Who says the pen is mightier than the sword? Some swords hit the mark and still the pen. The writer puts his pen to rest and looks across the sky. No words express the heart desire, the writer wonders what happened. Where has the compulsive writer gone? Who put the pen to rest? Has what was written long ago proved to be their best? Looking across the written words like an ocean never ending. Empty words without any meaning, seen floating in the sea. Darkness descends and waves rush in toward the shore. Words that once held fascination lay deep on the ocean floor.
Long tanned fingers typed and suddenly stopped. His wide shoulders hunched and then he stretched his long arms up over his head. He was a tall man and women noticed his handsome looks wherever he went. He had the typical surfer look. In fact, he had surfed most of his life. Wide shoulders tapered off to a narrow firm waist with long muscular legs.
Jesse LeMarc sat at his laptop and looked out to sea. The words that he’d written just now were a truth that few could understand. It had been four short years since his wife’s death and his career had been on hold that long.
Jesse’s publisher waited patiently for the first year and then began to make phone calls. The phone calls were not returned so Adam began to make surprise visits to Jesse’s beachside condo. He usually found the door unlocked with Jesse sitting on the balcony. Sometimes, Jesse was trying to write but mostly he was staring into the sea.
In Jesse’s mind was a series of movies that replayed over and over. Times of laughter and walks along the beach. Cruises to far off places with little to worry about except what to wear to the main dining room that night. Weekends spent in NYC to see a Broadway show. Late nights curled up on the couch with popcorn and soda, just watching the news. All of his movies starred Chandra and himself.
He would go for a walk and see couples hand in hand and think of how he’d walked with Chandra. He’s go to sleep and feel her near only to roll over to a cold side of the bed where she used to lay.
Jesse’s grief went beyond mere tears, though many times his face was wet and he had no idea that he’d been weeping. The very heart of the man was lost in a mental rerun of movies from times they’d spent together. Special times, sad times, angry times and finally…tragic times.
It was no one’s fault. Chandra simply died from a sudden heart attack at the tender age of 36. No one had any clue that her heart had any problems. There had been no warning signs. Chandra was in perfect health. She worked out and had a wonderful body. Jesse smiled as he remembered trying to get her to wear a bikini. She had the build for it, but not the courage. ‘I’m too old’ she said.
Yet, she didn’t have an ounce of fat on her and certainly no wrinkles. She had been to the doctor a week before she died and was given a clean bill of health. She just died. Jesse had come home from the store and found her on the kitchen floor.
Jesse had met Chandra in his senior year of college. She was studying for a master’s in science, and he was finishing up journalism. She went on to be a college professor and he became a world renown author.
Adam had suggested he go to grief therapy. He went a few times but was not able to express himself in a group. HE, Jesse LeMarc could not express himself. It was uncanny.
The doorbell rang and Jesse did not hear it. He was sipping a soda and listening to the sound of the waves.
A shadow loomed over him and he opened his eyes. ‘Well, have you been able to get any inspiration?’ Adam asked.
Adam was short with dark rimmed glasses. He looked like he had just stepped out of a book ‘Where’s Waldo’. He was skinny with short cropped hair. He seldom bothered with a suit and preferred striped knit shirts and white shorts. Jesse had commented on his spindly legs on more than one occasion.
‘You just write, and I will worry about my legs’ he had answered.
Adam was glad that Jesse did not drink or take drugs as many authors did when depressed. Jesse was a dear friend as well as his best client.
‘I brought over a pizza. I hate to eat alone so you have to have some’ He put on his most serious look.
Jesse looked up into black beady eyes that were huge with his glasses on. ‘Sure, thanks’
‘You never answered my question.’ Adam said as he sat down with the pizza.
‘Adam, I really don’t feel much like writing. Nothing inspires me.’ Jesse reached down into his small cooler and fished out a can of soda for Adam. He tossed it to him and sat back down.
Adam remained silent for a while. Jesse was talking for the first time in a while so that meant he had more to say.
‘What do you think of me just giving it up? It’s not like I need any money.’
Adam slammed his soda down on the concrete floor of the balcony. He knew this was coming. “Jesse, I have been doing a lot of thinking too. I think you should write about death and dying.’
Jesse made a face. ‘Tacky, even for you!’ He bit into a piece of pepperoni and made sure there were no anchovies on the pizza. He hated them.
‘No really. A love story like you and Chandra should be inspiring for anyone. Plus, it might be good therapy for you.’ He waited hoping for Jesse to accept his idea.
Jesse watched a school of dolphins out in the water. ‘For now, I just want to have pizza. I will think about it.’
The two men ate in silence and Adam stood up. His work was done. He had seen to it that Jesse ate something fattening and he’d inserted a possible way for him to get his thoughts on paper. ‘Sheila is coming over tomorrow. She’s all hepped up on some new recipe and wants to use you as a guinea pig. I think it’s got pasta or something in it. You can just freeze it if you don’t want it.’
Jesse’s freezer was all ready filled with Sheila’s surprises. ‘Thanks Adam. Tell her I’ll be out of town.’
‘You forget, she has a key to this place. She is also your cleaning lady as well as my wife! Good thing too, you’d probably not have any clothes to wear. See ya.’
Jesse nodded as Adam left. ‘Well, no sense sitting here pretending to be a world class writer. ‘ Jesse got up and put his notebook away.
He stripped off his clothes and jumped in the shower. Jesse had a quick shower and then put on a clean pair of shorts and t shirt. Jesse finger combed his curly blonde hair and slipped into some sneakers. He grabbed his keys and left the condo. The elevator was quiet as he was transported to the parking garage.
A black Lincoln Town car waited for him. Jesse drove off in search of a change in scenery. Perhaps he’d go to another state. Perhaps he’d go to the super market. Did he need any milk? He wanted some chocolate chip cookies. He thought maybe he’d check to see if his dry cleaning was done. Important things he told himself.
He had no book signings or speeches to give. Someone was supposed to call about a movie based on one of his books. ‘Sharp Shooter’ he thought. ‘Oh well, Adam will handle it.’
He pulled in to a mini mart and tried to remember if he did need milk. A serious man got out of the Lincoln and walked into the store. He’d done it. He’d gotten out of the condo.
