Visiting Flowering Springs was a long tradition Mirielle kept, and for many reasons. The garden and pond were convenient for a bit of solitude when she visited her parents each winter and spring. They lived down the street and around the corner, and the oasis of abundance held sweet memories of growing up. She’d escape the house to safely roam along pond’s edges and along pathways, weaving between dense groves of rhoddodendrens and azaleas. Later, it became a refuge in which to mull over problems or visit a friend without parental surveillance. Only her best friends came with her. It was a public garden but strangers had their routes and resting spots and she had hers. Flowering Springs held enchantments, senuous beauty with heavy boughs rich with brilliant blossoms, the peaceful ducks milling about and territorial geese making known their authority by honking and strutting, sometimes chasing people. Shadowed mazes of paths were good for sharing confidences, and offered meditative nooks.
She was glad it was there for greater security amid unsettling times. Mirielle was finding this December visit taxing. Her father had had hip surgery and was recuperating slowly, often napping, dulled by pain pills. Her mother was getting hard of hearing so conversations tended toward a tragicomedy of errors. And even admitted she got gout attacks at at night, awakening her from a sound sleep. Not that their minds were going. They read alot, played Scrabble and chess if they could stand the length of the games, and occasionally attended lectures and performances. Her parents were enthusiastic in intention if not always in action. She should be happier about their general well being.
But she had a life, as well, and it had been a harsh year for her, too. Thomas had left six months ago without a backward glance, only a note about Kong the humungous, princely cat, saying he’d slip b ack in to get him in a couple days. She wasn’t even there when he lugged the creature to unknown parts. Good riddance to them both. Yet she’d cried for hours.
The end of everything that really matters, she had thought then, but of course it wasn’t true. Mirielle continued to go to work (in the guest room/office) cranking out articles for a city paper. She ran daily at 6 a.m. for 30 minutes, as usual. And gave into her love of cream cheese and blueberry bagels, smoked salmon and onion bagels, sunflower butter with apricot jam slatherd on plain bagels, cinnamon and raisin bagels dressed only in butter. Thomas loathed bagels, decreeed them boring and fattening–what is the point? he’d ask, lip curling.
She quit restricting herself in most ways since she no longer needed to consider his habits or preferences. If that meant going to bed at 2 in the morning, she did so with a roaring good mystery or trashy magazine until she slumped over, face planted in a pillow. No more tedious discussions about post modernism or the peculiar habits of weasels. No more annoying bike rides at the same greenway each Saturday so he could tally up mileage each time. Sometimes his arrogant intelleigence could wear her down to a nub.
“So what really happened? With Thomas?” her mother asked at dinner the first night back home.
Her father looked up from final bites of meatloaf, green beans and potatoes to listen better. He didn’t ask anything personal but he always wanted the lowdown. One heavily white eyebrow was cocked as he waited.
“A better job, as I explained. Multinational company in Denmark.”
“He moved to Denmark?” her father asked, incredulous.
“Not yet. Six months here, then to Copanhagen, but who cares?” Mirielle said, ready to close the topic.
“He didn’t want to take her along, Dan,” her mother explained quietly, clearing off serving dishes.
“I didn’t want to go, we’ve been so over,” she muttered.
Her father peered out from under the line of bushy brows. “Best to stay put where you are, anyway, Miri. You live far enough.”
“Yes,” she agreed, yet mashed potatoes globbed on her tongue. Denmark, she might have lived in Denmark. Well, it was much, much colder there and he was not at all snuggly the last year.
Her mother came back with slices of Key lime pie. “You said the cat stayed, though. That may be a comfort to you. But poor guy, probably misses him.”
Mirielle didn’t bother to correct her–and who probably missed whom?–and was glad dinner was coming to a close. With a favorite dessert.
Then her mother patted her back like she was eight years old, presented the plate with its pie wedge and said casually, “By the way, I saw Harrison at the grocery today–he’s visiting his folks, too, and asked about you.”
She had taken a big drink and sprayed seltzer water onto her Key lime slice. Thankfully, her mother disappeared into the kitchen and her father was clueless, though irked by the sudden seltzer mess, and looked as if he stifled the urge to reprimand her for gauche behavior. Instead, he tossed her his clean cloth napkin. She was thirty-six, she could clean up her own messes.
After a short walk, Flowering Springs was where Mirielle ended up the next day in late afternoon.
The cold had arrived abruptly at dawn, and it sneaked past jacket and sweater to find barely defended flesh. She pulled arms close and cast a fond eye over the pond. There were Wood Ducks, Mallards, Buffleheads, Canada Geese, American Coot, great Blue and Green Herons, Double-crested Cormorant…so many she recalled, though there were close to 100 species. In middle school she’d written a though report on this wildlife; she found that investigating then commandeering facts was satisfying. And that decided her future as a reporter.
