Lilacs - a fiction short story
The old man sat on the dusty, bumpy back seat of the bus, holding a bouquet of fresh lilacs. The sun overhead beat down and the heat was unbearably hot - the inside of the bus felt like a burning incinerator. He was dressed in his Sunday best - his navy blue suit, white shirt and blue stripped necktie that was perfectly knotted at the throat. One trickle of sweat rolled down the left side of his face as the bus bounced around down the dirty, dusty road.
Every seat was taken and the passengers were sitting shoulder to shoulder in the seats. The windows were all open and a hot, stale breeze blew in and rustled the lilacs. The lilacs had been carefully and lovingly picked one by one by the old man from his patio garden at his home in Mexico City. The violet lilacs were exactly the color of her large luminous eyes. He smiled slightly - he couldn't wait to see her.
They had first met at Lake Chapala when he was eighteen years old and she was sixteen. He was the son of the town's mayor. She was the pretty young girl that came each Saturday to the square with her family to sell fruits and vegetables from her father's small hacienda. She was sweet, browned, and her hair was a dark auburn color just like the mare in his father's stables and was beautifully splayed across her shoulders.
He was walking across the square with his father, on public town business, when he first caught sight of her auburn hair and bright violet eyes. He had smiled at her and she returned the smile. Her multi-colored skirt swished and swayed as she moved side by side selling the fruits and vegetables. He noticed her long brown shapely legs, and he winked at her. Her luminous violet eyes followed him across the square as she smiled brightly in return. He would speak to her when he returned from his appointment with his father.
Much to his dismay, when he and his father were returning home and crossed the main square, the market was gone, along with the beautiful young girl.
For the next week he dreamed of nothing but the girl - violet eyes, auburn hair, brown skin and shapely legs. The next Saturday, he arrived at the square in the morning before noon, and there she was, selling gruits and vegetables at her family's stall. This time he approached the stall and spoke with her.
She arrived for dinner that night at his family's home, the largest and grandest villa alongside Lake Chapala. On the veranda his 'mamacita' had laid out a sumptous meal and his younger brothers and sisters were all in attendance along with his maternal aunt and uncle. His father, the mayor, sat at the head of the table and scowled terribly. He did not approve of this girl - she was a countryside peasant - and certainly not good enough for his son.
After dinner, he and the girl took a walk around the lake and then they sat side by side as his arm next to hers felt her soft, silky brown skin. They sat on the swing softly talking as the cool breeze off the lake surrounded them. The gentle smell of lilacs wafted across them as he kissed her soft lips and professed his love for her. She shyly professed her love back for him. By the time her father came to pick her up at nine that evening, he had decided he would marry her one day.
When the truck carrying the girl and her father was out of earshot, the fireworks exploded. He was the eldest son of the town's mayor. How could he invite a peasant girl to dinner? He had his schooling to continue in Guadalajara. What was he thinking? He told his father he would marry her and his father told him he would not. He would continue has schooling in Guadalajara, studying the law, and then when the time was right, he would marry an upstanding girl from the upper class. From the next day on, the father kept his son under his eye working in the mayor's office until it was time for the son to return to Guadalajara for law school. His path and the girl's path never crossed again in the square that summer.
In the fall, he returned to Guadalajara and school and continued with his studies. But, he never forgot the girl with the violet eyes. Each summer, he returned home to Lake Chapala,, but his father kept him busy with more and more legal responsibilities of the office of the mayor and running and working on his father's campaigns for mayor of Lake Chapala. The girl's violet eyes began to recede further and further in his memory.
Five year's later, he finished his studies in Guadalajara and with the experience he had built up working in his father's mayoral office and working on his political campaigns, he was able to land a job as a lawyer in Mexico City with one of the finest law firms. Here he was able to associate with only the best of the best society in the capital city. His father, now retired as the mayor of Lake Chapala, began spending more and more time in Mexico City lining up aristocratic Mexican ladies for his son to meet and eventually to marry.
