creative writing contests.  your imagination.  PUBLISHED!

2016 what does this picture mean to me? contest | SECOND PLACE WINNER 

by Maryanne Carey 


 Everything was followed to perfection, by Benjamin the maître d'. The individual who had the reservation to rent the “Amour Sincère” room every year on the same date was an Albert Morton. Benjamin knew him to be a fussy man, who had his own specific way of doing things, and so since he deemed his method best, he never wanted anything altered.

      The mansion had originally belonged to a rich industrialist. He was born in 1921, in France and after World War II he made his fortune in the reconstruction of his country. He bought the stately home to be his summer retreat. When he became ill in 1960, he sold it to a well-known restaurateur. The new proprietor created a wonderful setting for tourists and locals alike. Each room in the former mansion was beautifully decorated and furnished in taste to represent the French Country lifestyle. The “Amour Sincere” room was designed to be a rustic but at the same time elegant room. It had an old world feel to it that appealed to many people, and so it was one of the most popular rooms.
    Every year, on April tenth, Mr. Morton’s instructions were followed precisely as he stipulated.  To begin with, as always all the personally selected linens to be used had been laundered and put away the previous year. They were not to be utilized by anyone else. Of course, that task had been seen to directly by Benjamin. This year again he had taken them out and set them on the long table. He carefully arranged the dishes and glassware, precisely as instructed. The food would be plated so that everything was ready for the evening meal. The menu was always the same; it included Foie gras and Brie, Bouillabaisse, Fricassee de Poulet, crepes with fruit and, of course, champagne throughout the dinner.
       Benjamin checked the room one more time; everything looked perfect; he put down the extra linens on the long bench so that he could light the candles, and he looked to make sure the simple cross was hung as indicated over the fireplace.  Once he forgot to hang the cross, and he vowed he would never neglect it again.  He was positive he didn’t need any reminding to do this not since the one time he failed to remember. The day that happened was one that would always be clear. He overlooked the cross, and when he returned to the room at the end of the night, the air had become cold and damp. The atmosphere seemed to turn angry, and Benjamin felt a chill all the way to the most inner parts of his bones. He took the cross and placed it in its proper place. When he finally finished clearing out the room that day, the feeling of being oppressed, as well as the anger he sensed were gone. So now, for the third time today, he checked to be sure the cross was there.
     Benjamin left the room hurriedly because he was still thinking about the time he forgot the cross, and he inadvertently left the linens behind. It wasn’t until much later that he realized his mistake, and he hoped there would be no repercussions on this minor oversight.
       Only a moment after the departure of Benjamin, Albert Morton was sitting at the table the faithful servant had just set. There he waited.  He noticed the extra linens left and wished he could call Benjamin back to retrieve them, but it was too near seven forty-two for him to bother. He needed to be alert and not worry about small matters. He looked around, everything else was perfect, linens, candles, and, of course, the cross. The only thing different from the first time he sat in the room was the cross. He had added it to guide the way.
      He appeared to be deep in thought and then he suddenly leaped up from his seat when he thought he heard the rustle of crinolines coming from the foyer. He was sure he smelled the familiar scent of Rosewater. He went to the doorway and looked out into the hallway. He saw only darkness and nothing else, at least not yet. He was too nervous to sit again, so he paced, back and forth from the window to the door, over and over. The flames from the candles were bending with each of his passing. Now it was 7:30, of course before was too early what was he thinking, he still had twelve minutes.
     He not could help but reflect on what brought him to this moment. It was Lilly. Lilly with the face of an angel and the laugh that still haunts him. Lilly, who was the sun itself, to him. He thought about the night they met, all those years ago. He had no idea when he was first introduced to her of the impact she would have on his life. They became acquainted at a gathering held at his friend Gaspar’s home in the South of France.
      Gaspar had said, “This is my former colleague, Albert Morton, from America. Albert, this is Miss Lilly Girard, from Arles.”
     “How do you do, Monsieur Morton.”
     “A pleasure, Mademoiselle Girard.”
     They chatted for a moment that evening, she was charming, but he was networking as he often did at these sort of affairs; and he inevitably was caught up in other conversations by the many seemingly more important guests that night. In fact, it always makes him laugh when he thinks of the insignificant impression she made on him that first time. He never gave her another thought, until he saw her again a year later, in 1965.
    That time, he was sitting at the very table he waited at now, looking out at the same hallway. He was asked to come by a mutual friend of his and Gaspar’s.  She had walked through the door laughing, on April tenth, all those years ago. He remembered the exact time it was seven forty-two; he had just glanced at his watch before their eyes met. It was something that stayed with him, frozen in time, as sweet as a first kiss, or as memorable as seeing your child born, or as poignant as when someone you love dies. She was with Gaspar, and his wife Eve. The two women were holding one each of Gaspar’s arms; they were draped on him like the finest accessories. Eve in a brilliant red cocktail dress, and Lilly in a white one, her dark hair shining in the light. He heard a laugh ring out, it pierced the silence and seemed to lodge in his head as well as his heart.