Jesse had seen and heard it all since Chandra’s death. The usual pat answers were ,’She’s in a better place.’ ‘God needed her more than you’ , ‘You’ll get over this in time’. His friends had seen a very fierce and angry Jesse when told those things. He had bodily thrown his long time friend Joe out the door. He had left a party after smashing a glass of champagne on the floor when told ‘God needed her more’.
He grew tired of the looks of pity as well. Of course, it took a while for him to even notice. He had been caught up in a period of emotional roller coasters for a year. He lost thirty pounds and wore the same shirt for almost a week until Adam realized it and forced him to change it. Adam enlisted his wife Sheila to help him to get stabilized after that.
Sheila came to clean for him and left plates of food. At first Jesse didn’t remember ordering any food and it just appeared. He was glad when Sheila reminded him that she was bringing it. He knew he hadn’t gone completely nuts .Adam began leaving a notebook on the table with things Jesse needed to do for that day. The list included reminders to shave, don clean clothes that were left out for him, and make phone calls to family or business people. Usually, he followed the short lists and then fell asleep on the sofa.
The third year after Chandra died, he didn’t need to be told to shave or don clean clothes. He did have trouble picking out what colors went with what. Sheila helped him with that by putting colored markers on the tags of his clothes. Red tagged shirts went with red tagged shorts or slacks.
He managed to get to an awards banquet that third year and stood up to receive an award without problems. Adam had been worried about him driving such a long way alone. After being coached by Sheila that he needed to let Jesse do things though, he didn’t offer to drive. Jesse then began to go for drives frequently.
Driving seemed to soothe him. The car didn’t remind him of Chandra because it was new. He began to make goals for himself. One day, he would go to a different city to drop off dry cleaning. The next day he would drive to the post office to check his mail box. Most days he would take a ride to a nearby restaurant. This was hard for him until he began to sit at the counter instead of a table. He began to interact with some of the locals as he drank coffee and ate his breakfast. Adam was pleased when Jesse invited him out to breakfast and Adam realized that Jesse was indeed talking to people again.
Through all of this, Jesse could not seem to write. He was a fictional writer, mostly mysteries or science fiction. His royalties made it possible for him to live quite nicely without ever working again. However, he knew that he needed to do something.
Jesse picked up his milk and grabbed cookies before he left the store. The wind was strong as he drove back to his condo.
As he took out his access key, he looked up and barely missed being hit by a pair of sneakers. A woman with big glasses and wearing a sweat suit stared down in horror. ‘I’m so sorry! It slipped out of my basket! Are you ok Mister LeMarc? ‘
Jesse swallowed and tried to speak. This kid must think I’m ancient, he thought. ‘Mr. LeMarc?’ He answered the girl. ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ He quickly turned the key and went inside with his bag. ‘How on earth did she know who he was anyway.’ He opened the bag of cookies and fished around his cupboard for a glass. As he was sitting at his usual spot on the balcony, it occurred to him that the girl probably had seen his name on the list of names on the mailbox. She probably didn’t know his first name. Yeah, that ‘s it. He soaked his cookie in the milk and watched the dolphins jump in the ocean. The sun was streaking across the water making diamonds of water dance on the ocean’s waves. He never tired to watching the ocean. It went on forever, unlike his marriage.
He was just sipping more milk when he heard someone singing…off key. He hated it when people did that. This girl was atrocious and yet she sounded to be without a care. He watched as a girl emerged from the stairs that led to the ocean. Long legs and a great body he noticed. The hair was a mass of long curls, almost frizzy. She seemed oblivious to the hot sun and just walked to the ocean’s edge, singing some show tune from long ago.
Jesse waited to see if she was the same girl who dropped her sneakers at him. Probably not, that girl was chunky and wore glasses. Wait, this girl had a book and went to an umbrella table. Sure enough, the huge glasses appeared as she stretched out on a lounger and began to read. Jesse still wondered who she was and what her face really looked like. She obviously wasn’t chunky; it must have been the sweat suit. Anyway, what did he care?
He put his feet up on the railing and continued to eat his cookies. He watched the girl put the book down and remove her glasses. Jesse told himself he wasn’t watching her, she was just in his line of vision. Blue two piece bathing suit. Not real sexy, but it looked awesome on her. The girl dipped her toe into the water and slowly walked into the ocean.
She splashed around a bit and then returned to her umbrella table. Jesse thought she was done swimming until he saw the surf board. ‘so, she’s a surfer’ he thought. ‘It figures, probably a college preppie or something.’
His eyes continued to watch her as she swam out to where the waves were. His phone rang and he looked down to see who it was. He didn’t recognize the number so he let voice mail pick it up. He looked back to the ocean and wondered where the girl went. Then he spotted a flash of blonde curls and blue bikini. She looked great on a surf board. Jesse watched the girl for almost a half hour. When she walked out of the ocean, Jesse thought she looked like she was in a scene from Bay Watch. He laughed to himself.
The girl plopped herself down in a chair and began to towel dry. It was time for Jesse to grab a plate out of the freezer and microwave supper. He rummaged around till he found what looked like pasta primavera. Sheila was an awesome cook. Jesse switched the TV on and proceeded to eat. Suddenly he heard it again, that horrible singing off key. He set his food down and looked over the balcony. There it was…coming from that girl. ‘Hey, tone it down will ya? I’m trying to watch the news!’ He hollered down.
The girl looked up. ‘Oh, sorry Mr. LeMarc. I just figured everyone closed their doors.’ Jesse was surprised that she answered.
‘Why would I close the doors?’
The girl smiled. ‘Well, most people do. They use the a/c.’
Jesse’s face was serious. ‘Well, I’m not most people.’
The girl nodded and then put her things together.
Jesse went back inside. ‘Great, now she thinks I’m a real jerk! She probably thinks I’m a miserable old man! Oh, who cares what she thinks!’ Jesse turned off the television and tried to eat. Supper suddenly tasted like wall paper paste though.
The plate was forgotten as Jesse sat back. ‘I should probably apologize for being such a jerk. Not her fault she sings off key and loud and horrible. I should probably offer to give her voice lessons.’
The next thing Jesse knew, he was standing before an open door of the girl’s condo. ‘Hello Mr. LeMarc. Can I help you?’
