As It Is In Heaven
With a drifting dreamlike feel the world reported in occasionally to Marilla as if from a great distance. The family were all around her now, keeping vigil. If she concentrated hard, she could feel their sorrow, see their mouths moving and tears tracing down their cheeks, but she saw these things as if through a fog. They became less and less substantial as time elongated, fractured. Someone was wiping her brow, but she felt as though they were pulling her back when all she wanted was to leave this frail body behind and float away, away, away…
"Over here Marilla! Over here." As the mist faded Marilla who incidentally felt far lighter and healthier than she had for decades spied Matthew who himself looked younger his voice strong and sturdy. "Matthew goodness how wonderful to see you again. How I've missed you." Marilla's tears were ones of happiness. "Do you mind telling me where we are?" Marilla had an inkling, but she wanted to make certain.
"We're in heaven sister dearest. God brought you home at last. I want to introduce you to a couple you've heard of but never met. Walter & Bertha Shirley, this is my sister Marilla." Much to Marilla's amazement a kind looking young gentleman and his wife wearing an old-fashioned hoop skirt and pagoda sleeves with a high neckline who was the spitting image of her Anne smiled at her. Bertha held a bundle out for Marilla, and she took it without much thought surprised when it turned out to be a baby. "Marilla dear I am enraptured to finally meet you; do you recall Joyce?"
"Joyce!" Marilla gasped and gazed intently at the infant unable to speak for a spell.
"In heaven babies only age when they are reunited with their mothers so Joyce will remain an infant until Anne arrives," Bertha explained. "Then Anne can relish watching her grow."
"Look Marilla, they're burying your body," Matthew pointed down through the clouds. Marilla looked down feeling quite removed. Her body was in that casket. While it had served her well for many years, she had grown weary of it as it wore down. Still, it had been her and she it. Clods of earth and flower posies were dropped before the black clad congregation turned away as one, leaving one solitary figure witnessing the gravediggers at their work, tell-tale wisps of red hair escaping their pins.
Time was meaningless; folks wandered around reacquainting themselves with old friends or family. New souls appeared regularly and were welcomed into their midst. Marilla caught up with her parents looking hale and hearty once again. Sometime later Rachel arrived and the two embraced warmly.
True to form Rachel rushed around getting to know everyone. One day she approached Marilla with a big grin on her face, "my dear," she whispered. "I've found It."
"It? What on earth are you talking about now, Rachel?"
"It! The Book. The Big Book. Oh it's wonderful you can find everything out about everyone. I know who's here and more importantly who's not." Her voice dropped lower as she cast her eyes left and right, "for instance old Josiah Pye is here but Mrs Pye, our Josie's grandmother, is not!" she stepped back looking very pleased with herself. "What do you make of that then Marilla? She's gone to the other place," Rachel peered down frowning as if she could see it herself. "Goodness me, she was a bitter old woman do you remember, Marilla?"
"I wonder what happed to old Mary Maria Blythe?" Marilla spoke without thinking because before she could stop her Rachel had bustled off to find out. "No wait," Marilla called after her. Really, Rachel was incorrigible.
As wonderful as it was to see the others, Marilla found herself drawn to Bertha. Her resemblance to Anne was wonderfully comforting and Marilla felt as they grew acquainted as though she was seeing another side to her daughter, as if this were an Anne that had not experienced those traumatic first years.
As Anne sat at her desk writing letters one afternoon Marilla remarked, "it occurs to me that we see different sides to our girl. I might have been there, but you've seen everything. Whereas she's merely told me and sometimes the edited version at that. I wonder," Marilla mused. "You might be able to fill in some gaps for me. Now I had the feeling that Gilbert proposed more than once."
"Yes, that's right and so did Charlie Sloan."
"Charlie?" Marilla spluttered. "Anne would never marry a Sloan."
"She tried to let him down gently, but it was an emphatic refusal," Walter explained.
"Our girl knew her own mind," Bertha said lovingly. She even sounds like Anne, Marilla reflected.
"Well yes and no," Marilla replied. "How long did it take for her to realise she loved Gilbert?"
"She did take her time there, I agree," Walter nodded. "Some days we were fairly screaming with frustration."
"When she was young, she and Diana used to sit up in her room acting out meeting the men of their dreams," Bertha said.
Marilla looked at her, "oh? Strange to think you were privy to all these things."
