The Blue Lady
by Carol Abbott October 2000

 

     My name is Paige Aderly Calvin. I have what I would have once termed a very normal, even rather mundane life. I don't recall my childhood as being either particularly happy or unhappy. Just predictable and secure. Mom and Daddy loved me and my two brothers, kept us clothed, fed and even took us to an occasional circus and sent each of us to summer camp for a week most years. We belonged to Scouts, went on family picnics to Blue Lake and camping trips to the Rocky Mountains. I took piano lessons while Bill and Greg played little league. You know, just regular, normal, everyday living kind of stuff.

 

     When I got to high school, I sang in the choir, was one of the Aunts in the spring production of "Harvey" my senior year and fell in (and out of) love with about fourteen different teenaged boys over the course of four years. In other words, I had a very typical teen experience. I wrote moony poetry and passionately believed that I was wise beyond my years. My grades were decent enough that I got a nice sized scholarship to State University which cemented my resolve to do something important with my life. Besides, it would 'give me a chance to "fly" .....to make my own decisions.....to not have to answer to anyone but myself.' State was too far away to be expected to come home except for holidays. Besides, I would need to have a part time job to give myself some extra spending money. Since Bill and Greg were only a couple of years from being ready for college as well, Daddy couldn't be counted on for many frills. I was just glad to be going away at all. Glad of the scholarship money that would keep me from having to go to City J.C. and (horrors!) live at home.

     Those four years went by quickly. I was so busy with classes and working three evenings a week, plus most weekends at 'The Fashionable Lady Boutique'. When it was quiet in the shop, I'd study, study, study. I was sleep deprived for most of those school months but I also got a chance to do the social scene and fell into (and out of) love with about fourteen different college men in the four years until graduation. Well, in honesty, in about three and a half years. Then quite suddenly, I found myself thrust into a situation that would transform me from a carefree child into an adult in a world of ambition, hopes and dreams.

     I needed some advice on a paper I was preparing that was going to be a major part of my grade in an honors English lit class. Since I was working toward a teaching certificate in English, I needed a good grade. I had an idea for the paper that would be hitting on some new ground but, was having a little trouble finding the best way to present it in a compelling manner. I had asked my professor to recommend someone that could bring a fresh perspective to my notes and Prof. Bryant said that he thought Tracy Calvin was truly brilliant. "If he can work you into his schedule", he told me, " it will very probably mean an 'A' for you."

     After meeting Trey Calvin, how could I help being attracted to this wonderfully exciting graduate student who was assistant to the head of the English Department. His enthusiasm, his instant grasp of what I was trying to accomplish in my paper, his complete concentration upon me during our first few meetings was heady. Add to that, his dark, brooding good looks, and it all conspired to weave a fascination for Trey in my susceptible mind. Six foot tall, with a broad shouldered athletic body, hair of a near blue-black that curled slightly over his collar in the back and swept away from his brow into wings. Pale blue eyes that should have been icy but were filled with such warmth and passion for life when he talked of his work or was trying to make a special point while we worked through the arguments of getting me a good grade on my paper. He carried himself with assurance, his manner of dress, although generally casual, was carefully cared for and neatly pressed, as though he needed to retain that sense of control over his surroundings. His tiny little office was somewhat less orderly with books stacked on the window ledge and in one of the two side chairs, but he had added a few personal touches and mementos to the mix that made the space his alone. A beautiful, large, half geode filled with violet colored crystals held down a stack of papers and a brass statue of a crouching cat was on top of the file cabinet. The amber glass shade topping what looked like a real antique lamp glowed with golden light down onto the top of the battered honey oak standard issue office desk. In those first few meetings, I got the sense that he was a busy man, relied upon by the entire department to keep many different balls in the air, but during those weeks, he managed time for me whenever I needed it. It was a heady experience and I began to have the feeling that Trey was enjoying all of this as much as I was. That his mind relished the chance to help unravel a new puzzle, to share in the give and take of creation. This brilliant, really beautiful man was giving me and my ideas respect, treating me as an equal. I soon was dreaming and daydreaming about him night and day. But, boy, did I work! I absolutely could not let him down. I needed a good grade as much, now, to prove to him that I was worthy of his attention as to ace the class.

