With love and gratitude to L.M.M. ~ everything is hers, only this idea is mine.
Windy Willows, Spook's Lane,
How can I tell you what lies in my heart when I scarcely know it myself?
Little Elizabeth is Lizzie again as she awaits permission to come to Green Gables. Katherine's resignation lies on my desk, as does another rejection letter. Dusty Miller left a dead bird on my pillow. And the irises have died. They droop in their vase with heads dessicated and stems all yellowed and grey. The only thing worse than looking at them will be flinging them onto the fire.
I'm not feeling sorry for myself, if anything I'm angry, and it's a terrible, tangled up anger with no beginning and no end. From the moment I closed the door on you I have been trying to unravel it, so that I might roll it into a nice neat ball. Write nice neat letters. Have nice neat feelings. But they insist upon being as messy and ugly as the flowers you sent me two weeks ago. I know in a dark little place in my heart I am punishing those flowers because I want to punish you.
WHY didn't you tell me sooner? Yes, I read your previous letter. Yes, it was thoughtful of you to not want to spoil our time together by telling me what you had planned for the summer. Yes, had I known, I would have pulled away from you as I have many times before. Yes, you are reasonable, selfless and good. And I am ridiculous and selfish ~ with an extra helping of selfish. In my head I know you are right, but my heart... In my heart lurks an anger as nasty and fetid as the water in that vase. I want to stamp my foot like a child and demand not to be treated as one.
I won't have you think you must always protect me. I won't.
The flowers have gone. I have informed the Board of Katherine's resignation, and the latest rejection letter has been filed away. It's unfair to rebuke you for keeping things from me, when I kept something from you, too.
Remember the story I was working on last summer ~ a summer that seems a lifetime ago ~ about Iona of Harris Island? It's been rejected fourteen (scratch that) fifteen times. No one will touch it. It's no more improper than Brontë, yet those who have bothered to read it have deemed it "obscene", "lascivious" and "unfit for a female to read let alone write." My publishers at Syracuse have been a little more encouraging. They like the premise but want me to change the age of Iona from eighteen to eleven. In other words they want me to continue writing children's books. They want another Bright Bell and Other Tales, or better yet a series, which will keep them on the shop shelves and Miss A. Shirley in royalty cheques until the day that I expire.
I should do as they ask me and be grateful to have such an option. I should write gay and humorous fairy stories, if not for their own sake, for the sake of our House of Dreams. I should wave you off to Ontario and be glad of the money you'll earn. I should have told you to refund your first class tickets. I should have shaken you awake as you slept our precious hours away.
You were so bone tired you could barely keep your eyes open. Sixty hour weeks. Working through the night in order to submit your Surgery paper before you left. Taking an extra shift at Imperial because you would miss one on Saturday morning. Eight hours to Caribou in a third class carriage crammed next to a man with his rooster in a crate. When I saw you by the gangway I assumed you had taken yet another hit, your eyes were so bruised with exhaustion. The lull of the train on the tracks and the lure of my lap was too great a thing to resist. It wasn't long before you nestled your head against my thighs and I wove my fingers through your curls and promised myself that the next time I watched you sleep I would be lying next to you.
When I saw you again at Samuel's christening you looked so bursting with life. I thought to myself how did it happen that this beautiful man is walking up the aisle toward me? All I wanted was to walk back down it with you. Of course, it was delicious to spend time with Phil and meet her beloved Sam-baby. But ceremonies in dark churches and soirées at Mount Holly were not what I truly looked forward to.
We drifted away from the party and began strolling the streets of Bolingbroke. You were worried we would get lost, until a thick smell of lilac filled the afternoon air and I knew we were close to my home. I took you to that shabby cottage, we sat on the curb under the aspen tree and I realised I was bringing you to meet my folks. I could see my father smoothing down his red hair, shyly, and shaking your hand. See my mother welcoming you inside whilst giving me a look that said, "Isn't he a dish!"
I told you all I knew of their lives, and remember your surprise when you discovered how young they were when they died.
"When I was that age I was teaching at White Sands," you said, half to me and half to yourself. "Can you imagine us marrying so young?"
"I can imagine us marrying right now," I replied.
You stood up quickly, dusted yourself down and asked if I would like to go to the cemetery. I told you no, that here is where I felt closest to Walter and Bertha Shirley. By this little yellow house with lilacs round the door and muslin curtains at the windows.
I was thinking of that tumble down cottage we once dreamed of rebuilding. I was thinking of our escapades through Ambleside. I was thinking of our House of Dreams. Of lying with you, laying with you, loving you and waking with you. I was making up my mind to bring you to Patterson Street.
On we walked, stopping at that tavern for supper and wine, and the words became fewer and the looks became longer. You flagged down a cab and we sat in silence. Except when your arm brushed my hip, except when I leaned my head on your shoulder. Those gestures spoke volumes, though I could scarcely hear them over the beating inside my blue dress.
We arrived at the Blakes and I found the key just where Phil said I would. If it wasn't there it meant some poor soul was already inside, making themselves at home. I pushed open the heavy door and found the house empty. Aside from Jo's stray dogs, of course, which ran at us so excitedly one would think they hadn't been fed for days. You lay a fire for me, I made the tea for you. Then the tea went cold and the fire went out. I was pressed against the parlour wall and a photograph of Jimsie was knocked from its hook. You caught it in one hand and said:
"We don't want to break the house, shall we find some place to sit?"
You steered me to the sofa and I tumbled onto it. I spied one of the Miss Ada's cushions and recalled the night Charlie proposed; when you came to St John's without your coat and we ate tea and toast on the cabbage-rose carpet. Now you were standing before me shedding your jacket and loosening your tie, and I said:
"Remember the night the cushion beads stuck in your hair?"
