You may remember that I gave you the first portion of a story earlier this week. We were left with a chance to ponder what happened in Trent’s life that brought him to where he found himself at the start of the story. As I mentioned before, I would have the rest of the story before the end of the week.
Because there were essentially two different portions of this story I have given it two separate names (though they are combined in the grand scheme). I give you Silent Past as the original portion. But if you wish to skip ahead to the second half, Reflective Future is highlighted to help you find the next installment.
With that said we shall move into the story…
You know deep down you desire to be punished.
Trent lost himself to monastery life. If it could even be called that. He dropped all he came with outside the door, entered into a new world with nothing. Aspirants were given the robes of the order after the entryway.
He found himself alone in a small room, no windows to the world adorned the walls of this simple room. A bench held his robe, stiff cotton material, made for durability, not comfort. It scratched his soft pink skin when he cinched the cotton rope tie.
A tonsured man stood outside the door on the far side of the room. The same cotton robe adorned his body. Without a word he guided Trent through the halls. The silence reverberated in his ears with the soft shuffle and clomp of his feet. He had questions for his guide but knew he would not receive answers, or worse he would be scolded for the noise.
When he chose this new life he hoped the time in solitude and reflection would help him find himself. Trent had overworked and over stressed himself in his former life outside the monastery walls. Though still fresh in his life, his mind, he fought to push that old life out. A hope that he would find peace at last.
After a short walk his guide motioned for him to step into the room behind the door before them. He didn’t look at Trent, didn’t acknowledge his presence other than the gesture. He then turned and walked down the hall and out of sight.
A four legged stool sat in the center of the room. Beside it was a table with electric clippers plugged into an extension cord and a trashcan sat on the floor. He had never used clippers to cut his hair. This had been something he always went to barbers for. But there was no one here. Did they intend for him to cut his own hair?
He sat on the stool and waited. No sounds, no voices came from the hall outside the room. Still, he waited. Baggage from his old life grew and forced itself to the surface. His patience slipped away as his agitation took hold of his psyche. After a glance around the room he walked back to the door and looked up and down the hall.
“I guess they intend this for me,” he whispered. The whispered echoed in the silence, a sound that assaulted his ears.
He picked up the clippers and flipped them around in his hands looking for the switch. They jumped to life, almost out of his hands in his shock when he found it. Even without the training the concept was simple. He let the flat portion rest against his scalp and then pushed them through his hair as it fell in clumps around his feet.
When he finished, his guide returned with a broom and dustpan in his hands. Trent wanted to speak to him, scream at him, but the silence, it had a weight that kept him from speaking. He accepted the broom and dustpan, though his guide again did not look at him. He cleaned the area, swept it all into the dustpan but could see nowhere to dump it. He left it on the stool and leaned the broom against it.
Trent’s mind flashed to a different broom. One that leaned against the counter of his old apartment. She left it there, that night. Left it lying out in the kitchen instead of putting it away. He wrestled the image from his mind when he realized that the guide motioned for him to follow again.
The images came back, the sounds of the fight from that last night. It wasn’t there first but it was the one that pushed through now. The lack of conversation, lack of noise, he had nothing to protect him, no shields to hide behind and hold back the flood of memories. Memories he did not want to experience again. Memories he refused to accept.
They stopped at another door. The guide motioned for him to enter. Again he did not look at Trent, did not acknowledge him other than the direction.
The room, he assumed would be his new home. Small, he would have described it as cozy in his old life. He made a living accentuating the positive. At least that was what he called it when he came up with ad copy to sell some of the worst homes imaginable. The firm he had worked for made their fortune when they took advantage of a loophole in the housing market. The copy he wrote for the ads helped make it all possible.
A bed, and a desk with a chair were the only furnishings in the room. Cramped quarters, but at least he had the room to himself. Would it be awkward to share a space with someone who doesn’t talk? He wondered. At least he wouldn’t have to find out.
A soft click at the door snapped him out of his reverie. He spun and pulled at the handle, locked tight. Locked in his room alone with nothing but his thoughts. In a panic he tapped at the door. No answer. He beat at the door a rhythmic pounding that filled the small room with the crash of his knocking.
