ah yes, I see that,’ I’d respond. And so, I took the money. I attended the parties. I imbibed in the lifestyle of opioids and drink. I kept close circles of friends. Friends who were the who’s who of the art world, the music world, the acting world.
“You know how it is, justifying behaviour to satisfy your own desire. There really is no easy answer—at least not to my questions about the life of an artist and commerce. Keeping yourself pure impoverishes while enjoying the spoils leads to debauchery—a fornicating of your gift. And of course, we all love the fornication, and who loves poverty? So, there is no easy answer—but maybe there is. Debauchery!”
He raised his bowl of soup with both hands, shouting the word at the top of his lungs, laughing at himself. Then he returned to his story and energy.
“I spent less and less time in the mountains. I stopped collecting snowflakes. I stopped … I just stopped.”
He looked at me with distant eyes. They looked past me to the granite wall of the mountain.
“That’s what fornication does,” he said, his somber tone returning. “It makes everything just a thing to have, to consume, to destroy. It’s not really the pleasure fornication brings, it’s the possession. Yes, yes! The possession of things and people. And quickly how quickly we ourselves find ourselves possessed. I did at least.
“And mother. Poor mother. How I must have broken her heart. And for such a long time too. She was always quoting great thinkers to me. Mostly poets. But nobody likes poets these days. Too pointless, eh? Too, well, they take too much time to read and understand. Patience!
“She always warned me of the sick world. Buber—yes Buber, the Jewish philosopher. He was one of her favourites. You know him? She quoted him. The sick world of the machine. ‘Turner don’t lose yourself and your relationship with the world,’ she’d say. ‘If you don’t keep your relationships with those close, with the world of nature, with the spiritual world, you’ll get sick and you’ll find yourself cut off. You’ll stagnate and end up living a swamped life in the stench of crushing doom.’
“Boy my mother had a flare, she did. And my father too, though his was more silent. I’d find him up in the middle of the night, after the briefs and cases, the home stuff and dinner, the cleaning and whatnot, and he’d sit at his canvas in the old attic and he’d paint—dark beautiful paintings, rich with the coursings of life. He never knew I watched through the door crack.
“He was keeping his soul connected, you see. He didn’t let his profession get at him. I see that now. Sure, he was stuck and made choices to keep himself there—namely the luxury of convenience and money, but I did see him go after the glory. Though he struggled with the tension of the mechanisms of the world, he did not get sick with it like so many of us do.
“But my mother, she got sick. But not the existential kind, here. The real kind. But that’s another story.
“Anyway. One morning I woke up in a strange place. I’d forgotten where I was. I woke up and didn’t know myself. I was sick—the existential kind, you see, and I felt it all through my veins. I ran out of the house, fell into my pick-up still half-drunk, and drove to the mountains.
“I kept all my mountain gear in the back of my truck. I’d stuffed it into large duffels, tucked out of sight. When I arrived at my old familiar trailhead I slipped on my boots, my fleece and heavy canvas coat. I grabbed my canvass and easel and I trudged deep into the mountains. The snow was still fresh, the sky blue.
“But by the time I reached a spot to rest, the weather changed. A storm moved in. Distant thunder rolled. And a heavy light snow began to fall. I stood and stared up at the sky breathing. Just breathing. I closed my eyes and listened to the snowfall—a hush upon the land. Upon me.
“I sobbed there in the mountains. Like a boy, I wept. That boy peeking through the door crack watching dad in wonder and mystery. And then I set up my easel and began to paint. No velvet, no ice chest, just me and the snowfall and my eyes. My fractured eyes. ‘Keep your eyes pure,’ she’d say, sweet mother. ‘They are the lamp of the body. If they’re good, your whole body will be full of light.’
“Like I said, he loved quoting great thinkers. That one was Jesus himself. Who knew he and Ruskin were such close philosophical friends!”
Turner laughed a hearty laugh and kept on, almost in a rhythm all his own.
“And so I closed my eyes and painted. I opened them and looked up and painted. I painted until I no longer felt my fingers. All the light in the world rushed into my eyes. But not my pupils, you understand. The eyes inside of me. The one that really counts. That connects my brain and my passion.
“And then I saw …”
And then he stopped. During the entire duration of his story, his hands flew here and there. And his eyes never settled. Until that moment. He stopped and looked wide-eyed at Aylin.
He spoke to Aylin. But she said nothing. He pushed away from the table and fell over in his chair. He scrambled to his feet and pushed himself against the kitchen counter with such force that it shook the windowpane. He looked frightened or something else, I couldn’t tell.
Aylin just stood up and looked at him. Her expression did not change.
“You,” he said again, covering his mouth with his right hand, whispering the word.
“Don’t I know you?” he said staring blankly at her with a hushed voice. “Didn’t I see you that morning, up in the mountains, above Truckee? Yes, yes. Didn’t I see you hiking that day?” He waved his hand at her frantically half-pointing at her, half-trying to wipe her away from his reality, all the while whispering, “You … you.”