"The night I filched your scarf," you answered, kneeling at my feet.
"You asked me who belonged in my life."
"I was hoping you would tell me that I did."
"Say it, Anne."
"Tell me I belong in your life."
I knelt before you and smoothed your hair as I had that night long ago.
I said, "You do, Gilbert. It's always been you," and such a groan came from your throat. Your eyes were as dark as the sky outside, and you murmured:
"Anne, this is dangerous ~"
"This isn't real," I said, "it's a memory, a dream... We're not really here, Gil, we're imagining we are."
My hands were touching your face and you took the tip of my finger in your mouth and bit it.
"What was that for?"
"To see if you wake up."
"You belong in my life," I whispered to you. '"You belong in my heart, you belong in my..."
I never finished that sentence because your hand went to my jaw and you pulled me to you so roughly I forgot how to breathe. We fell back onto the floor and I remember thinking, I'm drowning, Sweet World, I am drowning and I don't care... I don't care... I don't care...
Your tie was gone, your suspenders pulled from your shoulders. I felt your open mouth on my neck and your body move against me as you did on New Years Eve. I lifted my hips to meet your own and you inhaled so sharply it was almost a hiss; pulling away as though I was a Siren bent on luring you into the sea.
"I have to tell you something," you muttered.
That cold sea stung in my veins. I sat myself up and tucked in my hair where it had come loose, while you busied yourself with the fire. You crouched low with your back to me and told me you'd been accepted to work in a GTR field hospital, in somewhere Ontario.
Moments before I dwelt in a world made entirely of you. And you were over me and under me and through me and until you blotted out all thought. Now I was filled with questions. Where in Ontario? Not the St Clair rail tunnel? With its constant risk of cave ins and suffocation. Why would you go there? Were you giving up Redmond? Were you running away from us?
"It's just for the summer," you said. "I can make as much money in two months as a farm hand makes in two seasons."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
"I reasoned there was no need to mention it till I knew the job was mine."
"You could have told me on the train... or during the party... or at dinner. Why now? When we're here and we're alone and I wanted you... to stay with me."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I am saying something."
You went to my side and felt for my hand which lay in my rumpled skirts.
"How many pearls on that ring?" you asked.
"What year are we now?"
"Unlucky thirteen. Unlucky thirteen and three quarters."
"Anne Shirley," you said, "I never took you for the superstitious type."
I was smiling in spite of myself, and you began to straighten your collar and feel about for your hat. You asked if I wanted you to come to the station on Sunday and I told you no, it was due to leave at five in the morning. The cab had been booked, my case already packed. All I had to do was leave food for the dogs and chickens, and the key behind the lantern on the porch.
"Let's not say goodbye," I said, as I walked you to the door.
"Can we kiss goodbye?" you asked.
I pointed to all the places that I wanted to be kissed, and when I finally gestured to my lips you made the softest sound. It passed from your mouth into mine, your body stiffened, your hand gripped me hard on my shoulder and I pleaded with you, softly ~
If you heard me you never showed it. You kissed my head and told me you loved me and walked out into the night. And I climbed the stairs to find a one earred terrier on my bed, when I wanted to find you.
I didn't walk into the night. Not at first. I stood on Patterson Street and I looked up at the stars and I asked them to give me one reason why I shouldn't kick the Blake's door down and go to you. When they didn't answer I ran. I think I stopped running after five miles and walked for another five hours. I needed to be far from you because I wanted to be so close. Without knowing why I ended up at your yellow cottage just as the sun broke the night.
A cat limped by and a baby wailed. I thought of Reb's daughter and The Fox's son. I thought about Walter, and what it must have been like when nineteen year old Bertha told him she was with child. I felt this surge of fear and excitement, as if it was me who was hearing those words. Then that wail pierced the air again and I pictured you as a baby lying in a basket, with her father in a grave and her mother dead beside her.
You don't know how I wish I had the means to provide for you and give you the home that you dream of. You could be living on Spofford Avenue with someone like Gardner. Instead you save your pennies and count the years because you chose me. Knowing this is a glorious, fearsome burden, and there are days when it brings me to my knees. I'm afraid I will fail you. I know I would never forgive myself if I put you in harm's way. That's what I'd be doing if I stayed with you, Anne. Call it protection if you must but it's the only way I know how to love.
If you love me then please write back. I'll be staying at the Three Weeds Hotel on Keep Street, Sarnia, Ontario. Working all the hours God gives and dreaming of you each night. I need you. Don't give up on your writing. Don't ever give up on me.
* the week we became engaged is a reference to ch 9, The Windy Willows Love Letters
* Iona of Harris Island first mentioned in ch 6 ,The Windy Willows Love Letters
* Bright Bell story first mentioned in ch 5, Redmond Diaries -the fourth year
* the yellow cottage first mentioned in ch 1, Redmond Diaries -the third year
* the tumble down cottage first mentioned in ch 9, The Windy Willows Love Letters
* Gilbert getting his hair tangled in cushion beads first mentioned in ch 9, Redmond Diaries -the first year
* New Years Eve is a reference to a one shot, Little Fires
* GTR is the Grand Trunk Railway
* fifteen pearls first mentioned in ch 1, The Windy Willows Love Letters
I'm not sure if this is the best place to end this story but it felt right to me. I hope that 'one weekend in May' lived up to your expectations and that this story did justice to Anne and to Gilbert. Thank you for all your reviews. It's always special when I break 100, and it always give me a thrill when I've been favourited or followed.
The Last of the Windy Willows Love Letters will follow this story.