Author Russell MacClaren explores love and the hereafter in this touching short romance story.
Thirty years of married life, put to rest in a casket with mandrake root, garlic and wolfs-bane. At fifty-two, Ben Wilson was energetic, prosperous, attractive, but with Helon in her velvet resting place, he felt the purpose for his life was over.
Invitations to the funeral were for family only, and they specified: “No cars, cell phones, noise boxes or electrical devices will be tolerated within a mile of the chapel.” The candlelight service, with rigid dress code, was to Helon’s specifications. Ben had always considered her eccentric in matters of family and tradition. These regulations, however were extreme, even for her. Yet her ceremony unfolded as planned.
Helon’s paternal grandmother approached the coffin, chanting, ringing a bell in cadence with her words. She waved a sprig overhead. “Sage, My Dear, for added wisdom. You surrendered your powers for a mortal. Forty centuries old, swept away in your prime, like your mother, Marie, beheaded as a Voodoo priestess and your Aunt Joan, burned at the stake for being a loyal daughter of France. Your maternal clan has always been a foolish one, my dear!”
A penetrating numbness blocked Ben’s anger and frustration. He cupped his face in shaky hands and sobbed, “I love you, Helon.”
Helon’s sister, Drema, tugged on his arm and whispered in his ear.
“Don’t let them make you crazy, Ben.”
The aspirate quality of her voice reminded Ben of Helon.
He scowled. “How could you and Helon be kin to these?”
“Perhaps we’re illegitimate,” she parried, with a chuckle. “Be patient, Ben. Right now, Helon needs your energy to realign her aura and ride the astral winds back home to reconnect with Father.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “You and Helon with your metaphysical notions….”
“Sorry, Benj, but please indulge her wishes one last time.”
Benj… Helon always called him that when she attempted to sooth what she’d referred to as “his savage beast.” His anger dissipated as he looked into Drema’s eyes.
A procession of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins made their way to the casket. Each left a gift of herbs. Each said words over the body.
When it came her turn, Drema took a spray of whorled flowers to where her sister lay. “May this hyssop ease your pain in parting, soften the anguish of your soul and make you whole again. Purge yourself as the mighty shepherd-king. Drink, as did our Lord in preparation for his passage. Your time here is done.” Drema hugged the corpse and sobbed.
Ben walked to the casket. He noted an expression of remarkable peace on Helon’s face. Her appearance hadn’t changed in all the time he’d known her. It was difficult to believe she was gone; her lips poised for a kiss, the soft lines of her cheeks and jaw, gentle, inviting. Her button nose… he’d loved it most of all, loved the way she wrinkled it when he called her name, the way her dimples crinkled. The incense that filled the parlor was the scent Helon used at their home in Walkala Heights. If she’d opened her hazel eyes and pulled him to her, he would not have been surprised.
Drema stood rigid until Ben began his liturgy. “Helon, my life, my heart, I pray that I may ever be with you in the shelter of Our Father’s arms. May you find eternal rest. Your passage now is blessed. Go in grace and love.” Ben kissed Helon’s corpse as Drema held a sprig of mistletoe overhead. When he stepped away, pall-bearers led the procession to a grave site where Helon’s body was interred.
Afterwards, a line of horse-drawn buggies carried guests to a lot where cars were parked. Drema drove Ben home in a frenzy, running red lights, cutting corners, slamming on her brakes.
Plagued with perfect recall, Ben replayed the eulogies in his head and was interrupted when Drema’s car caught a curb. “You drive just like Helon!”
“How is that?” Drema asked.
“When preoccupied, she was reckless. You have something you’d like to tell me, something you feel tentative about?”
“I’m not preoccupied.” A vein jumped in her neck.
“Don’t lie to me, Sis. I can read you as easily as one of my books. You’re a lot like Helon.”
At the circular driveway to his estate, Drema locked eyes with Ben. “There is an item Helon asked me to give you.” She handed him a briefcase.
“What’s this, Drema?”
“It’s a case of golem, Ben. Each bundle in the case contains a bit of Helon’s essence, but before you open the case the golem must mature or it will vanish, its essence lost forever, never to recall her spirit.”
“If I believe this nonsense, how will I know when the golem has matured?”
“When she tugs at your soul so mightily you feel you can’t go on without her.”
“Open the case. The rest will take care of itself, but before you use the last doll, call me. Promise?”
