|Sarah continued up the rocky path, her steps slowing, dragging; pausing to catch her breath. She felt so foolish. What was she doing making this hike? She should never have listened to that psychic's advice. "Really", she thought to herself, "What moron goes to the county fair and actually believes what a fortune teller says?" "Go take the path you have avoided, see from a clearer vantage point". Sarah could almost hear the woman's reedy voice whispering in her mind, the jangle of bracelets on the fortune tellers arm, and smell the strange incense burning in the tent. Deciding she had made it as far as was possible without taking a break, Sarah limped over to a flat boulder sitting on the edge of the trail and gingerly sat down.
Propping her feet on a tangled limb protruding from the ground, Sarah rested her head on her hands. She was both physically and emotionally exhausted. After two years, she had managed to perfect the art of appearing fine to everyone else, but her act failed when no one else was around. Those were the times all her defenses dropped and the full reality of her situation would come crashing home. She missed him. With every fiber of her being, she missed him.
No matter how many visits to the grief counselor or nights out with well-meaning friends, nothing was able to erase that empty ache inside her chest. Nothing could have prepared her for the all consuming pain, the unbearable agony that hit like a freight train when Matthew died. Perhaps if there had been some warning, some time to prepare. One of the women in her support group was always so bright and cheerful. Her husband had died of cancer. She'd spoken of the wonderful times she'd spent with her husband, cherishing every moment and focusing on the happy memories. Sarah hated that woman! How easy it would be if she and Matthew had been given a calendar- a pretty little notice warning them that their time was drawing to a close. Perhaps then Sarah would be able to view this with perspective.
But no! They had not been that lucky. One morning Matthew had kissed her goodbye and left for work. And then later that afternoon, a knock at the door had shattered her very existence, ripped her soul into pieces and stripped every semblance of sanity she possessed. Some stupid little punk kid with a knife had stolen her life along with two hundred thirty seven dollars and eighteen cents. Nothing that happened after could repair that damage.
Wiping the tears that streamed silently down her face, Sarah took a deep breath and readjusted herself to her surroundings. She was here for a reason. It might be a silly reason, one steeped in hope she didn't dare examine for fear it shattered as well, but right now it was all she had. She'd learned to take little things, little markers, and use them as tools to get through the day. Sometimes it was a list of chores, sometimes a show on TV. Each day, often, each hour, was filled with a goal. Do what you needed to get to that goal or marker and then set the next one. Sarah wouldn't recommend it as the best way to get through life, but for the moment, it was the only way that worked for her.
That's how she ended up here actually. The grief counselor had recommended she get out. Choose an activity or environment filled with laughter and noise and people having fun. That evening on her way out of the grocery store, Sarah had spotted the flier for the county fair. A small smile had tugged at her lips as memories of attending the fair as a child streamed into her mind. All things considered, a fair fit the counselor’s suggestion perfectly. She still wasn't keen on being around that many happy couples, happy families, but she needed to start somewhere. Even if she only stayed a few minutes, it was a start.
Sarah had gotten to the fair late in the evening. There had been an unusually high number of invoices to process that day and so she hadn't been able to leave work as she'd planned. By the time she got to the fair, most of the parking places were already taken and she'd barely found a spot towards the back. Deciding to cut through the grassy area where several of the tents were set up, Sarah figured she could wander towards the ride section slowly, that way she didn't have to deal with the full crush of happy smiling people all at once.
A blue and purple striped tent beckoned. Small lanterns decorated the path to the front entrance. A beautifully decorated sign declared "Fortunes, Tarot Readings". Uncharacteristically, Sarah decided to go inside. At the very least, it delayed her mixing with all the crowds. The laughter and cries of the attendees carried on the breeze made the fortune teller tent all the more welcoming for its peace and quiet.
Stepping inside, Sarah noticed a smiling middle aged woman sitting behind a small round table. She was the epitome of the vision fortune teller draws to mind. Turbaned hair, lots of jangling bracelets, kohl around the eyes, and a gypsy style dress.
"Come" the woman beckoned, indicating a chair opposite her. Shyly, Sarah moved forward and sat down, opening her mouth to ask how much. The woman spoke, "$20 please." before she could ask. Sarah reached in her purse and handed her the money, noticing the unique and beautiful rings on the her hand as she did so.
"My name is Magda", she spoke in a rough gravelly voice," Please let me see your hand". Shrugging, Sarah reached out and placed her hand within Magda’s fingers. The fortune teller pursed her lips as she studied Sarah’s palm, tracing the lines with a gnarled finger, muttering quietly under her breath.