Bertha smiled, "not that there was anything we could do to influence her. That's the frustrating thing about our position up here. We can witness but not get involved. It's why people tend not to look down too often. They leave them to get on with their lives, but Walter and I couldn't help it, could we dear?"
Walter shook his head, "No, we spent so little time with her, we had such hopes for our life together. Having a baby completed us, but as you know it didn't work out like that." Age was a construct, particularly in heaven but Marilla did feel older than this lovely young couple, taken too soon.
"Roy now, was a gentleman," Bertha interrupted. "And perfectly respectable. I suppose I was excited for her initially. He did seem quite charming, the sort of man she and Diana used to giggle over when they were children. Roy fulfilled all those childhood dreams."
"Except," Walter interrupted.
"Exactly except Anne found out she wasn't a child any longer and her aspirations had changed. When Roy finally proposed she realised her heart wasn't in it."
"I never met Roy, what can you tell me about him?" Marilla asked curious after all this time.
"That's right you never did, did you? Their relationship didn't survive to a trip to the island. Well now," Bertha turned to Walter her brow furrowed. "Let me see, how to describe him."
"He was all froth and no substance," Matthew pitched in.
Bertha turned to him and nodded, "yes I think that's a good way to put it. Full of lovely words but there was nothing to them. I don't think he understood that Anne as light as she is, had a dark history and that that informed her even now. He was a fun infatuation but not the right man for her."
"And he spoke so condescendingly of Avonlea, as though it was some provincial backwater," Walter added.
"Well, it is to some extent, you'd have to say," said Marilla depreciatingly. "If you came from the big city I suppose."
"It's not that, he just sounded like he was rescuing Anne, when we know how important it was to her. She went to Redmond for an education, but she hardly needed a saviour," Bertha continued.
"How did he take it?" Marilla asked, intrigued to find out what had happened on that occasion since Anne had never gone into much detail.
"Not particularly well. I doubt anyone had denied him before. He was just one of people who got everything they ever wanted. The thought that Anne, who after all wasn't anyone particularly special." Marilla bridled to which Walter nodded. "Might refuse him simply never crossed his mind. He thought I suppose that he was doing her a favour, giving her a name, casting her in a respectable light. So, when she said no."
"I admit I cheered," interrupted Walter. "He wasn't the right man for our girl."
"Interesting," Marilla mused. "Anne spoke of him so glowingly until the end and then of course it finished, and we never really got to the bottom of it, so it's good to hear your take on the relationship. I must say, I was beyond delighted when she married Gilbert. You know I had my own brush with the Blythe family a long time ago. When they married, I rather felt as though we put that old animosity to bed. They were so right for each other." They all looked down and saw Gilbert gently hugging Anne as they lay in the marital bed. "Yes, just right for each other," Marilla murmured.
"Did she really get her friend Diana drunk? Or did we just read that wrong? Walter changed the subject abruptly with a twinkle in his eye.
"Oh," Marilla roared with laughter causing people nearby to glare at her, such open displays of amusement were uncommon. "Oh my, yes she did. That was my fault, I'm afraid. Being alone for so long I never quite got into the habit of properly labelling my bottles. But yes, she did. Poor Anne, Eliza Barry forbade them from seeing each other for months. Not until she saved Minnie May from an attack of the croup when we were all out of town."
"I wish she didn't give Rilla my name, I never truly liked it," Bertha said one morning as they watched the little girl glare at her neighbour Mary. "Thank goodness she goes by the shortened version of your name, Marilla. Personally, I used to dream I was called Cordelia."
"Why that was Anne's favourite name as well. First time I met her she asked to be called Cordelia and of course I refused. Anne is a good, sensible name."
"We liked it, didn't we Walter? We thought it was a fine name to take through life."
"She was happy it had an E of course," Matthew commented.
Walter's deep tone chimed in saying, "I rather think she would have loved something rather more romantic like Cordelia for instance."
"Ah well, does anyone approve of their name?" Marilla winked. "I was saddled with something that didn't really suit me, but I grew accustomed to it as did Anne in the end."
"Remember that time on the roof, Walter. I had my heart in my mouth," Bertha said as they watched Anne limp down the stairs one afternoon.
"Was that when she broke her ankle?" Matthew asked.
"That's right. Who was it who dared her?"
