It’s been getting more and more difficult lately to open up this blog and write a post. The gray of Winter isn’t exactly the most inspiring shade for creativity. It isn’t to say that I haven’t jotted down ideas here and there, it’s just that I oftentimes can’t find the motivation to do anything about them.
Another reason for not having the desire to write might have something to do with the depressing book I’m reading called, “The Age of Jackson.” It covers a slice of American history that, as many of you may very well imagine, is full of lopsided bickering. I mean, I get enough of that everyday in today’s world, so I’m not sure what attracted me to dive into the same exact thing that was happening 180 years ago. Listen, learning accurate history is important but I think once you get your fill, you should certainly move on. If you don’t, it may well affect your spirit.
A few mornings ago, I began reading another book, which gave me something of an intellectual jump start. It’s called, “The Brothers Karamazov” by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I know, I know, I’m a late bloomer and while I recognize this as college reading, I’m going to enjoy it as much as possible. It’s actually right up my alley, so it should be interesting. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia page:
The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality.
As long as it doesn’t have anything to do with the Whig or the Democratic Party, I should be fine. Uggg. I mean seriously, we’re still doing this?
Anyway, let’s move into talking about Christmas. I have a few thoughts I want to quickly share. I’ll be brief.
I really enjoy Christmas. I think it all started back in my early twenties when she would visit me to get away from it all. Her family went on their merry way, making their rounds to see the cousins, aunts and uncles, while my family did something similar. My brother and sisters had already moved out of my parent’s house and were doing their own things, so as you can imagine, my season of celebration wasn’t exactly full of hustle and bustle like it had been for so many years prior. It seemed that as time passed, there were fewer and fewer of us until the day came when there was only one of us left – me.
Even though I enjoy it, I’ve oftentimes thought of Christmas as an anticlimactic holiday. The hype that’s put into all of it is pretty intense. On Thanksgiving Day of just this year, I haphazardly realized the station that had somehow found its way to the dial of my car radio was playing a twenty four hour loop of Christmas music. I didn’t even notice what I was listening to for three full days. Something finally smacked me across the face and brought me to the reality of what was happening, so I plugged in my music filled phone and listened to it from that point on.
Christmas Eve used to be fun. As a kid, I would gaze at our lit up Christmas tree and wonder what all the wrapped boxes held below. I would snoop around when no one was looking in a hunt for my name written on little white tags. When I found them, I usually thought there weren’t enough for me, but that may be because I was slightly delusional. I felt there should be more of a fifty / fifty split. Fifty percent for me and fifty percent for the rest of them. Unfortunately, it never worked out that way.
When Christmas morning came, we all tore into our presents and did what much of America was doing at the same exact time. We unleashed more than a month’s worth of pent up wonder and excitement. A half hour later, it was all gone. Although we had fun, there’s something slightly deflating about having the world handed to you on a silver platter at 8AM and by 8:30AM walking towards your dark bedroom with a small pile of gifts to toss on an unmade bed. Looking down at them and then looking back at the living room with a mess of papers surrounding a naked Christmas tree made me wonder why so much emphasis had been placed on the presents that had been so effortlessly taken ownership of. Even as a small child, I thought about that.
By the time I turned twenty two, I had given a lot of thought to what Christmas was about. For years, I witnessed what we were doing, what our neighbors were doing and what much of the country was doing. I realized that “the day after” didn’t really give people what they hoped it would. Kids were still kids and adults were still adults. People were still milling about trying to maintain the high they’ve incrementally ratcheted up for over a month. I discovered that the primary goal for many of us was merely to hold on tightly to the joy we felt from last year’s celebration, while trying to somehow perfect anything that may have gone wrong. What people didn’t like to consider, or even openly ignored, was that there were some of us who were dwindling off to celebrate on our own. For many families and friendships, each year brought a smaller and smaller crowd.
The Christmases she came to visit me were some of my best. I would cook us a small meal that we would quietly enjoy at my parent’s dining room table. The house was ours and ours alone. There was no fragrant Christmas tree and no brilliant lights to give us the feeling we thought we were supposed to experience. I can hardly say I made a good meal either, but the fact that she had sacrificed Christmas day with her family to spend with me, meant something. It really meant something special. Not many people would do that. And I swear, if it weren’t for her, I would have spent those days and nights sitting alone in a cold dark living room counting the small specks in the ceiling’s plaster.