“The last doll?” Ben muttered. “Whatever…. I promise.”
She patted his cheek and looked deep into his eyes. “Helon is indeed fortunate. Your joining just may work, despite the odds against it.”
* * * * * *
Ben picked up the phone. “Ben Wilson here.”
A cheerful voice responded, “Ben, Wally Seagrave. You’ve been a stranger since Helon’s funeral. What’s going on?”
“I’ve been meditating, remembering how it was….”
“She was a good woman, Ben. But don’t linger in the past.”
“Is this advice from a friend or an appeal from my agent?”
“Either, both, whichever you need. But you should know that your readers are clamoring for more. Nobody writes a best seller and just fades into the woodwork. Besides, writing is good therapy. How about a fishing trip to stimulate your mind for writing?”
“Thanks, Wally, but no.”
“Then let’s get together after Christmas. That’ll give you four months to sort things out. Meantime, record your memories of Helon while she’s fresh on your mind.”
“Good idea, Wally.”
“Are you all right, Patrick?”
“After Christmas, Mr. Penworthy.”
“Cut it with the college pen name crap, will ya? Patrick Penworthy is dead!”
“Just trying to get a reaction, Ben, any reaction.”
“After Christmas, Wally. I’ll put it on my calendar.”
Ben slumped as he hung up. At 8:30 he was tired. Lonely, in his king-sized bed, for weeks he’d been sleeping on the couch, falling asleep, TV remote in hand. Tonight would be different.
Pulling back the bulk of a quilt Helon made, he slipped between satin sheets and stared at the LEDs on his computer. Lack of writing had him in a funk. He’d hardly been out except to pick up groceries, didn’t cook—but for the microwave. Visiting or phoning was a bother. He’d unplugged his answer machine when the bleeps became annoying.
Heaviness overtook him.
Ben eased behind the wheel of his Mercedes, smiled at the dark-haired beauty beside him. Her nose wrinkled. Dimples framed her smile. He had looked forward to this Fourth of July! Lifting the picnic box into the trunk, he smiled, then broke into a laugh as Helon batted her eyes and pulled a red and white checkered napkin across her nose. “What brings you here to New Orleans, my sheik?”
“Getting background for my story….”
“You practically live in the library.” She wagged her finger at him, and light spilled from her eyes.
“It’s an excuse to see a certain harem girl with a red and white checkered veil.”
“An excuse? I know someone who’d gladly show you around the city.”
“Would she be a librarian?”
“She’d rather be with a writer than a sheik?”
“Nah, definitely not interested.”
A pout formed on Helon’s mouth. “Why not?”
“Because I’d rather be with you.”
She punched him in mock anger, and he pulled her to him. They kissed and released a single sigh. Ben felt her thoughts and could tell that she felt his. As they parted he looked at her in wonder, then reached back again….
Ben awoke, sweat-drenched, tangled in sheets. After showering he switched on the computer. At three A.M. he began to record the nuances of his first date.
His hands flowed over the keyboard. With each scene he strove harder, dug deeper. Her spirit spoke to him, and he responded. He returned to dream and write of her the next night and the next.
Waking and sleeping, he thought of Helon: times she sat with him, brought him sandwiches, massaged his back, made love to him. Every word he wrote, he wrote for her. Had she understood? He hoped so. He recorded memory after delicious memory and felt compelled to share their story with any who would listen, reaching out to her if she could hear him where she was.
Ben finished the rough draft of his novel on Christmas eve. In celebration he prepared steamed sturgeon, caviar, cauliflower au gratin, Indian rice, Chablis and chocolate mousse—her favorite meal. He set a place for her and dined by candlelight on their best china, best tablecloth and brocade napkins.
Though she’d been gone, he’d sensed her with him: helping, encouraging, goading, but with his work complete he felt alone in his enormous house. He opened the curtains. Across the street, troubadours loaded into a van after an evening of caroling.
He remembered times he’d gone caroling with Helon, times they’d decorated trees, strung lights, played in the snow. Christmas without her…. Tears welled in his eyes. What had Drema said about the case she gave him? Open it when “you can’t go on without her….”
His hands trembled as he put the case on the coffee table. He unlocked the clasps and heard her song, savored her perfume, felt her warmth. He opened the box and removed a foot-tall doll, a perfect likeness of Helon, soft, raven hair, delicate features, gentle lines. He thought he felt the replica move and jerked his hands away.