Jesse spoke without thinking. ‘I am sorry I yelled at you. I could pay for voice lessons if you want.’
The girl’s eyes got large and then she doubled over in laughter. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t stop laughing.’ She laughed until tears ran down her face.
All the while she laughed, Jesse stood there in shock. He had never seen anyone laugh like that. All of a sudden he grew angry. ‘Are you laughing at me?’
The girl tried to pull herself together. ‘No, yes, no…of course not. Yes!’ She began laughing again.
Jesse didn’t know what to do so he said, ‘You can call me Jesse. Most of the college girls around here call me Jesse.’ He lied.
The girl began to smile.
‘You’re not going to start laughing hysterically again are you?’ Jesse was getting nervous. ‘What’s wrong with this woman?’ he thought.’
‘Oh Jesse, you are incredibly sweet! I’m not a college girl though. I’m a college professor. The name is Clarisse. Nice to meet you.’
Sea blue eyes stared up at him. For a moment he forgot to breathe. His chest began to burn and he gasped. ‘My wife’s a professor.’ Was all he could say.
‘Oh, maybe I know her. Well, let’s see. LeMarc…’ she began to try to remember anyone by that name.
‘WAS a professor. She’s dead.’ Jesse turned and walked into the elevator, leaving Desiree’ staring after him.
A warm breeze lifted the girl's hats as they sat with their tea on the sand.
Clarisse sipped her tea and looked over at her friend Dee. ‘Why don’t you just tell him your own life story?’
Clarisse smiled and answered her well meaning friend. ‘My experiences with death are not the same as his. I’m not sure it would help him right now.’
The two women sat in silence as they looked out at the ocean. ‘I really do like your new digs Clarisse. This sand feels awesome on my toes. The water goes on forever as I stare out at the ocean. It makes you feel so free and clean.’
The breeze blew in on the women and lifted the umbrella a bit as they sat and sipped their tea. The temperature of 82 degrees and sunny helped to lighten the mood.
‘How many more weeks of chemo are we looking at?’ asked Dee
‘Six more weeks and then they will take more tests. If there is more cancer cells than we start radiation. You know that I believe God has the final answer here though. I’m just hanging on to Him right now. Jesus didn’t hang on that cross like a piece of meat for no good reason.’
The vivid description of Jesus Christ made Dee swallow and then bow her head a moment. ‘I know Clarisse. I believe Jesus has the final answer too. ‘
‘He’s been really quiet up there today. I’m thinking he’s either not home or sleeping.’ Clarisse smiled and tried to change the subject. ‘I’ve been praying for him. Did I tell you he offered to buy me voice lessons?’
‘What?’ Dee was amazed. ‘Does he have no feelings at all?’
‘Relax, he has no idea I’ve been going through throat cancer. I mean, I do not sound like a croaking toad or anything. I laughed so hard though I began to choke right in front of him. You should have seen his face. It was a scream!’ Clarisse began to laugh uncontrollably.
Dee smiled at the thought. ‘Well, I guess I can find the humor if I look at it through your eyes. Personally, I’d like to punch his lights out though!’
Both women began to giggle. ‘Remember the first time we saw him trashing his condo? He was in his boxer shorts and throwing stuff everywhere and even threw some wine bottles off the patio. Good wine too as I recall.’ Said Clarisse.
‘Yeah, three bottles thrown out in the sand and didn’t break or spill a drop. If he only knew!’ Dee laughed.
Clarisse smiled. ‘See, there is humor in everything. Seriously though, he is really suffering from grief. I’m told this is the first year since his wife’s death that he has a normal life.’
‘When did his wife die?’ Dee asked.
‘I think it was a little over two years ago or something like that. But everyone suffers grief in a different way. I mean, first you feel shock, then pain, then anger, and sometimes all of those combined. You come to a place like I did too. I got to a place where I was just numb. I went through the daily routine of life as if I wasn’t truly there. I felt like I was looking through a window.’
‘You and Dick were an amazing couple. I felt so helpless after the accident. I wanted so much to fix it for you. All I could do was be there.’ Dee grew suddenly silent.
Clarisse sat and watched the waves and thought of what she had come through. Her husband had left with their three yr old daughter to buy ice cream. The police knocked on her door three hours later with the news of their deaths. Someone went through a red light and hit them head on.
‘You know, the Lord brought me through it all without my getting bitter. He gave me a light to follow. I’ll admit that I had no idea what I did or who I spoke to for the longest while. I remember you coming to stay with me and then helping me to live one day at a time.’
Dee took another sip of tea. ‘I remember a lot of nights when you asked the Lord to let you die.’
‘So, you see why I sort of understand this guy upstairs? That is why I’m asking you to join me in praying for him. I met his publisher one day as we were both leaving the building. He was so upset that he ran into me. I have no idea how it came to be, but we ended up having this long conversation about Jesse LeMarc. I knew who he was immediately because I have every one of his books. He’s a fantastic romance writer!’
Clarisse smiled as she remembered the rows of books. ‘He isn’t like one of those filthy romance writers either. He has a flare for writing things with a meaning, and class. It’s like he somehow once had a glimpse of Song of Solomon in the flesh. I probably sound dumb, it’s hard to explain.’
‘No need, I borrowed most of those books, remember? He is very good! You feel like you know the character better than the writer does. Well, I guess I should head out. I have a ton of things to do. I hate to leave though.’ Dee put her things in her beach bag and stood up.
Clarisse got up as well. ‘Here, I’ll walk you out to your car. Thanks so much for bringing over my vases and things. My condo is going to look amazing.’
‘It all ready does! You got class girl!’
‘Yes,, that is definitely me…class!’ The two women continued to laugh as they walked to the parking lot.
They were unaware of a pair of eyes watching them. Jesse stood quietly watching the women engaged in some sort of enjoyable conversation. He was beginning to be a regular watcher these days. He was hoping he wouldn’t run into Clarisse though. He was still too embarrassed after she had cleaned up his condo. Somehow, he would try to curb his temper. He didn’t care if he raged, but he didn’t want his neighbors to know what he did.
Dee hugged Clarisse before she got into her car. She drove a bright yellow sports car. It somehow fit her sunny personality. ‘Seriously Clarisse, I would think about sharing with Mr. LeMarc. You never know if it would help or not.’