     When the grades were posted, I was given the news that I had felt was all but inevitable. An 'A', but even better, with honors and a post-it note inside the front cover, that informed me there was interest in publishing the paper, since it held some brand new insights on the subject. The only down side to this, in my view, was that, now that the paper was finished, Trey Calvin was likely to disappear from my life. That prospect suddenly terrified me.

     I called Trey's office to tell him the good news and felt nearly bereft when his machine picked up. I started to hang up, then decided that I had been kidding myself all along that there was anything more to say between us than to say a grateful and heartfelt "Thank You" for his help. I was a coward when it came to saying that final good bye, so I mumbled and fumbled through a rather disjointed report of the grade and an "Oh, by the way thank you for all your help, I couldn't have done it without you"....blah, blah, blah...until the machine cut me off. Then I ran into the ladies room and cried my eyes out sitting in the stall farthest from the door and praying that no one would come in and interrupt my exquisite misery.

     Finally, I dried my eyes, ran a comb through my curly short shagged, ash blonde hair, powdered my nose and headed down to The Fashionable Lady to pull my three hour stint. About five minutes before eight, Tracy Calvin swept into the store. Every female eye turned toward the door and the middle aged customer whose purchase I was ringing up, actually murmured "Oh, my goodness me!" as Trey flourished a dozen red roses from behind his back and with a big grin said, "These are for the brilliant new light on the literary scene, Miss Paige Aderly!"

      "What are your plans for the rest of this evening, Paige?" he purred in a voice pitched for my ears alone. "If you're not already celebrating with someone else, please, have dinner with me. I was just blown away when I played your message! I knew it was a good paper, but when I spoke with Bryant and he told me they want to publish! Well, that is fabulous and definitely requires lasagna at Lou's on the Square. You have to say 'yes'. You will come, won't you?"

     Behind his back, my customer was nodding enthusiastically, making eye contact with me, while three undergraduates looking through the sales rack, openly stared and their faces clearly said that if I said 'no' they were calling the guys with the butterfly nets to come collect me.

     My heart pounding and with legs feeling nearly numb and fingers all tingly, I tried for a cool, unflustered smile and said (I think), "Trey, that is so nice of you. I'm starving and lasagna would really hit the spot." Or at least, I hope that's what I said. Anyway, I managed to get my register to balance and with a smile to Peggy and Maxine, I floated out of that store by the side of the man of my dreams, clutching the roses near enough to smell their sweet fragrance and wondering how long before I woke up in my dorm bed and found out it was all a dream.

      To this day, the last four weeks of the semester remain a real blur in my mind. I managed work, finals and all the rest in a constant whirl of being really, truly, forever and ever In Love. Trey was supportive, attentive, loving, making it clear that we were meant to be together, that he couldn't live his life fully, unless I was in it. He kept up a constant pressure that we needed to make plans to begin this perfect life together as soon as possible. I found it impossible to resist this enthusiasm and became completely swept away by his vision for us. I called Mom and Daddy to tell them the incredible news and they, loving me and believing in me, tried to get with the program in the short time I gave them to adjust to a daughter, newly graduated, newly published, newly grown up and totally committed to life with Trey Calvin. Almost completely turned into a whole new woman!

      The program called for a very abbreviated engagement, sealed with a real knockout of a ring -- one carat marquise cut blue/white in platinum with side baguettes to show it off to perfect advantage. There was a weekend visit to Chicago to meet Trey's mother. "Call me Bernice, dear, or Mother Calvin, if you prefer". Also, I met Raylene, Trey's older sister and Sally and Kelly, his younger twin sisters, who were just about my age. All the Calvin women doted on Trey and everyone of them had a need to serve his every whim. Much as I loved Trey, myself, I found it just a little disconcerting and slightly annoying that he seemed to expect all this deference to his every wish. Mother Calvin spoke lovingly of Mr. Calvin as having been gone for many, many years and that having "Tracy to be the man of the house had been her salvation."

