AMAZING GRACE.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A WOMAN COMES TO TERM WITH HER DISABILTIES.

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"You’re amazing, Grace," Nurse Kavel says disturbing my silence.  I turn my head to the direction of her voice searching for her in my dark world of sightlessness. I lost my sight the same time I lost my legs, when my house took a direct hit from a German bomb months back.

"What’s so amazing about me?” I ask turning my head to the rustle of her uniform on my left. She doesn't reply, but I can hear her breathing softly and the scent of her. I reach out my hand and it moves like a sightless crab across the blanket to touch her arm. The softness of her warm flesh soothes me. Human contact by choice and not just handled like so much baggage as on other days. Her arm moves away and she sets about her tasks of sitting me up and rearranging the pillows." Is it morning or night?” I ask sniffing her scent.

"Morning, Grace," she replies. "Doctor will be round later."

I move my hand back towards me and touch where my left leg use to be. The pain returns now and then and I often sense the leg's presence and reach out for it and feel the space of its absence. I want to ask about walking again, but don’t have the nerve to ask, so sit in silence over it. The nurse moves me up and settles me down again. I want her to stay, but know she can't. The rustle of her uniform informs me she's departing, her scent lingers for a short moment, and then, that too, disappears, leaving me stranded on my isle of darkness.

***

"You’ve got lovely blue eyes," Clive said as we danced a waltz. I smiled at him and gazed into his dark-brown eyes. "And you dance like an angel," he added moving me round and round gently, yet masterly.

"You’re not bad yourself," I replied. I sensed his hand on my back and felt his warmth through my dress. He told me about himself and his world at the Foreign Office. It all seemed intriguing and mysterious. His dark-brown hair was combed back and his rather thin moustache, gave him, I felt, an air of an actor. The music stopped and we sat down at our table. Guy came with Jean and sat down too. We all looked at each other and then Guy said that he and Jean would have to go soon to a party of a friend in Mayfair.

"Why not drop in yourselves; it's pretty much open house. Donald's place is open to all on certain evenings," Guy said. Clive looked at me and then said we would, at least for a while. So we did.

The people were everywhere. One couldn't move without meeting someone or other one knew or was introduced to. And it was there I met Anthony. He was something to do with the Arts and knew many artists. He was charming and drew me away from Clive very successfully. Clive was taken off by Donald and Guy to meet such and such a person and I was with Anthony. It was as if there were no other people in the room and time no longer had any importance, save being there with Anthony and his voice and pale-blue eyes and his world of art.

*  *  *

"Miss Meadows," a deep voice breaks into my darkness. "How are we today?” I turn my head towards Doctor Symonds's voice and try to pinpoint his whereabouts.

"She’s our amazing Grace," Nurse Kavel says to my right.

"I see," the doctor replies.

"Unlike me," I say. Doctor Symonds says nothing. He moves to the bottom of the bed and I hear him rustling papers. He and the nurse exchange conversation in low whispers and I strain my ears to hear what they are saying, but fail. I move my hand across the blanket, search for something of their presence, and find a hand. It is warm and hairy, and I think of Clive, and for a few moments I think he's there. But then remind myself he died on the beaches of Dunkirk just before I was blasted. The hand pats mine gently and the voice drones on about my condition, but I cease to listen and concentrate on his touch and think of Clive. Poor Clive, if only he hadn't volunteered. The Foreign Office would have kept him safe and sound and maybe here at my side.

"So we shall try and get you out in the open, Miss Meadows. Maybe, tomorrow. Out in a wheelchair and out in the fresh air and sunshine,"
the doctor says. I search for his presence as his hand leaves me, but he's gone and so too has the nurse with a rustle of her uniform.

***

Anthony sat opposite me in the restaurant his eyes searching me as if I was one of his works of art. He smiled. "I would sacrifice almost any painting for a portrait of you," he said quietly. He dabbed his lips with his napkin and sat back in the chair.

"Maybe if you asked some famous artist nicely, he might well paint me," I replied softly.

"But would he capture your essence and your beauty? he said with a hint of sadness in his voice.

"If he was talented and a really good artist, wouldn't he?” I asked innocently, turning my head to gaze at the couple a few tables away.