Aylin looked down to the floor, shy, but did not dissuade him from telling his tale.
“Yes—yes, it was you I saw in the mountains. I saw you walking through the snow. And then I saw the most wonderful thing.”
His eyes darted to me, then back to Aylin.
“I—I started to follow you. At that moment. That moment of light and clarity, my fingers freezing. I followed you. I left my canvas there, in the snow. And you didn’t know I was following you. Or at least I thought as much. And then I watched you walk into the wind. I knew it was windy because the snow was whipping up all around me.”
Turner spoke now in a frenzy.
“And as I saw you walk into the whipping snow, you … you, disappeared. And I never saw you again. But I’ll never forget your look—your hair, and your eyes. Even from a distance, I could see them. Yes, such black hair and blue eyes, your slight frame—unmistakable against the backdrop of the snow-covered trees. And then you were gone. Gone! My sickness, gone too—and then you vanished! And now here you are, standing in my cottage. I know you, don’t I?”
Turner shook. His outstretched arm trembled.
Aylin lifted her head once more but said nothing. Her smile spoke louder than words.
“Did you know I was following you? You did! Didn’t you? I thought you were an angel. I thought God came down to see me and took the form of a faerie, an angel—if only to give me some kind of mercy, to find me in the deep chaos of my life and pull me from that dark pit—as Mother used to say. All kinds of thoughts raced through my mind.
“I told my mother about you later that day and she told me who you were, or rather what she thought I saw. ‘My sweet Turner,’ she said. ‘Beauty herself visited you on the mountain,’ she said. ‘Like Venus from the ancient stories of the Greeks.’ I told her she was crazy. ‘That is a legend—a made-up story from your people,’ I said.
“But she did not respond with argument—and not because she was sick and dying, but because she knew you. She told me to search inside of my heart and to try to listen to it. But I broke down and told her my heart was not speaking to me anymore. So, she told me I needed to leave California and find it. And so, I did.”
“That is how I came here. And have lived here ever since. Digging into mountains looking for my heart. Capturing the snowflakes trying to capture their true beauty. Praying, hoping, desiring to see the girl on the mountain—to see Beauty. To see, You.”
Here Turner fell to his knees. He kept muttering, “To see you. To see you. To see You.” He held onto the porcelain sink to balance himself. He was overcome with emotion. Like he’d just received the lottery. Or been given the cure for cancer. Or some epiphany outside of himself. Then, he began to wail.
“Oh, it is You!” he sobbed, filling the cottage with his cries. “You. You!”
He laughed and cried and held on to the sink heaving with such an outburst of passion I wanted to help him. I stepped towards him, but he waved me off, crying now like a lost child.
“Turner are you okay,” I asked. “Can I help you?”
I thought he was sick or having some kind of mental breakdown. I mean, all these years in the mountains capturing snowflakes? Researching the dark wind—or something. He was losing it. Calling Aylin “Beauty incarnate.” His mind was gone.
He just held his hand up to me, keeping me at bay, moaning and biting his bottom lip. I turned to Aylin. She looked at Turner with the love of a sister who’s finally been reunited with her estranged brother. She stood with her bowl cupped in her hands, smiling at Turner. Then, she took another sip of the warm broth and set the bowl down. She stepped toward Turner. He held his hand up again. This time with vigour. Fingers pointing and shaking.
“Please no. Please do not come to me. Do not come near me,” he insisted and bent away from her, hiding his face.
But he did not deter Aylin. She eased to the floor and slid softly into him. She wrapped her arms around him even though he lurched away from her. She held him with strong arms and buried her face into his back. He bent over her embrace and cried all the more. I watched in unbelief.
She whispered into his ear. And he cried, then laughed, and smiled. Then he turned awkwardly in her arms and she pulled his face into her chest and held him tighter.
“It’s you, it’s you,” he kept saying.
And then I heard her speak to him with such a tone as one rarely hears in this world. It was above a whisper, but barely. She spoke in a language I didn’t understand. And almost the translation of it would ruin it—if I could ever translate it. It was the sound and the fury of the words spoken that struck me with a harsh blow, words hidden by translation.
But their cadence, rhythm—it was a teaching sound and guide. A clarion call that spoke to a place inside Turner that transformed him before my eyes. A call I too heard but pushed hard against.
For it stirred in me visions of my childhood, fragrances of my past, delights from my twenties. In a flash, I remembered my great grandmother’s face when she’d tell me about Tahoe and the west. All the snow, and the painter they’d discovered. It reminded me of all the safe places I loved as a kid, and the early magic of friendships found.
And yet, for some reason, I did not embrace this feeling. It was everything I wanted, but I refused it to myself.
Turner bent in like a child and laughed upon the sound of her words. But my heart did not receive them. Instead, I backed away from the two who were embraced on the floor. Back towards the fire and the painting. I felt rage welling up in me. Bitterness came too, at the sound of her words.