"Josie Pye. They were such a difficult family. Josie did everything she could to make Anne's life difficult. She told me all about it of course. She certainly paid the price for her pride," Marilla explained.
"So troublesome, I think it continued to bother her, didn't it?"
"Yes, still does I think," Marilla added. All four looked down and saw Anne ruefully rubbing her ankle.
"Poor thing even after all this time," Walter intoned sonorously.
"I would have thought you knew everything?" Marilla asked, somewhat confused.
"Well, we spent a lot of time looking out for her and fretting when she was young but once we knew she was in your safe hands we took our eye off the ball so to speak. She was being loved and nurtured so we were more relaxed," Bertha explained.
Tears came to Marilla's eyes. "Oh, my dear what is it?" Bertha enquired.
"I just wish," Marilla sighed. "I wish she had come to us sooner. She could have been spared so much heartache. We heard a little of what she had gone through, didn't we Matthew?" he nodded. "But she never went into much detail. Certainly, she was too thin when she first arrived, that told us much."
"Aye it wasn't easy. We watched her like a hawk then, didn't we dear. It was so upsetting to watch our baby be so mistreated. Many's the night, but no I won't go into it, you can imagine only too well. You can appreciate how relieved we were when you decided to keep her Marilla. We knew, perhaps even more than you ever could, how lucky she was to have fetched up at Green Gables with people who loved her. It took far too long but she made it to safe haven at last. Only then could we relax."
"Yes, that's the thing. And I never really felt I could make up for that time lost, though I tried."
"Some things can't be fixed. They can only be carried," Walter said gently, patting Marilla on the wrist.
"I'll never forget that tiny girl I picked up at the train station," Matthew commented. "Such a pitiful waif, but with so much spunk even then. You've no idea how much I admired her."
Walter's eyes brimmed with unshed tears, "that's right what a brave little girl she was, even then. You can't imagine how proud we were of her. Well, I suppose if anyone can it's you two."
"I admit," Marilla said softly. "It took me a little while, longer than it should. I think I forgot to be a good Christian. It's the one thing that always fills me with guilt."
"Now, now, Marilla. There's no need to feel that way," Bertha consoled her. "It hardly took you a day or two and you know even when you were coming around you still treated her with more love than many she had encountered. You fed her."
"Not that she ate."
"'Depths of despair', wasn't it?" grinned Walter.
Marilla smiled back, "that's right."
"Yes, but you fed her regardless and gave her a lovely warm, soft bed to sleep in, even if at that stage it was just for the night. And as I recall you couldn't go through with casting her off."
Marilla shuddered, "I could not. I don't know what became of Mrs Blewett but I could not in good conscious leave Anne in her clutches. She reminded me of poor defenceless mouse in a trap. I suppose Mrs Blewett took on another poor girl, but she was nothing to do with me."
"See, it only took you a few hours, then."
"I was awful confused at first, Bertha. I had so little experience with children and Anne was an unusual creature."
Bertha laughed, "she was at that. I wish we'd got to know her better," she shifted Joyce onto her shoulder and patted her back gently.
"One day," Marilla said. "One day you will."
"I thought you handled the hair dying incident with grace, Marilla," Bertha commented one afternoon as she laid the baby down in its cot. With four grandparents she was rarely out of anyone's arms but occasionally she too needed sleep.
"Well really what else can one do?" Marilla smiled. "After all it was an accident, and she paid the ultimate price. Only time she refused school as far as I can recall."
"She loved school did she not?"
"Though Teddy Philipps was not her favourite teacher, I had to chastise her for articulating her poor opinions. School masters are to be respected not mocked."
"From what I saw she had her reasons, though," Bertha replied. "That man spent all lesson mooning over one of the older girls and ignored the rest of the class."
"I did hear word of that, I always thought it was exaggerated," Marilla said.
"No, not really. He was in the wrong profession really. It was much better when he left wasn't it?"
"Absolutely. Now I won't say I completely approved of everything Muriel Stacey did but she certainly embraced Anne's love of learning and nurtured it."
"It was positively wonderful watching those two in action Marilla."
"Yet she didn't allow Anne to get too caught up in her fancies even then."
"That's right," Bertha agreed. "Remember when Anne got caught reading in geometry class. Much as Miss Stacey encouraged literature, everything had its right place."
