The Singing Stones, страница 1
The Singing Stones
Phyllis A. Whitney
The month was October and ground breaking was to begin next week—well before winter set in. This would be our last visit to the peace and emptiness of this Virginia mountaintop that now belonged to us—Stephen and Lynn Asche. Months ahead, when all the workmen were gone, peace would return, and the emptiness would be perfectly filled by the house Stephen would have built in this high place. I could hardly wait to see all that we had imagined and planned come to life.
Just a year ago I’d changed my name from Lynn McLeod to Lynn Asche, so I was still a very young bride—nineteen, and eight years younger than my husband. For all these months I had been watching the house grow on paper. A good part of me had gone into the plans as well, since Stephen wanted this to be a shared creation, even though he was the professional architect.
He had chosen perfectly for the setting. Not many miles away to the west, the Blue Ridge rose above drifting clouds, while nearby clusters of foothills crowded in, giving the landscape a special variety that was typical of Nelson County, Virginia—one of the state’s least populated and, I was sure, most beautiful counties.
Today Stephen had brought along a big roll of plans and I knelt beside him as he spread them out on rough grass. I found myself studying him more than I did the lines he had drawn on paper. His red hair that could sometimes match his temper fell over his forehead as he bent over the prints, and I managed to keep from pushing it out of his eyes—always too eager to touch him.
Gesturing widely with a wave of his arm, Stephen embraced the slope of hillside below where we knelt. “You can see it, can’t you, Lynn? The house will drop downhill from here in three levels. The base, where the driveway winds up from the road to the front door, will follow the contour of the hill as though it grew there. The living, dining and cooking areas will be on the first level, with bedroom apartments at each end.”
I could picture the house clearly—rising in graduated levels, each a little smaller than the one below. The second floor would hold a guest apartment, the library, and Stephen’s workrooms, while here at the very top level, with magnificent views all around, would be our private rooms, and space enough to partition them off in any way we wished. He’d even planned a workout room we could both use. Feeling physically fit was the best way to keep one’s brain alert and creative, as he told me often enough. I was happy to agree to whatever he wanted. Workouts were fine with me, if they pleased my new husband.
He was still talking about the top level, and I paid attention.
“We’ll put a huge fireplace up here where we can build a roaring fire on cool nights. There’ll be a thick rug—from Peru, of course—to lie on and dream. And for making love. A place where we can shut out the world.”
He needed solitude for his work, and since I needed Stephen, that was what I wanted too. I always enjoyed the way words could pour out of him with such energy and enthusiasm. I loved the way his eyes would light with their own green fires. He was more alive than anyone I’d ever known and he carried me along with his special exuberance. Sometimes he could be filled with a wicked laughter that broke me up completely. Or he could be almost frighteningly stormy when something angered him. Yet he could be tender as well, sharing those dreams that made him so successful an architect while he was still young.
As far as becoming Virginia’s best-known architect—which he fully intended—I knew that would never satisfy his driving ambition. He would be among the great ones of the country—perhaps of the world. I was far more sure of that than of my own unarrived-at identity. A splendid future stretched ahead and I was proud and astonished to find myself part of it and moving with my husband. That I was to have a place in all this seemed so miraculous that my happiness sometimes frightened me. A forewarning, perhaps?
When we’d met a little over a year ago on the “grounds,” as the campus was called at the University of Virginia, I had been doing undergraduate work in child psychology, while Stephen was completing graduate studies in architecture. It had really been love at first sight for both of us—though I still didn’t understand why Stephen had singled me out. Perhaps it was because I was young and adoring—and there was something in him that needed to be admired and looked up to. Of course, whenever he teased me, he insisted that it was my “terrific body” that attracted him—and it wasn’t bad that I had the look of a Scottish lassie that went with my family name of McLeod. He approved of my “blue eyes, thick dark hair, and small pert nose.” Nobody had ever found me entrancing before, and this in turn entranced me. He was mentor as well as lover, and I needed that. He made me feel special, and all my deep-set uncertainties about myself began to be dispelled because Stephen loved me.
I was no Virginian like my husband, but my father, Donald McLeod, had been born here, his family among those early Scottish settlers in the Old Dominion. Though the McLeods lived in New York City now, in the borough of Staten Island, my father wanted me to attend UVA, where he had gone as a young man.
In what strange ways destiny moves! Though on that day when we studied Stephen’s house plans on our hillside, I hadn’t even begun to learn about destiny.
Rolling on his back in the grass, so he could look up at the sky, he prodded me into words. “Tell me what you see up there, Lynn. All those universes—what do they say to you?”
Universes weren’t speaking to me this late afternoon, but I tried on a smaller scale.
“The sky looks like a giant sapphire. That same sort of deep blue, now that the light is fading a little. A jewel set in the prongs of mountains all around.”
“Not bad. A bit flowery, but I see what you mean, and I like it.”
He turned over again, propping himself on his elbows so he could look downhill. Everything about the house was clear in his mind, of course, and had been before he ever drew the first rough plans. It was clear in my vision too, so I could picture the details as he talked.
