Excerpt from Phases of Gage; After the Accident Years, a novella based on the life of Phineas Gage.
Phineas is aboard the Witch of the Wave with his parents and sister, Phoebe. The ship is beginning to move through Boston Harbor. It will be traveling down the eastern seacoast to Chagres. From there, the family will cross the isthmus to Panama City and board a steamer bound for San Francisco.
As familiar territory fades from view, Phineas is feeling queasy. He reminisces about what he’s left behind.
Everything changed that day, four years ago, when I became a freak, The Man with his Brains Blown Out.
When I think about Caroline, my insides get agitated. In happier times, we dreamed of our children. I hadn’t realized how fortunate I was when I was just a man, with a girl, working for our future.
Longing and loss shoot through my heart, searing me. I blink back tears. Viewing undulating ocean swells through distorted vision doesn’t help my mood or my wily guts!
I remember a Sunday afternoon like it is perfectly preserved in an unblemished piece of golden-tinged amber. We wandered off by ourselves, walking over the hill to a peaceful meadow, out of sight of the picnic and games. Caroline discovered a patch of Quaker Ladies flowers, tiny things with four white petals and a sunny center. We set to work picking some when she asks me how many children I think we’ll have.
“Coming from a large family,” I said, “I think I’d like not so many that the middle ones are forgotten in the pack.”
She giggled saying she agreed. I chose a flower, twirling it by its stem, sniffing its delicate perfume, “What would you name our first born?” I wanted to know. I reached over, plucking the pins from her hair, watching it tumble over her shoulders. She looks like she used to when she was a girl. Her smile sets my heart a flutter.
Her eyes sparkle, “I think I should like to name her, Susan.”
“Susan!” I was surprised. “You are wishing for a girl first?”
“Yes, silly, girls are a great help around the home. She will watch the other little ones when I am laboring with the next.”
“Come here,” I said. She leaned toward me. I embed the flower stem in her loose hair so it stays in place. “Here’s to the first,” I said, kissing her. For every child we named, I added a flower, following it with a kiss. We’d be breeding like rabbits if the Quaker Ladies were a prediction of our fate!
Before we started back, a gnat flew into my eye— the left one. The hurt that the tiny bug caused was out of proportion to its size. Caroline sat me down. While pulling my lower lid away, she dabbed with a corner of her handkerchief.
“For such a big, handsome man you yowl and complain like a baby,” she observed with good humor.
When she’d gotten the critter out, she wiped at the tears running down my face, kissing the injured eye, then the other one for good measure. I had to thank her for her kind and gentle services… It was difficult to stop thanking her! But a gentleman doesn’t keep pestering a lady once she’s called a halt.
Having Caroline to myself for that space of time, I was itching to finish saving for our farm and for us to be married! The need for money was what had sent me up Cavendish way to work on the railroad.
A chilly wind crawling beneath my jacket brings me back to my place and time. Looking over the Atlantic waters, my mind conjures up my beloved. She stands beside me, her elbows on the deck rail. She leans into the wind. Her eyes are closed but she is wearing a broad smile. “Every day is a new adventure!” she exclaims.
Turning toward me, her long, loose hair, behaves like fine autumn grass overcome by a dust devil. The Quaker Lady blossoms that I placed there come away, pelting my face with such force that they sting like blasting rubble.
My stomach is tight and sour, jumpy. Saliva, like hot water condensing along the sides of a glass pot, seeps into my mouth, filling the crevices below my tongue.
It occurs to me, with finality, that I will never be a father, now. That dream is as dead as my relationship with Caroline.
I hug the rail, opening my mouth, letting my guts erupt.
*Fan fiction. A continuation of The Age of Adaline (movie) story.
New Year’s Eve 2015
“Wow!” Ellis beams as Adaline strides into the room draped in a floor-length golden gown.
“I just need a zip,” she says, presenting her back to Ellis. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Adaline turns to her daughter.
“I’m positive,” Flemming says, “I’ve got my date right here.” She bends down to pick up the tiny King Charles puppy near her feet.
Adaline leans in to place a kiss on Flemming’s weathered cheek, “Love you,” while she gives the puppy an affectionate pat.
“Love you too,” Flemming replies.
“I forgot my clutch…and my camera,” Adaline calls over her shoulder. She heads back down the hallway. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she does a double-take. Adaline reaches up near her temple to pluck at a single gray hair.
Holding the strand between her fingers, she marvels at its significance. Adaline doesn’t look a day over twenty-nine. She’s been that way since 1937.
“Adaline, you OK?” Ellis calls.
Smiling thoughtfully, she whispers, “Yes…perfect.”
