WFOL 2024

GUESS THE AUTHOR

Match Game

A CURSE AND A BLESSING

by Vincent Peters

Vincent ran down one alley after another, searching in a frantic attempt to find Marian. Until he reached the surface that night, he had no idea how bitterly cold the winter above had become in only a few short days since their last visit.

His heart sank when he saw the frail form of an elderly woman slumped against the wall of the alley before him, shielded from the cold and snow by cardboard scraps and whatever else lay strewn about which she could make use of. He approached her cautiously and was relieved to see puffs of her breath escaping a well-worn, and nearly threadbare, scarf.

The debate in his head proved to be a short one. Bringing her food would mean nothing if she did not live to find it come the dawn. He would rather endure another lecture about rules and safety from Father, than leave her to the fate the world above had seen fit to bestow upon her.

Vincent knelt down and lifted her from the ground as gently as if he were holding a newborn in the nursery and began his walk back to the world below.

Half frozen, she slowly opened her eyes when she felt herself being carried. She was awakened not so much by having been lifted from the ground, but, more so, by the welcome feeling of warmth that emanated from this unknown benefactor.

“Who…what…” she said in a weak voice, unable to manage a simple sentence from the chill in her bones.

“Don’t be afraid, Marian. You’re going to be all right. I’m taking you to a place where you will never have to live like this ever again.”

She knew that voice. For over a year now, she had heard it speaking to her from the shadows of many of the alleys she called home. It was the voice that had eased her loneliness, brought her food, read to her, yet always remained out of sight offering only a fleeting glimpse of its owner as he came or went. When she looked up, there under the folds of a dark cloak, a youthful, if unexpectedly less than human, face smiled down at her, reassuringly in the dim light of the alley.

“Vincent?”

“Yes, It’s me.”

Her surprise at his appearance was quickly displaced by a feeling of safety and contentment, the likes of which she hadn’t known in almost fifty-nine years. “Are you an angel?”

He smiled down at her once again. “No, I’m not an angel. However, at this moment, I’m the next best thing to one.”

* * *

Marian had been living below for a year. She had heard the others talk about Winterfest, but now she could experience it firsthand. All around her were sights and sounds she had, until recently, never imagined she would ever experience again. She was a part of something again and she loved every single minute of it.

She sat taking it all in, when a familiar and friendly voice drew her attention. “How are you enjoying your first Winterfest with us, Marian?”

“This reminds me so much of my wedding day; the dancing, the music the joy of life everywhere you look. It makes me feel young again, Vincent.”

He sat beside her. “I’m glad you like it. I think this is the largest turnout for Winterfest in the last five years, by my count anyway.”

“Oh my, just look at those two,” she said with a hint of wistfulness in her voice, “dancing like that, not a care in the world, just lost in each other’s arms. My late husband and I used to dance like that. We never needed an occasion just put on a record and our little apartment became our own private dance hall.” It was at that moment that she hit him with a rather out of the blue statement. “I’ve noticed you haven’t had one dance this evening. I would imagine that a handsome fellow like you would have had a few by now.”

Vincent hesitated for a moment. “I — don’t dance.”

“Never learned how, did you?”

“I do know how. I was taught to dance by a very dear friend of mine –Lisa — but she’s gone now. Dancing only serves to remind me of that loss.”

“Were you two in love?”

“I honestly don’t know now. At the time I thought I was, and would forever be, in love with her, but now– now I wonder if I was merely in love with the idea of being in love. Now it seems that it was nothing more than the foolish dreams of a young boy with no more substance to them than the wind.”

“Her memory still haunts you, doesn’t it.”

“It can, yes.”

Marian turned to better face Vincent and took his hand. “They can be such a curse and a blessing, can’t they?”

“They?”

“Our memories.”

Vincent thought on that proposition for a moment before she continued. “Our memories remind us of who we are, who we’ve been, what we’ve had, what it all means to us put together. That’s their blessing.”

“And the curse?”

“They also remind us of what we had but don’t have anymore and those memories of loss can turn into a boat anchor if we let them. When I lost my Russel in the fields of France in 1917, it felt like nothing in the world mattered to me anymore because my memories convinced me that I’d never be that happy again. It robbed me of my will to keep moving forward and eventually landed me in that alley you found me in two years ago.”

“Do you think I am anchored to the memories of Lisa and what she meant to me?” he asked, not in an accusing way, but in a tone intended to ask for her honest opinion.

“Possibly, but you don’t have to be. In the time I’ve come to know you, my boy, I know full well that you are a good man. You’re kind, compassionate and full of an inner strength that makes others around you, myself included, feel empowered just by having you in our lives. We all have those moments that make us stumble. In my case it cost me sixty years of my life –but–now that you and all these people around me have helped me to break that anchor chain around my neck, as it were, I know what it means to be happy again.” Marian leaned in a little closer. “And so can you.”

Vincent sat there in silence for a moment while he absorbed the advice she had given him. He was brought out of his self-reflection when a waltz began to play. As helpers and tunnel dwellers alike made their way to the dance floor, he stood and, in his best manners, offered his hand to her. “May I have the honor of this dance, Marian?”

“Took my words to heart, did you?”

“I have. They rang true to me and I thank you.”

Vincent escorted her to the dance floor and as they began to waltz he said, “May this dance rekindle and forge new and happier memories for the both of us.”

 

2 Comments

  1. Such a lovely story of healing and hope. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Reply
  2. Lovely story of loss, but hope . My sister just lost her life and I don’t or didn’t feel I’d ever be happy again.
    Sweet story bring us hope . Beautiful

    Reply

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