“We’ll set up a first floor apartment for my father at this end, below us on the hill. He’s still grieving for Mother, and he needs to get away from that house in Charlottesville. We’ll bring him up here soon, so he’ll have something to look forward to.”
I had liked Larry Asche from the first time we’d met, and he seemed fond of me. Stephen’s mother had died two years ago, before I had met her son.
“Mother would have loved you,” Stephen told me. “Just as Dad does.”
About Stephen’s older brother Everett, I was less sure. Everett was ten years older than Stephen, and I had a feeling that he didn’t approve of me—that he thought me much too young and unformed for the wife of a distinguished architect. Stephen looked to his brother to manage the business end of the firm they’d formed together. While Stephen took a great interest in their clients, and studied each future home owner down to the last detail of taste and preference just as he studied each site, he still needed to escape and be free of all the business side while he was working. He could concentrate so intently that he shut out everything except the visions that filled his mind and that would be transferred to paper to become, eventually, a satisfying reality.
I got along better with Meryl Asche, Everett’s wife. She was a little older than I was—about Stephen’s age. Meryl was a busy, energetic woman—not pretty, but with a strong, compelling personality. I suspected that she wound her more prosaic husband around her little finger without his ever realizing it. Sometimes I had the uncomfortable feeling that Meryl was a little sorry for me, and had befriended me on that account.
Only once did Meryl make an indirect remark to me about Stephen, in the form of a question. “Are you sure, Lynn, that you can live happily with a man who always gets anything he w
But of course I could! Especially when what Stephen wanted was me.
Now, lying on this hilltop at my side, he ran on—words still pouring out—and I listened contentedly.
“There’ll be plenty of room for children’s space when the time comes. Maybe at the far end of the ground floor, where they won’t be too much in our hair. We’ll find a good nanny to take over, so they won’t eat into our time together.”
I felt a twinge of disagreement, though I didn’t say anything. I longed for our first baby, and I shouldn’t worry about Stephen’s impersonal attitude when it came to children. Once he was a father, his feeling would be totally different. I meant to take care of my own babies, except for a sitter now and then, but I knew better than to argue with him at this point in our lives. The honeymoon was still on, and he wanted me all to himself—which made me deliriously happy.
The sun was dipping toward the mountains, and when I glanced at my watch I jumped up, reaching out a hand to Stephen. “If we’re going to have dinner with Everett and Meryl tonight and make the theater on time, we’d better get started.”
We still lived in a small apartment in Charlottesville, and I was looking forward to this evening out. A local dancer who had made a name for herself was performing at a university theater. She was a New Age dancer who called herself Oriana Devi. This would be a pleasant break for Stephen too, but especially for me, since I wasn’t as busy as my husband. Afterward we would attend a reception given for the dancer, and I knew exactly the dress I would wear to please Stephen—the blue taffeta he said matched my eyes.
Because my father hated conceit in women and always took care to put me down, I’d grown up unsure of my appearance, and I especially relished Stephen’s compliments. Who doesn’t want to be overpraised? It was a lot better than being undervalued, which was my father’s philosophy in dealing with women. My mother had suffered from that attitude too.
We gathered up our things and started down to the road where Stephen had left his car. No premonition of any sort touched me as we ran to the car, my hand in Stephen’s. No warning reached me that it would be twelve years before I ever climbed this hill again. Blissfully I got into the car beside my husband, and we headed for Charlottesville.
I had seldom felt so drained, so exhausted, both emotionally and physically. Sessions at the bedside of a dying child were always difficult, though this was the work I had chosen—the work I could do lovingly, and in which I could find my greatest satisfaction these days.
Perhaps the understanding I could bring to these children—a sympathy that strengthened, rather than weakened—stemmed from that time twelve years ago when I had died a little myself. Those months of anguish were long behind me—except perhaps when I felt as utterly weary and vulnerable as I did right now.
When I’d taken my mail from the row of boxes in the foyer of my building, I climbed two flights of stairs, wishing for an elevator. My Staten Island apartment was in an older building, but for me it was convenient to the ferry, and a haven of peace. I loved its sweeping view over the island’s lower slopes and across the Kill van Kull clear to the New Jersey hills. Much of the view was industrial these days, but it was still magical in early evening when all the lights came on. And this was country, compared with Manhattan’s concrete and asphalt.
Upstairs I dropped into my favorite chair, and kicked off my shoes as I began to open my mail. The details of my day were still running through my mind. In some of my cases the adults around a child were my most difficult problem to deal with. Parents, because of their fear and grief, sometimes needed to be kept from doing the wrong thing out of the best of motives. I’d seen them lavish too many gifts on a sick child, while neglecting the needs of sisters and brothers who were whole. Often they could be manipulated by a small girl or boy who became adept at managing the grown-ups around them. Or sometimes, when my visit was in a hospital, a pediatric nurse could be possessive, and even jealous of my interloper’s work.
