The attic smelled musty and no one had set foot in it for several years. Isabel wandered farther into the space, stepping carefully, hands up, gently swiping cobwebs away from her face with a shiver as she proceeded. She stopped in front of an old crate, illuminated by the only light in the room. She peered inside and lifted out its contents, placing them on the floor in front of her. In it, were some old dried up painting supplies which she laid aside, a flower press she had always meant to use, some knitting needles and yarn attached to a half finished sweater, a few CDs she thought she’d lost awhile back, and a beautiful hand painted Japanese box. She wiped the top off gently with her sleeve and the dust took wing, fluttering skyward on shafts of sparkling light coming in from the one circular window in the peak of the rooftop. She coughed as the tiny particles scattered and her vision cleared.
Her breath caught in her throat as her eyes rested on those so like her own. Soft, dark brown, deeply emotive. He seemed to be looking right through her, and truly... if any one could, it would be him. She thought she'd lost this photograph forever and it had been very important to her. She was in the middle of painting it when the pipes had burst and water came pouring into her studio. In the rush to move everything to safety, David must have packed it all up carefully and then placed it into a crate that was later stored up here, and quietly forgotten over the years. She had never finished that painting. Now, so many years later, she knew she would. Isabel lifted the photograph out carefully and laid it in her lap smoothing it as gently as she could and closed her eyes, reminiscing...
“What was it like for you, dad? You were such a young man, so attached to your family. Four brothers and five sisters who looked to you often for love and companionship. A mama who thought the sun and moon rose and set on you. Did your mother cry when you left, the way I did when it was my son's turn to fly? Did you stand on the bow of that ship, wondering what you had done and whether you'd ever go home again to the beautiful blue waters of Kāneʻohe Bay and the sound and smell of the ocean to which you were born? Would you once again look out the big picture window of your childhood home and see Mokoliʻi island, run out the front door smelling the heavy sweet scent of your mother's gardenias, climb up into the palm tree at the end of the driveway to yank a coconut down for your little sister, or head out for lazy days of deep sea fishing with your brothers? Would you return to those islands and breathe in the mist hovering on those heavenly mountains, close your eyes and feel the solid earth beneath your feet like you did as a small child? So many questions you must have had. You left, a naive boy and came home, a military man.”
Isabel touched the picture lovingly and ran one finger along his cheek, missing him. Over and over again he had told her the story of the day she was born, the day he’d first laid eyes on her. "Your mother was only eighteen, baby.. and I was just twenty one. Six long weeks had passed before I could even come in from overseas and I was longing with everything in me to get home. When I stepped off that ship and she was standing there holding a tiny baby girl wrapped in a soft pink blanket, I thought my heart would burst. Maybe it did because my life was forever changed by you.”
“If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you?” She hummed it softly to herself. “If a man could be two places at one time, I'd be with you." They’d sung the words together so many times, her dad strumming the guitar softly and as she sat there alone in her attic, she missed him with all her heart.
She closed the box and ran her hand over the delicate paintings. A tiny bluebird sat in the center and there were branches from an apple blossom tree, painted brown with little gold accents. Pastel flowers ran the length of them and sweet green leaves dotted each branch cheerfully. A small flower was painted in gorgeous detail as though it had just fallen to the ground and had dropped next to the trunk, laying down in the grass at the base of an old ornate wooden box. Her name was painted in the center of the pink blossom in her father’s fine white script. He had picked it up for her from an artist in Guam when she was a baby and she had kept it with her, storing all her most precious letters and photographs in it. She spent the next hour opening each of them, poring over the words, grateful for this unexpected gift in an otherwise ordinary day.
She lingered over the little cards and notes David had written to her when he was younger, before he’d pulled away from her and gone off fighting wildfires with his uncle. He was still chasing the ghost of his father. She sighed and placed the long macaroni necklace over her head with a smile. He had given it to her with such pride on Mother’s Day when he was nine years old. It made her feel far more beautiful than anything she had in her jewelry box downstairs.
As the last of the sun's rays sank below the horizon and the final beams of light came piercing through the window, she stood up and stretched. She thought she might head out to the yard to pull a few stubborn weeds from the flower bed while she still had some light. She chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip. She hadn’t heard much from her son lately. She knew his job was difficult at times, but he rarely complained of it. It was grueling, often punishing work, but he considered it his calling, and in truth, she was very proud of him. Maybe she’d call him tonight. With a little bit of luck, he’d pick up the phone. Isabel felt hopeful as she gathered up her things, distracted by her thoughts of him. She balanced as much as she could take in one trip and leaned over, opening one of the windows to let some fresh air into the attic. One of her letters from David fluttered away from her and she lurched forward to grab it.
