Among the Fallen - Episode Twelve
In Episode Twelve of Among the Fallen, Ellajane Trammell sheds her past and opens the door to a new life. To read this story from the beginning, click here.
Ellajane Trammell pulled her sheets from the line, dropped the pins into the little bag hanging beside and carefully folded them into her basket. She owned a new clothes dryer, but whenever a laundry day came clear and breezy, she preferred to hang out her bed linens. They came in then crisp and fresh from the mountain air and some of her guests, at least, those she would hope to see return, appreciated the difference. Wendl VonTrier was one of them, she was sure.
Not to overwork a metaphor, her peculiar boarder had been a breath of fresh air in her own life. His unsettling and uplifting presence had breathed into her days youthful feelings she supposed she had forgotten and outgrown decades past. Not that she had developed a crush on Wendl, or anything of the sort, but Wendl had stirred to flame the smouldering embers of a love for life. Her neighbors had long since ceased to be subjects of any particular curiosity or affection. They provided a relief to her aloneness primarily because she was used to them there, as they were. Even her garden had become more of a habit than an enthusiasm.
But just this morning, as she had been cutting back her bedraggled roses and pulling the last of the remaining berry leaves to dry for tea, she was thinking not so much of the bleak winter coming fast upon her but of the burgeoning green to follow after. She blamed her unaccustomed optimism on Wendl’s otherworldly book he’d loaned her, its changeable pages, wordy as a dictionary one day and blank as a fresh snowfall another. She hadn’t just read The Forest Soul, she had communed with it. Through the book, its mysterious author, Millicent McTeer, became alive and present to Ellajane Trammell. The book wasn’t just paper pages, numbered and bound, it was an incarnation, Through it two women, worlds and times apart, had been drawn together into a shared soul.
The result was a mysterious enlargement in Ellajane’s life. In numerous and indefinable ways and aspects, she found a space in her days for the occasional unexpected joy, maybe even a small miracle. Once upon a time, long and far from this present, Ellajane Trammell had anticipated the joyous and marvelous as her due, had lived and given herself extravagantly in assurance that she was so held. She had come to Drovers Gap alone, but for some years previous to that solitary arrival, she had traversed in beloved company.
She carried the burden of that remembered joining to steel her long and present solitude. She dared not permit her mind to rest much on the joyous belonging left and lost in her past and other life. The tears she refused had pooled in her being over the years until they formed the calm and placid sea of sadness upon which her days floated now. Garden routines, quirky and inquisitive neighbors, random exchanges of small kindnesses, the distraction of those familiar strangers, her paid guests, all accumulated into the raft of flotsam that bore her across the depths of her quiet despair.
Wendl VonTrier’s arrival displaced that past which she never spoke of to anyone she knew in Drover’s Gap. Her abiding melancholy, which she went to great pains to render invisible to all she met, had receded for days at a time to the farthest edge of her awareness. Wendl had restored her to the world of unforeseen possibilities, where on any given day, anything might happen, the odds being better than even that whatever it might be would turn out to be at least marginally worth waiting for.
So it is, that on this particular day, a restored, if not actually reborn Ellajane Trammel hoists her basket full of the clear clean light of late autumn and heads for her house, glad in her heart the Wendl VonTrier has just paid his rent for another month of room and breakfast. She will have some desired company through the shortening days into winter. Ellajane learned long ago not to dwell on things too far into the future. A harder and later lesson had been not to stew and mourn over an irretrievable history, whether it had been hard or bright. She only knows for sure that she is alive now. She breathes and moves and feels in this moment, which holds enough for endless exploration and exaltation.
Stepping into her kitchen, she gazes back over her garden, gauging the afternoon light, then checks it against the clock above her stove. In the laundry room, she folds the towels, irons the sheets and pillow cases and folds them neat enough to sell. She gazes out the window, sees the sun still way above the trees across her yard. She has time enough to do Wendl’s room today before he is likely to come in. He left her house early this morning again before Ellajane had time to make his breakfast. She thinks she might invite him to share her supper tonight to make up for it. Ellajane likes to keep her accounts, business and social, balanced, with no party unduly burdened by unfulfilled obligation.
Carrying her basket of fresh laundry up the stairs, she wonders what her boarder does all day in their little town to keep himself occupied. If the strange tales conveyed to her by Gloria Proudfoot are to be believed, Wendl spends a good part of his day upturning the carefully crafted routines of the local population. Outside the guestroom door, she sets her basket on the floor, gazes down at the sheets and pillowcases, pressed and pristine, along with the fluffy towels and washcloths, still redolent with the essence of a mountain day. She wonders if any other woman in this town still irons her sheets. Nobody but her might mind the difference, but they fit neater in her closet if she ironed them first.
When she finds her keys in her apron pocket and opens the door, Wendl’s quarters appear just as she saw it last time. Virginally neat. The bed appears not to have been slept in. She changes the linens anyway, and finds the bathroom equally untouched. She replaces the unwrinkled towels there with the fresher ones from her basket. Let none say she didn’t do her part. There’s no sign of Wendl’s luggage. Curious, she looks into the closet. No clothes on the hangers and no suitcase, either. She considers opening the dresser drawers and rebukes the temptation.
What does the man do in here? She’s relieved to spy a single red leaf on the carpet. Her ghostly boarder leaves some tracks after all. Ellajane drops her basket in the hall and goes to the little closet at the end where she keeps her vacuum. As she is retrieving the appliance, a gusty breeze whispers down the hall and she hears Wendl’s door slam shut. In involuntary chill ripples her shoulders.
She tows her vacuum back up the hall and opens the guestroom door again onto a mossbound path that trails away among ferns and stones shadowed by close-crowding spruce and fir. Through the canopy overhead she glimpses scraps of blue sky and shards of brilliant white clouds. Ellajane steps through the door, feels forest underfoot, fills her lungs full of the scent of conifers after a spring rain.
A choir of invisible birds set the air ashimmer with their song. Glancing behind her, Ellajane sees the door has vanished and almost wonders why it doesn’t bother her that the way she has come no longer exists in her moment. The path ahead is her only reality now. It beckons and she follows between the sheltering trees.
-continued April 14th.