“I was teaching him to play hide and seek. Mother was feeding the baby and I was supposed to watch him. I was eight,” Lisa whispered. Her words slipped out in anguish. “I’d hidden in a tree. He ran right below me. I’ve always known it was my fault.”
She reached out to touch the image of her brother lying on the ground as a little girl dropped from the tree and ran to his side, but this time it did not fade. It froze in place as the little girl knelt over the crushed body of her small brother.
She crumpled to the ground before the frame as sobs of pain engulfed her. Dallas crept close to her side, resting her chin in Lisa’s lap. Maggie knelt beside her.
“Why did I let him die, Maggie? I wish it’d been me.” She wept.
“It wasn’t your fault. The driver was speeding. He was on his cell, swerved, and left the road. Mike never left the yard.” Maggie stroked her hair. “The driver never stopped.”
“Your parents’ tears? Those pictures? Photos of those they love. You’re in there. All these years since his death, you’ve been mistaken. They’ve never blamed you. They love you.”
Maggie handed her a golden silk tissue.
“Remember that day at the club with the girls? Cassie had been at the hospital since dawn with her elderly neighbor whose husband had fallen during the night. Her neighbors had no family in town. When Cassie heard the ambulance arrive, she went next door and drove his wife to the hospital.
“Cassie’s husband received a huge promotion which required their transfer from Missouri. As newcomers, she knew no one. Different areas of the country dress differently, have different customs. She needed a friend.” Maggie admonished Lisa.
“Your family loves you. The real you. Not how you look.” Maggie paused. “But you’ve let the opinions of others harden you. Your heart no longer feels their pain. Wipe your face. That tissue can clean more than tears.” She rose from the ground pulling Lisa with her. Lisa pressed the tissue against her face and dried her tears. It felt refreshing and smelled of cucumber.
“Look in here again.” Maggie walked back to the first frame near the gate. “What do you see?”
Lisa saw her reflection– laughing, her face and hair soft and natural, more beautiful than she could imagine. “That’s me?”
Maggie nodded. “That’s the real you. The one your family loves. The greatest gift you can give anyone is yourself. Not this Hollywood Real Housewives contrived façade… but the transparent you. Certainly, we shouldn’t be as transparent to a stranger as to our family, but we must be genuine to both. Open your heart.”
Lisa closed her eyes. What had happened all these years?
She looked around. Alone. Of course.
She inserted the “R” key, the gate swung open.
Lisa inspected the lock. This key also disappeared. The air had warmed, so she draped her fur over her arm. The grass felt soft on her bare feet.
No longer trying to figure out this strange place, she looked at the path before her as it twisted through junipers, bristlecone pines, and cypress. She should hurry. The sky had darkened with the setting sun.
After a rather long walk, she came to another garden. Anemones, roses, and camellias grew among the gnarly pines. Although the largest and most beautiful garden yet, this gate was quite small. Like the others, an ornate “W” was carved in the center, but underneath was a small plaque:
May wisdom light your journey
Lisa looked at the growing pall of darkness. I’d prefer a flashlight.
“To whom do you belong?” Lisa jumped at Maggie’s voice. Dallas nuzzled her hand.
“Stop scaring me! It’s getting dark and both of you scared me.” Lisa glowered at them. “I want to go home. Now.”
“Well?” Maggie cocked her head a bit to the side.
“Myself! I belong to myself. I make my own decisions, choose my own future.”
“So you know all the answers? You are wise, always know what is right?”
“Well, of course not. Edison helps. We come to decisions together.”
“And when you don’t or can’t agree, what is your compass?”
Lisa thought. There had been some dreadful rows between them in the past. Once she’d been so upset she dropped a favorite crystal bowl. She’d been as angry at herself as she’d been at Edison.
“Are you wise in all things?”
“No, I’m not,” Lisa admitted.
“Where do you look for your answers?” Maggie asked.
“Everywhere. I do discuss things with Edison sometimes. Or my friends. What I read or hear in the news or magazines or on TV.”
Maggie studied Lisa. “There is One, wisest of all, Who will guide you. But it’s your choice to follow His lead. He didn’t make us puppets on a string. Ask yourself, are others always driven by goodness?”
Maggie looked at the gate. “Did you try the key?”
“No, the others didn’t work at first, so I assumed this wouldn’t either.”
Maggie laughed. “Never assume, dear. He gave you a mind with which to think and learn. He gave you a heart to love. He gave you a will He wants to mold in His form. He sent you His love letters. Sometimes, our assumptions place our thoughts ahead of His. Try it.”
Lisa inserted the “W” key and the heavy little gate swung open.
She turned back to see Maggie and Dallas retreat into the darkness.
Lisa stepped warily through the gate into dank fog. Before her, the path wound as a somber ribbon through the lanky skeletons of trees towering over floating goblins of underbrush. She heard rustling in the treetops. An owl hooted nearby. A coyote bayed in the distance.
Anxious, she continued, clutching the final key tightly as the fog roiled about.
She came to another gate. No garden here. Only a rock wall divided by a large, thick wooden gate with a double “C” carved above the brass lock. As she reached out to insert her last key, the gate swung open to reveal what lay beyond.
On a hill in the distance, a funeral procession huddled in a cemetery. Sounds of grief floated through the air. Four caskets. Three larger and one smaller.
She found herself standing by a grave site. She peered into each casket and gasped.
Edison… Tiffany… Christian! Little Mason.
“Oh, God, what happened?”
To be continued . . .
Until next time. Be sweet.