The rhythmic crash like waves. Cabo at midnight on the beach, that memory flooded his mind. She was there for a time. They didn’t fight, at least for a little while. He always thought it was something about the sand and the surf, the interplay of smells and sounds, he felt free with the sand between his toes.
It didn’t last. The memory flashed in his mind and then left. Unlike the others he didn’t wrestle with it, didn’t fight it. The memory left on its own. A salty breeze lingered as he came back to the room in the monastery.
He had moved to the bed. The frame raised it off the floor but without a mattress. Straw and cloth covered by a cotton sheet lay on a wooden plank. A far cry from the pillow top mattress with warming inserts he once owned.
Her scent on the pillow, in the sheets, it filled his nose now. A ghost of who she had been. He felt her close, her warmth as they spooned. A comfort far and away from the stiff wooden board under him now.
He stretched and wiped the sleep from his eyes. When did he fall asleep? He had lost track of time in the room’s darkness. Pain in his shoulders and hips screamed at him as he attempted to stand. He felt the angry bite of circulation returning to his feet when he stood up.
A chill draught washed across the floor. Something he hadn’t noticed when he first walked through the hall. His eyes popped open as his feet registered the cold of the floor.
As his eyes adjusted to wakefulness he noticed a soft light crawl into the room from under the doorway. He lay his head to the ground in an attempt to look out into the hall but could see little more than the light.
Trent pulled at the door handle and found it was no longer locked. He wasted no time in the room. Without even a chamber pot he hoped to find a place to relieve himself. If he was lucky he might find the dining room as well.
“Pass the juice,” she said. Sun reached through their kitchen window and danced in her hair, with her smile.
He filled her glass and set the pitcher back onto the table. “I saw an article in the paper this morning,” Trent said. “You need to check it out.”
She didn’t look up from her tablet as her eyes dashed back and forth with the words on the screen. “Ya, what’s it say.” She dipped the edge of her toast into the egg’s center, pulled away with yellow yolk dripping down.
“You need to see it,” he said. “You wouldn’t get the full effect if I read it to you.” Trent looked down at the paper in his hands, folded to the article in question.
With a heavy sigh she set the toast on her plate and laid her tablet flat on the table. “What do you want me to see?”
He pushed it across the table at her. The article face up, ready for her. He followed her eyes and the change of expression on her face. But the change wasn’t quite what he expected. She should be smiling, he thought. This isn’t right.
Pushed, forced, the memory faded. If only she had smiled. Maybe that would have kept the memory alive, for just that much longer.
Breakfast in the monastery lacked the sun and warmth of the memory, now a slight flicker in his mind. Though he saw it every morning before he woke fully, it still faded as he came to full wakefulness.
The sounds of forks and knives scraping across plates became a symphony in the morning. Words were not exchanged. Pleasantries neither offered nor accepted. When he sat at the table a plate with two runny eggs and cold unbuttered toast was set in front of him.
He found that the monastery was self-sustaining. Chickens raised for their eggs as well as their meat, cows for their milk. A large garden was maintained in the courtyard at the center of the grounds. What they did not grow, they bartered for in the town at the base of the hill.
But the silence, still the silence, words were not used within the monastery. A few of the monks worked as agents and split their time between the monastery and town. They brokered deals for food and supplies to keep the monastery running. But even they only spoke when they were off the monastery grounds. Trent believed as such at any rate. After making his living with words he failed to see how it would be possible for the friars to work without them.
He tried to remember how long he had been at the monastery now, but the time had become lost to him. The days bled together, each with the same routine.
Morning and evening mass helped to maintain his sanity. Though they were performed in Latin, he yearned each day for the breaks from the silence. He could not understand the words spoken but the intent behind them filled him with comfort. The memories never assaulted his mind during mass. They left him free to his own thoughts. At times it did trouble him that as much as he fought for these thoughts of his own, he still found them slipping, aligning with the feelings and images that popped into his head during mass.