“What a precious gift!” He placed it on the table. Amazed with its beauty, enchanted by its authenticity, some elusive quality drove him to hug it to his chest.
A new sense of Helon struck him. The doll began to grow and change. It locked its arms around his neck. “Whaaa…” Alive, flexible, sensuous, what was this figure that captured the essence of his wife? The possibilities shook his core. He was assailed with desire, then concern. Ben struggled to push this full-sized likeness of his wife away from him.
Locked between strong legs, prostrate on the floor, warm breath, moist lips against his neck, Ben shivered as he arched his back. Chills shot up his spine. The doll brushed his ear with its tongue. His body responded to her touch. Reason warred with passion. He feared disaster, but Drema had given him the case, and Drema was his friend.
Then came her words: “I’ve missed you, Benj.”
With this he became the aggressor. He clutched this creation to him, kissed it, deeply. The aroma dazed him, brought him whimpering to his knees. His hands caressed it, faster and faster till he cried. Kneeling on the carpet, her body pressed to his, he felt her warmth, the softness of her skin, her hair, her breath. He locked her in his arms, kissed her eyes, her cheeks, her nose, her ears, neck and shoulders. The touch, the scents, the tastes and sounds of her were all as he’d remembered.
“Do you know how much I’ve missed you, Helon?”
“Yes, Ben, that’s why I’m here.”
“Loving you the way I do should have kept you with me forever.”
“Is that a line from your book, or do you say that to all the girls?” She wrinkled her nose. “You thrill me from my split ends to the tippy tips of my curled toenails.”
He frowned. “I pulled you from that box. I just might put you back.”
“Really? Do you think I’d fit now?”
He stared at two unformed lumps of putty wrapped in strips of gauze.
“I’m here to renew our love, to seal our union and remind you of your writing. You must teach the world about love, Ben. Share your gift.”
“Me, teach the world? Ha, that’s a good one!” He raised his hands to cover an elfish grin.
She pushed his hands aside and lifted his chin with her finger. “There are many dimensions, many realities in our universe. The only constant in them all is love. Teach this message. Learn it for yourself.”
He shook his head. “If love has such power, why did you leave?”
“I never left.” She touched his chest and circled her fingernails on his skin. “Part of me has always been, will always be, right here.”
“I tried to call out…”
“I heard you, Ben—each thought, hope and plea.”
She walked to the piano. Mesmerized, he took his place at her side. To him, it felt like a rehearsal for a command performance. Her soft contralto voice filled the room:
Fear not that I could leave you all alone
To grope and stumble in the dead of night,
Though you must charter hopes and dreams unknown
And learn to walk by faith as well as sight.
But if you fall somewhere upon your climb
I’ll bear you up before God’s face serene,
And we will walk on past the bounds of time
Beyond the sorrows of this earthly scene.
I’d not endure this vast eternity
Without the promise of your loving smile,
For you have nurtured all that’s best in me
And shared your wondrous light with me awhile.
His eyes moistened.
“The song is for you, Ben.” She pointed to the papers on his desk. “Your masterpiece?” She placed it on her lap, scanning, circling, underlining, jotting notes. In a little over an hour she had finished.
“I’ve never had a better editor, Helon. I need you so much!”
Accepting her eager kiss, he unzipped her dress, let it drop, then carried her to bed. He could never get enough of her. He traced the contours of her body, line and curve, touching, kissing, caressing, soaking in her softness. After hours of lovemaking, they fell asleep together.
At dawn Helon curled against him like the sunbeams that shone through the window, fingers mussing his hair. “I love you more than you love me,” she said with a sheepish smile.
He took in her face as light played on her skin. “You couldn’t possibly.”
She’d been a perfect mate, a perfect writer’s wife, her research and editing were priceless. When they moved to Clinton, New York, she renovated the house, almost by herself, teased him as he struggled with carpet, drywall and wallpaper, but his blunders were their private joke.
He smiled. “How did you become so wonderful?”
“I had a lot of time to work on it, Ben.”
He shook his head. “And where have you been the past five months?”
“Get dressed. I’ll show you.”
He followed her outside into the falling fluff.
Helon led him to a tract behind their home. Racing down a trail powdered over by recent snows, he followed her deeper and deeper into the woods, to a world of intoxicating whiteness.
