Beauty…is a visitor who leaves behind the gift of grief, the souvenir of pain. – Christopher Morley
“It’s fine for work, I guess, but you actually live here, too?” She asked, with badly-disguised disdain.
“Yes. I’m sorry, I thought You knew that,” I replied, trying not to sound too defensive.
“Well, yes, I did, but…it’s so small.”
“Rent is high around here; this is all I can afford right now. If You want me to have something bigger, You could send me more work.” Was that too daring, even though I did say it with a smile?
Well, Her response could’ve been much worse; still, I figured it would be best to change the subject. “Would You like something to drink?”
“What a charming idea! Do you have any champagne chilled?”
“Um, no. Not chilled, and not at room temperature either. I’m afraid I’m a bit short on champagne at the moment.”
“Pity. What’s the closest thing to it you do have on hand?”
“Well, that depends. I have some wine, some whiskey and some vodka if You want liquor, but if it’s the fizz You’re looking for I have these fruit-flavored carbonated water drinks.” In response to Her rather skeptical look, I added, “They’re sugar free even.” The skepticism increased. “It helps me keep my figure.” Yes, I know it was dumb; I didn’t know what else to say. It’s not every day that the Boss Lady drops by in person.
She sighed so deeply it sounded like something drawn from the bottom of the sea. “Well, I suppose you could make me a fizzy cocktail. Not that I need to watch my figure or anything.”
Yikes! “Oh, goodness, I didn’t mean to imply…”
She waved off my concerns with an airy gesture; I got to work on the cocktail. When I handed it to Her, She sniffed it as though trying to be sure it wasn’t spoiled, then took a dainty but substantial sip. “This is terrible.”
“I’m so sorry! If You like, I could…”
“Not necessary,” She interrupted.
I finally broke the uncomfortable pause with, “I just learned to do that pretty recently, make drinks I mean, and I’m afraid I’m not very good at it yet.”
“No, you’re not. Luckily, neither your income nor your reputation depends on your skill at bartending.”
“Yes. I mean no.” I’m not easily tongue-tied, but there was more than ample cause. I would’ve been heartened by the fact that She had taken another sip, had it not been accompanied by a half-grimace. Time for another change of topic. “To what do I owe the great honor of this visit?”
Her smile lit up the room and instantly soothed the sting of Her previous comments. “Oh, I just happened to be in the neighborhood, and…” Now it was my turn to look incredulous, and She responded with a laugh so beautiful it literally took my breath away. “No, I guess you won’t believe that, will you?”
“Well, no, not really.”
The smile became even lovelier. “I’m really very fond of you, you know.” I was totally speechless. “Oh, come now darling, surely you already knew that after all this time!”
“I…well…um…” Why was I crying? Damn, so much for looking cool.
“I know that, since taking the job…how many years ago was it?”
“Twenty.” It came out sounding something like a croak.
“Twenty years! How time flies! Since taking the job twenty years ago, you’ve performed admirably and I really have noticed; it’s just that I’m so very busy and, well, time gets away from one. Sometimes I think of you and realize, ‘Goodness, it’s been years since I looked in on her!’ and yet there you are, still faithfully toiling away at your mission as though I were breathing down your neck the whole time!”
“Thank you, My Lady; You know I always keep my promises.”
“And so you have, dear girl. I know I’ve been awful about keeping up with you; it’s just this mood I’ve been in for the past 15 years or so. And the reason I dropped by is to let you know that I’m going to try to do better.”
I don’t have a word to describe the complex mixture of emotions that boiled up in response, and I wouldn’t have dared to vocalize it even if I had. So I just sat there and sobbed like a schoolgirl, and She glided across the room to sit beside me and draw me into Her arms. “There, there,” She said, “It really will be all right. I promise, by the Styx.” And then She kissed me, and if I live to be a hundred no kiss of mortal woman could ever hope to match that brief brush of Her lips against mine.
I awoke with Her scent still all around me, and my face wet with tears. I had never had such an intensely real-seeming vision before, and it had thrown me off-balance; I felt like I needed to get up, collect my thoughts, get my jumbled emotions back in control and re-orient myself to consensual reality. I stumbled into the outer room, and my attention was immediately drawn to the vase of roses atop my desk; they seemed fresher than they had been, and of a deeper color and sweeter perfume than before. I gently, almost reverently stroked the petals of one, softer than a woman’s skin, and then reached down to draw it from the vase so that I might examine it under better light. But in my fascination at the apparent revival of my flowers, I neglected to use caution in grasping the stem; the blood which welled forth from my finger was as red as the rose.