"I’m not sure if I'd find such an artist today," he replied.  "Sargent may have done, but he's dead. Rubens possibly," he added with a sigh. We started to eat again and our conversation changed to other matters, less emotional, more intellectual. He lost me on the philosophy of Kant and Hegel, and I found myself thinking of later that evening, after our dinner, when he would escort me home, and what lay ahead seemed, somehow, exciting.
***

I feel the sun's warmth on my face and hear the sound of birds in the trees above and around me. I am sitting in a wheelchair and Nurse Kavel is wrapping a blanket around my waist and over my stumps. "That all right, Grace?" she asks tucking me tightly like a child. I nod and try to sense her age and what she looks like. She smells fresh and her small hands appear youthful. But now she goes and I have only the sun and birds and the chitchat of faraway patients.

*  *  *

Anthony kissed me goodnight on my cheek as we stood on the doorstep. I asked him if he would like to come in for a nightcap, but he declined gentlemanly and walked off quietly into the darkness. I felt disappointed and uneasy. I thought he found me attractive and believed that maybe, if all went well, we might have made love and he have stayed the night. But I was alone and slightly depressed. If Clive had escorted me home I was certain that things would have been different. But Clive had been away and it was dear Anthony who offered to take me to the opera and dinner. Nonetheless, Anthony was a dear and considerate and maybe too much of a gentleman to stay the night I told myself as I prepared for bed. I'd even given Sally my maid the night off in anticipation. "Such are the plans of mice and men and rather naughty ladies," I whispered to the room as I climbed into my bed alone.
 
***

"Hello, Grace," a voice says to my right. I search my memory for a face to fit the voice. Then it comes to me out of my darkness.

"Guy?” I reach out with my right hand, searching for him.

"That’s me old thing," he says. He takes hold of my hand and kisses it. "You look amazing, Grace," he adds after a few silent seconds.

"Don’t you start, Guy. I thought you at least could be honest with me," I reply snappily. There is a brief moment of hesitation.

"Would I lie to you, Grace?” He asks. He wouldn't normally, but now I'm not sure. I listen to his breathing and the slow movement of his body near by.

"I don't feel amazing," I state bluntly. "And why has no one else been here to see me?” Guy squeezes my hand gently.

" Well, Anthony's up country on secret war work, Donald's in the States on diplomatic duty and I have only just got back from duty, away somewhere I cannot mention, top secret, hush-hush sort of thing. And Jean is in Scotland with her parents," Guy states warmly.

"Sorry," I say, feeling selfish and childlike. "How do I look? Be honest with me, Guy?” He releases my hand and I can hear his breathing as he walks around me. He places his hands on my shoulders gently as if he were blessing me and absolving me from sin.

"The bomb may have taken your legs and sight, Grace, but has left your face still beautiful," he says behind me. He kisses my cheek, then moves round to face me, though I cannot see him.

"There’s more to beauty than what one sees," I say. "I don't feel beautiful anymore. I feel undone." He kisses me on the lips and stills my voice. I want to push him away, but at the same time want him never to go and leave me. Wanting him to be Clive. Wanting some one to hold me again. Wanting some one to love me for myself and not what's left of my body. Then he talks of the war and the situation in Europe. He talks of Clive and I tell him about Sally who died in the blast. Our conversation slowly ends and he leaves with a short kiss and whispers goodbye, as if it was.  "Goodbye, Guy," I whisper after he's left, "Goodbye, goodbye."

*  *  *
"Donald and Jean are engaged?” I said, looking at Anthony who was sitting on my sofa staring up at a copy of Degas's painting of The Dance Class. "But I thought that she and Guy were ...?"

"No, that's not Guy's sort of thing," Anthony replied. "Donald and Jean have been close quite some time," he added.

"And Guy's happy about this engagement?” I asked.

"Yes, gave them his blessing," Anthony replied quietly. "Guy’s a grand fellow, but women are those whom he flirts with, not whom he goes to bed with." Anthony looked at me as if to convey more than he had said. I nodded and smiled. Then the topic was dropped and we conversed about Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement and about Hitler's ultimate intentions. "There’s bound to be war eventually," Anthony stated. "But Chamberlain doesn't want to see it." The idea that we could be at war again sent a chill down my spine. I changed the subject carefully and lead Anthony off on to the world of art again and back to a world of beauty and peace.
 
** *

 "Grace, dear, it's me Jean," her voice brings me back to the moment. I hear her move near and her hand touches mine.