Marilla sat back and listened with a smile on her face and warmth in her heart. She loved nothing more than talking about Anne and to do it with the people who loved her best was almost as good as being with her gorgeous girl.
"Mind the time Gilbert saved her on the pond, Walter?" Bertha said as they watched Anne wander down to the shore with the children one fine afternoon.
"Eh?" Marilla asked. "I don't remember that."
"The girls were playing the Lily Maid. Anne lay down in the Barry's flat and recited The Lady of Shallot."
"She always had a thing for Tennyson," Marilla commented.
"Precisely. Well on this occasion the flat sprung a leak. We watched the whole thing play out didn't we dear?" Walter nodded.
"She had to climb up on to a piling and she clung there until."
"Until?" Marilla said when after a pause the question had not been answered.
"Until Gilbert happened to row by."
"Oh, poor Anne," said Marilla laughing. "Of all the people."
"Indeed, you can just imagine her haughty indignation. But she was in a spot, so she took his kind offer, with ill grace. I was a tad disappointed in her, to be honest."
"I used to despair too. She was so good natured with most people, but it took a long while before she acknowledged her feelings for poor Gilbert. Poor lad could do nothing right."
They watched Anne comfort Rilla over some slight which prompted Marilla to ask, "what was she like as a baby?"
Sombre now, Bertha whispered, "I struggled too at first you know."
"You?" Marilla was mystified.
"It was a difficult confinement, and she was a colicky baby. If I could have just had a little sleep but Walter was working you understand so it was just the two of us at home all day long and she cried just about the whole time we were together. I had such hopes you know before she was born," Bertha sighed. "It was so hard, and I feel so guilty." She paused then whispered, "I've never told anyone this before."
"I always thought I had your legacy to upkeep," Marilla replied. "It took me a long while to really come to terms with motherhood, it rather passed me by. Then it was somewhat thrust upon me while my back was turned, as it were. I always felt completely inadequate to the task, and I thought you would have done such a wonderful job. Afterall Anne is yours and while I admit sometimes, I thought she was possessed," she laughed. "Really, she was always a lovely child, she brought such light into our drab lives. But my dear, you were so young, I can't believe how difficult it must have been for you."
"Then I took the fever and we sent her to the Thomases for safekeeping, how misguided we were."
"There, there, you weren't to know."
"I should have done. I knew Mrs Thomas wasn't the kindest of women, but we were strangers in that part of town, we barely knew a soul. I was still reeling rather when I came up here and Walter followed shortly after. We never got a chance to say goodbye to our baby. We'd watch her converse with Katie in the mirror and we'd weep together for her. What sort of deprived childhood was it when your only friend was a reflection?" Marilla's heart broke for the poor woman.
Heaven was limitless but it certainly grew rather crowded for a while when wars broke out on earth. Walter appeared one day after Marilla had been watching him out in the trenches, with her heart in her mouth. As wonderful as it was to reunite with the young man, she was distressed to see how it affected Anne on earth. "Folks down there believe Heaven is pure unassailable ecstasy Walter," she said to him one day. "But if our loved ones are sad, we are too."
"At least we know we will all be reunited one day," Walter commented. "On earth they can only hope."
Marilla did enjoy introducing the two Walters. Walter Shirley had been chuffed when young Walter had been born, and while he was sorrowful it happened so soon, it was nice to meet the sensitive young man. They spent many hours talking, which warmed Marilla's heart.
Time was fluid in heaven, but they watched Anne and her family until their girl's once despised red hair turned snowy white. She moved more slowly, and Marilla recalled how her own body had ached when she grew old, but Anne retained her good humour throughout. "Strange that she's older than I ever was," Bertha remarked one day. "I'm looking forward to our reunion."
"Not long to wait now," replied Marilla gently.
Eventually Anne was called home. Marilla found her in the mist looking about curiously, she led Anne over to their little ensemble; both Walters, Matthew and then her mother, Bertha who placed Joyce in Anne's waiting arms. Marilla watched the light that had departed all those years ago when wee Joyce had passed return to Anne's visage. She turned to them all after staring intently into her baby's eyes for quite some time. "I feel," Anne said breathlessly smiling at her four parents and children, "perfectly happy." She did too as all missing jigsaw pieces of her life clicked into place.
And they all lived, well existed anyway, happily ever after.
This story came about after a comment by Tinalouise88. Thank you for the prompt.