Ellis holds out Adaline’s cloak and helps to settle it in place. He grins at Flemming, “Don’t wait up.” Flemming holds out a hand. He grasps it and gives it a brief squeeze.
He ushers Adaline toward the door.
“What are you two up to?” Adaline wants to know.
“Nothing! Have a wonderful evening, Mama.”
In the taxi, Ellis pulls Adaline close to his side. He kisses the top of her head then inhales her scent, “Mmm… you always smell so good.”
Adaline purrs a response, “I think that you are the most handsome man that I’ve ever known.”
He chuckles, “That’s because you’ve got love colored glasses on.”
“Maybe,” she reaches for him. It’s something she likes to do whenever they are alone in the dark.
Ellis captures her roaming hand, holding it still. He doesn’t want her to discover the surprise he’s got hidden. They arrange themselves comfortably for the forty-minute ride to the Fairmont.
He focuses on appearing relaxed, though his toes are tapping inside his dress shoes. He leans his head back against the neck rest and closes his eyes, leaving them open in thin slits. The city lights become rainbow-colored starbursts moving through his vision.
He is sure of her, now…mostly. It’s funny how familiarity numbs astonishment. His lips curve when he remembers this time last year. He was newly in love and adapting to all of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Adaline. Her true age, her seventy-eight-year-old daughter, and her name.
It was his dad who first figured out her mystery. He called her Adaline the moment he laid eyes on ‘Jenny.’
Ellis had brought Jenny home for the weekend to celebrate his parent’s fortieth wedding anniversary. His father, William, couldn’t stop staring.
“Adaline was my mother,” she’d explained, flustered.
“The resemblance is extraordinary. We were very close.” William kept repeating as he recounted the details of his first meeting with Adaline near London in the 1960s.
The following day, William noticed a scar on Jenny’s hand. Jenny failed to recognize the state of panic that his observation triggered.
“I’m going out for a walk,” she told him.
Once she was gone, William tore into the garage to frantically search through dusty boxes. Standing there like a statue, he held a faded photograph of the two of them. A bandage on her hand concealed seven stitches that he’s sewn over fifty years ago.
Jumping in his suburban, William raced after her. He found Jenny, alone, on the dirt road a few miles from the house. “Adaline!” he yelled as he got out of the car.
She halted, regarding him with concern. ” William, are you alright?”
“No! I’m not alright ─ I know.”
“What? ─” her face turned ashen. She started to shake.
He grabbed her hand, pointing at the scar. “It is you. I couldn’t forget that!” he ground out through labored breaths.
“Oh, William,” she cried softly.
His hard expression softened. He stepped closer, tipping her chin so that he could examine her face, “How? How is this possible?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is this why you left me?” His unruly eyebrows steepled.
She nodded, her brow furrowed. “I can’t tell you how painful that was.” Adaline’s voice sounded distraught.
“Oh, I know something about that,” he replied gruffly, “I was on the verge of proposing.” William looked puzzled as he continued to lightly trace the contours of her face.
Adaline closed her eyes. He could tell that she was holding back tears. “I wanted to stay with you, William, but I… just… couldn’t.”
He pulled her against him, cradling her in his arms. “I would have protected you if you had trusted me.”
She nodded, crying harder, “I know…”
William pulled away. Digging in his pocket, he brought out a handkerchief. Handing it to her he said, “Here, sop it up, Della.” His weak smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I take it that you make a habit of running?”
She nodded, still dabbing at her face. “It’s the only way to stay safe. I don’t usually get involved with people or put down roots. You were the first man I loved after my husband died. That was in 1937. Ellis is the second.”
“That’s a long time. Do you have anyone that you confide in?”
Adaline pressed the cloth to her eyes as a fresh wave of grief washed over her. William reached out to steady her.
“My daughter. She is the only one who knows.”
“You have a kid?” he was surprised.
Adaline chuckled, “She’s older than you are, Will.”
Blinking rapidly, he took a step back, “Ellis,” he sighed.
Her eyes widened. William could see that a flight reflex had been engaged. Clutching at her arms he pleaded, “Adaline, don’t go! Don’t do that to my son!”
Wrenching away, Adaline darted into the woods. She ran like rabid wolves were nipping at her heels. Maybe they were.
Ellis Holds On
Right now, in the prime of their lives, they are perfectly matched. They are well educated, cultured and confident. Will we stay that way? Ellis wonders.
He thinks about Flemming and her troubled story of the time when she and her mother switched relationship roles in public. Will I do that with Adaline?
Arriving at their destination, they hurry up the steps to avoid the evening drizzle. They wait among other party goers for an elevator, “The entire world celebrates your birthday,” Ellis grins down at her.