"Jean, how are you?” I ask. Her smallish hand, slightly warm, withdraws as soon as it touches and I hear her move a chair and sit close. "Is Donald all right?”

"Yes, he's fine. I saw him last night. How are you, dear Grace?" she asks. I can sense an unease in her voice. Before I can reply she says, “Donald sends his love and best wishes. Would have come sooner, but Donald has been to the America and I was in Scotland until yesterday." She talks on and for a moment I try to place her features and how she is looking now. She sounds nervous and I have a feeling she's not looking at me, but pass me at the trees above or the scenery surrounding us.

"How do I look?” I ask bluntly. I sense her intake of breath. "Do I still look beautiful as Guy said I did?” I ask firmly.

She breathes in deeply. "You look, amazing, Grace," she says after a few moments of silence.

"So everyone says," I say with a sigh. "Do you think I'll walk again? Do you think any man will want to marry me at some time in the future? Do you know what it's like this world of darkness?”  I ask, not really thinking she will reply. She takes my hand in hers and I feel her cheek close to mine.

"Are you angry with me, Grace?" she asks.

"No,” I say in a whisper. "I just want to know the answers to questions which keep me awake at night.”

"I don't know the answers, Grace," Jean says softly. I can feel dampness against my cheek and realize she's crying. But for whom is she crying? Herself or me? Or maybe her inability to help. Poor Jean. If only Clive were here. If only he were here to absolve me from this darkness and despondency.

* * *

I woke up and there was Clive beside me: he had stayed the night. I remembered, as I looked at him beside me, how we had made love, and the mere memory of it sent a warm glow through me again. The thought of Clive having to leave later that morning to begin his commission with the army, left me suddenly low in spirits. War was imminent, he whispered to me over dinner the night before. He said wanted to do his bit rather than stay at the Foreign Office. He said he'd be Lieutenant Clive Clusters and seemed proud of the fact. I would miss him not being near and beside me again for some time. I leaned over his face and kissed his cheek. He stirred, but didn't wake. He seemed peaceful in his sleep as if he were preparing for death.

***

Donald wheels me slowly around the grounds of the hospital in the wheelchair. He seems preoccupied and doesn't speak. I stare into the darkness ahead thinking of how I can break the silence. We come to a standstill and I hear him come round and stand before me. "I didn't mean to leave it so long before visiting you,” he says "but since I got back from the States, I've been pretty much tied up what with one thing or another."

"Nice to see you, now," I say. "Don’t sound so worried, Donald, or I'll wonder if something is wrong with my face," I state warmly.

"Jean said you were bloody amazing and you are," he states suddenly.

"What’s so amazing about sitting here and staring into blackness?” I ask. I hear him move and then sense his presence close to me.

"I always thought you a little shallow," he says bluntly,” but you've proved me wrong. There's more depth to you than any of us thought,” he adds, placing a warm hand on mine in my lap.

"Thanks,” I say, feeling hurt.

"No, we were wrong, "he says quickly.” When we heard about the blast and what had happened to you we thought...Well we didn't think you'd..." He stops. Silence enfolds us. I hear a blackbird in a nearby bush. I sense his hand move away. He stands again. Now walks behind me and starts pushing me on around the grounds.

"I will walk again, Donald, and I will marry some day," I say to him behind pushing me slowly. "Only I must get through this darkness first."

"Yes," he says,” Anthony told me."

"Told you what?” I ask turning my head and gazing up with sightless eyes.

"That he wants to marry you," Donald says. He halts. He puts his right hand on my shoulder and taps it gently. "Didn’t he tell you?”

"No," I whisper in reply. Maybe that was what he was trying to say on his last visit. His silence. His unease. Yet, for all that, he was trying to ask me to marry him. Foolish man to want me so undone.

"Will you accept him?” Donald asks.  

"If he wants to marry me out of love, not pity, then yes," I reply, not really sure if I would, but saying so. "And when and if he asks me,” I add, as we move forward once more into the darkness.

"Oh, he will," Donald says softly, "he will, mark my words."

Maybe the darkness isn't so dark, nor the night so long, I whisper to myself, as we move once again beneath the late summer sun, and its warmth enters me, as Clive once did back in the days of light and peace.

------------------------------


Submitted: December 05, 2009

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dadio

This story was written circa 2000-2003. It goes from past to present tense. The askerisks separate the two.

Sat, December 5th, 2009 6:28pm

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