And, one day, much to his fathers pleasure. he clicked with one of the ladies from a fine aristocratic Mexican family. To his father's delight, they married and the son went on to have a wonderful career as an attorney. They had four children and he and his wife ran in the best Mexican aristocratic circles. His wife entertained and had grand dinner parties and other extravaganzas in Mexico City. He moved ahead in his law firm and was now certainly a success. He was fond of his wife, but he could not say he ever really loved her. His children lived an idyllic childhood as he adored them more than he did his own wife.
One day, his wife was re-landscaping the garden by the patio, when he arrived home from his law office. She was discussing the flowers and plants she wanted planted with the landscape artist, when he spoke up and said he wanted two violet lilac bushes planted on either side of the patio. His surprised wife interjected that he had never cared about the flowers or gardens before - why did he want the lilac bushes? He smiled wistfully and just said he wanted violet lilac bushes on either side of the patio, and that was that.
The lilac bushes grew and flowered and left off a heavenly scent. He enjoyed the beautiful lilacs when sitting on the patio, and even began watering and fertilizing them with tender loving care so that they became the most beautiful lilac bushes in all of Mexico City. His wife though his interest in the lilac bushes a bit odd, but if he enjoyed them, so what? And slowly the luminous violet eyes that had receded in his memory began to come back. He wondered to himself what had happened to the pretty young girl from the country hacienda who had sold fruit and vegetables at the market in the plaza on Saturday mornings in Lake Chapala. She had receded from his memory but he had never forgotten her completely. Suddenly, her lovely image loomed large in his mind.
He began a quiet investigation as to her whereabouts in his law office. At the end of each week, one of his investigators would report to him what they had found out regarding the girl. For many months, there was a dead end to every lead he had as to her whereabouts. He was stymied in his search for her.
He wearily arrived home earlier than usual one evening because his wife had planned one of her dinner parties, but found his wife in the sitting room with a woman. He went up to the bedroom and was soon joined by his wife. The children's governess had left unexpectedly and she was in the process of interviewing a new governess when he had arrived home. She said this woman would do and she wanted her husband to meet her. So, wearily, he went downstairs with his wife and as he walked into the sitting room, there sat a woman with the most beautiful, luminous violet eyes.
Here he had been investigating and searching for the pretty young girl of his youth for the past several months, and here she was sitting in his own house. He looked into her eyes and she into his and the recognition hit her also. She blushed as she was introduced and he took her hand. The wife noticed nothing and he said this woman would do as a governess for his children. The woman gratefully accepted the governess job and went upstairs to the nursery to meet the children.
And, then the affair ensued. Right under the wife's nose and the noses of the servants, he and the girl carried on a torrid love affair. What had been missing in his life for all these years, he had finally found. She was as pretty and as sweet as she had been so many years ago on his family's veranda swing. Where he was incapable of connecting with his aristocratic wife, he was able to connect with the girl. They continued on with this affair for almost two years. And, then, the wife discovered them. The scandal rocked Mexico City society. His wife refused to give him a divorce - she was devoutly Catholic, the girl was immediately banished from the home, a position found for her in a small village outside of Lake Chapala, and he fell into a deep despair.
He moved out of the house into the guesthouse behind the main house and he and his wife lived married, but separate lives. His career with the law firm stalled, his beloved children avoided him, and the invitations to the social events among the aristocratic circles continued for his wife, but not for him. He maintained a lonely existence in the guesthouse.
His children grew to adulthood and moved on with their own lives, estranged from their father, as they had sided with their mother in the opinion of the affair with the governess. He finally grew old enough to retire from the law firm. He spent most of his time on the patio looking at the lilac bushes. As he grew older, he still remembered the pretty young girl and the luminous violet eyes.
One day, his wife, during one of her intense charity planning meetings, suffered a heart attack, collapsed and died. There was a flurry of activity as the children and grandchildren arrived for the funeral. They buried his wife in the family mausoleum. There were hushed whispers about "the scandal" of years prior and then it was all over. He felt relieved by her death as his affection for her had died many years ago.
As the years progressed, he grew more and more distant from his children and grandchildren and lived the life of a lonely old man. Most of his law partners and acquaintances no longer had anything to do with him. He rarely went outside.
