They say she’s crazy, that she’s lost her mind, her soul, because the love of her life left her. They say that after he was gone she wrote letters to him, letters that she never sent, and they say that, when she caught her maid reading the shoebox full of those letters, she started to scream and then suddenly went quiet. I guess she was so embarrassed, or maybe frightened, of what I wouldn’t know. They say she began wandering the city after that and, a few months later, her house got repossessed. Now, they say, she walks aimlessly holding a basket of flowers – dead and freshly plucked – that she pulls up from random places in the city. They say that one day she stepped onto the subway train – one man claimed she’d bought a ticket with a blood red rose – and after that nobody could find her.
It was long after the incident at the train station that I discovered her in the early morning light, wandering the alley behind my house near the beach of Staten Island, picking the dandelions growing in the cracks and crevices of the broken cement. That’s the day I took her in and gave her a Danish to brighten her face and some coffee to warm her soul.
She wouldn’t talk. I don’t know if she knew where she was, but she ate as if her body had been hollowed. I had to give her another pastry. Her shoulder blades stuck out from her back like the remaining stumps of torn-off wings and her dirty-blonde hair fell down, long and wavy, in tresses into a V reaching down to the small of her back.
But, like I said, she wouldn’t talk.
I asked her questions trying to get her to speak. I asked her where she lived, where she was from, if she had family, where she was going, why she’d been wandering the alley. I received my greatest response when I asked her why she was missing a slipper. She looked down at her naked foot and wiggled her toes, which had been kept disturbingly tidy despite their bareness. Her movement was endearing: unconcerned, innocent, sweet and slow. After this she simply looked at me, grinning, then giggled. I smiled back and decided not to ask anything else.
She was dressed in pajamas from who-knows-what-night. Despite their wear and tear they appeared sufficient, a light blue background dotted with haloes wearing wings or with wings wearing haloes, whichever way you’d like to think of it. One semi-fuzzy and very dirty bunny slipper dangled precariously from a flawless big toe. She smelled of saltwater and sand; impeccably clean and pleasurably fragrant for a homeless woman. Her scent brought back memories of walking along childhood beaches with the warm sand between my toes and that one hunt for seashells at ten years old when I found my first silver dollar. Except for the scars heartache left on her face, she glowed with a spectacular amount of energy. Around her neck hung a chain of thumbnail-sized shells strung together with a string of delicately braided angel hair seaweed. I admired the jewelry and its genuineness.
She caught me appreciating the necklace and laughed again, then nodded her head of tangled hair. When she stopped she looked around the room with the glazed eyes of a panther cub. They settled on a pencil lying next to the phone. Intrigued, I brought it to her. She grabbed the utensil excitedly and stared at the gnawed wood. She seemed content with simply sitting there admiring it, so I left her alone for a few minutes to use the restroom.
She was watching me as I came back into the kitchen; her blue eyes stared up at me like a child in need. I stood and looked at her, waiting for a sign. She broke the stare first, turning it to a scratchpad lying on the distant countertop near the phone. I fetched it and set the memo in front of her. She stared at the paper for several seconds with overwhelming interest – I suppose she was waiting for it to speak to her – but she wrote nothing down. It was sad: not even the pencil in her hand could talk. I turned my back momentarily to make more coffee (I had yet to drink my own cup). While I stood waiting for my brew I heard her shuffle in the chair. I turned to find her looking up at me, then glancing at the paper, then back to me again. I smiled. “It’s okay,” I told her. She touched the tip of the pencil to the paper. I waited in painful anxiety but the pencil didn’t move, only touched its point to the scratchpad, like a child satisfied with merely touching his mother instead of hugging her. Things were like this for a few minutes. After the first couple I gave up on watching and finished fixing my coffee then sat down at the table. Once I was seated, the pencil came to life: guided by a shaky hand, the lead tugged a centimeter to the left and stopped. It seemed she’d forgotten how to write.
They say the mind can only remember so much that’s important.
She stayed with me for the day. Once around lunchtime she followed me into the living room to watch me read. I fell asleep in the middle of Chapter 7 and, when I awoke, she was waiting patiently for me, sitting on the floor at my feet. On another occasion, when she wandered through the house alone for the first time, she had somehow gotten locked inside the hallway closet. After hearing insistent thumping from inside the walls I realized what had happened and rescued her.