‘I’ll pray about it.’ Clarisse promised.
Upstairs, Jesse was rummaging through his mail. ‘Why am I getting someone else’s mail?’ He found 2 manilla envelopes with the name Richard Evans on them. There was a forward stamp on them. Suite 203. He would have to go downstairs and put them in their mailbox.
‘Well, best do it now or I’ll forget about them.’ He said to himself. Jesse went down the elevator and was just about to put the envelopes into the slot when he realized who lived at suite 203. He stopped a moment. Just then, Clarisse walked into the building.
‘Why hello. ‘ she said hesitantly.
‘Hello, it seems I have some mail for you. Mailman got mixed up. It’s for your suite. I guess it’s for you anyhow.’ He handed over the envelopes.
Clarisse took a quick breath in as she realized that it was for her deceased husband. ‘Oh, thank you. I keep getting my husband’s mail even though he’s been gone for almost five years. Insurance folks and car dealerships etc.’
Jesse noticed her hands were shaking as she took the mail. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Me? Oh, sure! Thanks.’
Jesse wanted to question her about her husband but thought it best not to go there. If he left her, it wasn’t any of his business. ‘Perhaps you can have the mail transferred to his address.’ He said curtly.
‘That’s impossible. You see, when I said he’s been gone….well he died. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.’ Clarisse took the mail and hurried down the hall.
Jesse stood there a second and then ran his hand through his hair. He took a deep breath and then went to the elevator. Once he was back inside his condo he sat down on the couch. ‘You are a first class jerk Jesse LeMarc!’
‘Why didn’t I just hand her the mail and turn around?’ He grabbed a bottle of water and settled down to check the rest of his mail. In the back of his mind though, he kept seeing the shocked look on his neighbor’s face and those hands that trembled as she took the mail.
Jesse wrote in his head as he was on the elevator. He did this often when he was beginning to write.
‘Oh that I could put a name on this obscene thing
Perhaps I could place blame or name names of the person who did this to me
But, no…there is no one with whom I can place judgment on
Nothing and no one for whom I can sentence a life time imprisonment
For I am the one in a prison. Alone am I, staring at only memories and unable to be free
My tomb is within me, and her death is what put me there
Who can blame what they cannot see or fight against it? It would be like capturing the wind.’
Jesse stepped off the elevator at his floor and stomped quickly to his door. He lunged into his pocket for the keys. Jesse thrust the key into his door lock and threw the keys across the floor. He was in a rage and grabbed everything within reach and threw it against the wall. Cups went flying and shattering as they hit the floor. Glass pictures slammed against the wall as Jesse punched them.
Chairs were thrown and the table tipped over on its side. When his strength was spent and nothing left to break or tip over. H e grabbed a bottle of wine with a plastic cup and sat on the balcony. He soon became drunk with wine and began to curse the sea. He began to yell.
‘Who are you to bring your frothy promise to the shore only to snatch it back before anyone can touch it?
Your white tipped waves entice the eye yet drown the unsuspecting swimmer in rip currents of hate!
Be gone! I want to see you no more! Keep your blasted sunny skies away from me!’ He threw his wine glass and it hit the sand down below with a thud.
Down below, sitting quietly on her own balcony…his neighbor listened to Jesse’s thunder. Clarisse prayed that Jesse would somehow find peace. Her neighbor Janice had told her about Jesse’s rampages. It seemed he would be fine for a while and then toss everything in his condo, ending with screaming at the ocean.
Jesse stumbled back into his condo and slammed his sliding glass doors. He grabbed the curtain and closed himself off from the ocean view. There was a time when he thought he would find perfect peace while writing his next novel. He could not put more than two words together lately.
His dress shirt tails hung out from one side of his dress slacks. His tie was hanging on without the knot. He found his couch and turned it right side up. Why was he so angry? He didn’t think to ask. Jesse threw himself on the couch and went to sleep.
At 12 p.m. he awoke to a dry pasty mouth and sticky wine on his shirt. He took a deep breath and sat up. He forgot that he’d trashed his condo. He took a few steps and tripped over the coffee table.
‘What? Auggggh!’ He landed on his side hitting his head on something hard. He fumbled around on his hands and knees until he found a lamp on the floor. It didn’t seem to be broken so he turned it on. The light made his eyes squint for a bit. All of a sudden the large living room came into view.
‘Well Jesse, old boy…you certainly made a mess of things this time!’ The kitchen looked worse than the living room. Somehow, he’d managed to throw all the contents of the freezer onto the floor. Thankfully, Sheila had packed everything well. Ice cream was melting on the floor though and it was sticky. The orange juice was lying in a thin orange layer against his white ceramic tiled floor. Shards of broken glass littered the entire room.
‘I’ve got to remember to buy more plastic cups.’ Suddenly he heard his door bell ring. He thought it was probably his publisher and didn’t want him to see this mess. ‘Oh jeez’ He walked to the door and threw it open. ‘Adam, this isn’t a particularly good time.’
He looked down and realized it wasn’t Adam. It was Clarisse. ‘What on earth do you want now?’ he shouted.
Clarisse would not be put off by his anger. ‘I came to apologize for being insensitive yesterday.’
Jesse swayed and suddenly ran to the bathroom, slamming the door shut. Clarisse stepped inside and heard Jesse throwing up in the bathroom.
Clarisse was shocked at the disaster in the condo. She quickly grabbed a broom and began sweeping the glass off the floor. She then grabbed a dish rag and dishpan and put some water in it. Jesse took a while before coming out of the bathroom. He didn’t see Clarisse at first. Then he heard the ‘swoosh swoosh swoosh of the dish rag. He peeked over the counter and saw her on her knees washing up the mess.
‘What are you doing?’ he said. He was too embarrassed to yell. Besides, his throat was a bit sore from retching.
Clarisse didn’t look up. ‘I used to clean up after six brothers. This is no big deal. It’s obvious you are not feeling well. Why not go shower and let me finish here. I won’t bother you.’
Jesse rolled his eyes. Sick? Well, he at least didn’t have to explain everything if Adam showed up. The room still looked like it was on a tilt to Jesse. He decided he’d go into the bathroom and at least shower. He took a deep breath and said,’ Well, thanks.’