Those were the Christmases I remember most. The Christmases I sat in peace and quiet with a beautiful girl. A girl who would look at me. She would look at me more than I care to share with you. She was a girl who wouldn’t offer much more than a small smile every time I looked back. A girl who always gave but never asked for anything in return. From the time I woke up to the time I fell back asleep, I would think about her visit. Those were the Christmases of my early twenties and those are the Christmases I think of every time this holiday passes by.
Today, when someone asks me what I’m doing for the holidays, I tell them very little. I tell them that I am going to spend my time reading or working or going out to dinner. I tell them something just to answer the question because I’m not sure they would appreciate what I really intend to do. And quite frankly, I answer them in a definitive manner to simply stop them from asking any further questions.
She didn’t ask where we were going. I just held the car door open for her and then closed it after she was comfortably settled. As I walked around the rear of the car, I popped the hatch to place her overnight bag next to mine. It wouldn’t be a long drive – maybe an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Maybe even two hours. What she did know, was that what we would experience would be in contrast to what others were experiencing. It would be the world’s Christmas day turned upside down.
As we slowly pulled up to the hidden front entrance, our excited friend we had known for so many years ran out to greet us. He pulled her door open to allow for a graceful exit.
“Hello madam, hello sir. It’s so good to see you both again.”
“Not for long this time. Just passing through for a night or two.”
I was a bit taken aback as I browsed through the parking area…watching as my car pulled off to find its home for two lonely nights. In past years at times like this, the inn was full. There were cars filling every single spot, but there was something different now. It seemed as though something in the air wasn’t as robust as it had been in previous years. Some of the energy was missing and as I stood there, I wondered if the weekend would give me a glimpse of some of the old stalwarts…some of the faces I have come to recognize and appreciate over the years.
Even though prior times had attracted many individuals and couples looking for the same thing we had come to enjoy, we rarely got to know any of them. It’s an unwritten rule that when someone arrives to spend time at this inn, they were limited to offering other guests a polite hello and a nod. People respected what the inn’s purpose was and that respect is the primary reason so many of us return year after year. It’s a very special place and it’s private enough to give the very few of us who are trying to get away, what we need to do just that.
I slowly cracked the door to our room and peeked my head inside. I saw a small night light was glowing next to our bags that had been delivered just moments before. I panned back and forth to absorb this year’s accommodations the innkeepers had prepared for us. I quickly pulled my head back, closed the door, turned around and started laughing loudly in the hallway. I had my right hand clasped tightly on my stomach while she looked at me like I was crazy. I laughed and laughed and handed her the key. I suggested that she go get comfortable because I’d be right back.
I quickly trotted down the large curved main stairway while lightly gliding my fingertips along the top of the heavily waxed oak banister. Heavily waxed like the rear support of a church pew. I skipped every other step and when I reached the bottom, I ran through the main lobby, past the giant sparkling Christmas tree and towards the front desk. By the time I got there, I had tears forming in my eyes from the wind. Our friend behind the desk stood there patiently watching me. She seemed simply delighted. She looked at me with her soft eyes and knew exactly what I was doing. I gave her a quick glance, moved closer and grasped her hand with both of mine. I whispered “thank you.” She turned to her right and said, “Marco, I think the gentleman found our little gift.” I heard a quick inhale followed by small footsteps scurrying towards me. Marco popped out from the tiny room behind the desk, ran towards me and gave me a warm hug.
“It’s so good to see you again sir.”
“Well, if you keep doing things like this, I may never leave.”
“Would that be such a bad thing, sir?”
When my lady entered our room, she found two of the most gorgeous robes she had ever seen laying across the bed. One was dark blue and the other was a rich deep red. They were thicker than any robe we had ever owned…almost as thick as two robes – one inside the other. When she glanced over to a small console table in the opposite side of the room, she found two fresh bottles, one of Bénédictine and the other of Christian Brothers Brandy. Tulip-shaped champagne glasses stood tall beside two fine cigars. She told me that the minute she discovered the special treats left in the room, she rolled her eyes and knew that I was behind it all.
