Free Souls, Chapter 40

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

Chapter 40

One summer when Sandy was a very small child, she met another little girl, even smaller than she, at the local swimming pool.  Until their mothers put a stop to it, they amused themselves by jumping as hard as they could into the baby pool, making as big a splash as they could.  When the mothers had gone back to their chaises longues and their magazines, Sandy, bored, reasoned that it was only the wading pool they weren’t allowed to jump into. She convinced the other little girl that they should jump into the big pool.  They’d make a really big splash and it would be really, really fun.

The two of them had perched on the brink, their toes clinging to the warm wet concrete.  She’d had the other child’s hand tight in hers, partly because the new girl was a little scared; partly because she was, too.  The sunlight had danced white on the blue-green rippling surface, and the smell of chlorine scoured their noses as they leaned out over the water.  Would they do it?  Yes! No! Come on!  “One, two, three, jump!” she had counted, and as she did she realized how deep the big pool really was and how much she did not want to be in it.  But her little feet had already slipped off the edge and to her terror she found the water charging up to claim her, and the other child as well.  She never recalled the splash they made, only the sickening roar of the water in her ears and the appalling struggle to hold her breath as she plummeted to the bottom.

Both had been quickly rescued.  But from time to time ever after, the same kind of indelible, visceral terror would swallow her whole whenever she played around the edge of something dangerous and found herself falling in, whether she wanted to or not.

She had fallen into the terror now, as if she had not so much jumped, as had been pushed into a bottomless well of mindless rage.  She had been so deliberate, so clever, in confronting Werner with that telltale stain.  Like a brilliant prosecuting attorney she’d known exactly what she was doing. But upon his denial some other volition, not hers, took her completely.  It was making her beat her fists in the air and howl at him, with only the barest remnant of her sensible self left to struggle against it.   The flood of anger flowed burning through her and spewed out of her mouth.  “No! You’re lying! You’ve been lying all this time!  You don’t know what it means to be honest, to tell the truth!”   Drowning in her fury, she clapped her hands over her ears. “I don’t want to hear you!” she screamed. “IhateyouIhateyouIhateyou Ihateyou!”

“Zandra, bitte!”  The alarm in his face maddened her all the more. She wanted to throw something at that face, to put out those astonished eyes, to break and diminish that hawk nose, to silence forever that lying mouth.

Her glance darted throughout the room, looking for the best missile. His violin in its case, sitting on the floor next to the book shelf? No! She wasn’t so beyond control as not to respect it as a musical instrument, and besides, it was too bulky. She’d probably miss.

The bust of Mozart sitting on the shelf over the stereo system, or, better still, the one of Beethoven? No, it wasn’t the fault of those masters. They weren’t why she hated him.

Then like steel to a magnet her eyes were drawn to the brazen idol of the Laughing Buddha that perched on the stereo speaker in the far right corner of the room. It reposed there in its self-satisfaction, mocking her with the philosophy it proclaimed, all the trash about the good essence of God in being in everyone, and love and peace to one and all, oh, yes! and deceitful, artificial, lying “joy.” Before she knew it, she had crossed the intervening space and snatched it up.

Perfect.  Perfect!  Heavy and round and just the right size. She wheeled to face him, her back to the window, the idol upraised in her right hand. She felt the potential of its weight: she saw him in his alarm (so much the greater now): she saw him fallen, as he would be after it left her vengeful hand and struck him; or if not fallen, then reduced, damaged, degraded, as she was degraded now in her own eyes and must surely be in his.

He must realize what she intended to do.  Why didn’t he run? Why didn’t he at least cower, or throw up his arms to protect his perfidious head? Why was he stepping closer to her, with his hand out? Oh, God, did he want her to destroy him?

“Zandra,” he was saying very calmly. “Zandra, give it to me. You do not want to do that.”

“How do you know ?” she cried, her arm still cocked back to throw.

“That is not you,” he said simply. “It is not what you do.”

He stopped less than four feet away from her, his hand yet extended to take the statue from hers. So close, there was no way she could miss. She could do it; she would punish him for his cruelty; it was what he– what he– deserved–

“Uuuuuhhhhhhhaaaaahhhhhh!” The cry ripped through her like a jagged blade through tender flesh. Her arm dropped straight down as if the nerves had forgotten their function, her fingers opened, and the would-be missile hit the floor with a thud and rolled a little to the side. She slid down after it, collapsing in a disordered heap of arms and legs and hair against the wall under the window. Face buried in her skirts, her body shook with sobs she was too frail to hold at bay.

