She can recall the scene in impeccable detail, as it still replays in her mind like an old classic film.
A happy clear evening was the setting of this particular romp through their favorite garden, crisp air inspiring running feet just ahead and barely out of mother’s sight. Giggling, the girl raced around the bend at the friendly old apple tree and over the hill where a weathered wooden bench overlooked rolling meadows, lazily drifting away toward gleaming horizon.
And there he was, sitting straight, shoulders squared, chin up, mouth drawn, sober and like a statue.
She was just five, all bouncy and awkward when, with an abrupt halt and wide eyes, she first examined his worn face. His brow was thick and furrowed, looming over stormy amber lakes, dark with misery and regret. Despite his countenance, to her own surprise, she couldn’t help picturing him mid-belly laugh, deep crow’s feet quaking, grateful for the long overdue disturbance.
Why did he seem so familiar?
Nonetheless, she immediately determined him a fascinating sort, and promptly told him so with conviction.
“You’re an interesting fellow!”
She thought her voice stately, yet upon his ears fell the sweetest tones of innocent candor.
Then, to her delight, he did chuckle loudly, brow softened, eyes aglow and dancing with what she fancied to be a thousand tiny fireflies.
She sat boldly down by his side. Quietly, both heads unwittingly tilted slightly to the left, captivated by his countenance and manner.
Expected once, yet since forgotten, an ethereal figure approached. Her mother’s round, milky face hypnotized as it often had but at this instant bursts of golden sun rays highlighted her auburn locks, circling as a halo, creating far too stunning a sight for a mere passing glance.
So they stared.
The picture was fit for the big screen, the girl decided, so she captured the moment with a hard blink, a trick she’d recently invented. If she squeezed them tightly enough, red velvet theater curtains behind her lids would open with grandeur, the footage flickering back at her until she was convinced it could never escape her memory.
A gasp interrupted. Fluttering open, they refocused just in time to see the knees of her heroine buckle. The woman swayed gracefully, as if at the mercy of a light breeze, then collapsed gingerly at the foot of the bench. Sobbing into her hands, her head fell helplessly into the stranger’s lap. He seemed unaffected, naturally stroking her hair, humming a soft tune that reminded them both of home.
She swore she could hear her own heart beating as she glanced nervously between Mother and Stranger. Even with remarkable imagination, she was unable to compose a fitting story to satisfy nagging curiosity. The most absurd scenario wouldn’t do! But she sensed it was the right time to abandon childish games and wait patiently for an explanation.
Finally Mother looked up, grasped her hand, kissed her knuckles, and introduced her to her papa.