Sara stepped lightly down her elegant, winding staircase, her right fingers running along the soft and lustrous maple banister as she descended. She wasn’t trying to sneak out the front door, but she didn’t want to confront Christopher, either. She reached the parquet wood floor of her spacious foyer. She paused, then walked to the entrance.
Her Manolo Blahnik pearlized patent-leather pumps clicked smartly, she clutched her Prada deerskin tote tightly in her left hand. The off-white pleated skirt of her Akris Punto suit rustled against her stockings. Her hand reached for the large brass latch.
Christopher’s voice came from behind her. “Sara, where are you going?”
She pivoted, brushed a piece of her straight, neck-length blond hair behind her right ear. Scents of cedar and sandalwood, rose and orange blossom wafted around her. “Chris….”
Christopher approached her from the family room; he was dressed in baggy, torn denims and a dirty, old oxford shirt that once might have been blue. His dark brown hair was shoulder length. His tall, lanky form seemed to blur around the edges in the morning light that streamed in from the windows behind him.
Sara felt a kind of panic bubble up and seize her by the throat. “Chris,” she said, “I said you could stay here a few days, but I really have to go ….” She closed her eyes to steady herself, reopened them.
Chris was standing several feet closer to her. “Sara, you have got to be kidding! You’re going to a Republican Party fund raiser? It’s no longer enough to go along to get along. Not pretending any more? No more excuses for the corruption of your body and mind?”
“What I do, my life, isn’t really any of your business. I shouldn’t have let you in.”
“You had no choice.”
She gazed at her former lover, partner, friend, childhood sweetheart. Weakness rushed up her legs, made her knees quiver. Her belly felt like butterflies were trapped inside. “I have to go ….” she protested in a whisper.
“Come in here, I want to talk to you,” he said calmly as he gestured towards the family room behind him.
All right, she thought. All right. He’s not going to do this again. Every time he shows up. Every time…. “All right, we can talk, for a few minutes.” She walked with as much elegance and dignity as she could, past him, in front of him, towards a couch that faced a fireplace. The couch where she presumed he’d been sleeping. She noticed his old, battered shaving kit on the coffee table, his tattered composition book, some old photos, a few coins, and a key ring with keys to somewhere, scattered on an end-table. She primly straightened the skirt under her so the linen wouldn’t wrinkle, as she lowered herself on one side of the couch, almost sitting on the pillow she’d given him for the night.
Christopher didn’t join her. He paced back and forth on the other side of the coffee table, in front of the fireplace, his hands clasped behind him. “This is the last time I will visit you,” he said without emotion.
“Well, good!” Sara said loudly. “I’ve noticed how every time you show up, since you left me, you stick your foot in the door, your nose in my business, and generally mess things up.”
He paused. “Really? You’ve noticed that?” He smiled at her.
“This isn’t a joke, Chris. I keep trying to make a life for myself, to move forward, to improve myself….”
“‘Improve…’ as in, this amazing display of materialism, conformity, greed, and superficiality is an improvement over the brilliant, open-minded, genuine, and simple woman I once knew.”
“I won’t be judged, Chris. So, what happened? You heard I was divorced, and was awarded this house and a large financial settlement, so you’re back to see if I’m available again?” She expected to get an angry, incredulous response without a drop of defensiveness.
But instead, Chris stood perfectly still and stared at her. “I’m so disappointed in you, Sara,” he said softly, after a moment. “So many years, so many chances.”
“I don’t want to hear it.” She folded her arms, trying to look petulant while really trying to hold herself tightly and contain her pounding heart.
“Yes, yes you do. That’s what I’m here for. Every time I’ve come back, it’s been at a moment you were making some choice that betrayed your soul.”
“How dare you. Don’t you frickin’ judge me, you SOB … you left me. There was nothing else I could do but go back home, play their game. I was like a robot, I did what I was supposed to do.”
“And your grateful parents rewarded you for becoming the ultimate compliment, just like them. I tried to stop you….”
“I kicked you out that time, too.”
“I tried to stop you from marrying that financier, that crook….”
“You … you showed up at my home the night before my wedding. I made you leave ….”
“A crucial moment, Sara. I tried to help you, but you set us both back years and years.”
“Don’t start with that metaphysical stuff again…. ” Sara held up a finger, like a schoolmarm trying to get the class crazy to obey her and settle down.