A bare awareness of Werner standing a step or so away from her, of him bending down to retrieve the bronze Buddha, of retreating footsteps as he took it away: probably so she couldn’t get her hands on it again. The squeak and clang from across the room as, she supposed, he closed up the futon and converted it back to a sofa. Noted, but of no consequence.  She didn’t care what he did. This had nothing to do with Werner any more, or with anything he had done. It was her guilt that kept her sobbing there: her offense, her sin.

She cried and cried and could not stop. Like the ground liquifying in an earthquake the truth shifted beneath her and threatened to swallow her up. Or maybe it was the truth standing solid and unflinching for a change that left her undone. In the face of her murderous gesture he had said, “That is not you.” Oh, but it was! She had it in her to hate, to want to kill.

But it was not who she was called to be in Christ, no matter how badly she was wronged. “The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” She confessed this to be true, and yet she’d been on the verge of exacting her own revenge, and had exulted in the lust of it! Her mind’s eye looked on what she had done and it frightened her to the core.

And who was she to throw stones– or idol statues– at anyone? When Werner claimed the right to sleep with any girl he wished he was following the beliefs he avowed. While she– she who claimed to be a good Christian, had been compromising hers right, left, and center and expecting God to sanction it! “It was wrong– wrong– for me to sleep with anyone before marriage, but I told myself it was all right because we were engaged! No, God help me, I would have done it even if he hadn’t asked me, because I’d decided I loved him!” What a hypocrite she was! She knew his views on Christ and Christianity were vastly different from hers, but for months she had pretended it didn’t matter. Had he lied to her? No, she had deceived him, letting him think she agreed with him, or that the vast differences didn’t matter! Hypocrite, hypocrite, hypocrite!

And now everything that was false and hypocritical and wrong had swallowed up everything that could have been honest and beautiful and good. “God help me, I do love him! I do. I do . . . ” After months of holding out against him she had fallen in love with him, deeply: it was a fact she couldn’t deny. And in his way, he loved her. But every hope of their ever making a life together was at an end. It wasn’t just what they’d done to each other the past half hour or so. It was the bald fact of who and what each of them was. They had no foundation for a happy marriage. Their worldviews were too far apart.

Keening, quivering, heart and body sick, she huddled weeping over their dead future as she might have grieved over the loss of the man himself, had he been her husband indeed. She excoriated herself for her previous prideful visions of sharing his coming fame. The thought of them was offensive; her stomach heaved at it. For now she was mourning the loss of Werner himself, of all he had been to her up to now (before the night’s awful revelations) and all he might have been to her to her dying day, if only, if only.

She understood now what was truly dear to her, and by her own fault she had lost it. If only she had been more forthright with him! If only she had let God guide their relationship instead of assuming she knew the best way! “Almighty God, my heavenly Father,” she silently gave voice to the General Confession, “I have sinned against you and against my fellow man, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do!”

Not for the first time was she reminded that her surname meant “to confess.”  And not to confess faith, but sin. She found herself living down to that name again and again, and when would it cease?  “O God, help me! O  God,” she wept, “what have I done, what have I done? Dear Jesus, forgive me, forgive me!”

The skirt of the cotton sundress was wet through with her tears.  She tasted the salt of them as the moist cloth scraped and reddened her skin.   She could never stop crying: she had been weeping for ten thousand years and would go on sobbing for tens of millenia more.  There was no more thinking, nor reasoning, nor even self-blame.  Life and death were reduced to nothing but this everlasting paroxysm of grief, and death and life were forever one.

“Ach! Zandra! Du mußt nicht so weinen! Du wirst Dich selbst krank machen!” she heard him anxiously addressing her. She knew what it meant. He was so distressed he could speak nothing but German. But who cared if she made herself sick? She deserved to be sick!

On the thought, an inner voice said, “Stop it. Stop it. You’re a Christian, aren’t you? Since when does that mean being perfect? You think your sins are bigger and stronger than the saving blood of Jesus? Stop being so silly! In Christ you are forgiven! Reach out your hand and accept it! Accept it now!”

“Bitte, Zandra,” Werner pleaded, his hand extended to her. “Please, get up. Do not any longer sit and weep on the floor. Liebling, bitte!”

The irony was not lost on her, but no more would she stand– or sit!– on her pride. “O Domine!” she cried aloud. Was his trouble too deep for English? So was hers. “‘Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis!’” Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us!

“‘Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem,’” he concluded the petition. “Zandra, please, let us be at peace together. Bitte, get up.”

She met his hand with hers, tear-wet, and suffered him to help her to her feet. Drained and stiff, she needed his arm to support her to a seat in the little dinette. “Werner, I’m sorry,” were all her words to him, then she lay her head down on her arms on the Formica-topped table and wept again.