Flower petals fell from the cherry tree as he sat in the garden. A short break under the shade of the tree turned into a long reflection. His time at the monastery became his memories. But it was something in the flower petals that sent him on a spiral back, back into the memories he had pushed aside.
A flower pressed behind her ear, a yellow daffodil. Yes, that was it. He fought so hard to suppress the memories, now they were a struggle to bring to the surface again. Julia never really cared for flowers. But she loved daffodils, planted them in a planter on their balcony.
She pressed the dirt with her hands giving the new planting stability. The flowers were still buds, but would soon blossom. “Thank you for these,” she said. “We needed some more color out here.”
“I thought you would like them.” Trent wrapped his arms about her waist and kissed the top of her head. “Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady.”
She turned into him and wrapped her arms around his neck. “You think so?” She asked. The corners of her mouth played at a smile but didn’t quite find it. “You wouldn’t lie to me about that would you?”
He held her gaze, a soft look in his eyes that they shared too often lately. “Never,” he said. “Never.” Trent pulled away and stepped back into the house. “Did you want some lunch?” He watched her as she turned back to her flowers.
“Sure,” she said. “Whatever you find will be good.”
Maybe it was the smell of the cherry blossoms, a perfume carried on the wind. Or the site of the flower petals themselves, neither were definitive. He wanted to blame one of them but even with the anger of the memory he knew it was useless to fight against the wind.
The door wasn’t locked. When did this come about? The entire time he had been here, the door was locked at night. But this time they did not contain him. Was it an act of faith, he wondered. If he left his room would he betray the trust they now gave him?
He sat on the edge of his bed and debated what he could do with this turn of events. At the least he could spend time in the courtyard, a chance to see the stars, breathe in the night air. It had been so long, so very long ago.
He crept to the door and placed his ear to it. With no sounds in the hall, he tested the latch again. Still unlocked, maybe they forgot him? He lifted and released the latch repeatedly. The battle raged inside him, though not in anger. Elation filled him with the new found freedom. Nervous excitement held him back, he couldn’t open the door.
She opened the door to their bedroom. The creak from old hinges woke him from a light sleep. Trent rubbed the sleep from his eyes then looked at her standing at the end of the bed.
She had stripped the makeup from her face, prepared for bed. She cleared her throat and held out a paper in shaking hands. “I hope this isn’t too late,” she said. “But you have to see this.”
“This couldn’t wait till morning?” He accepted the paper from her, the same paper he had handed to her before. “I’ve seen it already.”
“No, no you didn’t.” Her voice came out strained, a whisper at the end. She cleared her throat again and said, “Please, read it again.”
Over the ring he showed her earlier was a single word, “Yes,” written in black marker.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
The halls that led to the courtyard were empty. He walked in the garden alone. Her “yes” written in black marker filled him. The pain of that moment, tore at him, opened wounds he thought forgotten.
Under the stars he saw her in shadows. Shadows of her former self, what she had become. The wind carried the beep of a heart monitor, the rasping breath of an aspirator.
The husk of the woman, who wrote on his proposal, lay in the bed. Her body emaciated, wasted. Her hair, gone, lost to the chemotherapy that flooded her system. “We don’t know how much longer.” Trent barely heard the voice of the doctor on duty that night. His eyes were filled with her, fighting to find the image of her when she was well.
“What does she feel,” he asked. “What is left of her in this?”
“I’m sure she still loves you,” the doctor said.
“How can she,” he asked. “There’s nothing left of her.” Tears filled his eyes, flowed freely down his cheeks. He turned away and hit the wall.
His hand throbbed, brought him back from the memory. The stone wall around the courtyard did not yield to the power of his fist. He didn’t care. The rage filled him as strong now as it was the day she died. Rage, anger, and pain, he could do nothing to save her. He had run from her last moments.
His mind clung tight to those last moments he knew of her, lost to sickness, waiting the end in her hospital bed. The day she died, and the burial. His cowardice, fear of facing her end alone. He wanted to scream, shout at the top of his lungs, rail against the injustice of it all.
Trent breathed in a lungful of air, released it slow and steady. His body ceased shaking as he took control of himself. There was a broom, he picked it up and swept the dirt from the walkway.