“Don’t remind me,” Adaline says with sarcasm.
They step into the small square space. Adaline moves to the back to make room for the others who will follow. Surprised to see that they are the only passengers to load, she catches Ellis’s movement as he passes a bill to the attendant. They hear complaints as the double doors glide shut.
Adaline looks at Ellis suspiciously, “You’ve been acting funny all day, what are you hiding?”
Taking both of her hands he says, “I wanted this birthday to be more memorable than most.” He reaches into his pocket, pulling out a small black velvet covered box. He hears Adaline suck in a breath.
Ellis’s hands shake, uncertainty suddenly grips him, but he forges ahead. Going down on a knee, he says, “Adaline Bowman, will you marry me?” The lid makes a cracking sound as he opens the tiny package. Resting on a pillow of white satin twinkles a large square cut emerald framed by rows of tiny diamonds.
Adaline remains silent, but stands there alternately looking at him and then down at the ring.
“Well?” Ellis says.
“Aren’t you going to answer?”
She leans down placing a hand alongside his face, “Sweetheart, you are magnificent.”
“And?” he squeaks.
“That,” she indicates the ring, “is magnificent.”
“Adaline! Are you going to say, ‘no?’” Ellis can’t keep the tinge of desperation out of his voice.
“No,” she shakes her head, eyes sparkling.
His forehead wrinkles and he stands, “No as in ‘no’ you don’t want to get married, or ‘no’ as in yes you will?”
The doors of the elevator open to reveal the couple still locked in a passionate embrace.
“Aw, common, get a room!” someone comments. Adaline thrusts out her left hand, flashing her ring and wiggles her fingers. “Oh! They must have just gotten engaged,” a female voice says.
Ellis and Adaline exit to a small round of applause.
They spend the evening lost in a bubble of contentment broken only by intermittent congratulations and well wishes from people they know.
They are swaying to the music of a slow dance when Adaline says, “Ellis, there’s something that I need to ask.”
“Uh oh, I can tell by your tone that it’s something serious.”
“You do know me,” she demurs. “This is going to sound strange.”
“Now you’ve got me worried.”
“Would you…” Adaline bites her lower lip and glances away.
“Come on, it can’t be that bad,” Ellis encourages.
“Would you adopt Flemming?”
“What?” Ellis barks out laughing. Seeing Adaline’s hurt look, he reigns in his mirth as quickly as it escaped.
“I don’t want her to feel left out when we tell her the news.”
“I love you, Adaline,” Ellis says tenderly. “We can do whatever you want. Whatever Flemming wants.”
Adaline Chips at the Ice
Ellis mentions that his dad is going to an astronomy conference in Greece, so Adaline makes a trip out to their place to see if she can negotiate a truce.
The smile on Kathy’s face dies the instant she sees its Adaline. “Go away!” she snarls while retreating to close the door. Adaline plants a hand in the center, leaning on it with most of her weight.
“You have to deal with me if you don’t want to lose your son.”
“First my husband! And now my son! What kind of a monster are you and why are you stalking my family?”
“I had no idea they were related. Both were chance meetings. But I’m in love with Ellis now, and I’m not going away.”
“What are you?” Kathy’s asks rigidly.
Adaline’s tone quiets, “Honestly, I don’t know ─ I’m just a woman for whom time has stopped.”
They stand staring at one another. Adaline is the first to speak, “I can see that you have questions. I’ve spent lifetimes running from those, but no more. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
Kathy sighs, stepping back, “Come in,” she says reluctantly. “I’m sure you can understand that I don’t want my son to be hurt.”
“I’m not planning to hurt Ellis.”
“You did a number on William…”
“That was a different time ─ a different me. The only option I could see, then, was to leave.”
“I can’t wrap my head around the idea that you’ve stopped aging,” Kathy frowns.
“It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not, it’s true. William accepts it as fact.”
“Well ─ I consider William’s viewpoints, but I form my own opinions.”
Adaline looks down, hiding a smile. “I can see why he fell for you.”
Kathy opens her mouth to say something, then changes her mind. After a few moments of silence, she says, “You know, Adaline, if what you say is true….and I still think that’s a big ‘if’…. there are a lot of people who’d like to get what you’ve got.”
“I suspect you’re right,” Adaline replies, picking nervously at pills on her sweater. “But it’s not as glamorous as it seems. Youth and beauty are meaningless if everyone you love moves on without you. I’ve lived decades wishing that I could grow old like everyone else.”
It was very late by the time Adaline drove back to the city. She’d stopped along the way to phone Ellis so he wouldn’t worry. They’d had a terse conversation about the last time she’d been on this route at night. He suggested that she find a hotel and finish the trip in the morning.