He felt young again. Unable to resist, he packed snow into a ball and threw it at her. In mid-flight the sphere burst into a hundred butterflies that fluttered off on snowy wings. White hovered all around, floated on the breeze: clusters of dandelions, milky doves, tufts of down and rounded mushrooms. Sun rays cascaded through birches. Branches rustled in the wind. Songs of birds, frogs and insects filled the forest floor. Fragrance of lilacs floated on the air.
He found her beneath a sunbeam, clad in white. They walked hand in hand for hours, playing, dancing, singing, thinking only of each other in a warm and timeless land. Then,when evening came, she stopped as if on cue. “I must go, but don’t forget your writing or the other dolls.”
She stepped into a beam of light that shone down through the trees. As day flickered and fled away, her voice whispered to his heart.
“Later, Ben, later, My Love.”
The snow shone blue in the setting sun. Quiet enveloped him as he trudged to the house. Christmas faded to a memory, the best he’d ever had.
* * * * * *
The day after Christmas, Ben visited Drema. She greeted him with a hug kissed his cheek. “Good to see you, Ben. What’s going on with you?”
“Opened the case yesterday. Was that Helon or some aberration?”
“What do you think, Ben? What did it feel like to you?”
“Like Helon, but will she remember what happened and take the experience back to wherever she is now?”
“She’ll remember perfectly. Her spirit spilled into the doll you brought to life, and she carried memories of your day back with her.”
“It’s a bit late for this, Drema, but some of the things Helon said and did in life are taking on new meaning. Is she as old as she claimed? How did she have such understanding and patience?”
“She recognized in you an ability to express the things she felt, saw in you a love, a passion and purity of soul she’d never known before. How old is she, you ask? To put things in perspective, you’ve read about her in history books. Your wife, my sister and Helen of Troy are one and the same.
“The innocence and inexperience you brought to the marriage refreshed her. After millenia of mistakes, she realized her only chance for happiness was with you. She didn’t care that her marriage to you would make her vulnerable. She loves you, Ben. She traded her immortality for you. Accept her gift. If there’s love enough between you, it will work, but the road ahead is filled with mud slides and pot holes. I wish you the best of luck. Take care of what you have, Ben!”
* * * * * *
Ben dried himself and walked to the patio table where Wally sipped a lemonade. His two hundred fifty pound, pot-bellied agent propped his feet on a chair and peeked over designer sun glasses. Baggy, Hawaiian shorts showed his skinny legs. “You know, Ben, seven years ago when Helon died, you were a basket case. You got better for awhile, but I’m concerned again.”
“About what? My gorgeous girlfriend? The addition to my house? My pool? My best sellers? My lecture tours? What do you want from me now, Wally? Haven’t you made enough money from my writing?”
“More than enough. That’s not the problem.”
“Then what is the problem, Mr. Seagrave?”
“Listen to yourself. I’m not hearing Ben Wilson anymore.”
“Lawrence and Masterson want another book? That it?”
Wally shot him a riveting glare. “Look at me, Ben. This is Wally Segrave, your friend for forty years. I know you. I can feel your pain.”
“You’re planning to get serious.”
“Damn straight I am!”
“My writing is good, Wally. My last four books were best sellers.”
“Let’s see. Since Helon’s death: Life’s Greatest Treasure, four million copies sold, the best you’ve ever written.”
“That’s a problem, Wally?”
“Get your crying towel ready, and don’t interrupt. One year after your blockbuster: We Only Have This Day, two and a half million copies, not bad. Two years later you wrote Boundless Love, only a million and three quarters. Three more years Only You, barely a million. The last two, ummm, had it been anyone else, they might wash… but we’re talking Ben Wilson here! See the pattern? More time between books, fewer sold each time.”
“I’ve been on lecture tours.”
“Promoting mediocre books!”
“What do you propose, Wally?”
“Tell me why your first book after Helon’s death was so inspired. What motivated you to write with such passion?
“My thoughts of Helon.”
“Then how can you settle for a girl like Sylvia?”
Fire flew from Ben’s eyes. “Writing is the issue here, not my private life!”
“Didn’t you say it was Helon who gave you your passion?”
“Helon’s dead, Wally. You’re the one who suggested I restart my life!”
“Can you? Seems like Helon was and is your life. Face that before it gobbles you up. I’m outta here, Ben. Have a wonderful Fourth at Bill’s.”
