The Answer at Hand
Ann walked the cobbled path. It was rather pleasant outside, the sun wasn’t quite at its intensive high, and a cool breeze did much to chill the suggestion of humidity. The sky was as blue as ever, with silk clouds patterning the emptiness. The indefinite path saw large trees evenly spaced along, covering the blue like a cave. Ann wasn’t fully deprived of the view, beyond the orchard lay a field reaching all the way to the horizons. It was grass, the greenest grass for as far as the eye could see, spread over rolling hills in the distance.
A gust rushed down the path, blowing Ann’s flowered dress forward. She clasped her hands in front to prevent the chill from reaching her legs. She let her eyes drift downwards. Ann couldn’t tell if she wanted to cry or not, but her eyes closed in thought that she’d never go back to the life she had once lived.
With a deep breath, Ann continued her endless journey down the path laid with stone. Hoping, just hoping, she’d be able to live again.
She grew tired. Tired of walking.
This was not expected. The distance Ann trekked hadn’t worn on her, but for some reason, it was now. The trees beside fell still, no wind to breeze them. It was quite, so quite the skin of her feet beat an echo that bounced in a cellar that wasn’t there. Ann scanned the trees, perhaps wanting to find a bird ready to sing, but she met only loneliness. Suddenly the gravity pulled harder, it begged for her pause.
She listed to the call, and stopped.
Rightwards, the grass looked a suitable place to rest. She turned and her feet broke from the cobbled path. The ends of her toes stepped onto damp ground, heels pressing gently against the soil. The grains of dirt reached and stabbed up into her nails; it wasn’t very pleasant, but the grass was far more welcoming to her shoeless feet. Cold, wet, unforgiving, yes; but soft, arid, and loving as well. She sat at the border of sun and shade, her body embracing the droplets of water that pushed themselves at her skin.
The wind rushed again, the trees howled in glee. Ann caught sight of two boots before her feet. She stared down at them, and when she looked up, a man stared back at her. He bore black hair on his scalp, cladded in a dark raincoat that somehow soaked in rain that had not yet fallen. His eyes she did not see, for they hid behind a white cloth that bled its own blood, but Ann sensed a mutual ability to see.
“Tell me, young lady,” his voice aged and calm, “how far has the path taken you?”
Ann gave the answer at hand, “Far,” she said.
“Well, you’re quite right,” laughed the man. “And how far has far gone?”
Ann could not reply, she saw the riddle as quizzical, simply not crafted for an answer. But the man knew that she did not know, he waited for the crying wind to temper.
“Might I sit beside you?”
Ann nodded with neither hesitation nor apprehension. She trusted his presence, it meant no harm and exuded warmth. The two watched the shadows roam the perpetual hills of grass.
“So tell me,” said the man, “I've seen many a person on the cobbled path. Could it be the name you bear is Ann?”
“Yes,” she said.
The man chuckled, “As to my knowledge, you haven't yet met your subjugated friends. How would you like to meet them?”
Ann gave the answer at hand, “I don’t know,” she said.
Finally, the man said, “I understand. But I’m sure the girl below the lamp post aches to do so.” He stood up, offering his arm to take her along. When she did, the wind screamed the scream of foreboding. The man snapped his gloved finger and the screaming ceased to be, the trees burned away and the darkness took their place. The unseen rain from the man’s coat was now seen by Ann, large droplets drifted down like an autumn of crystal marbles, each losing its form as to come in contact with the black street at her feet. She let go of the man’s arm, the blood from his white cloth appraising her. He pointed to what was behind Ann.
A girl sat against a tall street light, it omitted a sterile substituted for moonlight, the marbles of rain stealing the gray glow for themselves. The girl squeezed her legs and buried her head. She held a butcher knife in one hand, her other hand squeezed the blade tightly. She seemed frozen.
The man approached the still girl, hiding his arms behind the rain coat. “I need tell you, Ann, that what the girl cannot see is what causes her pain. A narrow perception makes the forlorn soul. But unfortunately for she, her perception is so narrow she sees only but one answer to her suffering. Come and see for her, will you?” He gestured for Ann to come. She obeyed. “Don’t fret, she can’t see us, let us open her hand.” One by one, he opened each finger until the stained-red knife shimmered freely. “Look,” he said, “Why don’t we clean the blood off her hands?”
