forever entangled; to my history, inextricably bound.
― Sarah Ockler
We had spent a golden day on the pond and I had opened up to Emily about myself, but still didn't know much about her.
I felt a deep attraction but something troubled me making me uncertain and I wasn't sure what it was.
As we sat in the front room talking, the fireplace flames began to brighten as the sun set and the warmth and vibrancy of the fire hypnotized us.
But as the shadows deepened outside, Emily began to open up, talking in drowsy tones the way people do when sitting comfortably before a fire.
“One of my ancestors built this house you know—after he designed and built the Presbyterian Church just up the road. Some of the stained glass windows at the rear of the house are reclaimed church windows your mother installed as a tribute to my family’s ecclesiastical work.”
“I didn’t know that," I confessed. "Then your family has been involved over the years in the care and maintenance of the property?”
She nodded. “We’re tied—like your mother to this house.”
“That’s incredible! I’m only sad I didn’t know you before.”
She caressed my cheek. “Well, you know me now, and I doubt we’ll ever part.”
Her frank show of affection disarmed me.
“I hope we never do part, Emily. And by the way, I’ve made up my mind—I want to stay on here at The Ashes and continue to restore the house. I hope you’ll stay too and care for the gardens and the black oak savannah.”
“Of course, Jay—I wouldn’t dream of leaving.”
“You know it’s only been a short while, but I feel I’ve known you forever. I can’t believe how deeply I’ve fallen in love with you. I want to marry you, Em and have a family with you, here in this house.”
I expected her to respond in kind—to reciprocate in words or gesture, but was surprised to see her face fall and tears trill down her cheeks.
I hugged her and tried to console her.
“Don’t be sad, Em—it’s a happy thought.”
“It is, Love, but you don’t understand.”
I looked at her blankly. “Understand what?”
“I can never leave this house.”
“And why not, Love? If you’re worried about my forcing you to go on a honeymoon or trips to far off lands—I won’t. I understand you’re not a traveler, and I’m a recluse myself. I’d be happy to spend eternity with you behind these walls.”
She grasped my wrist tightly, imploring me with her eyes. “But that’s just it—don’t you see, Jay? I can’t leave because I died years before–the Emily you know is a spirit bound to this place.”
“Tha-that’s not possible,” I sputtered. You’re a flesh and blood woman as real as any other.”
“I am,” she smiled bleakly, “as long as I remain on these grounds. But is that the future you want, Jay—to be bound with me to The Ashes with no children for your posterity?”
Despite the impossibility of her confession, she gave voice to what I intuitively already knew–there was something ethereal and other-worldly about our connection.
A groan arose from somewhere deep within me. “I don't care. Can’t you see, Em—I’m hopelessly in love with you. Nothing else matters to me.”
As Mother said, I always end up doing the right thing in the end.
Of course I allowed my mind to play endless mental games of ball with different outcomes, but it was inevitable—love extinguishes all other choices, Em is now my life and my love forever.
As for Mother, I’ve decided to scatter her ashes over the earth as she intended. In some way she’ll be a part of the black oaks and our lives too.
Em tells me Mother may some day choose to return physically in the same way Em herself did and occupy the grounds, or she may continue on to bliss in a world beyond—either way, I wish her well and know somehow we’ve been reconciled.
But as for me, my hard shell has been softened like the fires that break open hard seeds and I’ve been given space to grow like the oaks.
It’s a beautiful thing this hope that rises from the burnt-over earth–for Em and me, it’s beauty for ashes, and joy continuous.