Today there had been such an incident, calling for all the diplomacy and reassurance I should have managed. Susan, my young patient, was wonderful. I never stopped marveling at the courage and cheerfulness of so many of the children, even when there was pain. But today I hadn’t dealt very well with either the nurse or Susan’s mother. I had forgotten that mine wasn’t a position of authority, and I was only there to help as unobtrusively as I could. My impatience added to my growing feeling that I needed a rest—time to renew myself for a struggle that had to be made over and over again if real help was to be given my patients. I knew I had so much to give—when I wasn’t so tired, mentally and physically.
The heaviest burden to carry was knowing that a child I’d grown to love might be gone when I came in the next day. Yet sometimes I helped, sometimes there could even be healing.
As I picked up an envelope, the Virginia postmark stopped me unpleasantly. Now and then over the years, Meryl Asche had written to me, though I hardly encouraged the correspondence. This handwriting, however, wasn’t Meryl’s. The envelope was correctly addressed to Lynn McLeod, since I’d taken back my own name after the divorce from Stephen. The name on the return address read: “Vivian Asche Forster.” Of course “Asche” stopped me in dismay and the return address was achingly familiar.
I knew that Larry Asche, Stephen’s father, had married again after I’d left Virginia. He had died five years ago, leaving his son with a widowed stepmother. Apparently this woman—Vivian—had married again since Larry’s death, but still lived in Stephen’s house.
It seemed puzzling to hear from her and I opened the envelope reluctantly. The letter was an invitation to visit Virginia—to come to Stephen’s house! Two weeks ago I had gone out to Chicago to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show on television, and Vivian Forster had seen me and heard me talk about my work with terminally ill children. She now presented the absurd idea that Stephen Asche’s daughter—by another woman!—needed me. Not that this child was dying—apparently far from it, which made the request even more ridiculous. I reread a paragraph in the letter.
If you come—and we beg you to—you would stay here with us. You needn’t see Stephen at all, unless you wish to. He needn’t even know you are here. As you may have heard, Stephen has been confined to a wheelchair since his accident last year. His rooms are far away from where you would stay, and he seldom goes outside any more. It is only the child who would concern you—Stephen’s daughter, Jilly.
The request, of course, aside from being foolish, was blindly insensitive and totally inappropriate. To ask me, of all people, to help Stephen’s child!
When I had rested and fixed myself something to eat, I wrote an immediate reply, declining. I was extremely busy and couldn’t drop my work to come to Virginia, I explained. Besides, I only counseled the terminally ill and I wouldn’t be the right person for this child.
It wasn’t entirely true that I didn’t have time, since I’d arranged to take a month’s leave from my private practice, needing the rest so badly for myself. Everything else was correct.
When I’d addressed and sealed my reply, I fell into unwanted remembering, with the envelope still in my hand.
How innocently I’d driven with Stephen to Charlottesville on that long-ago evening. We’d met Stephen’s brother and his wife, and had gone together to dinner and then to see Oriana Devi’s performance. The dancer claimed a grandmother from India, but her name was made-up—something that would look good on a marquee. Her dances were original and imaginative—haunted by a sense of the mystical that cast a spell over the audience, and on Stephen in particular. Oriana was altogether mysterious, as though she promised miracles that might touch any who watched her.
After the performance we’d all gone to a party given for Oriana, and the dancer had set her eyes on Stephen for the first time. Just like that. I remembered how helpless I felt and with what disbelief I’d watched what was happening. Not quite in a flas
I suppose I never really stood a chance against Oriana’s spell, any more than Stephen had. The dancer had a maturity I lacked, for one thing, being a few years older than Stephen. And there had been his own habits of lifelong indulgence that he’d never denied. He had been torn apart by what had happened—or so he claimed. He hadn’t ever wanted to hurt me. But what could he do, and his conscience hadn’t kept him from pursuing what he most desired in that moment of time. I had been too young and devastated to oppose a woman like Oriana, and my pride had been brutally wounded besides. So I had gone home to Staten Island to nurse my hurts and convince myself that Stephen wasn’t worth having.
My father and mother had been alive then, and my mother had loved and supported me, though I sensed that my father blamed me for the breakup and for not being able to hold my husband. For once I’d stood up to him, and I moved into my own apartment. I’d taken a part time job and completed my education with my mother’s help. When I had my Ph.D. as a clinical psychologist, I went to work for a state clinic for a while. Gradually I’d discovered my own special gifts, and now I had my own private practice in a field that was hardly crowded.
During these years, even my view of death had changed and broadened. I had gradually come to a conviction that some sort of “life” went on beyond the ending we called death. This had comforted me to some extent whenever a child I’d cared for died. The real miracle that I worked for and that sometimes happened was when a child recovered—and it was that hope that kept me going. I believed in the healing our minds could perform, that love could perform, yet it was in this I was failing now with Susan. It was my own fault. My body had grown too tired for the struggle, and all I wanted was to rest for a time.