Jesse was gone for over an hour. This gave Clarisse plenty of time to vaccum and cleans up the rest of the living room and kitchen. She prayed as she was straightening up the condo. There was something splashed on the wall. She found more glass on the floor in the living room. After picking up the big pieces, she vacuumed up the rest. Washing the walls was not too hard. Whatever was thrown seemed to come off easy enough. The couch was another matter. She had to sponge the leather as something red and sticky was all over it. She guessed it was wine.
The chairs were turned over but not hurt. A few broken pieces of furniture and all of the pictures had been punched or hit with something. The glass was gone from them. She washed the lamp shades and then got rid of the bucket of water.
She left a note for Jesse. ‘Once again, I am so sorry for being inconsiderate. I hope I did all right in straightening up you home. God bless. Feel free to come down if you need anything. Clarisee’
Jesse came out of his room after a shower and getting dressed. He found the note. ‘Oh sure. God bless! He hasn’t got a damn thing I want!’
Looking around the living room and kitchen though, he gave a sigh of relief. At least everything was picked up. Jesse made himself some coffee and sat on the balcony. His energy was gone. Taking a shower had taken all the energy he had. His head ached and his stomach still was not great. He sipped his coffee and wondered why Clarisse had cleaned for him.he news of an impending tropical storm did little to uplift Jess’s mood. However, the incessant knocking on his door aroused him from his bed.
‘What on earth do you want!’ He yelled as he opened the door. Adam stepped inside and brushed off his coat before removing it.
‘Ah yes, always a pleasure to see you too! Have you forgotten that we arranged for a book signing? We’re to be at Reardon’s and Clark in about 2 hours.’ Adam looked to see if there was any recognition on his friend’s face. Seeing none, he proceded ‘Well then, get yourself together and I’ll put on some coffee.’
Jesse grumbled as he took off in the direction of a shower. Ten minutes later he was putting on his white suit and deciding whether or not to don a tie. ‘Do I need a tie?’ he hollered out.
‘No.’ Adam answered. He smiled as Jesse walked out of the bedroom in white suit with blue and white striped shirt underneath. He was the picture of southern hospitality and virile man. The ladies would swoon to get his autograph. The deep tan and longish wavy dark hair only accentuated his looks.
‘Well, have a cup of coffee. I’ll make some toast if you like. It’s all I am good at.’
Jesse smiled as he remembered Adam’s attempt at cooking a few yrs back. ‘Coffee is fine.’
The drive down the highway was wonderful in Adam’s convertible with the top down. Jesse gazed out from his side of the car and watched the scene. The ocean glimmered against the sun. Ships were sailing and the call of seagulls filled his ears mingled with the sound of the car motor. In another fifteen minutes they pulled into Reardon’s and Clark book store. They went in by the back door so as not to be bombarded with people wanting a private chat with Jesse. Everyone liked to know his style, how he found his topics for writing etc.
Soon Jesse sat behind a desk and began signing books for the long line of people. He looked up a few times hoping for the line to be gone, but it seemed the more he signed his messy scrawl; the more people stood in line. Many ladies smiled and said thank you. Some tried to start up a more personal conversation to which Jesse cut them off without looking up to see their face.
A quiet woman browsed through the book store and watched the proceedings. Clarisse knew that Jesse was a celebrity of sorts but she had no idea that women thronged for his autograph. The stern look on his face would have scared her away before she put a book in front of him to sign. However, she noticed that the more serious he looked, the more the women smiled. She shook her head and continued to browse.
The display of books by this well known author was near the front of the store. Clarisse knew that he wrote suspense, romance and even mysteries. She couldn’t imagine him writing ‘For thee I wait’. It was his latest romance. It was suspense as well. She picked up the book and decided to buy it.
As Clarisse went to the counter to purchase the book, a woman pushed her aside. ‘Excuse me, I’ve just got to get this book signed.’
Clarisse stepped aside as the woman ran to where Jesse was signing books. Suddenly, as if he knew she were there; Jesse looked up at her. He gave her a nod and continued to sign books.
That evening Jesse and Clarisse pulled into the parking lot at the same time. Clarisse smiled as she got out of her car. ‘You must be tired after all that signing. Can I interest you in a chef salad and glass of wine?’
Jesse had removed his white jacket and had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. He was exhausted. Without thinking, he answered. ‘Yes, that would be nice. Let me bring the wine. I’ll be right down.’
Clarisse went into her condo and brought out the all ready prepared salad. She separated it into two bowls and brought out rolls. The table was set with green glass dinnerware and crystal wine glasses laying on bamboo placemats. Green napkins with grapes on the design graced each place setting. Clarisse opened the curtains so that the scene of the ocean could be seen. Soon there came a knock on the door.
A tired Jesse came in carrying the wine. ‘I saw you today. Did I sign your book?’
Clarisse laughed. ‘No, but that’s fine. I went to the bookstore to get a book about something else when I realized they were having a book signing. You are pretty popular. I’m honored you came to dinner.’ She laughed.
Jesse shook his head. ‘Those book signing events are good for business but I hate them. After the first fifty people, I’m ready to go home.’ He grabbed a roll as Clarisse bowed her head and said a short prayer.
She looked up and noticed Jesse staring at her with a mouthful of bread in his mouth. ‘Sorry’ he said.
‘No problem, I hope you enjoy the food.’
The two of them ate and enjoyed small talk. Jesse looked out the window and noticed the waves were quite high. ‘This tropical storm is going to hit tonight. Sometimes the power goes out. You have flashlights and everything?’
‘Oh yes, and I’ve got a cooler filled with ice. Come on down if you need anything. You’ll have to take the stairs though. The elevator shuts off during storms like this.’ She answered.
‘Yeah, I know. I was thinking, you know a lot about me but I don’t know much about you. I know you teach and like the ocean. That’s about it.’
Clarisse smiled, knowing it was time to expose herself. ‘Well, I’ve been through some rough times. I’m originally from Virginia. My husband and I moved here when I was pregnant. ‘
Jesse was surprised because he did not remember seeing any child. He listened as she spoke.