“No, I promise I’ll be careful. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
Her key was barely in the first lock when the door opens under her hand. Ellis pulls her to him. She strokes his back reassuringly. When Adaline can get a word in, she says, “See? I told you that I’d be alright.” She winks. “It’s extremely rare for lightning to strike twice.”
Ellis growls, leading her toward the bedroom. Once inside, he kisses her, hard. Lips, teeth, tongues, and facial hair mash in a ravenous welcome. Between words of love, they peel off clothes. Moaning with arrested desire, they stoke the fire that readily ignites. They move in an arousing dance as old as time.
When the storm of intensity is expended, the lovers remain entwined, gently caressing and kissing. Ellis asks about the meeting with his mother.
“She’s a tough nut,” says Adaline. “We spent a long time talking, but I couldn’t guess what she was thinking.”
“She’s always been that way. When she’s bent-out-of-shape, it takes a long time for her to work her way out of it. It sounds like you made it past the front door…” he comments dryly.
“At first, she didn’t want to talk at all, but I told her that if she didn’t want to lose you, we had better make peace.”
“I’m a mother too, I know how to aim punches.”
“You are such a bad ass,” Ellis says before leaning down to capture her lips. A leisurely love-making session sparks to life.
Later, they get up for a snack of crispy red grapes and a variety of Sonoma County cheeses. Chilled glasses of wine, cultivated in the same region, accompany the simple fare. Adaline continues her recap, “Eventually, her curiosity outweighed her annoyance when we started discussing the changing roles of women in society since the 1920s.”
“Not surprising. She’s Dean of Women’s Studies at Stanford. I’m sure she’s the reason that I am interested in history.”
“Having a career like that and raising two children ─ that’s impressive.”
“That’s my mom,” he states proudly. “Do you think she was thawing by the time you left?”
Adaline shakes her head, “I don’t know. She was quiet…thoughtful.”
Ellis sighs. “I’ll call her in few days to see if anything’s changed.”
Kathy hadn’t been speaking to her son. Ellis knew that she’d been frosty and cross with his dad too.
He is understandably nervous as he waits for his parents to arrive. He’s finished construction on his apartment, but since the engagement, they’d been adding on a connecting unit for Flemming, complete with every geriatric safety accouterment available.
When the doorbell rings, he plasters on a smile and goes to greet them. “Mom! Dad! Thanks for coming! Please, some in.”
“Hi, son,” his father grabs him in a bear hug. “It’s good to see you!”
His mom stands on the threshold looking like she isn’t sure if she will cross. “Hey, Mom,” Ellis says quietly, waiting.
She reaches out to cradle his face between her hands. “My baby,” she whispers.
“I’ve missed you,” his voice cracks.
She gives him a dubious smile. A single tear falls.
Once he’d given them a tour and explained everything that has been remodeled, they arrive at Flemming’s space. “What’s this?” his mom asks when she notices the handle grips near the commode. “It’s kind of you to be planning for us, but I don’t think we’ll be needing anything like this for a while.”
“Ahhh….” Ellis raises a hand up to scratch the back of his neck. “It’s not for you. It’s for Flemming.”
“What?” his mom looks confused. “Who is Flemming?”
Ushering them out and back toward the kitchen, Ellis attempts to salvage the situation, “Let me get you something to drink. You guys go relax in the living room while I take your bags to my room.”
Ellis returns to find his parents standing near the breakfast bar in the middle of an intense, but hushed exchange. “Hey, guys,” he calls with false cheer. He pours himself a cup of whiskey, then joins them. “So, I have some big news…”
“Oh, God, no!” Kathy cries.
Ellis compresses his lips, goes to his mom, puts an arm around her shoulders, and walks her to the couch. “Mom,” he begins once they are seated, “nothing you say or do will change the fact that I am in love with Adaline.”
He looks to his dad for help. William shakes his head. Ellis stands and approaches his father, “Dad, do you share Mom’s feelings about my relationship?”
William seems perplexed, “No ─ I completely understand. I loved her once, hell, a part of me will always be fond of Adaline. But what she and I had is long gone.” He pulls a footrest over so that he can sit directly in front of his wife. He says, “Remember our favorite Robert Browning quote? ‘Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. It’s the last of life, for which the first was made’… Kathy, you and I are written in permanent ink. We’re unshakable, babe. You don’t have to protect me or Ellis from Adaline. She’s not dangerous, she’s just lost.”
“Oh, William,” Kathy sighs. She leans forward to press her lips against his.
Ellis takes a long sip of his whiskey as he lets the dust settle. A knock sounds at the door, followed by, “Hellooooo!”
