This story is by Lisa Yew and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The day he was jilted at the alter, Calvin began to love. Each year, marriages would take place in the clearing a little way in the woods. Everyone was eager to see who it was that had been brought together by kings and lords who formed alliances behind closed doors. Everyone except Calvin. Love wasn’t in marriage, he found it in the woods. Every fall, he collected from among the beauties that danced on a carpet of technicolour oak leaves, one that captured his current muse. This year was no different.
As he was making his selection, Calvin thinks of the woman waiting for him on the couch in the family room of his cottage. He is eager to get back to her, but memories of his first time in the woods slow his wandering feet. It had been the day he became a man that he’d collected that wild orange beauty, and she still has a prominent place in his heart.
Perhaps it was his behaviour in the woods that day, perhaps that was why his bride jilted him. He doesn’t know why he left the festivities or how he found that cozy pool fed by a chattering waterfall, but he remembers being incensed by what he found in his little cottage that morning.
He waded into the spinachy weeds, threw his salty clothes on a rock, and swam off his morning. When he emerged after several underwater laps, a fiery tumble of curls, the likes of which he’d never seen before, was peeking from behind a young oak tree.
A heavenly being lay in the leaves. Hardly aware of what he was doing, he approached. Mesmerising. Artistic freckles were streaked with shiny lines of distress. She was a fallen statue; he a misplaced one. Carefully he buried his hand in the matching jumble of tresses and foliage.
She startled. He held out an orange leaf by way of explanation. Two bright emeralds, beheld his withered birthday glory, and he knew he was not worthy of their regard.
When his wife found that leaf many years later, she couldn’t have known what it meant to him. Otherwise, perhaps she might have been embarassed to display it, carefully mounted in a frame, on a prominent wall in their family room.
The woman on his couch, however, does know. She casts a familiar eye on the whole collection that lushly covers the wall, and wonders what Calvin will choose today. He won’t doubt that his wife will carefully frame it and add it to the wall in their family room.Tucking a grey lock behind her ear, the woman decides this one would be mounted fresh. They both know love can’t last.
She smooths her grey tresses. Perhaps Calvin would see in her, that wild orange beauty. She slides the xacto knife open and placed it beside two ceramic blue birds on the coffee table. She hates what she will do to him. Perhaps decay is also artworthy?
She still . A withered brown fragment.
Calvin submitted to the hideous turquoise cape around the tolerable tunic. He couldn’t decide which he hated more, the outfit, the grey haired woman who designed it, Miguel, or the gypsy filth in his cottage. His enmity with the philandering Miguel spans generations, but the scumbag had taken this slut to do who knows what in the little cottage he had prepared for his bride.
Jasmine too was being dressed for the aisle. She gritted her teeth at what she saw in the mirror. How could she be expected to love when forced? Startlingly clear blue eyes saw her dilemma, and offered an escape.
At the altar, Calvin was less eager to meet his bride, than get to the end of the day. Who was the alliance with anyway? The doors opened, and a man scattered fragrant petals and lit candles all the way up the aisle. The dressmaker would come first, then his bride.
A murmur of outrage rippled through the church as a woman appeared in her underclothes. He averted his eyes from her bare shoulders, and simply couldn’t process how the satin skimmed her hips and flowed to her ankles.
She stood on the altar. Blinking more than usual, he whispered, “You make a mockery of our tradition, which is far superior than philandering.”
“Love should be free.”
“Love is commitment.”
“I wouldn’t stay in a loveless marriage.”
“I suppose you enjoy the men staring?”
“How dare you!”
“I sincerely hope you haven’t dishonoured me and my bride by dressing her as a trollop as well.”
The music stopped, and the people sat down. Reality ignited when he saw on the altar, the woman, standing in the place of his bride.
Calvin removed his cloak.
“May my love be better than a thousand eyes.” He fastened it around her neck.
“Thank you for freedom to love.”
When he straightened, she was watching her stoic reflection in the startling blue eyes of her dressmaker, and his enemy, Miguel.