Having her around didn’t make me nervous. It was nice to have the quiet, comfortable companionship of a somehow familiar stranger.
By sunset I’d gotten used to seeing her shadow stream across the walls. I wondered how long she planned on staying. Nighttime approached. The moon shone through my living room curtains like a spotlight, illuminating the mysterious scratchpad my visitor had left on the coffee table and the centimeter-long mark silently begging for completion. I looked at the lonely mark and wished she would finish it off. Or just erase it.
We watched television together. She preferred the floor to the sofa; I gave her a blanket to keep her off the cold hardwood surface. I fell asleep watching Frank Sinatra croon to a trumpet in old-time black and white…
The sound of papers fluttering in the kitchen and the cold freeze of the morning woke me. Some of the paper blew into the living room and down the hall, rustling and calling me to rise from the warmth of the couch. Scuffling into the kitchen I shivered from the intense cold. I found the backdoor wide open and the kitchen curtains waving in jovial good-mornings. Upon closing the door and hearing the click of the latch I felt a loneliness move over me: she was gone.
Although most of the paper had miraculously found a way into the hall, a single sheet captured beneath a dirty coffee mug. I picked it up, noticing the familiar one-centimeter mark. It was finished, composing the horizontal top to the ‘T’ at the start of the paragraph…
“They do not know the birds. They should know the birds. The birds understand me and they know what I am feeling. The birds can fly. They fly with me and I know that they’ll always be there flying with me. On the day the birds fly south I will fly south with them and at the end of it I will finally know what it feels like to rest and I will finally understand why I was put here and why it is that I must go. And when the birds fly north I will not fly with them because by then my wings will be broken and my will gone. I will not fly north, but stay in the south. Good day, Sir Moon. I have finally found you. I have been looking everywhere for you. Why do you not call on me? And why are you so far away, so hazy and gray and so much like the fog that disassembles me? I am disassembled…”
The rambling continued on in a similar fashion from line to line and page to page. I didn’t know what to do or think about it. I didn’t know what to do or think about her. I wondered if she would come back for more coffee this morning or the next or the next. But, after cleaning house the days whizzed by: Monday I went to work and suddenly, while washing my dishes, I stumbled upon Friday. I didn’t hear from her.
It was much later, when I went to dinner and a movie with a handsome and gentlemanly friend of mine in the city, that I noticed a familiar figure standing at the bank of a pond. We were taking a walk through Central Park after leaving the cinema, the chill of autumn pinching my cheeks carnation pink. The moon was full, lighting the city in fluorescent showers and sprinkling the river water with glitter. I kept my eye on her as my companion and I walked by. As we passed her I could hear her singing to herself a song made of the same babble I’d read before on the papers, the papers now hidden in the closet she’d once locked herself into.
“You know her?” my friend inquired, smirking and laughing all at once.
“Briefly,” I told him, consciously forgetting to mention the intimate day spent with the woman.
By then it was getting close to December. Winter was beginning to settle in as the final leaves dropped to the ground in silent surrender. The official start of the season was announced with the lighting of Christmas trees, the wearing of mittens and beanie caps, and the imitation Santas ringing their holly bells and Ho-Ho-Hoing on the street corners.
One afternoon my gentleman friend and I went ice skating in the park. We were having a comical time trying to stay on our feet. During intermissions we watched kiddies take steps onto Nature’s glass, then trip, stumble, slide, and get up again to prove gravity wrong. Everything was beautiful. I was thirty minutes into getting my balance right when I saw her again, standing at the edge of the ice, just a few dozen feet away. She’d acquired a new coat and a furry hat and a pair of snow boots since I’d last seen her, her lonesome bunny slipper long gone. She saw me see her and waved accordingly.
My friend asked me, this time without the smirk, “You know her?”
I waved to my old housemate and motioned to go to her. Before leaving I told him, “Briefly,” and smiled. “I’ll be right back.”
I more or less skidded and stumbled onto the shore, smiling at her. Her countenance had grown older since she’d stayed with me. Although she smiled with reflective welcome I gained no pleasure in her happiness as I had before. I must have looked perplexed. Taking her hands from her coat pockets, she placed both palms on my rosy cheeks like a grandmother would to a grandchild, momentarily warming my face. I breathed out and the heat from my lungs rose in the air in swirls; she watched it go up and laughed. She removed her hands from my face to pull a small purse from her pocket. I worried at first, thinking that maybe she’d stolen it from an unsuspecting donor. She saw my expression change and shook her head in rebuttal, pointing to herself and grinning proudly.