I didn’t mean it, really. When calling the inn to confirm our visit, I suppose our conversation had gone on a bit longer than anticipated. I expressed my desire to merely sit back and relax comfortably in the library while sipping a liqueur. I told her that it wouldn’t be until past midnight that I hoped to light up a good cigar to enjoy alone on the terrace of the second floor, the terrace that overlooked the garden. She seemed to already know of my plans past midnight. And she seemed thoroughly entertained by my vivid imagination. She told me that she would have a special surprise waiting. I never in a million years thought that she could possibly be helping me more than I would ever come to realize.
The inn was introduced to me when I was the ripe old age of seventeen. A rather eccentric friend of mine chose a clear spring day to invite me out and sit me down for a long, long conversation. He wanted to tell me about one of Connecticut’s more magnificent secrets. He called it, “The inn without a name.” He told me that only a very few individuals were aware of the inn’s existence. It was something of a word of mouth pleasure that hosted only a few of Connecticut and New York’s more interesting and deserving people. It was situated right in the middle of what some may refer to as prep school country, or as you and I might recognize as where the rich kids go to school before they go to Harvard. There was no sign on the road, no phone number in the phone book and even to this day there is no website or advertising of any kind. I couldn’t even show you a photo if I wanted to, it’s simply not allowed.
As my friend spoke of the inn, I quietly wondered to myself why he decided to share all this with me. I didn’t dare interrupt him though. The look in his eye told me to just sit and listen.
We sat together for over two hours as he described the huge circular garden of English boxwood that looked like hieroglyphics from the sky. He told me of the hundreds of acres of forest and of rolling green hills that surrounded the collection of small connected lakes. He told me of all the rivers and streams and of all the animals that lived on those grounds. He explained how the inn worked and the type of luxurious service the guests receive. It was like nothing else he has experienced, he said. The serenity and complete privacy and quiet relaxation that he enjoys when he visits the inn was something that he has only shared with a few people and those people have yet to tell any others.
He continued on and on and when he was finally finished, he just looked at me and smiled. He nodded his head forward.
“I have only two questions – Why are you telling me this and why do the guests continue to keep the inn secret?”
“Well that’s easy.”
He continued on. He spoke of how he is an avid observer. How throughout the years he has witnessed so many people come and go to live only for the complex pleasures in life. He told me of how he had distanced himself from so many of his friends and members of his family because they didn’t seem to get it. He told me of their lives that mimicked the actions of a dog chasing its tail. That if they were handed and beautiful gem, they would sell it instead of cherish it, that if they won the lottery, they would be bankrupt the next year. He told me that he saw the opposite in me – something different from so many of the others and for that reason he wanted to share the inn with me.
I was stunned. I sat speechless, but finally brought myself to repeat my second question…why everyone who knows about the inn keeps it a secret. He replied that he couldn’t answer that question for me. That I would have to find out for myself. He suggested that I spend a day alone on the grounds of the inn. And while there, I should think of someone I might want to share it with. He discussed with me how challenging that task would be. More challenging than I expected, but that I would eventually make the right choice. He also suggested that I think of those who I might want to keep the inn from. And how that task wouldn’t be nearly as challenging.
As we talked, he watched me drop my head to think. I finally looked up to see him patiently sitting there smiling at me.
The funny thing is, it took me twenty one years to realize what he was smiling at. Unfortunately, my friend passed away earlier this year, so I won’t be able to share my discovery with him. I won’t be able to share with him that the lessons he taught me have shaped me. That I am beginning to understand the true value of so many things. It’s a shame because I think he would have really taken interest in my perspective.
I just want to tell him that I think I may have figured it out.
The next morning, the phone at my parent’s house rang. I answered it to hear the voice of a woman on the other end. She already knew who she was talking to and offered an invitation to visit the inn for what she called a “tour.” I didn’t know what to say because the previous day’s conversation with my friend was already slipping away. I was seventeen years old and believe me, visiting an inn somewhere in the hills of Connecticut wasn’t the first thing on my mind. I had a job, a car and was more interested in hanging out with friends than being taught life lessons or learning about the mysteries of a place I cared little about.
Regardless of the uncertainty in my voice, the woman firmly instructed me to visit the inn and continued to give me directions on how to get there. She asked that I use “discretion” when telling people where I had disappeared to for the remainder of the day. I hesitantly agreed and informed her that I would arrive in a few hours.
Quite honestly, I had no idea what I was getting into. I wasn’t suspicious at all because the relationship with my friend was long and I trusted him. But still, I was concerned about what to wear to a place like this and wondered if my beat up red car would look silly parked near what I imagined it to be. Nevertheless, within the half-hour, I had left and was on my way.