Fleming comes in. She has a shopping bag in one hand and Deer’s leash in the other. The little Prince Charles prances delicately in front of her. “Ellis! I found a few more things that I wanted to drop by for the apartment.” She stops when she spots his guests, “I’m so sorry to interrupt, I didn’t realize…”
“That’s alright!” Ellis exclaims taking the bag and leading her toward his parents. “Guys, this is Flemming. Flemming, I’d like you to meet my parents, William, and Kathy.”
Thick silence fills the space as everyone stares. William is the first to close the gap. He stands and offers his hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, mam.”
“Oh…” she mutters, “I’ve heard so much about you.” Flemming’s concerned gaze travels over William and comes to rest on Kathy. “I can’t tell you how much I think of your son.”
The two women shake hands, “Thank you,” Kathy replies, “How do you know Ellis?”
Flemming looks to Ellis. “Do they know?”
Ellis shakes his head. He’s starting to expire.
Catching the exchange, his mom says, “Know what?”
Ellis sets his cup down, rolls his shoulders and extends to his full height. Taking a deep breath, like he is stepping in front of a firing squad he states, “I’ve asked Adaline to marry me. She’s agreed. Flemming is Adaline’s daughter…”
“Oh dear! I’ve spoiled everything,” Flemming exclaims. She presses a trembling hand to her mouth. Ellis catches her as she starts to sway. His parents help get her to the couch. She is having trouble breathing.
Kathy loosens the neckline of her blouse while William scoops up the dog to keep it out of the commotion.
Kathy feels for a pulse and asks questions, “Can you speak? Are you feeling light headed?” Over her shoulder, she directs Ellis to call 911.
Ellis and Kathy go in the ambulance with Flemming. William brings Deer and follows in the car.
Flemming is still on oxygen but resting comfortably when Adaline comes rushing in. “Darling! Are you alright?” Mother and daughter hug, hold onto each other, and cry. Adaline pulls back, “I was so worried.”
Kathy moves forward when Flemming removes her face mask, “No,” Flemming shakes her head eyeing Ellis’s mother, “I don’t need it, take it away.”
“But…” Adaline looks confused.
“Mama,” Flemming rests a hand on Adaline’s shoulder, “we both know that sooner or later my time is going to come.” Adaline squeezes her eyes closed and shakes her head. Flemming grabs her mother’s chin to still her movements, “Listen, young lady,” she says in a commanding tone.
Adaline frowns, “Hey…”
“But I don’t see you that way! I only see my little girl,” Adaline’s eyes glisten.
“I know, and I love you for that, Mama, but take a good, hard, look at me ─ I have age spots everywhere. My memory is going, my eyes aren’t what they used to be, and neither is my hearing.”
“We can get your hearing aids checked.”
“You’re missing the point. I’ve lived a full life. I don’t’ think I am going anywhere today, but when it’s time, I want you to let go.”
Adaline cries, “Never. Never.”
“You will,” Flemming states firmly, “and our new family is going to help.” She looks at Ellis and his parents. “You don’t know how happy it makes me to know that you will be there for her.”
Adaline buries her face in Flemming’s lap. Flemming strokes her hair while making soothing noises.
Ellis watches different emotions play across his mother’s face. There is a softening in her expression when she meets Flemming’s gaze.
Kathy inclines her head in answer to the older woman’s unspoken plea.
After they’ve all gotten settled and buckled in William’s car; Flemming and Deer in the front seat, and Ellis, Adaline, and Kathy in the back, Flemming asks, “Has Deer been out to tinkle lately?”
Blank looks pass between them. Ellis groans and unbuckles his belt, “I’ve got it.”
They watch in silence as he patiently follows the little dog while she chooses the perfect bush.
“I apologize for being so bitchy lately,” Kathy speaks up.
“I understand, Kath. I thought I was losing it until I figured it out,” William says.
“How did you?”
William looks into the rearview mirror. He makes eye contact with Adaline, “Dell?”
Adaline gives a stiff nod.
“Dell? As in Della?” Kathy screeches, “William! Did you name that comet after her?”
“Sheath the claws, Kathy cat.” William turns in the seat so he can look back at her, “It’s not as if I haven’t been naming heavenly bodies after you and the kids all these years ─”
Kathy crosses her arms, uttering, “Huh!”
“Back in the day,” William continues, “Adaline cut her hand. I sutured the wound. When she and Ellis were up for the weekend, I saw the scar…” He looks pointedly at his wife, “Are you going to give me grief over that too, woman?”
“Nope,” Kathy glowers back at him.
“You better watch out,” William’s voice lowers several octaves. He points a finger at her.