Front of her, the man untied the cloth over his head, giving it to Ann. She took the cloth and wiped the blood from the girl’s hand. As she did, Ann did not dare look at the man’s face, she didn’t want to be impolite. Scrubbing the dryer parts, a single scar was all that remained, stretching itself across the width of the girl’s palm. Ann handed back the cloth, and he wrapped it over his eyes. He grasped the girl’s hand holding the knife and returned it to the one Ann had just cleaned. He smiled to Ann.
“Give her time to follow through. Come, let’s leave this place.”
The man accompanied Ann’s walk on the cobbled path. The man’s boots clicked against the patterned stone, he spoke not. She saw him through the corner of her eye, the coat remained ever drenched in water, it rained the path behind. Catching her gaze, the man turned his head at her and smiled.
“Who is she?” asked Ann.
The man looked forward before answering. “Why, she’s everything. She is the wind, trees, and skies. She is the white amongst blue, the red burned in black. The girl is this very path, Ann. She is I, and she is you.”
Ann was dissatisfied with the response. She felt the need to restate the question. “But who is she, what is her name?”
He didn’t have a clear answer, only the one at hand. “Her name just is,” said the man, “and she is dying.”
“Yes, dying. And she’s been dying for all of time, Ann.” He rotated and walked backward. “Come now, let’s watch the flowers dance until the sun dies, too.”
The sun peaked its flame over the smooth horizon of the many hills and small valleys. The clouds tinted pink, sunrays tending to the edges of each. The green of the land, the dark blue of sky, and the pink in cloud did well to complement each other. The man and Ann watched into the endlessness beyond the orchard of trees. No howling wind, no screaming trees, only the somber sun seeing its last of the cobbled path.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Ann agreed. “But it’s almost sad.”
“Sad you say?”
She didn’t anticipate having to explain herself, “I thought you said the sun would die?”
The man gave a plosive laugh. “You mistake this play for words, Ann. The sun will die at dusk, naturally, but it will rebirth at dawn.”
Ann wasn’t oblivious to the fact, “Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m not telling you,” said the man. “I’m telling her.”
Ann jumped back in shock, the girl had materialized while she wasn’t looking. She was fixated in the same pose as she had when under the lamp post. Nothing had changed, she still attempted to cleave her own hand.
The man reached down with a handkerchief, he gathered streaming tears off the girl’s face. After he elevated back to Ann, he dropped the handkerchief in her hands. Upon doing so, the girl woke to life, rising to a standing position. She paid no attention to the two and wandered out into the field with wind tugging at her long locks of hair.
“Where is she going?”
“She chases the dying sun, of course.” He paused for a moment, “It’s all her perception can see.”
The man snapped his finger, and the girl, field, trees, sun and path spun and warped into another. A new night consumed all. It was until candlelight from the ground pushed the darkness to bay, and a surrounding kitchen reflected the light it could. The counters were clean and the dishes swam in red water. Ann heard a crying she hadn’t before, and it was clear why the water was the way it was. The girl sobbed next to the sink, the knife floated in the water. Her left arm was held straight, blood seeped from the closed hand and dripped-dripped-dripped into the sink. Ann came beside her.
“My God, she’s cut her wrists!” Ann made for her arm, but the man snapped his finger once again.
They stood in the middle of the grass. The orchard of trees was far in the distance, it ran left and right aimlessly. Ann felt her lower lip shake from the prior happenings. The cloth around the man’s eyes, it too, blood ran down his cheeks. However he maintained a stern and collected face, it contrasted the red tears. The rain of his coat doing the same, the grass frowned in its crimson stain.