Harrision had thought it a great idea but he believed most anything she said or imagined was great. “Nothing but the best for you,” he’d tell her with that generous smile that drew people to him. He demonstrated his appreciation in many ways. She was 14 and Harrison,16, so that meant two tickets to a popular Friday night movie or a bag with bagels and coffee brought to her house after the second church service. Or it might mean a bracelet with enamelled daisies on it, or a sweet note slipped through a hole in her bedroom’s screen window at midnight. It seemed excessive to his buddies but to him it was simple: he was in love.
They were in love. And it remained that way for two, almost three more years. Mirielle and Harrison, a perfect couple– so certainly they would marry after college. It was true that they were a good match. He, the quiet one and she, more gregarious; he, a natural in theater and she, a track star. Harrison always knew what to do when she noisily displayed feelings of distress or discouragement, and Mirielle was the only one who semed to understand his unspoken thoughts, his subterranean moods. And they were beautiful together, no one could deny that: he sported dark wavy hair, tawny skin with softly brooding brown eyes; she had thick auburn hair, fair skin prone to a burn and blue eyes that shone with curiosity.
Except following graduation Harrison decided to attend a family alma mater five states away, and the third year he met someone…and got married before he had completed his B.S. degree. She never got over it, and if he was honest–which he was, once—neither did he. But there were so many miles and alterations to their lives; it was the way it unfolded. It had been a long while. The keen hurt had almost faded. Even if his sonorous voice and his probing eyes had not faded from her memory.
And then that morning when she’d gone for her usual run (much later than usual), he’d called her parents’ old landline number and left a message: meet him at Flowering Springs. A place they’d shared many talks, pensive times and stirring kisses. It seemed absurd to not see what he wanted. To not see him, period.
Mirielle began to walk around the pond, wending her way through huge bare-limbed rhoddies and azaleas. She was nerved up, alive with anticipation but also uncertain. He had been married for 15 years; he had children. Why was he meeting her? The last time they’d spoken was after his sister had died nine years past; they’d seen one another at the funeral home. Fewer words were exchanged than heartfelt glances, and it had been taxing for her, perhaps for him amidst his grief. But his wife was always at his elbow as she ought to have been. His lovely wife that had somehow stolen his heart, after all.
And there was nothing more. She still felt that tug, a clarity of heart that insisted they’d been meant for one another. But were they, in fact? They had been living separate lives for over a decade, close to two now. There had nothing for it but to keep on, adapt on the fly, make do, create most of what she needed in her life. Mirielle had done well– with or without a man being a part of it. And there had been a few, though not a husband. She was a very good reporter and had friends, garnered some happiness here and there. She didn’t need more complications; she preferred a hiatus from romantic relationships.
The geese didn’t budge from her path but neither did they attack–they had known her so long, she liked to think. To what age did geese live and did they recall human faces? She forgot if she’d researched those for the report made. Their presence reassurred her with their brazneness and familiarity. All of it comforted her as she moved through the landscape on quiet feet. This was a place she had often dreamed and grown up strong, independent. Where she learned about nature, but also learned about hearts made full and empty.
The platinum sky was weighty with clouds; bands of light slipped out like phantom fingers. She could almost see the small waterfall and a fountain by the south end of the pond, where they used to meet. It appeared deserted.
The truth was, she’d be surprised if Harrison showed up. It was one thing to have an impulse, another to make it reality. And should one even act on impulses like this? Perhaps just as well nothing might occur. Time gone and comittments made, so many changes of fate. It was too much to figure out. Things needed to fit together much better to build a cohesive whole of her life. She was not 14 or 15 but heading toward middle age before too long. No more did she entertain childish fairy tales.
Mirielle sat on a weathered bench at the waterfall’s edge, leaned over to dangle fingertips in brisk clear water as it cascaded over mossy rocks. The ache and then slight numbness startled her. December days in Oregon were not like December days in southern California, but both places were home.
She’d give him fifteen minutes, no more. She was not being left stranded once more. A wood duck flapped its fancy wing by the pond and lifted its elegant green head, and she thought how simple a life it had. She closed her eyes and breathed in clean sharp air.
It was almost a whisper, that rich, gentle voice sliding across the air to her. She stood and faced him.
He was shorter than she recalled and his black hair was nuanced with white at the temples. But his searching eyes were the same and, too, his sensitive mouth, which broke into the smile she knew well. He stepped forward.
Mirielle was frozen in place, whether by the sweep of emotion she felt for him still or fears that fell upon that joy. Before she could stop herself, she looked at his wedding ring finger. She had to know.
Bare. That was enough. Harrison’s gaze scanned her face with near-disbelief, then held his hands out to her. She moved to him, let his warm hands take her chilled ones. He pulled her to his chest, her name spoken happily, arms snug about her. Mirielle leaned in as close as she could–to be sure. They fit one another, still, and after k moments that threatened to undo them, they released one another reluctantly.
They squeezed side by side on the old bench and began to talk as if in an old and secret language, layered and muted and kept close between them–the waterfowl heard little of import. Harrison and Mirielle began to discover what story might blossom from their chance encouter, even as the sky closed over their garden and darkened. The rain fell and lamps flared one by one, illuminating the way as they dashed to shelter.