He was now eighty-six years old and his days were quiet and short. He was just finishing lunch one day when he received a note from his former law office. Would he please come down to the law office this afternoon? His expertise was needed. He hadn't been in the office for thirty years, so why on earth would they need his expertise? But, they were sending a car by at two in the afternoon to pick him up to take him to the law office.
He arrived at the office around two-thirty and went to his partner's son's office. There sat a lovely little white-haired woman and when she turned to look at him, he saw two large luminous violet eyes. They had never lost their luster. They smiled shyly at one another. His partner told him she wanted to write her last will and testament and she had insisted that he be the one to do it for her.
He was stunned but happily agreed. He sat down with a yellow pad and took down everything she said word for word. She had married a wealthy man in Lake Chapala and had lived a quiet, peaceful life by the lake. They had four children, who were now grown, and she was providing for them in her will. Her husband had passed away five years ago, and she wanted to tie up all the loose ends as far as their finances were concerned.
When she was finished with the will, they talked of old times, of each other, and how their lives had taken that drastic turn when she had been the governess for his children. He told her of his wife's death and that he live a quiet life in the guesthouse. She, too, live quietly and alone in Lake Chapala. She invited him to come for dinner next Sunday at two in the the afternoon, and after dinner they would once again take a long walk around Lake Chapala as they had done so many years ago when they had been in their teens. He quickly agreed to come.
Since he didn't drive any longer because of his age, when Sunday arrived, he left the guesthouse at ten o'clock in the morning to catch the bus from Mexico City to Guadalajara. When he reached Guadalajara, he transferred to the bus to take him from there to Lake Chapala.
He kept checking on the bouquet of lilacs, to be sure they would make it on this blistery, hot day. He sat on the the hot bus seat and mopped up his face with his handkerchief and carefully placed it back in his pocket. He finally saw Lake Chapala outside the bus window. The lake had receded over the years, and there was nothing but cracked dry earth where the lake had been. When the bus pulled into the main square of the tiny town, he saw that the lake had receded almost half a mile out. Where the water used to lap up against the water walls of the square, there was nothing but hot, dry dust blowing up in cloudy swirls.
He disembarked from the bus, but saw no one there to meet him. He pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket with her address on it and began walking on the walk along the dried up lakeside. He walked about ten minutes when he reached a small but pretty villa that faced the lake. There were deep fuchsia and purple bougainvillea that covered the arch into the courtyard entrance. The iron gate door was ajar and he pushed it open and walked in. He called her name, but he heard nothing. He stood for a few minutes, waiting for a servant to appear, but none came. He walked across the courtyard, again calling her name.
Again, he heard nothing but the soft breeze rustling through the garden trees and bougainvillea. He saw a bright sunny solarium to the right and peeked inside. There she sat on a lovely wicker chair with plush pillows around her. Here eyes were closed and he figured she was asleep. He sat down on the opposite wicker chair and learned against the comfy plush cushions. He hated to wake her up and simply placed the bouquet of lilacs in her lap.
Startled, he woke up. A spider had just bit him on the hand, and he brushed it away. He noticed it was getting dark outside. Had he been asleep all this time? The sun was setting behind the dried up lake. He glanced over at her. She was still sleeping peacefully, but the lilacs were wilting. He stood up and gently called her name. She did not respond . He called her name again, but again no response, so he walked over and gently shook her shoulder.
The lilacs slipped from her lap onto the floor and splayed out in disarray. Her head flopped to the side, her mouth falling open and her other arm falling of off the chair rest. He grabbed her wrist and felt for her pulse. There was none. His eyes filled with tears as he put his ear to her heart. There was no heart beat. He felt for the pulse on her neck, and there was none. She had died peacefully in her sleep. He cried as he looked at her, still beautiful after all these years. As he stood up and glanced outside toward the dried up lake, he smelled the heavenly scent of lilacs and then noticed the giant violet lilac bush growing just outside the solarium. He bent down and gently kissed her on the lips, as a single tear rolled down his cheek.