Adaline can’t help but notice that the edges of Kathy’s mouth turn up slightly.
“Oh no!” Flemming blurts. Everyone follows her gaze to see Ellis rolling his eyes and slapping his thigh. She digs in her purse. Flemming rolls down the passenger window and waves a blue poop bag.
San Francisco repays its residents with occasional, spectacular, days of sun ─ enough to keep her population increasing but never enough to put coats and sweaters in permanent storage.
The Chronicle of San Francisco: Church bells rang on the afternoon of June 6th, 2016 when Adaline Bowman married Ellis Jones. The ceremony was held at St. John’s church. The bride wore a stunning trumpet style gown with a sweetheart neckline. A chapel length train completed her attire. The groom looked dashing in a traditional black tuxedo with burgundy trimmings.
The groom’s father, William Jones, escorted the bride down the aisle. Kikki, the groom’s sister, was the best woman. She wore a sleeveless black three-quarter-length dress accessorized with a burgundy bow tie choker and bracelets that mimicked shirt cuffs.
The bride was attended by two matron’s of honor; the groom’s mother and the bride’s grandmother. Both of their gowns were made of jersey fabric that matched the burgundy theme.
One-hundred-and-fifty guests were in attendance. A reception was held at the Cliff House were traditional San Francisco fare was served.
When asked about honeymoon travel plans, the couple only said, “We’ll be going someplace we’ve never been before.”
The groom’s parents, however, were happy to share their second honeymoon itinerary; they will be spending two weeks in the Maldives, a week in Sri Lanka and a week in Madagascar.
One Year Later
Adaline clenches her jaw in an attempt to stifle a yawn. She leans her head against Ellis’s shoulder. He pats her thigh to encourage her to hold on just a little while longer.
He returns his attention to the speaker. “The Candace was a whaling ship that sailed into San Francisco in the 1850s. It was dismantled and used for parts in foundries and for other ships. Her story tells about the whaling industry and the development of commercial enterprise in the city. It also provides information about the Chinese workforce. Fisherman who were excluded from other jobs were employed on Spear Street….”
Adaline puts a hand on her rounded belly and whispers in Ellis’s ear, “Maybe we should name her Candace?”
“…or we could call him, Spear,” Ellis rejoins, teasing. Adaline swats his arm.
That night as they are getting ready for bed, Adaline plays a game she’s become enamored with. “I’ve gained another pound and my waist has grown by three percent.” She records this information in her pregnancy diary. “I’ve found another gray hair today. And look, Ellis! I’m starting to get crow’s feet!” she laughs in delight.
There can’t be another woman on the planet who is happier than Adaline about showing her age.
I enjoyed The Age of Adaline movie so much that I wanted to dive in deeper, crawl around inside the character’s heads. I went searching for the book. Unfortunately, this movie was not based on a book, so I satisfied my desire by writing a continuation of the story.
My boss, an old lady with butterfly glasses and a beehive hairdo, asked me to fill in one month on the morning shift.
This was a problem because I had a couple other jobs and I liked to finish late and drink beer until I couldn’t remember how poor and stupid and full of myself I was.
But she was insistent. So I found a way. I’d show up around 8 a.m. with my head aching and smelling, I’m quite sure, like I had spent the night face down in a puddle of stale beer.
Early each day I began to notice his old man in the visitors room. He was always the first one there. Always wore a white shirt and tie, combed and shaved and neat. He walked with a cane and when they opened the ward for visitors he would always check himself in the mirror. Like he was going on a date, like he wanted to look his best.
His wife of 60 years was in the ward.
She had started falling…and then started forgetting. Little things at first…misplaced keys, misplaced glasses.
And she would ask him, ‘What did I do with them? Would you remember that for me?’
Then one day she got lost coming home from the grocery store. And then a week later he found her lost and frightened in their own cellar.
He took her to a doctor finally and listened as the doctor explained that the past…every bit of it …would eventually disappear.
He tried and wrestled with the doubt and guilt but it became clear in a few months that he could not care for her.
So he found this place at the edge of the Hereafter, sold their house and took an apartment as near as he could.
He made all the arrangements, all the time fighting down the growing panic at the thought of being apart.
When he signed the papers and walked her in, he felt like a traitor to every secret vow a man’s heart can make to itself.
I was there that day mopping the floor. He was stricken…with loneliness I suppose and dread. I saw it in his face, though I’m sure I didn’t understand what I was seeing. How could I?
What did I know at 17 of having your heart cleaved in two, hollowed out at the prospect of what you know with certainty is crawling toward you?
She cried when he left that day. And without him near seemed to lose her bearings. It can happen like that…a heart can become unmoored.
