“Helen, Helen, get up, darling.” She felt hands grip her elbows and tug at the same time the male voice penetrated her consciousness. Helen gasped and opened her eyes, blinking at the sun glaring off whiteness all around her.
“Oh, my stars,” she declared as soon as she could breathe again. “I have no idea what happened to me there.”
When her eyes adjusted, she saw all the whiteness was snow. No big surprise there. Cripple Creek saw a lot of snowfall in December. But what was she doing outside? And why was her butt hurting?
“Get up, Helen. Skate with me.”
“What? I’m too old—” Helen looked to her right, where the voice was coming from. A man stood before her. He was handsome and young. His dark hair was parted on the side and slicked down. His blue eyes were filled with concern. He sported a pair of slacks and a white sweater. A button shirt peeped out of the V-neck. A red scarf Helen knew very well was wrapped around his neck, the end trailing off behind him. She’d knitted that scarf with her own hands sixty-three years ago. A pair of ice-skates topped off his outfit.
“You’re not old anymore,” the man or vision said with a smile.
“George. George, is it really you? Have I died and gone to Heaven?” Helen reached a hand out to him, shocked to see the wrinkles and age spots had disappeared from its surface.
“Not quite, but it’s me.” George reached for her then, and she allowed him to grasp her hands and pull her up. She wobbled momentarily on the ice. She looked down at her feet in surprise. She, too, was wearing ice skates…and a skirt! It had been a long time since she’d worn a skirt. Tights, too.
Why, she was dressed just the way she had been that day so long ago…
“George?” She grasped his arms above the elbows, marveling that he was a solid man. “Is this…is this 1950?”
George nodded. “It is. Do you remember?”
Helen thought she would cry with happiness. “Yes! Yes, I do remember. It was Christmas, and I made you that scarf.” She touched the red scarf around his neck. “And you wore it every day in winter until the day you…”
“Died. Yes, I know, Helen.” Her George sounded so grave and serious. Why wasn’t he happier? They were together again!
“George, you left me too soon!” Helen scolded him as she allowed him to lead her across the ice. His right hand was stretched across her front, grasping her own, and his left pulled her across his midsection, and together, they glided. Helen was amazed at how little effort it took to do something she hadn’t done in decades. She threw her head back and breathed in the scent of pine and firewood burning. Icicles hung from the trees, and tiny snowfalls fell around them, melting as soon as they landed upon their clothing.
“Helen, I didn’t have a choice. It was my time.”
“Well, it’s mine now. I spent ten years alone, George!” She tried to keep the accusation from her voice, but found she couldn’t help it.
“No, it isn’t.” George shook his head as he twirled her in a circle.
Helen laughed at the sensation, at the sight of trees blurring in front of her eyes. “George,” she said as they came to a stop once again and she caught her breath. “I’m with you again. It’s the greatest gift a woman could ask for!” She threw herself into his arms. She felt blissfully happy, elated. All was right in her world once again.
He kissed the top of her hair—no longer gray she’d noticed, as it had blown across her face whilst spinning, but her dark curls from so long ago. “Do you remember what else happened this day?”
Helen just wanted him to shut up and kiss her on the lips as he used to, but she indulged him. “I gave you that scarf; we came skating, and you proposed. It was the loveliest Christmas ever.”
“It was,” he agreed, “and we made a lot of plans, plans for our future and goals.”
Helen felt a pang stab her heart, and she feared she was having another heart attack though she was already dead surely. “Well, those things didn’t come to pass, so let’s not dwell on it.” She rose on tiptoe and sought his mouth with hers, only he held her out of reach, his hands on her shoulders.
“Helen, we planned to have children, lots of them, but it didn’t happen.”
Suddenly, Helen felt cold and shivered. “George, why must you rehash—“
“We were taught not to talk about such things back then, Helen, but you need to know something.” George paused, his blue gaze intent on her face, a pleading in their depths. “It wasn’t your fault. I know you always blamed yourself, but it wasn’t your fault.”
“What do you mean?” Oh, why was he talking about this after all these years? So, they hadn’t had children, and yes, she blamed herself, but what did it matter now? In the end, they’d had a wonderful marriage, made stronger by their lack of children—she thought.
“When I was in Korea, I was wounded.”
“I know that.” She clutched his sweater in her fists.
“I was the sterile one, Helen, not you.”
“Oh.” A rush of air escaped her as her shoulders slumped. It hadn’t been her. She hadn’t been the reason their dreams hadn’t come to fruition. All this time, she’d blamed her infertile loins, had cried huge tears of regret. Back in their day, fertility wasn’t bandied about and made dinnertime discussion, and ten thousand dollars had been a year’s salary for many. Young people now talked about it constantly, their fertilization efforts and ovary temperature. It was distasteful. She’d suggested adoption once, but George had gotten angry at her insinuations they couldn’t have one of their own. Now she knew why. George had been ashamed and embarrassed. “Why tell me now, George?” To her great surprise, she felt no anger, but relief. It hadn’t been her fault.
“Because I was wrong in not telling you sooner. When I died, you were all alone, and you became a bitter, old crone.”
Helen felt as though she’d been slapped. “Of all the nerve!” She struggled to pull free of him.
“Helen, you aren’t the woman I married. The woman I married was full of life, laughter, joy, hopes. You used to welcome all the children into our home, bake them cookies, tie their shoelaces. Our home was always filled with cheer. Now, you yell and curse and hate. You hate what you never had. It’s bitterness, Helen. You can’t keep hating and lashing out at others over something you can’t control.”
“I…I don’t know what to say.” And she didn’t. What could she say? He was right, but it was too late to change things. She was who she was. He’d left her alone, and she hadn’t known how to handle it.
“Do you want this all the time?” George made a sweeping gesture, encompassing the area around them, the frozen lake, the trees with their twinkling lights, the glistening snow. “Do you want to be young and in love with me forever and ever? Skating in eternal bliss?”
He’d asked her those same words sixty-three years before. Helen hurried to give him the very same answer. “I do. I do!” She reached for him again, desperate, eager to be in his arms. “I’ve missed you so much!”
“Well, see, it’s like this, Helen. Your bad deeds are overshadowing your good deeds, and if you don’t change that, you won’t come here.”
“Is this about going to church? I attend—”
George interrupted her by placing a finger on her lips. “No. That has nothing to do with it. It’s about who you are in here.” He dropped his finger to the space above her left breast. “It’s about how you treat people. You can sit on a hard church pew all day, every Sunday, but it doesn’t do you any good if you’re not a good person. It’s not about what religion you practice—if any—or how many scriptures you read. It’s about treating others as you want to be treated. Just be a good person, like you used to be.”
Tears welled in her eyes. She knew he was right. Without George by her side, she’d forgotten the most basic rule of humanity. But how could she fix it?
“I want you with me, Helen, just as I did long ago. Do what you have to. Make things right. I love you.” George leaned forward then, and their lips finally touched. They felt as they always had, warm and possessive against her own. She opened her mouth under his and welcomed him.
As their tongues touched, she remembered he had kissed her this way right after his first proposal, too, and it felt exactly the same. Her insides threatened to melt into a puddle of mush despite the frigid air surrounding them.
But all too soon, the feeling faded away. He faded away. She reached for him, but found only air. Someone or something was beating on her heart. It hurt so bad.
“No!” she tried to call out, but choked.
The white light appeared again, blinding her.
Come back tomorrow for more of Helen's story.
Come back tomorrow for more of Helen's story.