“You can’t always stay in a state of denial, suppressing the truth. We left our homes together, dropped out of high school. You were a National Merit Scholarship finalist! One of only five in the entire country, and you came with me on our quest for life, for truth! We only had a year, only a year … and ….”
“We were hippies, dirty hippies,” Sara interrupted. “When you left …” she spoke forcibly, stopped, said again, “When you left me ….” She abruptly lowered her chin as a primitive, uncontrollable sorrow forced its way into her chest and behind her eyes. She tried desperately to control the soundless, tearless wail that twisted and wrinkled her perfectly made-up face. She brought both hands in front of her mouth as if to smother any sound she might make.
Christopher watched her, his own sadness etched around his eyes, in the lines of his mouth. “Sara, sweetheart, there are always consequences. There is always cause and effect,” he finally said. “The atman is your real self, carried on the astral winds to a new body, looking for truth, seeking purification, seeking a soul mate.”
“Oh God, Chris, stop it!” The tears started to roll down from the corners of her eyes.
“Sara…” He quickly sat down next to her and put an arm around her. “Sara, how many times do soul mates get the chance to be born in the same era, in the same place, under circumstances that bring them together? You thought a couple of crazy, right-wing, conservative parents were an obstacle? After centuries of floods and plagues and wars. Through ancient years of vast silences and impenetrable distances. Times being born as an old woman when you were a young man, or a baby boy when you were an old eunuch, or not even in the same century at all. Constantly looking for you, knowing yet not knowing you? And finally, in this era with instant world-wide communication, born as man and woman, contemporaries, of the same culture, in the same geographic region …. we squandered our moment. It was my fault, I know. I screwed up. I left you.”
Sara moved away from his embrace, and stood up with a jump, wobbling slightly on her high heels. Her arms were still tightly twined, her chest jumped with unexpected sobs, and her nose and eyes dripped unheeded. She faced Christopher, her hazel eyes glistening and magnified. “You need to leave. Now!”
He hesitated for a moment, and an expression of pain and grief shaded his face. Then he stood. “Like I said, sweetheart, this is the last time I’ll be visiting you in this life. Remember what Pythagoras taught … there is no predestined path for our souls. Our future lives are determined by our characters, the choices we make. Learning is only a form of remembering, and love is only the longing to be reunited with a perfect goodness that we once possessed.”
“Good bye, Christopher,” Sara said, her eyes closed.
He stepped next to her and gave her a kiss on her cheek. She felt a sweet coolness, a breath of wind, a smell like cedar and sandalwood, and he was gone.
Sara looked up and around her. She felt heavy, like an ocean of water was on top of her. She sank back down on the couch, next to the pillow. Her pillow. Where she had slept the night before. The old shaving kit in front of her was open, she knew, because she’d taken it out of her closet upstairs and brought it down, spilling its contents on the coffee table. Chris’ stuff. He had used an old fashioned straight razor, a brush to lather the soap and water and spread it on his face. The coins and tarnished keys, the yellowing composition book and faded photographs on the end-table beside her had belonged to Chris as well. She had taken these items out of her bedside drawer; but she didn’t remember when.
Sara surveyed her belongings. Her fine furniture, her expensive carpets and parquet floors, granite surfaces and marble mantles. Her crystal lighting, art on the walls, and high tech electronics and toys. She remembered that Chris was dead. That he had died only a year after they ran away together, living on the road, in communes, or under the stars. He had taken drugs and gone out to a bar, one night after she talked to her parents and said she might want to go back home. Chris had done what his family always did, what he had been running away from … he went to some local, backwoods bar and got drunk. But Chris the long-haired hippy sought the truth. He told the local bar patrons what he thought of them, his bigoted family, and people like them. They beat him to death.
Sara looked up at her vaulted oak-beamed ceiling, her breath continuing to come in sobbing gulps. “I’m …. so …. sorry, Chris,” she whispered. “You did it to yourself, you left me. You squandered our time together.” But her despair and guilt were overwhelming. Like always, which is why she buried Chris over and over, each time for as long as she could. Before Chris would come back and make her look at herself for a moment.
Sara calmed, stood, and walked quickly to the foyer powder room where she attempted to fix her face. She adjusted her skirt and jacket. She felt satisfied with her reflection in the mirror. She grasped her Prada tote once more as she wondered what Chris had meant, this was the last time he would visit her in this life. She was late for her Republican Party event, and with enormous effort she pushed the morning out of her mind as she rushed out the door, to her Porsche Cayman, waiting for her in the enormous circular driveway fronting her estate.