“They ogle, yet you incarcerate me.” She was speaking to Calvin now.
“I’d rather lock the door for protection.”
“I’d rather all thieves be put away.”
“Well when you’ve tamed every mind, tell me so I can throw away my locks.”
The burden choked her. He couldn’t understand the injustice of how she must work to equal the freedoms that are fed him via silver spoon, of how she is criticised for it, only to find herself in a different oppression. She stormed out.
Calvin ran after her, but all he could see was a brown, fragmented leaf.
Calvin walked in the door and admired the woman on the couch. He got down on one knee and presented her with a fresh green leaf. Her smile still lit her up. Calvin sat beside her, was intensely satisfied with the lushly covered wall in the family room, and if he had his way, he’d fill it with hundreds more. They all had their beauty, but he often fantasised about that big scarlet stunner.
She looked at the xacto knife.
The pool remembered summer’s warmth as Calvin did several laps. When he emerged, he saw a wet woman fastening a turquoise cape around her neck. The distress that once streaked over every artistically placed freckle now enclosed her in a diamond fortress.
“It’s you!” Calvin swam to her, but she seems to be prying something off a rock.
“You’ve left the gypsies? Where are you living?”
Jasmine gestured around her. “I’ve been on my own all Summer, and loving it.”
“I’ve got a little cottage I’m not using, it’s not much, but I’ll have it cleaned and stocked for you.”
“I’m done with men.”
“Hey, you’re doing amazingly, and two’s a crowd and all that. Cloak suits you, by the way.”
She traced her finger around the paradoxical top button of her cloak. The man who loosed it, had enslaved her, but the man who fastened it, gave her freedom.
“What’s going to happen when the pool and the ground freeze? Just saying.”
She walked over to some disturbed dirt and scraped it until she came to some green bark. “Hungry?” She lifted one sheet of bark, and Calvin saw an eel and a dozen yams baking over hot coals.
They sat on the under the oak tree and shared their first meal. The sun was setting over the waterfall, and the light played on her wild locks.
“You’re beautiful. You know I love you, don’t you.” Bitterness screwed his head.
Jasmine flushed. “I do.” . “It’s deeper than what you see.” The sound of her cover dropping to the ground whipped Calvin’s head around.
She faced him. A big scarlet leaf hung near her head, accentuating the flush in her lips. She impaled him with two bright emeralds. “I promise every day to take you deeper.”
“You’ll rivet me forever!” Calvin smothered her mouth with his and they entangled.
Jasmine cried out. Regret wet her face, “I’m so sorry.” Bewilderment enmeshed with gratitude as his kisses mingled with her cheeks until they lost their flavour. His manly scent, a salt, diffused the past, until her cries took on new meanings. She soared. Everything disappeared. Nothing has ever existed or will ever exist but Jasvin and Calmine. Jalvacasmine. Hopelessly enslaved. Extatically free. His chest, his arms hard with strength, smooth with tenderness; she, quenchingly soft, temptingly irresistable. The one breaks through walls, the other melts them. His heart plunged into hers, and they forever fused. Calvin buried his face into her splayed curls, panting, as Jasmine laughed; And the giant scarlet leaf floated into Jasmine’s outstretched hand and Calvin covered it over with his.
Calvin saw the xacto knife in his lover’s hand.
“What are you doing?” He looked bewildered at all the lush walls. “Shouldn’t we dry it first?”
Her grey hair, flecked with copper strands was a halo around her angelic face. “It’s time for me to go.”
He shook his face as brine leaked into his collar. “It’s too soon. It’s too soon.” Nevertheless, he had to close the clouded emeralds.
Tomorrow would be winter. Tomorrow, the leaves would fall from the prominent wall in the family room. Tomorrow, his stub would also burn out.
And all the skeletal boughs scuff this fool all
The way to dusty death. Vite, vite, dark repose!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor reflection
Of an evergreen love that shelters and glorifies
Awed in an unfading spring: it is the dream
Hope of an idiot, redeemeed, at last transformed