Clarisse took a breath. ‘Jesse, my story is a bit hard to hear. I was fixing a cake for a surprise one day when a police officer knocked on my door. My husband and child were killed in a car accident. A drunk driver hit them head on.’ She waited for Jesse to get up and bolt out the door.
Jesse sat still and stared at Clarisse. ‘Is that why you didn’t seem surprised when I tore up the condo last month?’
The wine tasted good as she sipped. She didn’t often drink wine with her medicine but thought tonight she’d have a small glass. ‘I understand grief is different for everyone. There was a time when I was very angry.’
‘How did you get over the anger?’
Clarisse sat back and toyed with her napkin. ‘Well, there are a few stages of grief I’ve heard. I was shocked at first and couldn’t function doing the simplest of tasks.’
Jesse remembered that stage, he was sure he was over that now.
‘Next came the fear. I feared that the pain I felt would be there the next day. I feared it would never go away. Then, I became angry because anger helped to hide the fear.’
Something in what she said made sense to Jesse. ‘I fear that I won’t remember my wife’s face. Also, it’s like this heavy blanket that I wear. I just want to go to sleep and be free from it. I’m always filled with dread because I know when tomorrow comes, it will be there again.’
Clarisse nodded her head. ‘There is one thing that I have learned through this. Grief is not something we can do alone. When we try to cope with it alone, our own mind plays tricks on us. We are meant to be with other people. The hardest part of losing a spouse is that it makes you feel alone, even in a crowd of people. I had a friend that I called frequently to share my thoughts with. I shared the little things that most do not think of. I shared the fears, and the guilt.’
‘Guilt?’ he asked.
‘Yes, sometimes I would be having a good day and then later I couldn’t remember how my husband smelled. I would laugh with friends and suddenly remember that my child would never be here to laugh with me. I felt guilty for being happy.’
‘oh’ he said.
‘Do you have a grief partner?’
‘You mean someone to share with? No, I mean Adam tried. He even set me up with counseling. I just didn’t fit. I don’t need a pshyc.’
Clarisse didn’t have an answer so she did what she always did. ‘Can I pray for you?’
‘I hate God’ he said .
‘That is ok. He doesn’t hate you.’ She answered.
‘I can’t understand why people pray to a God they can not see.’
Clarisse realized he wanted her to prove God existed.
‘My prayers won’t hurt whether you believe or not will they?’
Jesse swallowed the last of his salad. ‘I guess not.’
He had thought that Clarisse would pray for him at night before she went to bed. He was surprised when she reached over and covered his hand with hers. She began to pray out loud. He was startled at first and then an unexplainable calm filled him.
Clarisse didn’t spend a long time in prayer. Jesse wasn’t sure what she had said. He only knew the calm feeling and he liked it.
‘If you want, I can be your grief partner. There isn’t much I haven’t heard before. I have to be honest with you though. Two days a week I’m not really much good to be around.’
Jesse was confused and asked. ‘why?’
Clarisse took a breath. ‘Well,it’s like this. I have a small nodule on my throat. It’s been operated on. I go for chemo and on those days I’m a bit tired. ‘
Jesse thought back and remembered the day her umbrella flew away. ‘Was that why you were so tired the day I fixed your umbrella?’
He thought again. ‘Have you lost your hair? I know, that’s too personal. I’m sorry.’
‘No, it’s all right. Yes, under this beautiful wig lies the shiniest head you’ll ever see. It’s really in style now.’ She smiled with eyes that twinkled.
Jesse threw back his head and began to laugh. ‘Oh wow! I know now why you laughed when I offered voice lessons! What a jerk I am! I’m so sorry!’ He found he was still laughing though.
Clarisse was glad for his laughter. ‘It was hilarious! In fact, with God’s help I can laugh at most anything now. Which brings me back to you. I really meant it when I said I could be your grief partner.’
Jesse nodded. ‘I’m not sure what it would be like, but yes. You might have a good idea. Do we make a day or how does this work?’
‘When ever you need me, just call. However, just know that I will always pray with you. Ok?’
Jesse went home that night with a lot to think about. He lay on his bed staring out the window. He thought of all the things that his neighbor had gone through, and is going through. Yet, she laughs. He thought of the calm feeling he got when she prayed. What was that about?
I’ve been told you are an unavoidable ache that I must endure
Yet each night I hope that tomorrow will bring an end to it
It’s morning and here you are again
I can not run from you, or erase you from my life
I wonder, will I endure longer than you?
Jesse put his pen down and stared at his empty cup of coffee. He heard the seagulls cry out as they flew by his window. He had hoped that by writing down his life’s events, he would feel better. So far it only served to remind him that he was alive and not doing well.
A crash outside awoke him from his day dreaming. He looked out onto the beach below and noticed his neighbor trying to put her umbrella table upright. He hollered down. ‘Put the umbrella down so the wind won’t take it. Do you want me to come down and help?’ He knew those tables were very heavy.
He was surprised he had offered to help her though. Usually, he avoided the neighbors. Clarisse seemed different somehow.
Clarisse looked up. ‘Yes, I think I could use some help.’
She had just about gone through all of the energy she’d had left since coming home from chemo. Her neighbor didn’t need to know that though. She only hoped he wouldn’t notice that she always wore a scarf to hide her hair loss. The hat over it helped to keep everything in place. Funny though, she had only begun losing her hair last week.
Clarisse waited until Jesse got downstairs. He walked barefoot over to where she stood. ‘Here, I’ll get it.’ Quickly, he had the table upright. ‘It’s too windy for the umbrella this morning though. It’s a good thing it’s cloudy.’
‘I can’t thank you enough. I’m a bit tired this morning.’ Clarisse sank down in her chair. Jesse noticed that she was quite pale and a bit shaky.
‘Have you eaten breakfast yet?’ he asked.
Clarisse smiled and looked into Jesse’s eyes. ‘I usually don’t eat right away after; I mean I usually eat a little later.’
Jesse was positive she was going to say something else and then changed her mind. ‘Well, you should have a little something, your shaking.’
Clarisse realized she did indeed need to eat. She didn’t feel queasy now. ‘You’re right; I’ll go get something to eat.’
‘Wait right here! I’ll be right back.’ Jesse hurried upstairs and brought down a bag. Clarisse was amazed.