     Gaspar spoke first, “Albert, of all people. How wonderful to see you. You remember Lilly.”
    “Yes, of course, so nice to see you, M. Girard, and Eve, my dear, you look lovely, as always.”
     Eve smiled and greeted Albert, brushing a kiss on his cheek.
     Lilly smiled, too and said, “Please call me Lilly.”
    “Then I’m Albert.”
    They looked at each other, but this time, it was different, he clearly saw her beauty. Her eyes were the deepest brown he had ever seen, they sparkled like the finest marquisate, and he was immediately pulled towards her. The dinner went on well past midnight, and even then Albert hated for it to end. That night as he slept, her laughter played through his dreams, and when he woke in the morning, he wanted to see her.
     Their first rendezvous was arranged by Gaspar and Eve. They all went to the theater; it didn’t take long for the other couple to realize Albert and Lilly forgot they were there. The two seemed to be in their own world, staring into each other’s eyes, even holding hands before the end of the play. It was clear they were enjoying each other, and this was only the beginning.
     After that Lilly and Albert were inseparable. They went everywhere together. They found everything amusing and seemed to always have fun just enjoying each other’s company. They walked in the park holding hands, and they kissed in the moonlight. He was completely taken with her. In fact, he only felt alive when she was in his sight and when they were apart it was as if a piece of him was gone.
     He saw her every chance he could and took her anywhere she wanted to go. But he preferred spending time alone with her; he began to hate having to share her; she was his. Lilly cared for him as well but not to the degree of his passion. He was serious, and she was carefree. He wanted her always with him; she was his air, his food, his life.
    In honesty, being with him, at first, pleased Lilly, but she started to sense his intensity, and this made her feel trapped. He didn’t want her doing anything without him. She started making excuses to be home early. She says she had to wash her hair or write to her mother or wait for a call from her employer, anything to have some time to herself. In fact, she felt as if she was slowly being suffocated. It had been fun, a lark, but he wanted more, and she wanted freedom.
   She was too young for this. There was something else, too. She knew he was not the one she wanted to be with forever. She hadn’t told him that she had loved another not so long ago. It was becoming clear to her that she still did. It was all so cliché, but it was sincere and true. She tried to forget but in the end, she loved Paul. Paul with the laughing eyes and the wide bright smile. They had spoken of marriage, but not yet. Paul needed more time he said. In anger, she told him she was going to enjoy herself while he decided. But, now Albert wanted to cage her, keep her, she wouldn’t allow that, no never.
      One day in late summer, Albert took her for a picnic. The afternoon was full of color, the sound of the sea against the rocks was the backdrop. The cool ocean breeze felt wonderful on their hot skin. Everything was perfect until he begged her again to marry him, and again she said no, but first the laugh, Lilly’s laugh.
    “You are making me crazy, Albert, I am not ready for marriage.”
    “I am the crazy one; I can’t be asked to continue in this no man land of love that is unquenched. Lilly if you refuse me I will be lost, please, my darling, say yes.”
    She turned her head, so her face was only inches from his. Then she seemed to study him, with her dark eyes. In them he did not see love, he did not see anything not even hate. He would have welcomed hate, at least, it would have been an emotion. But there was none, not even pity just a complete indifference to him. This caught him unprepared, and he felt it would destroy him.
    Moments later, when she finally spoke she told him she needed to go away for a while, it would give her time to think, and clear her head. It was all too much for her. But the look in her eyes had told him more than the words she was saying. In his heart he believed he knew what she meant; she was leaving him. If truth be told, Albert was certain this was the case.
    He said good-bye to her a week later, she smiled and kissed him leaving with promises to write, and phone as soon as she returned. He waited, but of course, there would be no letters, no phone calls. He never heard from her again. She was gone, but still he couldn’t completely let her go. For the next three years, he reserved the “Amour Sincère” room and had it set exactly as it was on the night he fell in love with her.  Then he would get word to her through Gaspar and wait hoping she would come, but she chose not to come.
    As the fourth year anniversary of his love approached, he was given a sign to be hopeful. It was a rainy spring that year. He heard she was vacationing nearby; he believed this was a good indication. Perhaps she was coming to see him at the mansion. He begged Gaspar to tell him where she was staying, and then he went there.
    He found her waiting until a typical April shower passed. She was standing under a green striped awning in front of a fish store, and she was looking out at the sea. Albert noticed children entering the store holding their noses while their mothers coxed them in. In her hands, she held cod wrapped neatly by the fishmonger. He knew it was cod because that was the only fish she would eat. He knew her so well. She was laughing at the children, her wonderful laugh.
