‘Where am I? Who am I?’ These questions were ringing in my head. I now realised that it was the chirping of the birds that woke me – a sound that was foreign to anyone living in a city. I sat up and looked around; I was sitting in the shade of a tree in a beautiful glade, and everything was peaceful. I tried to remember what had occurred. Why was I here? I had no recollection at all. Slowly the memories started coming to the forefront of my mind. I remember running for my life with my heart thumping out of my body. I heard voices calling me but I kept running; then it overtook me, this strange dark cloud.
Now I am all alone in this beautiful glade. I stretch out my hands and gasp in amazement; my gnarled arthritic fingers are straight and beautiful, my arms are beautiful. I put my hands to my face, and it feels as soft and full as that of a new born baby. I stand up, in fact I rise effortlessly like a spring chicken. I can’t remember when last I have felt this good – or if I have ever felt so alive. I stretch my arms above my head and dance a few steps, I dance my way down to the river where I see a man sitting watching me. He looks vaguely familiar; he looks almost like my brother, in fact, now that I come closer, is it possible that he could be Dean? He has the same open smile, the same quizzical way of looking at me.
“Hello Julie,” he says. “You’re looking good.”
I have a million questions: Why does he look so young and handsome? Why am I looking and feeling young? Sitting me down next to him, he says: “You have been dead for quite some time.”
“Dead! What are you talking about?”
“We tried to stop you from running, but you wouldn’t listen.”
After Dean had answered all of my questions, he stood up and said: “Come it is time to meet the others.”
We strolled to the top of the hill without even becoming breathless. Waiting for us were my friends who had set out a banquet, I suddenly realised that I was hungry. Everything seemed to have a dreamlike quality, and yet I had never felt more awake. They were all telling me how much they missed me, and yet it was as though the disaster had only happened yesterday.
I soon settled into the routine of waking at dawn after a blissful sleep and helping in the gardens, and then, one day without warning, strangers came charging over the hill towards us.
“The hordes are coming,” was the cry.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched. The rabble looked strange; they looked old and uncared for. They grabbed baskets of fruit and any other foods that they could get their hands on.
“Why don’t we stop them?” I cried when they took the preserves that I had spent the whole morning making.
“We have plenty,” came the reply. “Let them take what they want.”
After they left, one old woman stayed behind.
“What is your name?” asked Dean.
“Yvonne,” she replied.
“Well Yvonne, as long as you stay with us you will have to abide by our rules of code and conduct.”
Yvonne was assigned to me; my first assignment. I was so excited. Every morning Yvonne looked younger and happier as she worked beside me, and it was not long before I had a beautiful young girl as my best friend. If beauty comes from the heart, then her heart must be pure gold.
My next assignment was an even greater surprise; my husband, Gary, would be arriving. My heart nearly burst out of my chest when I saw him. He looked so young and handsome; all the ravages of cancer were gone. Those were blissful days, at last I was whole again, my partner had returned. I was so happy that it took me quite a while to notice that Gary was paying far more attention to Yvonne than he was to me.
I started noticing the way they looked at each other, how she blushed when their hands accidently touched. They were so wrapped up in each other that they didn’t even notice when I wasn’t around; in fact they seemed to prefer it that way. I began spending my time with the farm animals; at least they were happy to see me, and that was where Dean found me.
“What is going on with you?” he asked.
I poured out my heart to him, expecting sympathy and righteous indignation. Instead, he looked at me scornfully and asked: “Why do you never listen? Gary is no longer your husband, that bond ended when he died.”
“But I mourned so for him.”
I was trying to defend myself against this unexpected onslaught, but Dean showed no sympathy.
“Yes, you mourned so for him, actually you wrapped your cloak of mourning around you like a cocoon so that no other man could get close to you. You were free to marry, to find happiness after nursing him for so long. Stop being a martyr, open your eyes and start living, there are plenty of other men around.”
I was livid. I wanted to throw something at him, but all I could grasp was a handful of hay which blew away in the wind. Dean laughed and said: “Think about it,” as he walked away.
Well I thought about it the whole night long, and I had to admit that Dean was right (as usual): I was in love with the idea of Gary. I remembered the good times we had together, and the longer we were apart the further the bad memories faded, and the good memories were all I had to cling to.
By the time the birds started singing, I was up and singing as well. I took a long walk down to the river, to where I had spotted Dean for the first time. There he was, sitting on the rock again, only this time it wasn’t Dean.
“Hello Julie. Don’t you remember me?”
This good-looking hunk who was talking to me looked vaguely familiar.
“We were at school together,” he said.
“Oh!” Recognition flashed in my eyes. Of course. How could I have forgotten Conrad? He was so sweet, and absolutely smitten with me, but the shallow little teenager that I was rejected him because he was too short. Well he is certainly not short anymore.
“Hello Conrad,” I said sitting down next to him.