White Orchids

By Theresa C. Newbill

How far would you go to walk in someone else’s shoes?

My hands were soiled red and engrained with dirt as I weeded and staked tomatoes. I was living about an hour away from White Orchids then, teaching English during the day, and writing poetry at night. On weekends I’d get in the car and head for the estate by the lake, owned by my good friend Rose Barnett. She was an accommodating and enthusiastic woman but one had to be careful not to heat up her paranoia. Her husband died young, and two of her children in infancy. This misfortune had left her with an unforgiving and harsh emptiness that she subjected most of her neighbors to for she felt rejected by earth and sky.

Perhaps that was the trouble. It was in the nature of things that love and happiness could no longer be hers. But perhaps she was secretly wishing that if she attended to the raw wilderness and imperfect beauty around her, everything would be different. We cooked, cleaned, gardened and crocheted lace for two days out of the school week. Rose insisted that I stay in her room. A room that had become more her own than the rest of the house. I felt the brooding simplicity chronicle the darkness running through my veins as if the movement was of her own blood. At the same time I began to dream at night of the old house and the garden.

There was an odor of kegs and wine that mixed with the sweet scents of magnolia and hyacinths. I was inebriated and tainted by the exclusivity of the smell and the miscellaneous way it recklessly sizzled around me with splashes of color which felt like fluent greetings that lacerated the monotony. I had to make contact with that scent. Within a few yards in a corner baseboard of my bedroom I found a button. I pushed it and a hidden room revealed.

A small bar opened onto a street. The result was an indescribable chaos of musicians playing different melodies and customers prevailing with belligerent voices and rowdy conversations. There were new scents of smoke, liquor, weeds, matted earth, and wet dogs. It was a place marked by lost souls, old fires and yesterday’s memories. There were a couple of vendors advertising something they called an elixir while dominions of gypsies hid from the daylight, numb to the multicolored deposits of the sunsets.

Sliding wetly down the smoky surface of silver raindrops, were the paperless drips and splashes that percolated into wondrous forms. And I felt as if I had suddenly unveiled something magical. Did I fabricate it all? The pressure in my ears increased as I absorbed the scene around me. A beautiful white light had begun to soften all the shadows in the room.

“Rose, my love. You’ve come back.” A man said as he held out a shiny black puzzle box. He felt safe, familiar and time seemed to have grown liquid in his presence. I took the box in my hands. Rose’s reflection melted into mine.

The windows and doors slammed shut!

Now I know how she feels, especially when the journey takes me to where this man’s heart points me to follow.

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