I drove north on Route 37 through Sherman and Kent, CT. I drove through Sharon and Goshen and then through Washington. And then north again through Warren. I passed through small towns and covered bridges. Over mountains and through valleys. I felt as though I was driving in circles because I swear, I passed the same landmarks numbers of times. That big white house and the red general store on the corner. That same covered bridge. I drove for two full hours, maybe even more, before seeing the small green sign she told me about. It was a shipping sign meant for delivery trucks that fed many of the surrounding houses. Or should I say mansions. Big beautiful stone mansions.
About fifty feet after I made the right, I made another one down a long dirt road. I would say it lasted at least a mile or two.
The entrance of the dirt road was unusual because it wasn’t marked by anything more than two small brick pillars and an ivy covered wall. It was nothing more than an unmarked trail that looked like it had been there forever. Perhaps a service road for a hotel or something. There were no lights or anything to indicate it led to anything whatsoever. I wondered if I made the correct turn.
I continued to drive up the dirt road and about half way, things got very shady. Not shady mysterious, but shady dark. The area opened up and widened to show lush green grass on both sides and the trees seemed to have grown twice as tall as the ones I saw earlier. They were huge oaks and at their base, rhododendrons lined the forest. I slowed down and wondered where I was going. I wasn’t nervous or anything because my curiosity was on overdrive. I was well beyond any feeling of nervousness. By the time I reached the end of the road where the trees stopped and widened into a field, I could have easily driven off a cliff. I supposed that’s what I get for hanging my head out of the window in sheer amazement. If I was being surveilled on camera, I’m sure someone somewhere was getting a good chuckle at my expense.
If you want me to describe the most magical place I had yet to see in my seventeen years on this planet, I will. I was floored by what I was invited to. I was simple astounded at what I was driving towards.
I swear it was a castle. I didn’t know they made castles in this country because I didn’t know we had kings, queens, knights and lords. My limited knowledge of my surroundings kept my reality focused on neighborhoods with small houses and driveways and aluminum siding. Basketball hoops and little ceramic ducks lining short sidewalks leading towards screen doors with brass knockers. Living room carpet and cheap furniture purchased from discount stores. Remodeled kitchens to achieve that country cuteness we all so desire. I’ll admit, my knowledge was limited, more limited than I ever knew.
As I unknowingly rolled up to what seemed like the front of the building, I had trouble finding an entrance. From what I could tell, there wasn’t one. My limited view only offered the tips of stone Corinthian pillars on the main house and ivy covered windows and huge red oaks surrounding and shading the entire building. I stopped to catch my bearings as I sat there and stared.
It was shaped like a large “V” with three circular/octagonal sections at the center. There were two straight roof lines expanding off of those into smaller areas that looked like guest houses, only they were still connected to the main building. There were twelve huge brick chimneys and the most beautiful ivy covered wall surrounding the entire structure with a great lawn leading up to it. In the center of the great lawn and looking like it led to nothing was a staircase consisting of about five steps holding planters on either side. It didn’t make sense to me. I sat there wondering why there was a wall and why there were steps leading to nothing. All I thought of was how much this entire place must have cost and who paid for it. What I wasn’t aware of was that money meant something different to the inhabitants of what I was looking at.
Thinking back, I can remember what I liked most about that first view of the inn. The huge slate roofs and the ivy covered wall. I think it was the commitment to the enduring beauty of the building I enjoyed the most.
I must have waited a long time because after a while, I noticed a man in a dark suit walking across the lawn towards me. He was smiling and when he got to me, he held out his hand for me to shake. He asked me to follow him to something he wanted me to see. He didn’t ask my name and didn’t ask me to move my car. He just smiled and seemed quite pleased that I have arrived. I didn’t argue because I had nothing to argue against. Everything that had been promised to me had come true. Sure, there was still the day ahead, but my friend’s description of this mysterious place was dead-on.
I followed the man to the left of the building. We weren’t crossing the lawn that lay ahead of us and we weren’t taking the stairs to nowhere. We weren’t even going anywhere near the wall so I could see if there was a way through. What he was doing was leading me to the back of the inn, towards the most magnificent view of the Litchfield hills I had ever seen.