“Damn you, Wally. You can’t leave like that!”
“Got family to attend. Besides, your little friend should be here soon.”
As Wally left, a short, attractive blond of forty-five came in the side gate. Her hourglass figure filled a strapless, peach cocktail dress trimmed in burnt umber, a spike of hyacinth pinned to her hair.
“Join me for a dip, Sylvie?” Ben looked into stern eyes that matched the color of the chlorinated pool.
“We’re due at Bill’s in twenty minutes!”
“Calm down, Sylvie.”
“How can I be calm when you’re so damned irresponsible? And don’t call me ‘Sylvie’ at the party!”
“I wouldn’t think of it, Sylvie.” He chuckled.
“I mean it, Ben. I’ll never forgive you if you do.”
Half an hour later Bill Masterson greeted them. “Sylvia, Ben, good to see you. Make yourselves at home. Mix and mingle. You know the drill.”
Sylvia sidled up to Masterson. “Sorry we’re late. Ben was in his pool when I got to his place.”
Bill shrugged his shoulders and led them to his guests. He raised his voice: “Folks, friends, family, this is our best editor, Sylvia Montrose and with her, we have Ben Wilson, the most auspicious writing talent on Lawrence and Masterson’s team of fine writers.”
A dozen guests moved towards them. Sylvia intercepted them, “Don’t everybody rush my Ben at once. He can only handle so much adoration.”
A radio commentator from a local educational station slapped Ben on the back. “When is your next book coming out, old boy?”
Sylvia answered, “Soon, after editing, rewrites, design, art work, promotion, other usual things. Can we count on you for a spot?”
The man winked at Ben. “Good-looking spokesperson you’ve got there. She plan to make you her fifth?”
Ben wrinkled his brow. “We’re in the talking stage.”
Sylvia smiled and squeezed Ben’s hand.
Ben slipped away from his admirers and thought of what Wally had said. Independence Day should be a time to be with family.
“Ben, Ben…” An insistent voice brought him back. “Where is the Whale today? Didn’t he come with you and Sylvia?”
“No, Bill. He’s with family.”
“I had hoped he’d make it.”
Ben nodded. “I did too.”
Sylvia’s voice rose above the din. “Ben has nine books in print, five of them best sellers.”
Cocktail parties never appealed to Ben, but he managed to endure the afternoon. By five the gathering started breaking up. Ben and Sylvia were first to the door. She pulled him to the car and stood, arms akimbo. “What’s wrong with you? You’re a million miles away.”
Ben scratched his head and thought about his first date with Helon that fourth of July so many years ago. “Sylvia, care to spend the night?”
“I’ve got work tomorrow, Ben. All you have to do is write.”
“All I do is write?”
She kissed him in reconciliation. “You know what I mean….”
* * * * * *
In the quiet of his home, Ben thought of Wally. The man was right. How could he have missed it? What did Helon used to say? “Never cry over lost books; just get on with writing new ones.”
Sitting at his computer, Ben felt empty, bereft of all that mattered. Removing the box from his wall safe, his mind swam to a time years ago. As he opened the case, Essence of Perfection filled the room, the perfume he’d bought Helon for their first anniversary, the one she’d worn thereafter. Inside the box a second image awaited–the last one yet unformed.
Ben studied the statuette. He hugged it to him, kissed the tiny, ruby lips. As the metamorphosis began, he smoothed her gown.
A gentle, voice scolded. “It’s about time, Ben Wilson!”
He explored her soft lips, thrilled to her touch.
“Let me look at you, Ben. Salt and pepper hair, a few more wrinkles, the same distinctive face, piercing eyes and captivating smile. Looks like you gained a pound or two.”
“But you never change, Helon.”
“That’s the nature of my kind. So, what brings me here?”
“Today’s the Fourth of July. How about a trip to Oneida Lake?”
“Fishing gear, a sleeping bag and fireworks?” she asked.
His eyes twinkled. “You read my thoughts.”
“Not exactly, but sometimes I can hear you think.”
As they cruised down interstate 90, Ben sobbed, “I’m sorry it took so long.”
Helon stroked his hair. I understand, Ben. You’re still caught up in life.”
He pulled off the road and buried his head in her arms. “I love you, Helon. Please forgive me.”
