Excerpt from Lily’s Odyssey, a novel, published with permission by All Things That Matter Press; its first chapter a Short List Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award for Best New Writing
By Carol Smallwood
I regretted having to leave Ithaca, but had to prove I could get a job to support the kids and myself or lose them. But the brief moments I’d lived, were when I’d been with Mitchell.
Often, I’d recall the time we went to see Aida, and could remember so clearly the woman who sat behind us describe how suddenly rain showers started in Bermuda. I remembered the rustle of programs, the discrete coughs, and the excitement in a student’s voice as he talked about the discovery of a new, galaxy and the warmth of Mitchell’s shoulder the first time against mine.
It was so much fun to get dressed up for someone who’d notice, which I’d done so rarely in Nicolet City before I went to Ithaca. And as we sat waiting for the curtain to rise, it seemed that I was a bird blown off course that’d finally come home. During intermission we talked on the balcony while people I wanted to know drifted up and down the wide staircase. But the perfect evening ended when the characters were buried alive in the final act.
“I know I’m being so silly,” I whispered, “but I have to go. I’ll wait in the lobby for you.”
“We’ll get some fresh air,” he said.
Then we stood on the steps outside until the terror I felt of being suffocated faded. When we went back for our coats, the attendant asked, “Did you and your wife enjoy the performance?” I was pleased that he saw us as a couple, but felt guilty for wishing it’d been Mitchell’s wife instead of his son who’d been killed in the car accident. When we left, I remembered looking back and feeling a chill when seeing the closed red and gold curtain like a sunset.
I confided about Uncle Walt. “A psychiatrist said he wasn’t an uncle to me, but a lover,” I told Mitchell, clutching my purse and looking down. “I’m afraid that if I start understanding it, I’ll fall down a deep hole I’d never escape. I don’t remember what happened. Cal said he did things he shouldn’t have, but that was just Uncle Walt to me. I wanted to move away from Uncle Walt when I started having awful dreams, but Cal wouldn’t.”
“I’m sorry,” Mitchell said, and he added something else that I didn’t catch because he started pacing. Then he asked me the same question Cal had: “Did you tell your aunt?”
“No. She said they’d saved me from being an orphan. I saw Jane Eyre in the fourth grade and thought I’d be sent away to an awful institution and die like those girls. And I knew she wouldn’t help anyway.”
“It’s good you’re here in Ithaca,” Mitchell said, “because I’ve seen positive changes in you.” After a pause, he added, “I’m not what you call a church person, but I know people sense basic goodness, and I admire you even more now.”
“Tell me that good exists.”
“Good exists,” he replied. “You know that bad does, so good must.”
“You really believe that?”
I repeated, “Good exists, good exists,” and smiled to show that he’d helped convince me.
When Mitchell walked me to my car, his blazer blew against me making me feel a part of him. He tilted his head, smiled, and said lightly, “You look like the flower you’re named after when you wear green. Wear it often.” When I slowed my steps, he stopped, put his hand on my arm and said, “How can I not want you? You are someone I always hoped existed. You were meant to be loved,” and then his voice broke when he asked, “why couldn’t we have met earlier?”
I bowed my head while my tears transformed the flowers lining the sidewalk to stained glass, the sidewalk to carpeted aisle, the trees to vaulted ceiling, and my dress a wedding gown, not letting me say, “At least we met.”
Carol Smallwood co-edited Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching (McFarland, 2012) on the list of “Best Books for Writers” by Poets & Writers Magazine; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (Key Publishing House, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011) received a Pushcart nomination. Carol has founded, supports humane societies.