I stopped. When he heard my soft footsteps come to a halt, he stopped as well. He turned around and as I looked at him I noticed that he was still smiling. I wondered to myself why everyone was smiling all the time. I guessed that I would be smiling too if I lived in a world like this.
He asked me if I liked what I saw.
“Yes, yes I do. I can’t believe it. It looks like I can see everything and everywhere.”
He gave me a curious look that said that he was pleased. He asked me to continue following him to the garden.
Since I had always liked gardens, I excitedly agreed and began walking again. When I was a kid, I remember my mother making a stepped square garden of about two feet high to grow strawberries. All summer long, I would search through that garden in our side yard looking for the biggest and reddest strawberries. I wondered if they grew strawberries in their garden as well.
About five minutes later, we arrived at what I can only describe as a huge wall of thick green hedges. I didn’t see any garden. There were no trees and no plants. There was nothing to eat and no fence to protect anything from rabbits and deer. I asked the man where we were.
“At the garden, sir.”
Now, if I had been standing on the second floor terrace as I had on so many occasions throughout the years since, I would have had a more sufficient view of what was there. It wasn’t simply one row of big green hedges as I was only able to see from my vantage point on the ground, it was a huge round area about two hundred feet wide. There was a maze of some sort created from the English boxwood that I mentioned above. From what I learned over the years, the founders of the inn created a design long ago that was meant to be solved. “Solved?” I asked. “How do you solve a garden?” “I’m not sure because no one has yet,” replied the woman who was on the other end of the phone that very first morning.
“Please go ahead and walk between those two hedges sir and continue on until you reach the center.”
“And then what?”
“I thought you wanted to give me a tour of the inn. I thought you were going to show me around like the lady said on the phone this morning.”
“She invited you for a tour sir. But not a tour of the inn. I think you’ll have a better understanding of things after you spend some time at the center of the garden.”
A bit past midnight I lifted my head to look towards the inn. I saw almost every window glowing with warm light and people dancing in one of the rooms upstairs. After a few seconds, I lowered my head back to the ground to continue watching the stars.
We had a great time Christmas Eve. She and I got dressed for dinner and made our way down to the main dining room. We greeted many of the folks who did visit for the weekend on our way. There were long hellos and short smiles. Nothing more than that. We all turned away from one another once the pleasantries were through. I have to tell you, if someone isn’t used to it, situations like that can be unnerving. Our years of visiting the inn have trained us well. Have trained us to leave others alone and to live among one another in peace and quiet.
Upon entering the dining room, one can’t miss the massive trompe l’oeil featuring the exact same view as they would get from the terrace I enjoy so much. The rendering absolutely captures the essence the location gives. Every time I stand and stare, I lose all ability to verbalize what I’m feeling.
I have to be honest with you. I thought the first evening of my visit this Christmas season would be the one I would choose to write about. It isn’t.
I spent hours alone in the ancient library browsing through ancient books, flipping through dusty pages, smelling the history that has been resting on the shelves for what must have seemed like an eternity. It was my goal – what I had dreamed of for almost a year – to sit in that library, wrapped up in my robe with the fire glowing, sipping my liqueur, reading those books. The translations from so many centuries before were crisp and understandable. The reading wasn’t difficult and after only a few hours or days, one can really get a grasp on a different version of the world we live in. A version that isn’t taught in grade school or even in college. The version of the world that was shared in that library is meant for a unique selection of very special people. It describes things in vivid detail in a more honest, vibrant and accurate way. It’s a true education and I suppose that’s why they call it the “private library.”
I must have dozed off, because when I woke, I found myself still sitting in that library. Only now, there was a blanket covering me. The fire was still going, the lights were dimmed and the book I was reading was placed on a table next to me with a bookmark reminding me of the page I was on. I stood up and shook off the odd feeling that I was being watched. I wondered who put the blanket on me, who put the bookmark in the book and more importantly, how much I had drunk. I looked to my left at the small clock hanging on the wall across the room, above the cream colored fabric lamp shade. It read past three.
And then I heard him.
“Good evening sir.”
“Whoa. What in the world?”
I swung to my right.
“It’s not tonight sir. He’ll be here this evening. It’s tomorrow sir.”
And then he abruptly stood up from the bench seat near the antique paned window and walked out of the room. It was our old friend from just that morning who received and parked our car. It was the man who had helped run the inn for more decades than many people were aware. For all I knew, he was a descendant of the family that built the inn.