But the tears were different now, more subdued, almost healing. She could sense him watching her and could feel his hesitation and concern. Presently his hand, tentative at first, hovered uncertainly over her hair. Then with more confidence he began to stroke it as one would pacify a pet animal or a small child. She accepted the gesture; it was a comfort to them both.

“Zandra,” he was saying, “I too am most sorry. It is mine to be the most sorry of us two. I have thought about it. Du hatte Recht. It was wrong of me to ask you to be my wife and think I might still– might still be with the others. That is not the Love we show to all mankind. That is the love we give only to one.

She stirred a little under his hand; he must have felt it. “I will give them up,” he resolved. “We can forgive one another and start again.”

She kept her face hidden from him still.

“Liebling, bitte. Let me see your face. Please, forgive. Ich liebe Dich, and I want to be with you always.”

At last she lifted her head. Seeing her tear-stained countenance he sprang up to fetch her a tissue. “Werner,” she said, in a weary, resigned voice, “I do forgive you. As I hope you will forgive me.”

He brightened a little.

“But we can never be ‘ein Paar,’ as you Germans say.”

His hand went up in protest.

“No, listen to me. Even if you were to give up those other girls, could you give up all of what you say you believe?”

He was silent.

“Werner, you know the Apostles’ Creed. Can you affirm every last line of it as something that actually happened or will happen? Can you honestly confess that Jesus Christ died for your sins and not just to be a good example or to teach us something about Love and death?”

“But Zandra,” he protested, “the beautiful things we say in the Creed, they cannot be confined to history, they must mean something higher and better and more spiritual!”

“No, Werner,” she replied, shaking her head. “There is nothing higher or better or more spiritual than that dull history. It is what God did for me and for you, and it’s my only hope in life and in death. I can’t pretend otherwise any longer. If you could believe it, too . . . but I don’t think you can.”

“Zandra, I do not deny those things took place. It is on their meaning that we disagree. Perhaps I could convince you . . . ”

“No, Werner. I tried to go along with you all these months, or at least pretend I did, and you see where it got us. We have so much in common, but where it really counts, we are too far apart. If you love me, you would not want our marriage to be based on a lie.”

“Ach, Zandra!” he exclaimed. “Vielleicht I could– !”

“Honnnnk!! Honk honk honk!” Through the window came the strident din of a car horn.

“Scheiß!” he swore under his breath. “It is the taxi! Bitte, Zandra,” he begged, “please, stay with me longer. I will send it away. I will call another. We must talk. We will make all right between us. Or perhaps you will convince me. You will see!”

“No, Werner,” she said again. “I cannot change what I know is true. And if suddenly, tonight, you tell me you believe it, too, can I believe that change is real? You must believe it for God’s sake, and for yours, not for mine. I pray you will, someday, but tonight– ”

“Bllzzzzzzztt! Bllzzzzzzztt!” sounded the doorbell, rung from down on the front stoop.

“I really have to go,” Sandy said, drying the last of her tears. She stood and did her best to make herself look presentable.

“O Gott!” was his unwilling response. But he got up from the table and through the open living room window he shouted down, “Please wait. She is coming.”

At the door, he caught her hands in his for the last time. “Ach, Zandra!” he cried, searching her eyes with his. “Is this Lebewohl und nichts auf Wiedersehen?”

“I’m afraid it is,” she said. The urge to tell him, here at the last, that she loved him nearly tore her apart. In his face she read his equal desire to give her one final kiss. She must not permit either one. For if she did, she would return to his arms and despite disagreement and disaster there would be no going back. “Please, I have to go.”

He lowered his head in defeat, then with his lips softly saluted the back of her hand.

“Bllzzzzzzztt! Bllzzzzzzztt!”  The doorbell raised its clamor again.

“Ach! I have almost forgotten!” he exclaimed, reaching into his pants pocket. “Hier ist das Gelt für das Taxi!”

“Danke schöne,” Sandy said, accepting it. “God bless you, Werner. Goodbye.”

She passed through the door and pulled it shut behind her. Then she remembered. For a moment, she thought she would let the matter go. Then gently, almost timorously, she tapped at the door again.

Werner opened it, and the look of hope and relief on his face was almost too much to bear.

“Werner, I’m sorry. I forgot something, too.”

The hope kindled to a flame.

“My shawl. It’s my roommate’s. I promised to return it to her safely.”

For a moment she saw him hesitate. Then, having shaken his head as if dismissing an unworthy idea, he dove under the near end of the futon-couch and fished the delicate piece of crochet lace out from under it, where it had fallen. With the most courtly of Old World gestures he placed it around her shoulders. “Gott segne Dich, meine Liebling,” he said.

And before he could say or do more, she slipped out into the corridor and down the steps to the waiting cab.

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