      My Mom and many of the guild ladies from our family church worked tirelessly to plan a beautiful wedding for August 6, so that we could be back on campus in time for Fall semester. It was all I could have dreamed it would be, but strangely, I felt a little like a spectator, a close personal friend of the bride, perhaps, but not quite as though the whole thing was really real.

      An all too short honeymoon at Blue Lake Lodge did very little to dispel the feeling of unreality before we rushed back to the tiny bachelor apartment, two blocks from the campus. Trey began working on the curriculum for first semester and I began simultaneously looking for a larger apartment and interviewing for substitute teaching positions with the local school system and a couple of private schools. If I could juggle all three gigs, I should be able to stay busy and, even more importantly, employed most of the week, thus helping to pay for a larger apartment and other expenses.

     Trey had big "life" plans which we discussed in detail at every opportunity. " The assistant's job", he explained, "wasn't very well paid but was a perfect stepping stone to the next stage of getting a junior professorship then eventually tenure or maybe, if things went very well, he would be tapped for an even more prestigious position in one of several major cities" that seemed to fit his special criteria. I was so wrapped up in being his good wife that if he had said he thought he wanted to teach on Venus, I would have probably started checking the real estate listings for suitable housing.

     Our second day back in town, I located a lovely, and very spacious one bedroom apartment on the third floor of a marvelous old home just off campus. The landlord explained that the sign had only gone up that morning, when the previous tenant was suddenly offered a new job on the west coast. With a great open floor plan kitchen, dining space and living room, it was wonderfully light and filled with glorious bright sunshine. I knew Trey would love it as much as I and handed a check over for the deposit. Within the next two weeks, before the beginning of the school year, I spent my time roaming the Salvation Army store, a couple of flea markets, an estate auction and some garage sales furnishing the place with enough to get by. The apartment was near enough that Trey could walk to work, giving me the car to drive to my various school assignments. I also began to work at learning to cook and we did some socializing with some of the other married, younger faculty members.

      It was surprising, really, how quickly I settled into the loving housewife role. Soon, it seemed that I couldn't remember a time of being single, carefree, irresponsible. Trey expected me to pick up a lot more than my share of the daily tasks, really, but I was having fun living up to the challenge and didn't notice the subtle changes from being asked to do something to being expected to do it. He could still be very loving and thoughtful and I knew that he was loaded down at work, so I just made the major adjustments and felt like the good wife for doing so.

      We drifted along on routine, both putting in some killer hours in furtherance of career and to keep the nest feathered. Trey had been asked to head up a project that took nearly every spare moment he had and he felt that if he did a good job, it would be his entree into the professorship. He told me that it would require a lot of evening and even some weekend work. He would spend hours away from the apartment, then come home, eat a reheated dinner and fall into bed. Since I was always available for as much substitute teaching as I could get, we seemed to barely have time for each other. I was tired all the time and we began to play the blame game. I was wondering how I could have ever thought that Trey was anything but a spoiled brat Mama's boy. When I didn't remember to run his errands, he got snippy. I was feeling way under appreciated and sometimes, just didn't pick up his clothes at the cleaners to get back at him for expecting me to do it!

     The Tuesday morning right before Thanksgiving, I announced that I was "going home" to spend the whole weekend with my family. "If you want to come, you are welcome but I'm going with or without you, Trey." I stubbornly announced. For a single moment, Trey's eyes held mine and I saw hurt swimming there, but I was so angry that I ignored it. The next instant, I was not sure of what I had seen, for Trey's face smoothed and he said. "Go, Paige. I'm going to be tied up for the whole time. Barkley wants those calculations on his desk by next Monday and I have a lot of double checking to do before they are ready." He loaded his briefcase with the papers he'd been going through at the breakfast table and leaving his cereal bowl and coffee cup on the table for me to pick up and put in the dishwasher (as usual, I thought furiously) he came and stood by my chair. I was so angry at what I felt was his rejection of my company for the holiday, that I would not even look up at him. His voice was quiet. "I've got to go, Paige. Things won't always be this hectic, you know." I still wouldn't acknowledge him in any way. He touched my shoulder, squeezing it gently. "See you tonight?"

     "Yeah, okay, sure." I said coldly, with barely controlled anger.