‘Where did you get this so fast?’ Jesse put the bag on the table and brought out the contents. He smiled as she looked at the wrapped breakfast sandwiches, orange juice cups, and coffee cups. A small carafe was in Jesse’s other hand. Her eyes were wide as she smiled at him.
‘I call it writing food. I get my caffeine fix on and then munch out on stuff as I write. Do you like ham egg and cheese on bagel, or ham egg and cheese on English muffin? I have two of each.’ He was pulling napkins out as he spoke.
Clarisse found she was actually hungry as she smelled it all. ‘I like them both. I’ll do the croissant. I don’t want to take your breakfast though.’ She looked up at Jesse.
‘Don’t worry about it. I usually don’t eat it all. How do you like your coffee?’
‘Just cream.’ Jesse opened cream packets and poured them into her cup. He sat back then and opened up his breakfast sandwich.
Clarisse was silent a moment and Jesse realized she was saying grace. He hoped she wasn’t going to expect him to pray. ‘Not going to happen.’ He thought.
It was quiet as the two of them ate their breakfast. They watched the sun flicker on the ocean like diamonds dancing across the water. The sound of crashing waves was the only sound.
Jesse looked over at Clarisse and was glad to see she wasn’t shaking. ‘Feeling better?’
‘Oh, yes! The food was great! Thank you so much!’ Clarisse sipped her coffee and smiled up at him.
Jesse nodded and began to pick up the trash. ‘Well, I should go up and go back to writing now. See ya later.’
‘Sure, have a great day.’ She answered.
After Jesse had gotten back to his room, he heard the soft sounds of singing.
He wasn’t quite sure what she was singing because the wind had picked up and the waves were loud. Jesse sat for a while in front of his lap top.
Suddenly he heard it. The soft sounds of singing. It wasn’t off key, just beautiful singing. One word only.
‘Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia’
At first he wanted to get up and slam shut the glass doors. Yet, it was as if he were glued in his chair. The soft words sung in a high soprano’s voice glided up to him as if lifted on the waves. It was a song of praise, he knew. It was a song of thanks as well. That small woman sitting in her chair staring out at the ocean was singing with a voice that Jesse had never heard before.
She rocked back and forth as she continued to sing. She had no idea as she sat praising God, that Jesse was listening.
Ten minutes went by until she stopped singing. She got up and went back into her condo. Clarisse was refreshed from a hearty breakfast and the kindness of Jesse. She was strengthened by the fresh air and being in the presence of God.
Jesse would have been shocked if he could have seen Clarisse remove her hat and scarf. She revealed a scalp with sparse hair. Yet, she smiled and thought of the wonder of the morning. The start of a new day filled with hope.
Jesse went back to his writing and his mind focused on what he’d witnessed that morning.
A simple thoughtful gesture on his part was met with a very thankful heart. He had made someone happy. When had he done that lately? He was amazed that it felt good. She had seemed weak, and yet joyful as well. He was amazed that sitting with her was not difficult. She did not ask any questions or try to have conversation at all. She was simply there with him, eating and watching the ocean.
Yet, he felt she had needed him. He also felt she cared. He kept hearing that small soft voice that was carried to him by the wind. ‘Alleluia’
Jesse worked until late in the evening. He had begun a mystery novel. When he finally shut down his laptop he looked out into a starry sky and moon light on the water. He could hear the slap slap slap of the ocean and gentle crash of the waves.
Many questions came to him in the quiet. He was tired. Often, when he was tired his mind would drift back to his wife. He remembered times of evening walks and talking with her. She was a gentle person and yet could be quite spunky at times. He remembered when she took his car keys away from him at a party and made him walk home. Thankfully it was only a few blocks. He’d been furious, until he saw candles lit and heard soft music playing. He could never stay angry at her very long.
Memories turned to sadness, and sadness turned to a bitterness that ate away at Jesse. After all this time, why did his eyes still sting with tears when he realized he’d never talk to her again. He stared out into the ocean and spoke aloud.
‘Will my eyes never tire from weeping?
I’m so tired and yet so awake
Darkness seems to strike a match
It burns its way into my being
How can Clarisse sing praises to a God she can’t see. How can she trust a God who lets evil reign and takes away people like my wife. I don’t want Him. I just want my wife back.’
Clarisse sat on her balcony and heard the anguish. She understood it well. Yet, she knew her husband and child were with the Lord now. She felt sadness knowing that Jesse had no idea of a loving Father who could hold him during this.
She too had times when tears of sadness came unexpectedly. She turned in her bible and went to a familiar passage…
Psalm 30 1-3 ‘ I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O lord, you brought me up from the grave, you spared me f
as the tracks in the sand are erased by the sea
A fresh beach remains as a fresh slate
for the teacher to write on again
The sound of the storm came crashing through Jesse’s thoughts as he sat in front of his laptop trying to write. He was glad for the interruption as his thoughts had once again turned to sorrow. He wiped his forehead with both palms and stretched his arms out above his head. He looked toward the sliding glass doors that overlooked the beach. The storm was indeed coming fast. Soon the lights would be out. He thought of Clarisse downstairs.
‘I guess it wouldn’t hurt to go check on her.’ He thought. The weather man had predicted this tropical storm to bring at least four inches of rain water. The roads would be closed. They had prepared for this storm though. Still, he thought he should go check on her.
Clarisse was busy getting her flashlights out and finding her moist towel lets in case the plumbing suddenly was shut off. She remembered the hurricane of a few years back. She wondered if they would be evacuated to a shelter. She hoped not, but just in case of this; she had a bag packed. The sound of loud banging interrupted her thoughts. She glanced over to look out the glass doors thinking something had broken loose.
When the banging continued in a rhythmic pattern, she realized someone was at the door. She quickly opened the door to find a slightly damp Jesse preparing to knock again. ‘Oh heavens, come in! I’m so sorry. I thought the noise was coming from outside.’
‘No problem. I just wanted to check on you.’ He looked at her and noticed her wig was askew. He smiled and reached down to straighten it.
Clarisse laughed. ‘Only you would think of that! Most would be too embarrassed to say anything.’
Jesse smiled. ‘You know, I bet you don’t look half bad without it.’
Clarisse looked horrified. ‘You aren’t going to pull it off are you?’
