Neither of them had ever been superstitious. Reason, and, in Adrienne's case, religion, had always triumphed over any of those silly beliefs.
Yet there the aged general was - standing in front of that secret door to her rooms with a needle and thread, cotton, and black pepper in pocket. A small flower was gripped in his hand.
When he first heard of the superstition, he initially believed it to be too good to be true. It was too simple, and these things were not true… Could desperation really have taken over like this? Not desperation, he convinced himself. No; it was hope. The little he had left to see her again. It had been one year since her death, and yet he was still sure he would never recover from it.
He searched his pants pocket for the key to her rooms. This little entrance was his own secret, though a small lock that was easily hidden remained on the bottom to ensure no one could get in. He had the original door walled up soon after her passing.
The door was silent as it opened, and he stepped into this sanctuary, locking the door behind himself. His eyes searched the room. Everything was as she left it a year ago. His cane tapped quietly as he limped over to a pink chair with floral embroidery on it. His knees cracked, filling the silence of the room, as he sat and relaxed into the chair.
For a while, he was quiet in the dim room. All he did was look around. It had not changed at all since the last time he was in there. He wanted to know he could describe this room to the very last detail. The colors, fabrics, everything had to be memorized.
A pianoforte sat in one corner; its music had remained silent for some time. The keys were dusty and out of tune; no one ever came in to see it any more except for him. A card table was not far from it with a fresh deck laid out, waiting to see the day when they would be played. In the side of the wall was a nook where her bed laid. It's sheets were still tight around the frame as it believed it would be slept in again.
The general shifted forward, his hand laid down the red flower on the table in front of him.
"We celebrated Georges' birthday, just as you would have liked," he spoke comfortably. "I am sorry I was not as upbeat as some of the others, but I could not bring myself to be so. And, of course, Christmas is tomorrow… I wanted to bring you something, though it is small, since flowers this time of year are hard to find." He straightened the flower.
Out of his pocket came the needle and thread, cotton, and small bag of pepper. The needle was already threaded - Virginie had to do that for him; he was never so good with sewing.
He picked at the cotton, flattening it out some so he could fold it over later, and grabbed the little bag of pepper. He slowly shook it over the cotton, preventing any from spilling over.
"What would you think, to see me now…?" He murmured as a sigh followed. The needle poked through the cotton. "But I must try…" The through and out motion was started, slowly at first. It was not long before the general pricked himself.
In a desperate motion, his hand was pulled back. I must not bleed on this, he vowed. Nothing in this room must change; nothing must be harmed. He continued to hold his hands over his lap so no blood would trickle over.
"It is hard to imagine that you will not be here again for mass, especially on this day so celebrated by Christians." You are not a Christian…? I know what you are, you are a Fayettist. That is alright; I am too. The memory of her words made him pause as he cleared his throat, a little lump forming. "I am not too worried for you missing it, though, for you must be attending the most wonderful services now."
Specks of red dirtied the white the cotton. His large fingers made it difficult to continue his work.
"You were much better at this…" His eyes focused on the needle. "I remember how you sat corner of our first home, sewing and knitting with your mother and sister… It is to my assumption that you joined them one year ago. Are you all doing that together now?"
The silence was comforting.
He decided he had finished. The stitches were long and loose, each stitch never quite the same size as the one before it. He had not even properly started or ended it with a knot; he did not know how.
The cotton was laid next to the flower. Gilbert slowly looked up, not sure what to expect. His hopes were high. Even if this was a superstition, even if he did not believe it, maybe it would help him in some way.
Her gentle fragrance filled his nose.
As he looked around, she was everywhere. It was hard to see; it was only a faint image in his mind, but surely she was there.
She was on the bench of the pianoforte, playing sweet melodies he had often heard come from the room with the upmost elegance.
And there she sat at the card table! Was she waiting for someone to deal the cards, or someone to play with?
He continued to look, and there she was, sitting on the edge of her bed, critiquing his needlework and saying how she would have to teach him to do better. She gave him a gentle look, and that angelic face of hers beckoned him to sit beside her.
He could not force himself up fast enough and could not grab his cane fast enough for his liking.
"Adrienne, oh Adrienne…!" Tears threatened to roll down his cheeks. He began to hobble over to her, but the closer he got the more she seemed to fade away. "No, my dear heart," he cried. "Please."
Yet she did not listen. He could have sworn he heard her voice, in the most reassuring tone, say, "Then you do love me? Say it again!" And following that, "I am entirely yours."
The spot on her bed was empty. He looked around once more. Nothing had been touched. The piano keys had not moved and dust still covered them, the cards at the table had not been touched, and the sheets on the bed were still as tight as before.
Could he have really made it all up? Was this some figment of his imagination? Was it caused by being too hopeful - too desperate - to see her again?
These had all been repeats of his memories. Even her words were just memories.
A thud resounded as his cane hit the floor. He sat on the edge of her bed and then pulled his legs on top of it to lie down. His head pressed against the pillow, and he continued to breathe in the fragrance of her room that was still reminiscent of her. A tear stained the soft fabric. And another.
"How foolish of me…"