I left everything the way it was – blanket in the chair, book on the table, but when I saw my unfinished drink sitting there on the end table, I picked it up and threw it back before heading upstairs to join my lady in our room.
Half way up the main staircase, I stopped. I stopped and looked across the main lobby to absorb where I was and to think about what had happened. I had a nagging feeling that I had missed something. Something that I was supposed to do that first night at the inn. The longer I stood there, the more overwhelmed I felt. It nearly shook me from the half-trance I was in and almost induced me to venture outside for a long walk to clear my head. It was no matter that I was wearing the big, luxurious robe the inn had left for me. There was no one around. The Christmas tree was only half lit and even if someone had passed through the lobby, they would have understood what was happening. I had to keep reminding myself, we were at the inn.
I was even tempted to wander out to the garden to sit at its center for a while. I wanted to see what the stars looked like in the winter sky. I wanted a clearer view through the crisp cold air to see if I had missed anything that very first night I had spent in the garden back when I was only seventeen years old.
I decided against it. I continued to make my way to our room. I got undressed, climbed into bed and rested my head on the pillow. About two minutes later, I rolled to my right, lifted the hair off the back of my lady’s neck and placed my lips on her soft skin.
I want to take a moment to thank my old friend for sharing this special place with me. He was correct when he told me the choice of who to share it with would be difficult. I have hidden it for such a long time. Over the years, there have been only three souls who I shared the secret with and only one who I brought along to introduce it to in person. The other two have no idea where it is. And they never will. It’s nearly impossible to find unless given explicit instructions. It blends so well with its surroundings that through the years, thousands and thousands have passed it by without giving it more than an unimpressed glance. It’s a rare beauty in a rare part of a rare world.
Over time, I have visited the inn on more than one hundred occasions. Almost each visit better than the last. I have formed strong relationships with the innkeepers and employees and missed them terribly only once, when I moved down south for a year. During that time, I visited back up north twice, and each time, I went to the inn. It’s just that both times I was rushed and preoccupied, so we didn’t get to talk as much as I would have liked.
About ten years ago, my friend sat me back down to discuss how things were going. He wanted to hear all about my experiences with his friends who quickly became mine. He wanted to compare and contrast both of our feelings from a place he called, “Heaven on earth.”
We talked about everything we could possibly think of over a course of two weeks. He told me about the evening visit he had made after our first conversation that day twenty one years earlier and told me about the dinner he and the innkeepers enjoyed – discussing who I was and whether or not I would fit in at a place like that. He told me about all the times he checked up on me without me knowing, just to see if everything was okay.
He told me that very few things in life meant more to him than the fact that he had handed off part of his soul to someone he was so proud of.
“It becomes part of your life, ya know?”
“Yes, yes it does.”
“You’re aware there’s someone you need to show, aren’t you? Someone you won’t need to bring.”
“I don’t understand.”
Over the years, I have given a lot of thought to the second part of the task my friend gave to me so many years earlier. The task about who I would like to keep the inn from. While I admit he was correct in saying that part wasn’t as difficult as the first, it did require a lot of thought, because it forced me to look inside people in a different way than I ever had. It forced me to sort of “judge” them to figure out who they were and what their purpose was. I had to ask myself if they had what it took to find a treasure and keep it safe instead of exploiting it for all to see, to keep it from those who didn’t deserve something so special.
Many people haven’t made it. There have been a few who have come close, but just not close enough. Unfortunately, the more I searched, the fewer I found. It seemed as though people weren’t giving the same attention the things in life anymore.
I’ll expand on something I mentioned earlier on…the lessons he taught me were the most valuable in my life because they allowed me to think about what it takes to be human.
Christmas evening was a private one. We didn’t join the others for dinner in the main dining room. We chose to eat alone in the south porch that was only lighted by fewer than a half-dozen candles, overlooking the same view of the Litchfield hills the terrace offered, but from a slightly lower angle. While not as awe inspiring as what we could have experienced upstairs, the moonlit garden looked simply beautiful. Nothing had changed since the very first evening I spent there. Only this time, it was a bit colder outside.
We talked over dinner about what we were doing. About what we were experiencing. I quietly repeated something under my breath and lifted my head to see that her cheeks were flushed and tears were welling up in her eyes. She looked angelic with the warm flicker of the candle glowing against the side of her face. Against the side of her face with total darkness behind her.
