She wasn’t looking for a partner; she’d already been married and knew it made no difference; you were still the same people. Not that it had been bad – in fact he had been the love of her life, and it had been a long, sweet journey. No, she had no regrets, she would do it again in a moment, but it was over. She figured she’d had her share, and she’d had her fill too.
Because although it had been long and sweet, it had also been awkward and fearful at times, walking locked together like that because they had both forgotten how to walk alone. And she remembered how hard it had been when the path ended before his feet, and he stepped off into the void and vanished, leaving her reeling at the cliff edge, alone.
After the shock, she had learned to walk by herself again, no mean feat. She missed his cozy warmth and his deep blue eye, and that smile that nothing in the world could shake. But at last she found her footing, and her strength of heart and mind returned, and she saw again the gallant view spread out before her into the luminous distance, and the tiny purple wild flowers at her feet. Companions passed singing, and she would join them for a while, but afterwards she would let them pass and go back to being on her own, glad she no longer feared toppling into the abyss without someone by her side to grab onto.
And so she climbed the mountain, growing stronger, helping as best she could those who were stumbling or who lay huddled in exhaustion at the brink, and trying to redirect others who were going down instead of up. And she gave thanks for the strength she had been given, and for the delight in her heart.
After some time, however, she began to grow bored, and even a little lonely now and then. And began to remember, and to wonder. How nice it had been to walk with a companion by her side. The memories persisted, and she thought, perhaps not a real companion this time – that might get dangerous – but at least a lover?
And sure enough, from behind her there came prancing a young knight on his old yellow charger, and she curtsied, and he bowed, and they did a little dance of hello and who are you and where have you come from. He seemed a lovely lad, kind and bright and strong, and she thought, what more could I ask? But I must remember that whatever happens, I need to keep walking alone. Who knows when the path could end under his feet – or under mine?
He, on the other hand, had been alone for centuries, stuck in a bog some leagues back. So happy was he to find a friendly face, feel a warm hand in his, and taste a honeyed kiss, that he was instantly smitten. He fell in by her side and began to walk with her, leading his old horse, and whenever she told him she needed to be alone he would fall back a few paces, just far enough to give her space. Then, keeping his eye on her, he would follow along, whistling and calling out jokes into the soft air and sending smiles to tickle the back of her neck.
For a while she enjoyed his attentions. It was flattering and he made her laugh, and when she let him near enough, his touch made her swoon.
But she knew she had to be careful. She had to remember she was fine on her own, she couldn’t get stuck again, and besides his poems were beginning to drive her nuts.
One day, at last, his adoration was just too much. She slipped off the path and into the folds of the mountain, and hid herself in an abandoned hut.
It was cozy and dark in the hut, and it felt so safe that she forgot the bright path up the mountain. Building a little fire of coals, she sat staring into its embers day and night. How good that she had found this refuge. Who knows what might happen if she went back out?
Outside, the fields of sunlight bloomed, and the blessed virgins of wisdom and carnal delight beckoned, crooning in their most delicate voices. But all she heard was the harpy’s whine, and all she felt were the icy little winds that slid under the door, licking up her shins.
At last one day an old friend and fellow traveler passed by, and slipped a note under the door. “I saw you on the path a while back,” she wrote, “and for some reason I remembered these words from our friend the Poet: ‘Do not fear the pressure of the Light… absorb it as though it were a liquid or a wind, for in it, certainly, is Life.’ Thought you might appreciate this…” *
The Poet! It had been so long since she’d thought of his words. Uncanny that her friend knew she was hiding here, and so kind of her to stop…
More than anything, though, the words rang true. All at once she noticed how cramped she felt, how her butt hurt from sitting so long.
My God, how had she not noticed, it was dank and miserable in here! She needed to get outside, get back on the path! This was hardly the Life she aspired to live.
On the other hand, she reminded herself, she was in here for a reason. That young man was out there, yearning to gobble her up, to make her his own and squelch her hard-won strength and lovely independence. Even if it did sometimes get lonely and boring being on her own, it was such a relief to be fine with herself at last, not to really need anyone else…
At that another verse whispered up from the depths:
“On this road you descend further and further. Here dwell Hatred, Vengeance, Strangeness, Possession, Jealousy, and the Desire to Remain…”
She shuddered. The “desire to remain”! She had never understood what that meant before, never even wondered about it in fact. But could it be that the “desire to remain” was what was keeping her here?
Which reminded her of yet another verse, one about thinking you are staying safe in one place when in reality you are sliding backward:
“Conservation,” it went, “is false and unstable; on this path you delude yourself with the idea of permanence, but in reality you descend rapidly.”
No, no – it couldn’t be. She had thought her decision out, she was in here because she had learned from bitter experience…
On the other hand, the words did seem to fit uncomfortably well. Here she was, hiding in this dark hut, and she had all but forgotten the Ascent, the Path toward their sacred Human Destiny! If that was the case, how far back had she slipped?
It was an alarming thought – but still she held back. She knew her lover was waiting not far away, mournful in his need for her, but confident as a faithful hound that she would eventually emerge. That terrible need he so blithely admitted – wasn’t there something wrong with that?
Or was there? From inside, a soft voice came, reminding her: “Absorb it as though it were a liquid or a wind…”
Really? Just accept that overwhelming love, even that terrible need?
“And why not?” the kind voice replied.
Why not, indeed?
At last she screwed up her courage and took another look, this time without putting anything else in the way. No judgments, no fear, just the facts.
And she saw that his “need” was simply part of who he was right now. He was still kind and bright and strong, and terribly sexy.
What do I have to lose?
Standing up, she crossed the room in two steps and opened the door.
The warm delicious day flooded in.
And sure enough, there he was, right outside – and her heart filled with happiness.
Laughing, he took her in his arms.
“What took you so long? I ‘ve been ringing the bell for hours!”
She fell into his happy embrace and he made breakfast for them both on his portable Coleman stove.
What had she been thinking? Why had she ever wanted to hide from this friendly heart? His eggs and toast were so much better than her stale leftovers.
And so they ate and smiled, and took hands and walked side by side, leading his old yellow charger up the mountain, to see what lay beyond the next turn.
– Trudi Lee Richards, March 2013
* “Verses” paraphrased from Silo’s Message, the Inner Look