And mopping the floors some nights I would hear her calling out that she didn’t know anyone or where this place was…. or even sometimes who she herself was anymore.
I would stand outside her door listening and trying to translate that kind of terror into something my 17-year-old pea brain could understand.
It was like listening to the foreign language…of loneliness.
But the old man would show up every morning…and would stand in that very spot outside her door …..steeling himself.
Day after day, he would paint a smile on his face and turn in to her room and in a loud voice brightly say good morning and how beautiful she looked again.
She would always brighten at the sight of him. Like a young girl in love for the very first time. And he would sit by her side and each morning say, “Do you know who I am?”
Somedays she would laugh and respond, “Of course…what a silly question…you think I could ever forget who I love….my husband of 60 years?”
And he would retell her things she had forgotten…a trip to the Cape each summer…the time he asked her to marry him…that first house before the kids.
Sometimes she would understand and ask, ‘We did all that?’ in real wonder. And sometimes she would not…could not understand. Like the glue of memory had gotten so old that it cracked and fell away.
“Never mind…never mind that darling,’ he would say.…’I’ll remember it for you.’
Near the end of the month, I watched him again…cane in hand, dressed like he was going on a first date, stand in that spot outside her room then, once again, turn inside. I went and stood in the spot, mop in hand and listened.
Once again he was gently asking, “Do you know who I am?”
There was no answer. And he put his face close to hers so she could see him clearly and he whispered again, “Do you know who I am?”
Her eyes searched his face trying in vain to summon some forgotten landmark in her heart she might recognize. Then she whispered to him, “ I don’t know where this place is…or who I am. I know I should…I know I should…” trying to recover what had already leaked away.
He was trying to quiet her. “Hush…hush now…it’s alright. I’m here.’
‘I know I should,’ she protested.
Then- ‘…… I don’t know your name…sir,’ all the time searching his eyes with her own. ‘..But I know …I can rely on you … I always will. I don’t know your name ….but I know who you are.’
If a heart has ears I felt mine begin to burn. I didn’t want to hear anymore. I never wanted to hear anything again. I stumbled away, back down the hallway of hereafter. I remember I threw the mop and I kicked over the bucket. What was the point. How could the world ever be clean again?
I quit that morning and I never went back.
The world is a beautiful place. It is a terrible place.
They grow together.
Scrape a sorrowful thing and you expose the beauty. Scrape a thing of real beauty and there’s always some sacrifice…some sadness at the heart of it. They require each other.
A husband and wife of 60 years facing certain loss… …makes their love not smaller but larger.
And it humbles me still to think of it…to realize how little I understand.
I was 17 …and a poor boy with only a glimmer of understanding. Standing there listening, I felt some part of me quiver…and since then that quivering, like a small earthquake only I can feel, has never stopped.
I feel it shaking some nights in my dreams. I feel it sitting wordlessly in the dark on my shoulders whispering its tremor into my sleeping heart. It tells me again and again there is something larger….something hidden at work.
And some nights it whispers to me about this life and the Hereafter. It tells me it is more beautiful and more terrible than my heart’s clay foundation can bear.
Will Maguire is a fellow short story writer whose path intersected with mine on Twitter. His stories explore the depths of human experience and have a haunting quality that lingers.
“I think I see it!” Chelsea ran ahead keeping a watchful eye on her smartphone compass. Seti, the families Irish Setter, sprinted beside the young woman barking with unrestrained joy.
Lexi and Ed paused to tighten drawstrings on their windbreakers. A brisk, grit-filled wind scoured their exposed skin. “You’ve got everything?” she asked.
“I do,” Ed nodded. Reaching into his pocket, he removed three small silver objects. He dropped two of them into the palm of her hand. Lexi thought that the high bluffs of Dover were an ideal location for today’s activities.
“This is it!” Chelsea squealed as her parents gathered around. From a small box that had been hidden in the rocks, Chelsea removed a strange oblong object. It was identical to the ones concealed in Lexi and Ed’s pockets. She read the paper it came wrapped in. “It says that if I, Chelsea, hold this and step over the edge of the cliff, I will be transported to another place.” Her eyes sparkled. When she turned her gaze to take in the open expanse, the challenge morphed into to uncertainty.
Her father stood behind Lexi gripping her shoulders. “Are you entirely certain about this, Chelsea?”
She bit her lip. Chelsea almost changed her mind. But the hard look on her mother’s face wiped that away. They’d had many arguments over Chelsea’s obsession to prove the existence of Time Travelers. In fact, she was sure that she was on the trail of one such person now. For years, she’d been getting personalized clues in every single geocache she’d located.