Suddenly Magda pinched the palm of Sarah’s right hand, spit quickly into the center, rubbed it around and then slapped the hand down onto the table. Sarah jerked- surprised and slightly offended. Before she could say anything the woman spoke, “You wish to see him, to say goodbye”. It was a statement, not a question. Magda continued. “Go take the path you have avoided, see things from a clearer vantage point. That is all.” Magda then pushed back her chair a bit, rested her head on the table and proceeded to fall asleep.
Sarah sat, stunned. Magda simply lay there, snoring softly. Simultaneously feeling jilted, bemused, and slightly angry, Sarah shook her head and then with a sigh, stood up and made her way out of the tent. Unsure what to do next, Sarah wandered outside. She contemplated continuing with her original plan, but quickly discarded that idea. Feeling even worse than she had before, Sarah sighed and then dejectedly made her way back to the car and drove home.
She’d spent the last week alternately dismissing what the fortune teller had said and trying to figure out what it meant. Last night she had brought out a cup of coffee to the back porch, making her way over to the porch swing where she and Matthew had spent many a night snuggling and watching the sunset. Memories flooded her senses, times spent laughing, giggling and passionately embracing in the dark. She loved their secluded back yard that butted up against the gentle rolling hills of the valley. Sarah watched the breeze toss leaves against the back fence, the back gate creaking and knocking in the wind. How many times had they taken an evening stroll up the trail to the top of hill and through the mountains? She hadn’t been now since Matthew died, had been avoiding it actually…………..
Realization dawned, the coffee cup dangled from her fingers as the full impact of the fortune tellers words finally sunk home. Hope flooded her senses, replacing the despair and anger that normally occupied her being. Could that be it? Could it literally be that simple? Her breath caught as the overpowering emotions and thoughts rushed through her mind. See Matthew? Oh, for just one more moment, one more chance! For that, Sarah would walk to the ends of the earth, give up everything she had. Coffee now forgotten, Sarah raced inside, thoughts of tomorrow’s hike and its potential promise consuming her mind.
Which is how she ended up here, the harsh light of day and the exhaustion of making a hike she hadn’t made in a long time after two years of little to no exercise making her doubt the wisdom of her decision. As awe inspiring and wonderful as the idea had been last night, today she doubted herself. Common sense told her there was no rational reason to be making this hike. Matthew was dead and buried two years. She didn’t believe in ghosts, didn’t believe in religion, and certainly didn’t believe in fortune tellers. So why was she making this trip all alone when rationality demanded that it was in vain. She would simply have done all this for nothing and come down even more depressed and discouraged than before.
Sarah debated giving up and heading back home, but some stubborn part of her clung to the irrational ray of hope that had blossomed last night. As illogical as it may seem, if there was even a tiny chance it was true, she was going to take it. Gathering up reserves of strength she didn’t know she possessed, Sarah stood up and continued her way up the steep trail. Finally cresting the top, she took a moment to catch her breath, her gaze catching on the lone oak tree at the top of the mountain peak. The suns rays shone through the leaves, dappled patterns dancing as the wind waved the leaves back and forth. Tiny white flowers dipped in the breeze, their delicate fragrance wafted in the air.
Sarah made her way over to the shaded area under the tree, reaching into her pack for the bottle of water and the granola bar she had packed. Panting, still out of breath from her long climb, Sarah closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the cool mossy bark of the tree. The sun warmed the tips of her toes and the soft grasses tickled her legs. She listened as the breeze wound its way through leaves and grass, the hum of insect life and singing birds soothing her soul.
A whisper filtered into her senses. “I love you Sarah”. So soft and so quiet that for a moment, she didn’t believe she’d heard it. Then again, “I love you Sarah”. Slowly, not even daring to breath, she opened her eyes. Standing in front of her, sparkling and shimmering in the sunlight was Matthew. She could see through him, the view of the meadow intermixed with his clothes, the same ones he’d been wearing on that last day.
Tears spilled over her lashes, her hands shook, and her voice failed. Sarah simply sat there, soaking up the wondrous sight. “Matthew”, she whispered, her voice cracking at the attempt. He smiled at her tenderly. “I love you Sarah”, he said. “I will love you forever, you are a part of my soul and I will always be there for you. Believe Sarah- Believe!” And then, as though the wind itself was blowing him away, he slowly faded until gone from view and the only part that remained was the mountainside behind where he had stood.
Sarah bawled openly, screaming out his name, screaming her love for him. But no matter how much she screamed, he never reappeared. Hours later, as she slowly made her way back down the mountain trail, one word echoed over and over in her mind. Believe!
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