     At the end of a long, miserable day, I drove home. I had a blinding headache throbbing behind my eyes and wanted nothing more than to take a long, hot bath and fall into bed. However, I was plagued by the knowledge that I had to get packed for my weekend trip home. That nearly all my decent clothes and Trey's were in the hamper and needed to be schlepped to the Laundromat before I could even start to pack, and that I owed Trey an apology and a decent dinner to make up for my sulks of the morning.

     I trudged up the three flights of stairs. The early evening gloom crowded the stairwell and the hall fixtures seemed much dimmer than usual.

     "I have time to take a hot bath" I thought as I slipped the key into the lock. "I know I can face everything I have to do, if I just have fifteen minutes in the bubbles." Thinking that made me smile and I felt the weight of the day beginning to lift from my shoulders and the tightness in my neck begin to slip away. The apartment was almost completely dark, with general outlines of the furniture all that oriented me as I stepped inside and closed the door. There was an icy feeling in the air that made me shiver and I flipped the switch by the door, turning on the small table lamp. Then I checked the thermostat and moved the slide a couple of degrees to try and dispel the chill.

     Moving into the bedroom, I threw my coat across the bed and began to shed my work clothes. I turned on the hot tap, mixing in enough cold so I wouldn't par broil and shook in a big dollop of wild flower bubble bath. As the tub filled, the steam rose and began to fill the corners of the room. I slipped into the froth and laid my head back against the high side of the old fashioned tub. I closed me eyes and breathed in the steam-laden, fragrant air. Letting loose the last of the tension, I realized that my headache was nearly gone and slid deeper into the water.

     My next conscious thought was that the water seemed to have cooled. I opened my eyes and realized I must have been dozing. The steam had nearly disappeared from the room but the mirror over the sink was still clouded. There was a definite chill and the window curtain seemed to stir from a slight breeze. Idly I thought, "We will need to be sure the windows are caulked before it gets much colder. It's going to be winter soon." Then a fragrance penetrated my consciousness. Not wildflowers.....what was that I was smelling? It seemed familiar and I realized that it was an odor that I had smelled within this apartment on and off since we first moved in. However, this time it was much stronger. I drew a deeper breath. At the window the curtain swayed again. Above my head, just at the upper edge of my sight I caught a drift of the steam from the bath rising upward to the ceiling. Involuntarily, I glanced toward the ceiling and gasped. Instead of steam it was smoke! No, not smoke....almost like a blue tinged mist. Was I dreaming? Was all this just part of a dream? The water was cool where it caressed my knees. The half remembered fragrance was nearly overpowering and between the goose bumps on my arms and the prickle at the nape of my neck, I was pretty sure I wasn't in the midst of a dream.

 

     The blue mist was a blur but seemed to have some purpose and form. Then I realized that it was almost a human form. A.....Oh God, my mouth was so dry....Ghost! I couldn't....it couldn't....but, even as I looked, eyes so wide with disbelief and fear, the last swirls found their proper places and there above me was a lady. A blue lady. Long tendrils of flowing hair. Small, delicate facial features and the saddest eyes I had ever seen.

     She was not of this world. Where she belonged, I didn't know but it was almost as if she wanted to make a connection with me.

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      Was there a reason? Did I believe that there was? Did I believe she was even there? What was I expected to do? The questions jumbled and crashed together in my mind in the seconds ....minutes....that I sat there. Still this entity seemed to regard me, nearly as intensely as I was watching her. Her hands were long and slender. As I watched, one hand raised toward her face. Her eyes locked mine and her index finger caressed down the side of her cheek as she gave a tiny, shy smile. It was almost as though she acknowledged in a physical sense the sadness that I was feeling. I truly did love Trey. When I thought of how beaten down he had looked when we talked about my leaving for Thanksgiving that morning, my throat tightened with guilt.

      We had married almost before we got to know one another. Thanksgiving, a year ago, we hadn't even known each other. I didn't know what he had done last Thanksgiving. Had he taken the time to go home to Chicago? Somehow, I sensed that even without a wife, money would have been too tight for that to have happened. But I felt guilty that I didn't even know for sure. Had he hoped that we would be cooking a turkey dinner together? I heard his voice saying "It's so wonderful to have someone to come home to."