Chelsea approached the edge of the precipice. Without even a look back, she firmly gripped the thing in her hand and took that step.
The man, woman, and dog watched Chelsea wink out of sight. Holding their breath, they leaned over the edge of the cliff and peered down at the sharp rocks below. Not seeing a twisted and broken figure, they relaxed.
Reveling in a feeling of completion, Lexi thought of her partner. She yearned to his skin instead of his fur. Twenty-three years of parenting and observation had taken a considerable toll. She turned to Ed. Placing a hand on his shoulder; she lifted up onto her toes so that their eyes were level. Winking, she gave him a salute. Squatting down, she opened her arms to Seti. Burying her face in his coat, she whispered, “I’ve missed you!”
His immediate, silent response, And I you, Mistress, appeared in her mind.
Before she rose, Lexi slipped one of the silver ovals into the dog’s mouth. The three of them stood together, taking a moment to regard France across the English Channel. At Lexi’s nod, they winked out of sight and stepped onto the Constellation.
Lexi felt a large warm hand slip into hers and squeeze, before releasing. A voice she had not heard spoken aloud in twenty-three years inquired, “Shall I set the coordinates for home?”
Story Prompt: WriteOn weekend challenge – Bluff
Inspiration: Preliminary research for a ‘someday’ travel possibility.
United Kingdom – Dover Cliff’s Travel Information:
They pulled back at the same time. Lips puckered, hearts racing and eyes wide with surprise and desire.
He was the first to speak as he picked up a dreadlock that had fallen over her face. Rolling the dense length of hair between his fingers, he gently tucked it back into the nest that surrounded her head, “Lulu,” he laughed uneasily, “I’m sorry — I wasn’t planning that.”
When Mark made a move to step away, Lulu held him in place. Humor sparkled in her deep brown eyes, “I’m surprised Mark. I thought we were just friends…but now…” She reached up to trace the red, fern-like pattern that marked his pale skin from his ear down his neck.
As he leaned back in to capture her mouth, Lulu pulled him to her forcefully. A flash of passion flared between them. Their hands clutched at one another. She moaned wordlessly.
As an inner voice of constraint grew more insistent, Mark squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself pull away. They took a moment to let their labored breathing return to normal.
Lulu placed a hand on his cheek imploring him to look into her eyes, “I have missed you so much! I won’t let you go, Mark! I can’t ever let you go….”
Mark’s eyebrows shot up. A shiver traveled down the length of his spine. “Why did you say that?”
“I don’t know.” Lulu smiled.
Three hundred and sixteen years earlier…
Rain pelted him as he ran through the night. Mud sucked at his leather boots. He ran down the narrow path. “Mary! Mary where are you?” he screamed.
Luke knew that she’d gone down to the river to wash clothes with some of the other women from town. Lightening that lit up the dark sky was followed by a deafening crack and roll of thunder. The brief illumination revealed no signs of life, movement, or of his new wife.
They’d been married only three days earlier. Blissful days of joyful lovemaking filled his mind and heart. He couldn’t believe that she was finally his and he could love her whenever he wanted. He wished they were in their warm bed right now rather than sloshing through the wet. He would scold her for scaring him …once he found her. “Mary Darling! Can you hear me?” Another flash of light and rumble of thunder. The river finally came into view.
When he first went searching for her, asking about her here and there—her friends had told him how happy she was to be washing his clothes. Even as it started to rain, Mary had wanted to remain at the river so that she could finish her task.
“Mary!” he called out in relief as he spotted her struggling with a heavy basket. Another flash of light revealed her smile when she spotted him running toward her.
“Oh good! You can help me carry this,” her voice reached him faintly.
Luke released his breath in relief as he closed the distance between them. With a blinding flash of light that came and went faster than the human eye could track, his life path took a sharp, unexpected turn.
Mary stood frozen in place. “No!” he screamed with panic at the edges of his voice. Smoke or steam, he didn’t know which, rose up from around her hair.
Her eyes locked onto his as she began to topple.
“Noooo!” he yelled catching her in is arms, sinking down into the mud on his knees. Frantically he ran his hands over her, “Mary! Mary! Are you alright?”
A faint, raspy whisper escaped, “Lu….” before her body went limp.
“No! no ..no…no..no. This can’t be happening.” Mark repeated as he held her to him rocking back and forth.
She grew cold and stiff in his arms before he released her. Another flash of light illuminated his dead wife, her head rolled back, in his arms. An angry red, fern-like burn mark spread from her ear down her neck. “I won’t let you go Mary! I can’t ever let you go….”
Story Prompt: reddit writing prompt – a birthmark on your body is a result of you dying violently in a previous life. How did you die?