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An Angelic Man


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The door slammed shut and he heard footsteps marching hurriedly down the corridor. God, what in all the heavens was Charles doing?
Magnus slipped on his coat and carefully opened the door, afraid that the butler hadn’t fixed the hinges yet. The door didn’t make a sound, and instead slid smoothly open. Thank god. He really should pay that man more for doing his job.
He quickly ran behind Charles, hiding in the shadows so that his friend wouldn’t see him.
Where was he going?
The poor man was obviously mad with grief, but there was no need to lock up like that. Magnus refreshed his memory of the past few days’ events. First, Charles’ wife, Evelien had gone into premature labor, then their baby daughter, Mary had been born. And then mere moments after the child took her first breathe of air, Evelien was dead and the poor child was left motherless and with a father who was mad with grief.
He had been walking almost blindly, his feet following the familiar path, but now, as he realized where he was actually walking he stopped at once, a feeling of dread filling him.
Oh no. Dear God no.
“Charles!” he yelled, running over the rocky terrain, his feet pounding on the ground, “Charles!”
He didn’t care if his friend saw him now, all he knew now was that he couldn’t leave that poor baby an orphan, he couldn’t let that cliff do to him as it had done to so many others.
“Charles, you mustn’t!”
Magnus slowed his pace, dodging the rocks as he moved as quickly as he could towards Charles. He could see him now, his long dark hair a ragged mess, and his bare arms pale from the cold air.
They were both close to their destinations. Magnus saw him moving closer, and almost stopped from the fear and desperation that entered his soul.
He climbed over the last few rocks and then he was right there, right next to him.
“You!” Charles snapped.
“Charles, don’t do this,” Magnus pleaded, “Think of Mary, think of Evelien.”
“Evelien is gone now,” his oldest friend said miserably. “She’s gone, Magnus. My everything is gone.”
“But, you have Mary, don’t give up on Mary.”
“Every time I look upon her, I see Evelien, and it is a sharp stab to the chest.”
“But, isn’t that good, dear friend? Isn’t that a way to keep her alive?” Magnus asked, wishing his friend would just step away from the edge.
“I wish it were so, but it is not,” he said, stepping slightly closer to the edge of the cliff.
They could see their breaths now, the white fog drifting into the air above them, while below them everything was just darkness.
“Charles, just step away from the edge,” Magnus said, “We can talk about this like reasonable people.”
“I can’t live without her,” Charles said, his voice catching and tears glittering in his eyes, “Living a single day without her lovely voice and her wit and her smiles is torture. I cannot do it. Not for you. Not for Mary. Not for anyone in the world. All I want is to be with her again, to feel the soft touch of her skin, to hear the whisper of her words. That’s all I want, Magnus, and I know you cannot understand. But, I could have her again, I could have her love again, by just taking one step.”
He edged towards the cliff a slight bit.
“If you cannot live for your friends and your family, then live for her. Live for Evelien,” Magnus said.
He could see the doubt in his friend’s eyes at the thought, the quick quiver of his eyes, darting from the cliff edge to Magnus and back again.
“I’m sorry, dear friend,” he said, looking at him, “I’m so sorry.”
And then he made to jump off the cliff.
But, with a quick leap, Magnus had caught his jacket in his hand and he was jerked back.
“Let me go!” Charles yelled.
“Charles, I cannot let you do this.”
“You must, my friend, you must, or else I will live in this state forever, never truly living.”
“I cannot.”
They were facing each other now, each tiptoeing the line between life and death.
“Let me go.” Charles repeated.
“No.”
Charles pushed him and time seemed to slow.
He felt himself falling; saw the regret on Charles’ face, the words forming on his lips, the feeling of panic. And then to the sound of a heart wrenched, “No!” he hit the cliff edge, and there was nothing.
__________
He woke to a scream, a shrill cut through the night.
Charles bolted out of bed and down the hallway, swinging open the door to his daughters’ room. Mary sat, tiny hands clutching the blankets desperately, tears streaming down her flushed cheeks.
“Mary, are you all right?” Rosie was asking, her hands on her adopted sister’s shoulders.
He sat down, his weight making the bed squeak. Charles scooped the two small girls into his arms gently.
“Shh, don’t cry, Mary, dear,” he whispered, “What’s wrong?”
She just sniffled in reply, so he rocked them softly in his arms, until they were both fast asleep.
Then he carefully moved them back to their beds, making sure to tuck them in with care. Charles never did find out what Mary was screaming about, even though it was fairly easy to assume that it was about her parents.
Poor Mary, poor Rose, he thought, as he went back to sleep himself, those poor little darlings, losing both of Mary’s parents, and then Rose’s mother – his dear Jane. He sighed miserably, and as he drifted off his last thought was of her blonde hair and the laughter of his daughters.