     My voice was trembling, breathy. "I don't want to hurt him. I really do love Trey so much. I feel so sad. And guilty! How can I make this right again?"

     My blue lady's hand drifted down from her face and reached forward, palm up and cupped very slightly. Her eyes looked downward, into her palm and then she again looked up into my eyes. A beautiful gentle smile curved her lips and her hand came forward slightly. It was a perfectly pantomimed gesture of giving.

     Impulsively I leaned sideways reaching for the folded towel on the rack by the tub. This was a message I could act upon! Give of myself. Help the man I loved and be there for him. Almost as an afterthought, I looked toward my wise advisor to tell her I understood my role so much better now. But there was nothing there. Not any vestige of the blue mist. Just the plain and unadorned upper walls and ceiling met my gaze. I felt revitalized, anxious to put thought into action, but had the blue lady been within a dream? Certainly she must have been created from my distress and guilt. I quickly accepted this plausible explanation. So much easier to accept than a "ghost" after all.

     Dressing quickly, I took a pan of lasagna from the freezer, popping it into the microwave on defrost, sliced a loaf of Italian bread and spread the garlic butter extra thick, sprinkling with parmesan liberally just the way Trey loves it. While I let the oven heat, I called Mom and told her that Trey's special project was going to keep us from getting up for Thanksgiving but we'd definitely be there for Christmas Eve and probably stay for a few days then. Of course she was disappointed. I was too, but I asked her to give me some tips on making the bread and onion stuffing and began scribbling down the directions and then the microwave timer went off and we said our good-byes.

     I wrote a note for Trey, telling him I was at the grocery and asking him to put the lasagna in if he got home before I did and to time it for 45 minutes. The store was busy because nearly everyone was doing some last minute shopping for Thanksgiving. When I finally got home, wonder of wonders, Trey was actually there. The baking lasagna was causing the windows to mist over with condensation. Trey was shaking a vinegar and oil dressing vigorously in the little dressing cruit and lettuce, grated carrot and chopped tomatoes were tossed together in the wooden salad bowl on the counter. He looked up with a smile. "Hi babe, I just decided that I'd come home early tonight since I'll have so much time to do those figures while you are with your folks this weekend."

      "Hey, let me help with those bags," he offered as he caught sight of my arms full of groceries. "Whoa, Paige, I don't think I'll take time to make a turkey." This, as he caught sight of the bird I'd carefully picked from the fresh meat case at the market. "Do you think there's room in the freezer for it?"

      I set the bag, I was holding onto the table and looked up and into his eyes. "Trey, I called Mom and cancelled. I'm staying right here. Something tells me that if I help you check all those figures for the project, you'll have enough time that we can get this here bird stuffed, baked and eaten for Thanksgiving. Does that sound like a plan?"

     Tray grinned and reaching out, put his hands on either side of my face. "Oh, Paige, I know you wanted to go home for Thanksgiving. Are You sure? I....I really don't know what to say....."

     "Tell me you want me here, in "Our Home", checking figures with you and us cooking our first holiday dinner together, Trey. We need more time together, not less. If we can, maybe we can stay for a few days when we drive up at Christmas to spend some time with Mom and Daddy and the boys, but right now, the most important thing is to be together. To have someone to 'come home to'." I smiled up at him through tears. And you know what? Suddenly I could smell that fragrance from this afternoon again. When the Blue Lady had given me back my direction. I realized that it was White Shoulders perfume that I was smelling. Once upon a time, it had been my Grandmother's favorite. It wasn't anything I'd even thought of in years but it's perfume was stronger that the smell of the lasagna bubbling in the oven. Trey nuzzled my neck and said "Um....you smell nice. Is that a new perfume you're wearing?"

      I just laughed and said, "Nope, I'm not wearing anything. That's just our resident Ghost. She is a beautiful Blue Lady with long wavy hair and she is very, very wise."

 

Now I know you are going to find this hard to believe. I had some trouble with it myself for a while. But this is what happened. Did she come to me because of my distress? I may never know. What I do know is that, even though I never saw her again, I did continue to smell that tantalizing fragrance on and off during the time we lived there.

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