It happened so fast, she didn’t have time to react. The spiral staircase wound in a tight curve to the floor below it and was too narrow for a body thrown off balance. She had always meant to buy something to make it a little safer, but every time she’d gone into town it had slipped her mind and she ended up putting it off so many times, she eventually forgot about it altogether. She was carrying too many things in her arms and in a split second, everything around her was upside down, as her foot slid between the top two rungs of the staircase and twisted underneath her. She toppled down the opening head first, briefly stuck in mid air, her leg trapped at an unnatural angle, cracking before twisting free. She felt as if she was falling in slow motion, the agony in her leg already rushing to her head, pounding its warning. She was clutching the box to her heart when her forehead hit the tile with a slam.
The clock on the wall kept ticking and the second hand moved slowly around its face, blurry and out of focus. The door to the kitchen opened slowly and a man walked in, closing it behind him with a click. He took the clock off the wall and pulled the battery out of it, placing it in the basket on the counter.
He laid on the floor next to Isabel and took her hand in his, smoothing the hair off her forehead and gently wiping the trail of blood that was dripping down her temple. He whispered softly to her, ancient words, healing words.
“Do not forget, my beloved, that with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
Isabel opened her eyes and found herself looking up at the most intriguing cloud formations she had ever seen. He was still with her. She blinked, as raindrops turned to snowflakes and stuck to her eyelashes but she didn't brush them away. Turning on her side, she lay her palm on his cheek and said, “Jack and I were just talking about you!” Pleased with herself she pointed, "I see an angel, John! Do you see him too?"
"Yeah babe… I see him.” But he was looking at her. As much as he had a thing for wolves, she had a thing for celestial beings with wings. Her last name, Anela, was the Hawaiian word for angel. When she told him that, he thought to himself how fitting it was. He used to find it all so amusing.
Izzy was crazy about abstract art and how no two people ever saw the same thing in a painting. She remembered the first time he put her on the back of his Harley and handed her a helmet. "Where are we going?" she'd asked him, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Her hair was always falling in her face and it frequently made him smile. "Just get on. I'll show you."
He had taken her to a meadow filled with wildflowers and they had laid down and watched the clouds roll by for hours. "See?" he questioned. And she had. It was just like her abstract paintings. They rarely saw things in the same way, until they took the time to help each other see it from their individual perspectives. It was a perfect metaphor, for their life together. They saw things so very differently, but they were learning ways to internalize each other's point of view. Neither one took that rare treasure for granted. They guarded it carefully and nurtured it whenever they had the chance. “Did you know that I like metaphors?” she’d ask him for the thousandth time. And he would shake his head no, just to spite her.
She felt so peaceful. "I'm really glad you're here with me, John.." she whispered softly. In times of closeness, when he was holding her in the still of the night, she would sing quietly in his ear, whatever sweet song she was feeling in the moment. She sang to him softly then, “Then one by one the stars would all go out. Then you and I would simply fly away…” It was a melancholy song, but it felt right anyway. She lay her head down on his chest and listened to his heartbeat, knowing he would agree.
She thought she heard a wolf howl somewhere nearby, but she didn't feel afraid. It had been carrying on for quite awhile now and she wondered what was wrong with the poor thing, wishing she could help the animal.
The thinnest sliver of light was on the horizon, and she wondered briefly why it was so dark outside, before slipping back into a blissful sleep just before dawn.
Isabel felt like she was flying but she couldn't remember how she got up there. The sun was high in the sky, brilliant above the clouds. Where was Drew? She never went flying without Drew! Her brother was a pilot and he owned a small plane of his own; a Cessna 182. He had picked it up used many years ago when he was first learning to fly, intending to replace it with a newer, fancier one in time, but Izzy loved the Cessna and in the end, he had just decided to keep it. She was fascinated by being above the clouds and went up with him whenever she had the chance, which, as far as Drew was concerned, was never often enough. It was not uncommon for him to call at a moment's notice and say, "Come on, Izzy! I need some flyin’ time…come with me!" It had taken him forever to convince her that she would love it too but once he had, he couldn't get her to come back down.
"Izzy, I do not have an unlimited supply of gas here," he shot off knowing full well the response he would get. She never disappointed. She burst out in an uncontrollable fit of giggles, making unsavory noises with her armpits and would not stop until Drew threatened to roll her if she didn't knock it off. Just to prove his point, he banked hard to the left and Izzy suddenly grew still. This time it was Drew who was laughing. That is how it always was with the two of them. Drew could let his hair down with her and being around him was exciting and fun. It just made them feel good to be together. Normally, Izzy was pretty reserved and even a bit shy. But with Drew, she was somehow able to relax and just be who she was. He loved that she felt like that and though they were very different, they were really very close. Not a week went by, that they did not hear from each other, even if it was only a quick text.
Isabel was starting to feel nervous. Something wasn't right but she had no idea what was bothering her. If Drew wasn't here than who was flying this plane and why did her limbs feel so heavy and lifeless?? She tried to focus on something... anything, but everything was fuzzy and nothing made sense. Just as she was truly beginning to panic, she heard John’s voice singing from somewhere off to her right. It sounded distant and strange, but if he was there, Isabel knew everything was fine so she slowed her breathing and allowed herself to drift on the sound of his voice. It was the eleventh hour.
Darling don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years...
I’ll love you for a thousand more…