She reached over, took my trembling hand and said nothing. It reminded me of so long ago in my parents’ house spending time together on Christmas day.
I bowed my head towards the table.
“No one else would do this with me.”
“You don’t know that.”
“You do, but you’re wrong.”
“I’ve spent my entire life waiting for this moment. The moment to feel, with someone I love, looking at that garden.”
She continued to hold my hand as she looked down at the tears that had fallen in her lap. She couldn’t bear to see the pain in my eyes any longer.
“Let’s go for a walk.”
We stood up from the table and made our way outside. We walked through the grounds, all the way up the stone sidewalk and around the surrounding buildings. We slowly strolled across the great lawn and even walked down the staircase to nothing. When we made it to the bottom step, we stopped and I held her tightly in my arms as we fell into a trance, witnessing the absence of everything across the wide open area of wilderness. We lost ourselves in the blackness of the night as the tree tops contrasted with the dark blue backdrop of the star lit sky. We simply stood there in silence as our breath evaporated in the bitter winter’s air.
As we were walking towards the main house, we saw an old red car parked on the dirt road. The same dirt road I had initially driven in on back during my first ever visit to the inn. It wasn’t parked well either. It was slightly sideways and as I approached it, I noticed that the keys were still in the ignition.
I looked at the car and then looked at her. She smiled, turned around and slowly walked away.
We returned to our room kind of late. She said that for once, she was going to enjoy that huge bathtub and that I should go out to the terrace and enjoy the cigar that I had spoken of so often. I kind of argued with her because I was still chilly from our walk, but I knew she was right. I would never forgive myself if I didn’t smoke while I was at the inn. It was the other half of my dream from the night before.
It struck me as odd when she turned around at the last second, before heading into the bathroom.
“Take your time with this. You are going to need to take your time.”
A few seconds later, I heard the water running. I looked down at my watch and it read just past midnight. I was getting tired fast just standing there so I figured that I had better get going out on that terrace. If I didn’t do it then, I wouldn’t do it ever.
The weather hadn’t changed much from when we had ventured out earlier in the evening. It was clear, crisp, but now it was absolutely freezing. I rigidly stood on the terrace, placed the cigar in my mouth and heavily slid a wooden match across the strong granite balustrade in front of me. I lit the cigar.
As I stood there smoking, I thought back to our evening’s dinner and back to how we hadn’t finished our conversation. I wanted to finally share everything with her. I wanted to tell her about my old friend and how I first discovered the inn. I wanted to tell her about how it was passed down to me and how he said I needed to give it to someone else. How I would never know how the situation would arise so I shouldn’t bother looking for it. How I wouldn’t have to bring the person there, but how we would arrive together.
For a short time, I thought my friend was talking about her. I wondered if I was missing something – a sign of some sort. I know she was very deserving, but she had already spent so many years at the inn with me. I thought that it couldn’t be her.
I continued to smoke and I continued to look out over the garden.
The hedges were casting long shadows from the brightness of the moon in the crystal clear sky. I was simply astounded at how nothing had changed in that garden in so many years. How nothing had changed from the time I was introduced to the inn by the person who met me in the center that very first night. The person who sat with me for hours explaining how the world worked. And how the garden and the inn were simply a microcosm of the environment that surrounded me.
I leaned over the terrace railing and continued to look into the garden. The smoke was hovering across my lips and floating out of my mouth to drift away into the cold atmosphere.
I took one last glimpse of the center of the garden.
And then I saw it.
Someone was sitting on the old oak bench that had been planted there for eternity. I was surprised that I hadn’t seen it sooner. They were hidden in the shadows of the hedges and were quietly watching the inn. They were watching the glow of the windows and were watching the dancing of the other guests in that small room upstairs. For a moment, I wondered what someone was doing in the center of the garden, at the center of the garden in the middle of winter. I wondered until I saw the person slightly shift their position to lay back and watch the stars in the sky. Just past midnight.
At that very moment, I felt blast of cold air. Colder than I had felt before. Much colder. Strange because there was no wind. Not even a small breeze.
I put it out of my mind because as I stood there on the terrace, I though about the previous evening’s time on the stairs. The time I thought that I had missed something and how I felt that there was something I had to do. It was only then when I had no idea what that was.
As I stood there in the bitter cold, I began to realize what I had to do. And it wasn’t about me.
I slowly made my way outside for another long winter’s walk.