Two wings sprung from behind him, but they were not his. He stepped aside, the girl had been hiding from Ann’s view. A dove, thought Ann. The girl’s hair bleached the same brilliant white that the curt wings featured. Her face was blank, with no gleam of life in her eyes and no flush on her cheeks. She stared at Ann, but her gaze landed a thousand miles away. The tips of her wings pointed downwards but then reached up as if to fly. The knife appeared in her hand, and the trees from aback shrieked in a gale hard enough Ann swore they could have pulled their roots from the ground and rushed to the girl’s aid. But no one helped the girl, her tresses faded red. And with the knife she reached behind, the wings jerked in an effort to escape, but the girl severed the stems with a swift strike. They fell to the ground, blood oozing from its feathers.
She dropped the knife and took to the orchard.
“Where is she going?” asked Ann.
“The cobbled path. It is her journey for the rest of time.”
“Why did she do it?”
“Perception,” said the man. “Her perception could not see a sky yearning to be flown.”
“Can I ask something?”
The man’s brow lifted. “What is it you’d like to know?”
“The sky is very dark,” she said. “Where are the stars?”
“Oh, they’ll come out,” was the answer at hand. “They’re just a little shy. But don’t worry, they’re there.”
“I’d like to see them.”
The man didn’t say anything, he studied the void whiles the long sleeves of his coat dragged. His arm came to a fist over his heart, a sign Ann interpreted as a show of pain. Her theory contradicted the reality of which he quickly sauntered, forcing her chilled feet to move fast. He went with destination in mind, and it wasn’t until he walked a full five strides ahead that he noticed her struggling to keep up.
“We’ve arrived,” he stopped and said.
Ann saw no point of arrival at all. It was the same path, same trees, same fields, and hills. “Where?” she asked.
The man didn’t answer, he indicated that she once again distance herself from the path. She hesitated at following suit, his eagerness frightened her. Never before had she strayed from the cobble so carefree and so often. The man’s request gave the impression of a plight, the faces of trees told her not to listen. ‘Stay on the path, they seemed to say. A conflict ensued and the man scolded the trees without words or expression, it petrified and disheartened them. Ann reinforced her place on stone.
“Tell me, Ann,” exhaled the man, “why do you stand there in defiance?”
Ann could have given the answer at hand, instead, she bit back at her internal demand.
“Ann,” he rested his hands on her shoulders, “your forsaken journey concluded the moment the walk began. You wandered its distance, never pondered its existence. Look, look at your own feet. How can you walk with crying soles pleading with each and every heartbeat? Never have you stopped, nor have you slowed down. You refused to change your course, let alone that gown. You kept going, kept your head high. My dear, Ann, how could you forget that you’ve died?”
The words spawned exasperation within her. “I will not answer to your riddles!” she said. “That girl doesn’t deserve to walk the path alone. I can’t just leave her!”
“The girl has gone nowhere, Ann. No matter how far she’ll swear she’s gone, the path will forever keep its stationary pawn. Too many do I find on the path, too many, do I see lost in vain. But just like you, Ann, they’re all the same.”
“How can you just say that?” cried Ann. “How can you be so reluctant to help her? What has she done to deserve such cruelty?”
The man approached Ann, he opened his arms, extending them so the raincoat could fall to the ground. Upon revealing his backside, a pair of wings stretched outward, gasping for freedom. They towered over Ann, then around her. The soft feathers brushed her forward, and she embraced his arms. He held her closely, his chest burned like fire.
“Ann, you’ve held in tears for too long. It’s time to let them free.”
The consent caught her half-winded, and a single tear relieved itself of her pull. She dug her fingers into the man’s back as more fell from her eyes. She choked on the heavy air of sadness finally being breathed out of her lungs, it was alleviating, but painful as well. Ann cried and cried. So much so she was able to release entirely into the man’s breast. The man’s wings came close, their soft texture soothed like a pillow she could never have.
She released her grip, and so did he.
“Would you like to live again?” asked the man.
“I don’t know how,” she said.
“Of course you don’t,” he laughed. “But that is why I will teach you. You have broken your captivity, and now you must learn to fly. Then you will live again.”
“But how?” she asked. “My wings were severed long ago… how do I fly without wings?”
The white cloth with blood fell from his eyes. “Why, you grow them back, Ann. You must grow your wings, then you will live again.” said the man. And that was the answer at hand.
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