_________
Rose scratched affectionately behind Cassie’s ears.
“You’re such a good doggy, aren’t you Cassie girl?” she cooed.
The dog looked at her blissfully, her exposed tongue and open mouth making it seem like she was smiling. She wagged her tail slightly and gave Rose what she called the “happy puppy grin.”
“Yes, you are,” Rose said to her precious pet.
“Rose, dear, come in and help Mrs. Lancaster set the table,” Father yelled from inside.
“Yes, Father,” she replied dutifully, before regretfully turned back to her dog, “You stay here, Cassie, like the good girl you are.”
The dog looked up at her lovingly and Rose smiled at the image as she left. The dog had been a present from her cousin, since the two had bonded at sight, and the dog had refused to leave Rose’s side during her visit to the countryside.
Mrs. Lancaster handed her an apron as Rose entered the kitchen and she spent the next few minutes putting dishes on the table.
Then she heard it. The shot pierced the air and a howl filled the following silence.
“No, Cassie!” she yelled, running to the front porch in time to see Cassie’s tail disappear into the muggy swamp.
She knew her dog was just following her hunter instincts, but if there was a hunter out there, then there was a chance that her dearest dog could get shot as well. It took only a few moments of thought for her to realize that she need to get to her precious Cassie before Rose was running, skirts pulled up to around her waist, strawberry blonde hair streaming behind her.
“Cassie!” she screamed as she ran, feet pounding on the ground.
“Rose!” two familiar voices called behind her. She shook off the instinct to look behind her for them. All that mattered now was getting to Cassie.
She continued running. She couldn’t let Cassie get hurt.
Then she felt herself flying through the air and into the mud.
“What in all heavens?” she yelled, pushing her hair out of her face. She saw her familiar brown haired sister on top of her. “Mary, what are you doing?”
“Father’s orders. Sorry, Rose.”
She spun around, seeing the edge of his coat disappearing around a tree.
“I have to go with him,” she begged her sister, “Please, Mary, let go.”
“But, Rosie, he said, I had to,” Mary said.
“Please, Mary, I can’t let Cassie get hurt.”
Mary looked around nervously, but eventually got off of Rose, “Fine.”
And then Rose was off and running again.
Another bullet shot cut through the air and she heard a screeching noise.
No. No. No. This could not happen. This was not allowed to happen.
She ran faster, her feet seeming to hardly touch the ground.
Then she rounded some trees and saw Father coming out of the swamp, drenched and shivering, but with Cassie in her arms.
No. She had to be alive.
Rose ran towards him.
“Is she alive?” she asked desperately.
He nodded and she ripped off the bottom of her soaked dress, and pulled Cassie into her arms.
“Get her to Mrs. Lancaster,” Father said, his voice deep and croaky.
Rose nodded and then she was running again, fire pouring through her veins, making her faster than she ever thought she could go, fueled by the fear for her dog’s life.
In the days that followed, Rose realized that she should have been more worried about her father than her dog, since getting soaking wet in the swamp in the middle of March was not an incredibly wise decision and led to pneumonia.
_________
Mary wet the cloth in the basin and smoothed it across Father’s sweaty brow. His eyes fluttered open at the touch, giving his adopted daughter a small smile, before groaning in pain. He once again squeezed his eyes shut. She looked at him pitifully, tears forming in the corner of her eyes. She wished with all of her heart that she could take the pain away from him. It killed her to see him like this. Her father, the man who raised her since her own parents had passed away was about to be taken away from her. Mary offered the half-empty bottle of whiskey to him, hoping that maybe he’d take some to ease the pain. But he refused.
“This is it,” Father said, “This is the end, my Mary.”
Mary knelt on the floor, placing her head on his chest. His shallow breaths and slow heartbeat echoed inside of him, and she could hear the faint gurgle of his stomach. As a child, she had loved doing this. There had always been the most interesting sounds inside of him. That was when she and Rose had played “Nurse” together. Tears stung my eyes and furiously rolled down her cheeks. She wasn't ready yet, but of course she would never be. She clutched his cold hands, hoping to bring him to life with her warmth.
Mary was pulled out of her trance as Father coughed harshly, the sound echoing through the otherwise silent house. Rose came running in, her face a mask of worry. Mary hated seeing her like that.
“Is everything all right?”
“Everything is fine, Rose. Go back to sleep.”
She kissed his forehead, before walking to the door. She lingered there for a moment, her eyes locked onto Father. Mary knew she wanted to memorize him, everything about him, before he was gone. And then she was gone, her quiet footsteps receding back to her room.
Mary crouched down beside Father’s bed once again, savoring what might be her last moments with him. Little had she known this would be his last day, this morning, but there was always that hope for another day, that fear that it would end today.
