I stared into the mirror for a final inspection of my appearance before leaving for the party. My friends thought I needed a social life, that I had withdrawn into my own world. I admit I spent most of my time reading and studying history and art. This balanced my occupation of engineering and the hard facts associated with numbers that I dealt with on a daily basis. I valued my private time and was comfortable in it. It gave me solace. I didn’t have to put on false pretenses.
I arrived at the party, my mind still focused on a large project I had just finished at work. I was reviewing every detail, making sure I hadn’t overlooked anything. I strolled leisurely around the room, less purposely than the Vivaldi melodies the string quartet was playing, not really joining in any conversation, but not overtly avoiding any, either. I kept noticing brief flickers of green motion throughout the room. I wondered if the light from one of the mansion’s large windows was the cause, but they were of clear glass, filtering the setting sun’s rich warm tones of yellow and orange.
I was drawn to a woman with flickering green eyes who stood out of the noisy crowd. It was not planned, orchestrated, or manipulated. It was fate. She confidently walked over to me and introduced herself as my hostess, Cynthia. We began a relaxed conversation that soon became an explanation to each other of who we really are. We discussed our passions and inspirations. Our voices became softer as we drew closer, eyes fixed, exploring each other’s soul. The other guests in the room merely saw two people engaged in conversation. They could not sense our slow dance to the music we created. We enjoyed each other; through our eyes, breathing the other’s scent, sharing the occasional touch of a hand on an arm. We were moving through life together. The world — no, the universe — was only inches away from my lips. Finding myself at home in another person’s being was more than enough for the moment.
Conceding to social demands, we temporarily parted. I had become more than I was at the beginning of our conversation. This exchange became a part of ourselves; we became more than the individuals we were when we first met. I had given something of myself, but it had been replaced by her giving as much back to me, of filling that void. I could now feel Cynthia’s presence coursing through me. She had become part of my lifeblood. We returned to the physical space around us, rejoining the guests present in the room. All other conversations seemed banal.
Encounters like this make the possibility of belief in past lives real to me. How is it that we have an immediate affinity, a connection, to certain individuals whom we have just met? In a short couple of minutes, our confessions became a key, unlocking secrets of shared experiences and feelings. They had to have been arrived at over the course of time in a relationship. They were the foundation upon which to build a set of life’s shared beliefs.
The party was on a large estate that belonged to Cynthia, though she had not taken legal possession of it. She shared a trust fund set up by her father that provided for her aunt for as long as she lived. This did not exclude Cynthia’s own comfort. She had ample funds, allowing her to live as she pleased. Her life was spent in the pursuit of art and self-discovery. She exuded a natural poetry of life.
“Let’s go down to my little hide-away,” Cynthia said, gently pulling me by the hand. We ran out of the main house down the expansive back lawn that overlooked the ocean toward a copse of trees and dense shrubs. She never let go of my hand.
As we approached a small grove of trees, a building nestled within them emerged. Early on, there had been what was, obviously, a cottage, but events had overtaken that simple statement. The building had been designed to harmonize within its surroundings. Trees were not felled during construction but were left standing, their honor respected. Over time, the cottage was eventually absorbed, forcing adaptation to the presence of the trees.
So the previous
occupants did just that: they adapted the house to the influence of the
trees connected by
Cynthia led me around the perimeter of the trees to the side facing the water. As we turned the corner, I saw a path of flagstones leading to a door. Calling it a door did not do it justice. Stained glass of subtle greens, suggesting the shapes of fairies, were cradled within a metal grate of intricately entwined branches.
“This is where I like to relax and enjoy myself,” Cynthia told me. She released my hand and opened the door. “I hope it has the same effect on you. Please come in.”
We passed through the graceful portal and stood in a most unusual room. The trees continued to provide structure within the cottage, roots and trunks separating the rooms. Doors were placed in unexpected locations. The wood was finely shaped, then lovingly smoothed and polished. Clear windows were framed with intricate lead molding. The result was a building that embodied graceful Art Nouveau curves. The entire structure was a living piece of art.
The floors were made of marble with light green striations. A decorative screen graced one corner; the gilded and lacquered woods were dull viridian and mauve, their sinuous lines suggesting an Aubrey Beardsley drawing. Opulent cabinets by Hector Guimard, who designed the gratings for the Paris Metro, balanced the larger pieces of furniture, their lines emerging from the earth, gracefully soaring toward the heavens. Statues of fairies with wings of gauze stood on tables supported by more fairies carved within the legs. A tall, narrow Pre-Raphaelite painting of a woman leaning restfully against a wall welcomed me. Her flowing diaphanous robes echoed Cynthia’s attire.
The ceiling was made of glass, but during the day, the foliage of the trees protected the cottage, tempering the penetrating heat of a hot sun, but allowing the room to fill with a natural light. As I slowly inhaled the natural aroma of the cedar trees, Cynthia’s scent mingled with it. Her body emitted a jasmine scent of its own, unlike any commercial perfume. Some women have this natural trait. Anne of Cleves’ bosom has been described as having an orange scent. Even if it is not true, it is a mystery of woman that should not be solved, but savored. I didn’t know which was having the calming effect on me: the aromatic cedar or her intoxicating delicate sweetness.
“Memère used to spend most of her time here, reliving happy moments. She became very quiet and thoughtful whenever she sat at this table.” Cynthia indicated a malachite marble top table supported by an ornate wrought-iron frame. The plush chairs of emerald velvet invited relaxation and comfort, a refuge in which to enjoy the passage of time. “She brought most of the furnishings with her when my family left France in 1915. They were from Provence. She chose my name but always called me Cynth. My mother never used that name, preferring Cynthia. There seemed to be a lot of tension between Mother and Memère,” Cynthia sighed.
