Hands. She felt hands. Hands that were covered with satin gloves. She felt them on her shoulders, gently guiding and pushing her forward in the dark.
Her feet, shod only in mismatched socks, padded gently and hesitantly across the wooden floor. She stepped carefully, each time expecting a precipice from which she might tumble. So far, there wasn’t an edge or a cliff in this darkness, only the occasional squeak. Wherever she was, it was old.
The hands never wavered and there was never a voice to accompany them. Aside from the squeaks, this journey was a silent one.
The hands press down firmly on her shoulders, making her stop. Finally a voice spoke. “Up,” it said simply, and she noticed a tall stool in front of her. At some point a dim light had come on and illuminated this red stool. How had she not noticed? Were her eyes closed the whole time, or was there really all that darkness she walked though with the mysterious guide at her back? Her thoughts were only faint and she didn’t have the energy to care about an answer. She got on the stool, pulled her knees close, and sat there waiting, now alone, for something to happen.
She didn’t have to wait long in her solitary spotlight; as dim as it was, it was so much brighter than the surrounding darkness. The first thing that happened was she heard a sound. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound. A scraping and scuffing of shoes. A person was approaching and she didn’t care who it was. She had lost all sense of herself anyway, why would someone coming toward her shell matter anyway?
The sound stopped and a spotlight clicked on, illuminating a young man. She hardly noticed because her eyes were still closed. He cleared his throat and that’s when she opened her eyes and her gaze focused on him. Her recognition was instant. Tom. She squeezed her knees closer as her heart started pounding, the first active sign of life she had felt in a long time.
Tom started speaking, slowly and quietly at first, then grew in volume and confidence. He started by saying her name; the same way he used to say it when they would lie in the grass, shaded by leaning shadows of evening light on the side of the red brick house, the lilacs scenting the air. Then he apologized. The very same Tom who had grown distant was now apologizing, the first time she had ever heard such a thing. He apologized for not being ready and asking to marry her anyway. For marrying her for the wrong reasons; a modern day, one-sided marriage of convenience. For not loving her enough. For not being brave enough to let her go until it he had taken years off her life. He apologized for leaving, and for loving her but not quite loving her enough to care to stay and care for her. Then Tom was finally silent.
She had loosened her grip in her knees some, and now felt her heart slowly beating.
Before she could say anything, another spotlight appeared on the opposite side of the room-no, the stage, for she could now tell where she was. This time, standing in the pool of light was her sister, Vera. She, too, called her name, “Aviva.” She told her she loved her. She had never meant to push her away all those years Aviva was younger. She said she had felt too lost to help her younger sister find her way too. She realized now, it would’ve been easier on them both if she had let Aviva in as they learned about life. Two separate saplings leaning and twining together. Only growing stronger and stronger as the winds shook their young lives. Finally, she ceased speaking.
Aviva, for that was her name, let her legs down but transferred her tense grip from around her knees to the stool.
Like before, another spotlight appeared, yet again in a different location on the stage. Nell. Her mother, although she couldn’t recall ever calling her “mother or mama.” “My baby,” her mother began, again, not a term she recalled hearing in her childhood. “I’m so sorry baby. I was never there. You deserved my care at the least, if not my love.” She went on for a while, apologizing, almost begging for forgiveness. She finally ended with “I loved you and I still love you, more than I ever showed you.”
Aviva’s hands were now loosely clasped in her lap. Every spoken word was a release from a the darkness inside her.
Aviva’s mother stopped speaking, with both her hands placed over her heart.
As soon as she stopped, another spotlight came on, another monologue followed. Then another spotlight, and another, and another. People who had been closely associated with Aviva her whole life. One by one, words were spoken aloud that had previously been quieted and hidden away. It made no sense. She had felt wronged and neglected by these people all her life, yet with each word, her shoulders lifted, her eyes widened, and the hardness that had consumed her heart progressively throughout her life, softened. As each person spoke, the stage brightened and Aviva was surrounded by people who wanted to pull her out of her despondency.
The words they had never said were finally being heard.