At that instant a flock of geese flew overhead, honking and squawking in familiar fashion. The nose of the fleet pointed south, toward warmth. We looked up to gawk at the sight as if we’d never seen anything like it before. Then, suddenly, she took hold of my hands and shook them anxiously, glowing at me with such excitement that I didn’t know whether to run in astonishment or do jumping jacks in celebration. Once she stopped her shaking she smiled even more fervently and looked at me, overwhelming importance dripping from her eyes. She was going to say something, I just knew, so I listened intently, staring back at her. It took a few moments, but when she was done ogling she stood up straight as a nun and nodded only once, still beaming.
“I have to go now,” she said. “Take care of my things, dear.” And she left.
“On the day the birds fly south I will fly south with them and at the end of it I will finally know what it feels like to rest and I will finally understand why I was put here and why it is that I must go…”
I took the purse home with me that evening, setting it on the coffee table that shared my pain. I made myself some tea before sitting down to examine the purse’s contents. When I was ready – when the windows were closed and the kitchen curtain was pushed back to allow the moon to shine through the frosted pane – I took a seat and opened the bag.
The first thing I pulled out was a picture of her and a man, his face worn down to nothingness by countless fingertip kisses; she was wearing a floral dress in faded creams and peaches and pinks. An Easter picnic, I guessed. I reached inside the purse again and pulled out a change wallet. It held three quarters, seven pennies, four dimes, two nickels, a diamond engagement ring and a man’s gold wedding band. I examined the diamond – it was set in either platinum or white gold (I’m no jeweler) and looked to be about a half-carat. I set the rings aside and continued digging. Only one item remained: an envelope folded into quarters, containing a letter for a man whom I guessed was the figure in the accompanying photograph. I removed the letter, handling it carefully in consideration for the feelings of the woman who had left it in my care. The letter was dated the previous spring, March, to be exact, and read like this:
I’m sorry that you had to leave me. I’m sorry that I couldn’t have done more to keep you here, but I suppose you needed to be somewhere else. I understand that. If only I could have had time to explain myself to you, maybe then you would have been able to stay longer.
I hope you found love here. I hope that you understand what love is. I know what it is for me, but maybe it’s not the same for you and maybe that’s why you couldn’t make yourself stay.
For me it is the total existence of all emotions. For all the emotions I am able to name, I can find in my memory somewhere a time when I felt that way about you. But I’m sorry for those times when I was trying too hard to make an impression upon you because, I realize now, too late, that you were already impressed with everything that I had in the first place, as little as it was.
So, all I can give you now is my love. Whether you are here or away I will love you.
I plan on seeing you again soon. I hope you’ll forgive my persistence, but I heard once that the thing people most regret is that they let the love of their lives slip away. That’s a terrible thing to regret and I refuse to stand for it.
Dear, I will see you soon enough. Don’t wait up for me.
Love, Your Wife,
They say she went crazy, but I know she never was. They say that she lost her mind, her soul, because the love of her life left her. I say she lost neither her mind nor her soul, only her desire, because when someone has learned to love completely there is nothing left to know. They say that after he was gone she wrote letters to him, letters she never sent. I know she never sent them not because she didn’t want to, but because there was no address to where they needed to go. They say that she disappeared one December evening and they say that’s when the dogs howled all night, because they watched her fly over the moon and wished her well on her trip.
I will miss Marabelle. But, even for the short time I knew her, she taught me all I need to know: love, the total existence of all emotions, unconditional, pure, real.
I keep her things in the purse and hide them in the closet with the rest of her papers. I don’t look at them anymore. I didn’t pawn the rings, didn’t keep the change. I had to make a box for her, to forget her. But, she’s hard to forget. The box sits, to this day, in my closet gathering dust. And every few months, while scrounging for something else, I stumble upon it and remember her all over again.
And full moons remind me, too, about the way she stared at it through my living room window, like a giant eye watching her. Every time it appears I wonder where she’s gone. I can’t forget her. Not yet. Why?
Because it’s Marabelle.
Did you enjoy this story? Perhaps you’d also like reading Adeline.