“I love being in here,” she continued. “It’s so peaceful and quiet. Memère said she bought the cottage the very instant she saw it. It seems as if it were made for meditation, for allowing one to explore personal inspiration. Oscar Wilde stayed in the cottage during his visit to Newport in 1882, and Isadora Duncan rehearsed dance recitals here for her tea party performances. Of course, the cottage didn’t look like this then. Memère made many changes.”
As she turned to walk into the main sitting room, my eyes traveled along the line of her soft skin, lingering along strands of fine hair gracefully arranged in a style that harmonized with the flowing contours of the house and its furnishings. I focused on the nape of her neck, staring just above her shoulder where it emerged from her gown. I was entranced.
I tore my eyes from Cynthia and entered the room. On each side of the marble fireplace were two plush sofas covered with soft fabric. Between them was a table of Moorish design with tiles on top, buttressed with finely carved wooden legs. Persian carpets piled in layers, one on the other, providing comfortable footing. Pillows of various sizes were strewn about in a sea of green on the floor and furniture, to provide further comfort if needed.
Opposite the fireplace were the double French doors through which we had entered the room. The rest of the wall was covered from floor to ceiling, one end to the other, with antique books. The musky odor of leather and various animal skin bindings added to the warmth of the room.
Outside the large bay window, I heard the sound of white geese. They gave the grounds an appearance of newly fallen snow as they grazed, resting before continuing their migration. My impression was that the entire estate provided solace and refuge to all who came to it.
I noticed a photograph of Cynthia on the wall. An image of her head from the shoulders up, she had her back to the viewer. Her hair was piled high, as she had appeared to me moments before. I wondered if I wasn’t actually looking at her rather than an image. My senses were confused — the photograph caused me to question reality. As I approached, an intense jasmine odor, reminiscent of Cynthia, emanated from the photograph, intoxicating me.
I lost myself, immersed in that scent. My engineer’s mind struggled to fathom the mechanics of this delightful phenomenon. (A strip of velvet filled with cotton along the backside of the frame where a scent could be applied easily explained it. By positioning the photograph over a heater, the scent was continuously diffused, growing stronger as the room became warmer to ward off the cold.)
As my senses slowly returned, I found myself seated on one of the sofas, facing Cynthia. I do not know how I got there. I did not risk walking in case I tripped or caused the spell she had woven to be broken. I moved from one conscious state to the next. I was content to let time imprint itself on me in moments, not in a measured linear progression. Soothing Billie Holiday ballads colored the air.
Gradually, I focused on the hot tea Cynthia was pouring. She lifted a large brass teapot high over a glass encased in a metal holder that had intricate patterns etched into the handle. She skillfully transferred the liquid from one vessel to the other. The aroma of mint filled the room; even the light took on a slightly green tint.
“You’re very good at that,” I told her.
“We used to visit Morocco every year, spending months at a time in the desert. Our Bedouin guides taught me their tradition of taking tea and made a present of this teapot to me. The sky was so clear you could see every star in the universe. I wish you could see the beauty of the desert, feel the freedom of spirit it releases.”
“I’ve spent my life near the ocean. It must be the same thing,” I replied.
She smiled. “No, it’s not at all. When you look out over the water, you are rooted to your spot on land, projecting your thoughts to other places. In the desert, you are free to follow your thoughts as they lead you. It is the same with love.”
“How is that the same with love?” I wanted to understand her insight.
Without hesitation, she replied, “You can love someone and project yourself onto that person and the relationship you build. Or you can let love lead you through life. It is up to you, to release or control. The way we love reflects our soul. It is everything in life.
“I can tell you have been very much in control of your life. We all need to let go once in a while,” Cynthia said with concern. Her face revealed a thought that suddenly came to her. She weighed it, made her decision, rose, and announced, “I’ll be back in a moment.”
Descending a flight of stairs, she disappeared into the depths of the cottage. Her words were still in control of my thoughts. Yes, love is in our soul, and it is everything in life. It had not led me through life but had always been an important part of mine. I sensed the beginning of a new journey.
She returned carrying a tray with a bottle containing an opaque green liquid, a pitcher of ice water, glasses, sugar cubes, two spoons with small holes, and a box of stick matches. I looked at her with questioning eyes. She responded with a wink and said, “You’ll see.”
Her bright green eyes sparkled. Preparing to pour from the bottle, she explained, “This is an old family tradition. In fact, my uncle brewed this. It takes a little getting used to, but it will inspire you to relax — or possibly more.”
She performed some ritual of administration with the utensils that I do not clearly remember. I do recall, though, seeing a bright flame, the light dancing within the green liquid, drawing me toward it.
After the first bitter licorice taste, a melancholy overtook me. A slow quiet descended. Fire traveled along my throat, into my stomach. My mind relaxed. I felt freer than I had ever been. Thoughts drifted as if borne on the wings of a fairy, weightless enough to float on light. Motion suggested itself in the periphery of my vision. I could feel my conscious mind turning in on itself.
I opened my eyes to a place that was unfamiliar. Cynthia was sitting by my side, her hand gently resting on my forehead, occasionally brushing the widow’s peak of my hair. Her small strokes slowed in their intimate frequency. She was on the cusp of sleep. The morning sun’s warm glow flickered on the soft green walls of the room. Lilting songbirds greeted a fresh day. I wondered if I was lying in the woods. Having never left the enchanted cottage, I had returned from my journey.
“You must tell me,” Cynthia whispered.
I took a short breath and began to speak, when she leaned over me. Her ethereal hair grazed my cheeks. My words slowed in the distance of my throat. My eyes languidly closed. Her mouth gently brushed my chin.
“Not with words, with your lips.”
|© 2003 Timshel Literature|