She kissed his tears away. “Forgive you—for what? You’ve done better than expected. No one but Drema held any hope for us.”
Helon took the wheel, and Ben, overwhelmed by her closeness, slipped inside his head. In his dream-eye, Helon pointed to a light that shone from up above, the same light that had taken her Christmas night, more than six years ago.
“Don’t leave, Helon. Please don’t leave!”
“Wake up, Ben. We’re at the lake.”
The night breathed its flower-scented breath around them as they stepped from the air-conditioned car. After pitching a tent on the knoll, they walked to the beach. A rocket burst above the water. Red fireballs lit the sky. A white cluster followed, then a blue. Each explosion lit the rippling water. Children scurried. Lovers snuggled close.
“Remember our first date, Helon? … fireworks at Pontchartrain Beach?”
She smiled. “It was one of my favorite memories. In my four thousand years I’ve never loved another man as I love you, nor have I been loved by a man as I am loved by you.”
Ben looked into her eyes, took in her dimpled smile. “You never put things in perspective quite like that before.”
“You wouldn’t listen. Remember?”
Ben pulled her close. “I love you more than life, but you know that.”
“I still need to hear it, Ben, again and again. I need your words to call me here, to open up the heavens and bond us together!”
As fireworks faded into darkness and night air cooled the lake, Ben and Helon found comfort in one another’s arms and lips and legs and nearness, sighs and groans, panting and heart beat. Ben struggled, trying to reach and hold Helon’s spirit, using this figurine as his conveyance.
She woke to fish and chips crackling in a frying pan.
“Mmmmn, Ben, nothing else smells as good as your cooking.”
“Breakfast, Madam. Fresh bass.”
“I missed the action?”
“Let’s fish East Brook before the mist rises.”
* * * * * *
Wading the numbing current of East Brook, they tested every step. In seconds, haze swallowed them, yet they went on until the vapor cleared and the sun shone on a warm, gurgling creek teeming with abundant life. Gone their fishing gear and hip-boots, they crossed the sparkling waters in bare feet.
Ben marveled at the brilliance of this wonderland and noted they were dressed in white. “Where have you brought me, Helon?”
“No, My Love. It’s you who have brought me here this time.”
“Then may I stay?”
“No, Benj, you have a legacy to pass on, a legacy of love. Offer it to others. If your efforts are accepted, I’ll be back. For this chance with you, I gave my life.”
“But, Helon, words are inadequate, and my emotions are elusive, fashioned from the stuff of dreams.”
“So, you’ve defined your challenge, Ben. Now face it!”
Her dimples formed parentheses around her mouth, her nose crinkled in a smile. He kissed her. Then she was gone.
Dressed only in trousers and shirt, Ben fought the chilling current. His legs cramped, tightening to balls of pain. He stroked with tired arms until his knees touched bottom. Then he hauled himself onto the grass and rolled in agony until he fell asleep.
Three hours later he drove home. Not wanting to lose a single thought, or let one crystal moment slip away, he burned lines into his monitor. Like a meteor flaming in the night, he worked until morning, through breakfast and lunch. Obsessed, inspired, spots swirled before his eyes, swam to the corners of his brain. At noon he staggered to bed, having written fifteen pages.
Brring, Brrring… He lifted the receiver and heard Sylvia above the buzzing in his head. “Ben, I’ve scheduled an interview for you.”
“Been writing, Sylvia. You woke me up.”
“I’ll call tomorrow.”
“Don’t bother. Cancel all my appointments. Keep my calendar open.”
“Damn, you’re unreasonable. Sometimes you’re more trouble than you’re worth!”
“Then let me make it easy, Silvie. Don’t bother me. I’ll get someone else to publish the book.” Click!
Ben silenced his answering machine and went to bed. Soft lights swelled beneath his eye lids. Helon’s face fluttered before him.
He awoke in the middle of the night and played back the messages on his answer phone: Sylvia, Sylvia, Wally, Sylvia.
After fixing a microwave meal, he sat down at his computer and keyed the yearnings of his soul onto the screen.
At nine that morning he called Wally.
His agent’s voice exploded. “How goes it, my friend?”
“That’s what I hear. Sylvia asked me to talk some sense into you. She said you threatened to find another publisher?”
“Afraid I did.”
“Way to go, Ben. There are other publishers who’d love to print your work, but if you’d like, I’ll talk Bill Masterson and smooth things over. Keep writing. I’m proud of you for standing up for yourself.”