     She turned when he called her name. Her look was one of surprise, and he believed he saw some disappointment and sadness behind her eyes. Yet, she smiled.
     She said, “How did you find me?”
     “It was by chance,” he insisted.
     The slight smirk made it obvious she didn’t believe him and his chuckle suggested that he didn’t expect that she would.
    They chatted a moment longer and when the rain had almost stopped, he asked if he could walk her to where she was staying. He opened his umbrella to shield her from the few drops still falling. Lilly nodded in compliance. When they reached her hotel, she thanked him but did not ask him in.
     Albert said, “Perhaps lunch, tomorrow?”
     Hi over anxiousness took that as a yes. When he arrived the next afternoon, the rain was gone and the day was warm and sunny. The concierge told him Lilly was walking along the shore. He went to greet her. She had walked out to the pier and was watching the seagulls, holding a basket she had filled with shells.  He saw her turn when he called her, she smiled and began walking toward him. She was more graceful and lovely then anyone else he had ever seen. He truly believed her to be the most amazing and wonderful creature on earth.
     She raised her arm and gave him a slight wave. There was a child bent over fixing his shoe. Lilly didn’t see him at first and when she did she sidestepped him to avoid landing on his small body. That’s when she lost her bearings; she slipped and in an eerie, almost slow motion silent instant; she fell into the sea. He saw the fall, and he screamed in horror.
     He ran and jumped into the water; he couldn’t see her. Then he did, she was struggling. He had her by her waist then she slipped away. He tried to save her, but she was gone. He couldn’t feel her anymore. He believed, or he tried to convince himself that death had been fast, no suffering; it had been peaceful, well as much as was possible under the circumstances, and on and on.
     A search was done for the body, but the currents had taken it. So it was never found.
     A year later something still pulled him to the “Amour Sincère” room, the place he first loved her. Of course, this time, he knew she wouldn’t come, couldn’t come.  He was lost alone, and he wept, then at exactly seven forty-two, he heard her. First the smell of rosewater, then the laugh and finally she walked through the door. She was urethral, an angel. He called to her, but she didn’t answer, of course, he didn’t expect that she would. Instead, to his complete anguish, she seemed to weep. He begged her to stop and not blame him; he tried to save her; he was sorry. Then she turned and was gone from his sight once again as if she had never been there.
     He had come to this room every year since on the same day and time. That’s when he is aware of her; he knows she is there, and for a moment, she seems real. It had been how many years now that he had carried out this same ritual, twenty, no more. He longed to go with her, no matter where she went, nothing could be worse than being without her. But she never took him, no matter how he begged. Albert was beginning to believe she was never going to forgive him, how did he exist all this time without her. Still, no matter where he might be, every April tenth is spent there at that table, waiting.
    It seemed unusual this time, different somehow. What was it about today that made him feel a change was happening?  He prayed it would be different, perhaps, this time, she would stay with him. He was full of optimism, something about the morning light and the beauty of the day turning into a soft calm evening told him, this time, she would not refuse him. He was sure she didn’t blame him, after all, why would she keep coming back if she were angry? Hold him responsible; that was silly; he hadn’t done anything, not really. Unless loving someone as he loved her was something that needed forgiveness.
Seven forty-two
    Now he was sure he smelled the rosewater and heard the footsteps on the floor. Then came the laugh, Lilly’s laugh. Standing in the doorway, he saw her,
   “Lilly, My love,’ he said.
    For the first time in all the years, she spoke, “There listen, I feel him.”
    Albert answered, “Whom, my darling?”
   “He’s here.”
    Suddenly Albert heard another voice, much stronger than hers, “Of course he isn’t.”
    Albert said, “Who is with you, my love?”
    Lilly said, “No, he’s here, I tell you I know it.”
    Lilly stepped further into the room; Albert could see her more clearly than ever before. On this occasion she didn’t turn and go as quickly as in the past, and, today she wasn’t alone. Albert was confused, and he listened.
   “I told you, he’s waiting for me, ever year, I have never really been free, and I have felt him pull me here. Oh, Paul, I can’t bear it anymore.”
    Paul said, “My dear, Lilly, Albert is dead, twenty years now, there is no one here.
    “He died trying to save me; I should be dead not him.”
   “Come, let’s go, I don’t want you ever to return it is over there is nothing here, nothing.”
    Paul pulled her from the room; she was crying; they went into the dark hall where Albert would not and could not follow.
     In a moment, he was alone again.
     Then the ghost of Albert Morton wept. Soon he went to the cross. It would guide his way back to where he now belongs until he is allowed to return next year.     

                                                                                                                                THE END

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