It was Jesse’s turn to laugh. ‘No, I wouldn’t do that! ‘
Suddenly Clarisse had a strange look on her face. Her eyes twinkled and she smiled a little. Suddenly, without warning she jerked the wig off.
Jesse’s eyes went wide and his eyebrows went up. Both stood staring at each other for a bit. When the shock of it left him, Jesse cocked his head to the side. ‘You know, you have the perfect head for it. I’m assuming you pencil in your brows?’
‘Yes, I have a whole new set of makeup tools. So, you aren’t totally grossed out? Cause, I don’t usually wear this wig unless I have company. Then, I just throw it on.’
Jesse laughed. ‘Ah yes, that is why it was crooked. You don’t have to wear it for me. ‘ He stared at her a moment. ‘You remind me of Illia from that star trek movie. You could pass for her double. Your eyes are huge and your ears are not sticking out. They’re dainty like her’s were in the movie. I’m serious, you look fine.’
Clarisse pranced around and made pretend she was a movie star. ‘Wait right here’ she said. She disappeared into the bedroom and came back with gold earrings. ‘I could be a Genie too!’
Once again, Jesse was amazed at her. ‘Perfect!’ He looked around and noticed the flashlights, batteries and radio. ‘Looks like you know the drill!’
Clarisse nodded. ‘Why don’t you go upstairs and grab whatever you need. You could stay here and wait out the storm with me. ‘ She waited for his answer hoping he’d stay.
‘Are you serious? Sure! I’ll be right back.’ He closed the door and then knocked again. She opened the door.
‘What? Did you change your mind?’ she asked.
‘Nope, I have my stuff right here.’
The two of them laughed like two children planning an overnight party. As Jesse stepped inside, the lights went out. He grabbed his flashlight and put it under his chin. ‘Luke Skywalker, I am your father!’ he whispered.
‘You are as crazy as I am!’ Clarisse took out ham sandwiches and prepared the table for a cold supper. Jesse ate two sandwiches and she finished off a half of a sandwich.
As they ate their meal, they watched the storm. It was raining so hard that all they could see was rain swirling sideways from the wind. Clarisse had put folded blankets on the floor next to the glass windows. ‘I hope the windows hold’ she said.
‘This building was built after the last hurricane. It’s supposed to be quite well built.’
‘So, what were you doing today?’ she asked.
‘I was trying to write. It wasn’t working out well.’ He was reluctant to tell her why.
Clarisse somehow knew what happened though. ‘Do you mind telling me about your wife? What was she like?’
Jesse opened up for the first time. ‘She was beautiful. When she walked into a room, all eyes turned to stare. She had these long legs that went on forever. She was elegant and yet child like too. She loved to laugh. The students all wanted to have her as a teacher. She’d bring her work home sometimes and grade papers as I wrote novels….’ Jesse talked about his wife for almost an hour.
Clarisse let him talk as much as he wanted. When he suddenly got quiet she remained quiet too. Jesse felt awkward as he asked her about her husband and child.
‘My husband was a minister. He served at Bethel Baptist church not far from here. Our daughter was his greatest fan. She’d sit up front when he preached and clap her hands. ‘Clarisse smiled in the darkness at the memory.
‘I’m sorry, ‘ said Jesse
‘Oh, I love to talk about them. You see, they are a wonderful memory now.’
Jesse sat back and contemplated his next question. ‘Clarisse, how did you manage to go on without them? Do you really think it fair that a God you believe in would do this to you?’
Clarisse was silent for a moment. She wasn’t thinking of an answer. She knew the answer. She was surprised that Jesse was able to ask it.
‘You are a man of courage Jesse. Not many in your situation would have the courage to ask. My answer is this, I loved them with everything I had. That love didn’t die when they’re lives were cut short. I knew that my husband would have wanted me to take the love I had for him and spread it to others. He believed in Jesus with all of his heart. For me to turn my back on Christ would be to dishonor his memory. The Lord ‘s ways are higher than ours. I really don’t know why my husband and child were taken from me. But, I do know I will see them again in heaven.’
It was Jesse’s turn to be silent. The storm continued as they sat in silence. Frequent lightening strikes lit up the room and Clarisse caught glimpses of Jesse’s troubled face. When it seemed like he would not speak again, she continued.
‘Jesse, I know your wife was a Christian. I did not know her personally, but I read something she wrote. Would you like to see it?’
Jesse knew his wife was a Christian. Though she seldom confronted him, she had told him where she stood. ‘Really? Sure.’
Clarisse went into the bedroom and came out with a small book. ‘This is a book she donated to our library. ‘ she handed Jesse the book.
Jesse saw the first novel he’d ever written. ‘A Forever Love’ was written while they were dating. He smiled and opened the book. On the inside of the cover his wife’s pen spoke to him. ‘Lord God, bless this reader and may they have a revelation of who you really are. My love for you goes on forever. Just one thing I ask dear Lord, let the author and I be with you forever together. I donate this book in my husband’s name for this college to read and enjoy.’
Jesse swallowed. ‘She donated this?’ His voice shook as well as his hands.
‘I saw your name on the cover and thought I’d bring it home to read. I had no idea that she had donated it until I checked it out of the library. I’d give it to you if I could.’
Jesse shook his head. ‘No, she wanted the kids at the school to read it. I wrote this before we were married. I believed that the Lord gave me Chandra. I was a different man then.’
Jesse looked at the note inside the book again. To his amazement, the note was dated just two weeks before she died. She hadn’t written it years ago. He had read one of her final prayers.
The usual anger boiled up in him and he wanted to break something. A quiet gentle voice spoke to his darkness.
‘I hope you won’t let pain and anger take away the joy that love gave to you. You have a choice Jesse. Choose love.’
The storm continued both outside and inside of Jesse’s heart. ‘Thanks for everything. I really need to be alone though.’ Jesse picked up his things and exploded out the door without waiting for a reply.
Clarisse understood though. She remembered her own dealings with pain. ‘Thank you God. You walked me through the storm. Now, be with Jesse as his heart is torn. I put him in your hands. Let him sleep well tonight.’
Clarisse sat quietly for a while and then went to sleep. Upstairs, Jesse sat on his couch thinking. The thunder raged and the lightening lit up the condo. Jesse fell asleep in the midst of the storm.