“Think nothing of it. And, Ben, welcome back!”
In the days ahead, Ben wrestled with himself, tearing out chunks of his soul to build a story line. Never had he sweat or bled so much. After three weeks of writing at a finger blistering pace he called Drema and asked her to come over. When the door chimed he expected to see his sister-in-law, but a familiar blond slid past him. “Hi, Ben, like to take an evening off?”
“No, Sylvia. I’ve got ideas, thoughts, emotions that can’t wait.”
She lowered her hands to her hips and scowled. “You’re a real pain in the ass. Call me when you’re sociable.” She hurried to the door in haste.
A minute later the bell rang again. Ben jerked the door open, ready for a confrontation. He sighed when he saw Drema with a small over-night bag in her hand. “Come in, Sis,” he said as his scowl changed to a smile.
“Who’s the blond, Ben? She threw me some scathing looks!”
“My editor. Thinks work is the answer for everything.”
“Oh, thought maybe there was something between you.”
“So, brother-in-law, ready for that last doll?”
“Not quite, but you asked me to call when I was almost ready. Remember?”
“May I see the figurine?”
Ben withdrew the box from his safe and gave it to Drema. She peered in the case. “It’s coming along, but there’s something you should know.”
“What’s that, Drema?”
“After the last doll has quickened, there’s no turning back, nor can you go with her. Your body couldn’t stand the strain.”
“Then what can I do?”
She handed Ben a package. “Give this to Helon, and good luck.”
“Good luck to you, Sis. Hope you find your soulmate.”
Drema’s words haunted him. Could he have come this far only to be denied? Attacking his writing with renewed intensity, he hoped to enlist the powers of the universe on his behalf. Feelings for Helon guided his heart, moved his hand. The work evoked tears, smiles, dreams, memories. Ben lived his story, words and thoughts echoed in harmony. He learned about existence, penetrated depths and heights previously unknown to him. After three months he dropped his masterpiece, Legacy of Love, into the mail.
Three days later Wally called. “Ben, you sly, old dog, why didn’t you bring it over? I can’t see where the manuscript needs editing. I wouldn’t change a word!”
“Glad you approve.”
“Approve? Anything less would be sacrilege. You’re destined to be the new Shakespeare, Chaucer, Cervantes, Homer. Who knows?”
“I’m honored, Wally. Coming from you….”
“I’ll keep you posted, Ben. I’ve got calls to make.”
* * * * * *
In the following months Ben considered how he might rejoin Helon. Each thought and act that brought him closer, he pursued. All that distanced him, he put aside. He spoke at churches, gatherings, engaged all who would listen, sponsored contests, workshops, established the Penworthy Foundation for promising young writers, naming Wallace Seagrave executor.
On the morning of the vernal equinox he visited Helon’s plot and knelt before the juniper. “It’s me, Darling. I’ve done all I know to do. If there’s more, let me know. We mustn’t use the final doll until it’s ready. I love you, Girl. I love you more than life itself.”
During an afternoon nap, Helon appeared in a dream and spoke to him. “The time has come, Love.”
He bounded from the sofa, opened his safe, pulled the final figurine from its case and sat back down.
His heart pounded as she came alive.
“Follow me,” she cooed.
“Helon, Helon, why were you so long?”
“Had to wait till you were done with life and we were fully joined, Ben.”
The phone rang. “Hello, Ben Wilson’s residence. Leave your name and number with a short message, and I’ll get back to you.”
“Ben, this is Wally. Sales are out of sight. At latest count, over nine and a half million copies. MGM wants to make your movie.”
Ben gave Drema’s package to Helon. She cut strings, peeled away the paper, uncovered a doll in the image of Ben when they’d first met. Astonished, he couldn’t turn his eyes from it, and when Helon ran her fingers over the figurine, he clutched his chest.
Wally continued, “You’ve done the impossible, Ben. Critics love it. Your public knows how good it is!”
Ben thought of Wally. His worldly affairs would be in order with this good man looking after his interests. Ben’s spirit filled the doll. He stared at his worn out lifeless body slumped on the couch. Helon took his hand and smiled as they entered a conduit of light.
“Ben… Ben… if you’re there, pick up the phone!”
Author Russell MacClaren is a Writer and Poet.
You can reach him at his Facebook page
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