Father's eyes fluttered closed again, his breathing slowing to barely a whisper. He looked like he could have been sleeping, but Mary knew that he was almost gone, almost stolen away from her.
“Rose!” she shrieked as she rushed into her sister’s room. They met at the door and grabbed hands like they used to as children. Rose’s hands were quivering and she looked at Mary with such pain, such fright in her eyes that all Mary wanted was to tell her it was all right. But, it wasn’t all right. The floor creaked with each step they took. They had lived here since the beginning of their lives, the beginning of their pain filled lives, but even though the occupants had changed over the years, Father had been a constant. And now, without him, it would be empty. Every wall, every tile, every window would be a reminder of him, and his laughter, and how very much they missed him.
“Has it happened?” Rose asked quietly as they arrived at Father’s room.
Mary nodded slowly, the panic beginning to set in.
“I think so,” she whispered back.
The brass handle seemed to shimmer evilly as we stood in front of the door. It was just waiting to be turned. Mary took a deep breath and turned the handle. As I did so, Rose put a comforting hand on her shoulder, flashing her brief sorrow-filled smile.
He was lying flat on his back, obviously in pain. The light from the lamp illuminated the wrinkles and lines that etched his face and Mary could see how much the past few days had aged him. With each breath he took she could hear a deep rumbling in his chest.
As they got closer, Cassie the dog looked up, her tail wagging a bit limply. Her ears lay flat against her head and her paw was on Father’s leg possessively. They say that dogs don't understand emotions, but Mary could almost swear that Cassie knew what was going on.
“Come here, Cassie girl,” Mary said softly.
Cassie looked over at Father, letting out a sharp whine, before leaping off the bed and trotting over towards the two sisters.
The rocking of the bed stirred Father and as he gasped to breathe, Rose knelt by his bed. Mary knew she wanted to spend her last moments with her father, so she sank into the rocking chair in the corner with Cassie in her lap. She watched as Rose spoke with Father. Mary could see Rose’s special relationship with him as they spoke. Even in his pain, he tried to be strong for her.
Mary looked away, not wanting to intrude upon their privacy.
Suddenly Rose let out a yelp of fear, “Mary! He's not breathing! What do we do?”
Terror masked her features, and Mary leaped up to hold on to her. She looked down at him, and saw his chest wasn’t moving, and his eyes were closed. Well, at least it was all over now.
“Rose, we knew this would happen eventually,” she said quietly, “Let him go. It's time to say goodbye. The best we can do is remember him for what he was – our Father.”
Rose sobbed, and Mary held onto her, as she shook against her. After a few moments, Rose pushed her away and grabbed onto Father, collapsing against his chest, and continuing to cry miserably. Mary let her be, returning to her own room to mourn. Rose needed to heal on her own.
____________
Father died on a Sunday. The days that followed were hard for both of the sisters, and felt like they were never going to get any easier. Mary felt numb. Nothing felt real, not even pain. And it may sound as if it made it easier for her, but in reality it made it harder. All she wanted was to feel something. She wanted to get it out, get it over with, because she knew that the pain would just build up until it was unbearable, because as Mrs. Lancaster used to say, “Pain demands to be felt.”
Rose and Mary barely spoke a word to one another. Father's room had been emptied by Mrs. Lancaster and the other members of the help and it was empty and cold. It would never be the same.
They held the funeral at Smith's Cemetery on a Thursday with their distant family and friends gathered among them. Even though the others were there to console her, Mary felt more alone than ever before. Their condolences were word nicely, but all the same felt fake. Who were they to be mourning him? They had never known him, never known the true Charles. The man who had taken her in after her parents had been lost to the woes of the world. And even though offers of friendship were made, all she really wanted was to be alone.
The last of the funeral guests took an eternity to leave the garden, but once they were gone the silence was back and it was just Rose and Mary, silently staring at one another.
Then she caught a glance of them – the pink tulips that Father had loved so much were in bloom. And Mary knew what she had to do.
She looked over at her sister and knew that Rose had the same idea.
They walked together over to the patch and bending down, their dresses getting a bit muddy, they picked the flowers. As Father would have said, life wasn’t worthwhile unless you got yourself muddy.
Their shoes clicked on the cobblestones as they walked back to his grave. In unison, Mary and Rose knelt down, placing the vibrant flowers on the dreary stone. They were a bright reminder that life went on, and Mary sighed sadly.
Before they left, Mary whispered, “I miss you,” her fingers softly tracing the newly engraved letters on the tombstone.
Rose managed to choke out, “I love you,” tears streaming down her cheeks, before Mary helped her up and towards the house again.
When she looked out her window the next day, she saw the bright flowers even from a distance and thought again, life goes on.



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