I set my bowl of soup on the mantle and backed into the beaten leather chair that sat next to the fire. I sat down and found the fire with my eyes and thoughts and did my best to drown out her words with angry thoughts.
I sat entranced by the fire. Her sound grew faint.
Then I felt a touch on my shoulder.
“Are you listening to the song of the fire, Will? It is wonderful, is it not?”
“I don’t hear a song, Aylin. I don’t hear anything.”
I could feel my words thud out of my mouth like waterlogged planks hitting cement. I felt bad because I knew how they sounded, and I didn’t want to talk to Aylin like that. I wasn’t sure why, I just didn’t. I wanted to love their conversation, and the moment Turner had, or at least a part of me did. But something familiar and bitter rose up in me.
“Where is Turner?” I added.
“I am here. You’ve been humming and staring into the fire for some time now.”
“Yes, Will. You have. Are you feeling okay?”
I looked at Aylin’s hand on my shoulder, then over to Turner. He sat cross-legged on a chair at his snowflake table, teacup in hand. He looked subdued, different. And I hated him for it.
There is very little you hear when anger finds its way into your mind. At least, that’s the way of it for me. And when it does find its way into your mind, it does so like a snake, really. Slithering and coiling itself into that dark corner—the corner you thought was filled with something else, something worthwhile. But there it is, agitating you with its hiss and rattle.
That’s what I heard when Aylin asked me if I was listening to the song in the fire. No, I was not listening to the song in the fire. What is that, anyway?
All I could hear was the corner hiss. The rattle of envy and hum of bitterness.
Somewhere in Turner’s telling of his dramatic tale, I lost interest.
I remember losing interest when my sister, Sara, would tell her great stories about everything she did at college and how pleased she was about her grades and how she made all these friends that were no doubt “friends for life.”
—How arrogant, I thought.
But I didn’t know what was arrogant about it. That was just my cover for that feeling of jealousy that would come on me. I didn’t know what to do with that feeling, so I let it fester.
I always talked bad about Lenny on the football team because he played so well, and he shrugged it off like he couldn’t believe his good fortune.
—Of course, you played well, look at you. You’re strapped like an ox and run like a deer. Why are you so surprised?
I was the guy who’d tell my friends, “I totally botched that algebra test.” And I had the D to prove it. Lenny was the guy who’d say he botched the algebra test and come to find out he got a 91.
That’s not a botch. That’s an A, not a D. That was Lenny, though. And I hated him for it. His false attempt to be just like everyone else—it got to me. Lenny wasn’t like everyone else. He was great at football, a math whiz and all the girls wanted him as their prom date.
Not sure what it was about people who I thought led a charmed life, but I couldn’t let them have their epiphanies. I didn’t want them to have their moment. I couldn’t be happy for them. No. I seethed. And hated them for coming into the light.
And that’s what rose in me while Turner told his story. I couldn’t get past his A, all the while I sat there and listened, holding tightly to my D. And as I watched the fire and listened to Aylin dribble on about the song of the fire nonsense, I only heard Lenny’s false claims about botching his test.
And yet, despite the hiss and the dark corner and botched test, a part of me, maybe asleep in another corner, or maybe waking, I don’t know, something in my mind wanted to listen to Aylin, and ask her what she meant.
—What song? Was it something real. Something from your “world”? Or are you just being your dramatic poetic self?
I wanted to know, but I also wanted to run out of the cabin or cottage or whatever it was, and find a path, any path, and take my chances of getting into town. If I could find the road, I could make it. I just needed to push past Turner and his great moment of epiphany and get up the ridge. From there I could see where I needed to go, I was sure of it.
Aylin touched me again, and it set me off. I rose up with a kind of violence and broke away from her touch. And I grabbed my coat.
Turner stood up. “What are you doing?”
—I’m leaving, can’t you see? I thought it but said nothing.
Turner looked at Aylin, and so did I. But Aylin made no move to stop me. She just looked down at her bowl of soup.
“Please, you don’t have to leave. If something’s wrong, we can talk about it—I love talking, and I can make bread and we can …”
I cut Turner off by walking past him and the table and opening the front door. The snow still blew in the darkness. I looked out, then looked back at the two people who’d entered my life unannounced and unwanted, and I pulled my hat over my ears and walked outside. I was leaving, and neither of them made a move to stop me. They didn’t plead with me to stay. And that fed the hiss.
I stepped out and let the door slam behind me.
To be continued …
Join me for the next instalment: “Chapter 10—Of Thunder and Hell.” Not a subscriber? You can sign up for free.
Have you been reading this modern myth, as well as my other posts, and decided you’d like to be all in? Join our little beauty rebellion for as little as $4.99 a month, with new members-only perks coming in 2022. This “forever” offer ends December 31st, so don’t delay.