Category:  General Fiction | Posted: May 23, 2012

This work has reached the exceptional level

A Lily in the Park

by Congau

She was here, but now she is gone. On the bench in the park there is no trace of her, but the memories remain. Many years have passed since she disappeared, but I still keep returning to the place where I met her and where I saw her for the last time. I like coming here early in the morning before the world has woken and become busy. I am standing in the dawn looking toward her bench. It is a sanctuary which I will always revere; a memory that means more than anything that exists in the present. From a respectful distance I am watching the altar. Then it is as if a supernatural light brightens the place. The sky opens, and a spirit descends on earth. It is my friend, and she has come back to me. I know that she no longer lives in time and that matter separates us, but she is closer to me than anyone of those who still walk on this earth.

They all live their daily lives, and seldom do they look up from the dust, but for me this world is no longer real. We only see the shadows. Only when she comes to me in the park do I sense the light.

Her spirit is still shining, but once her body was also with me. It is more than twenty years ago now.

I was a young and energetic student of economics. I lived in the world and participated seriously in its game. For me it was all about winning the struggle for life, and that meant acquiring as big a part of it as possible. At first we need to gain our daily bread, but after that there are no limits to what a diligent worker can achieve. Therefore I wanted to work persistently for what is solid and useful in this world, and I shunned all fantasies that could distract me from what I thought was reality.

It was early in the summer, and I had just finished the first part of my economic studies. Next fall I would take up a position in a large financial concern, and I was intensely looking forward to participating in a place where the really big money was circulating. But unfortunately I had nothing to do until I was to start this new job, and for a couple of months I just had to sit around waiting uselessly. I didn't like to wait, felt that my place in society for a while was canceled and wished to be accepted as a member again as soon as possible. In this condition I was one day strolling idly in the park. I was walking with my eyes fixed on the ground and the situation annoyed me a little, but I was also thinking about the wealthy future that would soon be mine.

I didn't look up until I was at the bench, and then she was sitting there. It was a beautiful woman that I saw; a girl a few years younger than me. With her eyes closed she was sitting on the bench. Her hands were folded around some newly picked flowers, and she was wearing a red summer dress. I was a strict gentleman and did by no means fall in love at once. Someone was sitting here sleeping in the middle of the day, ignorant of the constantly moving world. I tried to regard her with a stern face as if my look could wake her, and she actually did open her eyes. She hadn't slept after all, for her face was immediately present, and she smiled at me.

It was a wonderful smile; a smile that could even cause a progressive young man to forget. She looked at me with shining eyes in a few seconds more, and then she said:

"I'm so glad you could come. I have been waiting for you, Paul."

I had heard it, but I didn't believe it. She had pronounced my name. I stared at her. The unknown one could not possibly know me.

"I just wanted to take a walk in the park," I at last said naively.

"I know," she said still smiling.

She knew, but I knew nothing.

"Who are you?" I stammered.

She just went on smiling.
"I have been waiting for you," she said. "Please sit down."

Of course I obeyed. Bewildered I sat down next to her, but at a safe distance on the edge of the bench. I was afraid of getting too close to what I couldn't understand and hoped she would explain everything at once, but she remained motionless. Now she closed her eyes again, but her face was still awake. I dared to look at her more closely now that she could not see me, and after a while I became braver and almost devoured her with my eyes.

She was blond like a fairy; a slender creature who hardly possessed much physical strength, but her forehead was smooth, clear and energetically alive. A strange power seemed to radiate from her. Her face was thin and the cheek bones were clearly visible like on an eastern beauty. Also her skin had a yellowish tinge as if she originated from the Mongolian continent, but her hair was fair and Nordic. It hung loosely behind her back and almost reached the ground. Her lips were moving slowly as if she was praying, and she breathed quietly through her nose. I observed her tender and shapely figure, noticed how the light fabric of her dress covered her breasts, but suddenly felt unpleasantly guilty and withdrew my eyes.

When I dared to look at her again, she had opened her eyes. With the same quiet smile she was looking at the flowers in her lap. Her hands, so small and delicate, were folded around them, and it was as if they grew naturally between her fingers. They were lilies.

"I picked them down there by the pond," she said, still not looking away from the bouquet.
"There are many of them. Have you seen them?"

I had not and confessed.

"No, you haven't," she confirmed with regret, but by no means condemning.
"Most people don't notice them, because the bushes make them invisible from the path. You have to slip through the shrubbery and creep under some branches to get to this secret place. It is just over there, but it could have been far into the wilderness, because you can feel so safe and alone there. Would you like to go there with me?"

I nodded. At that moment there was nothing I rather wanted than going anywhere with this elf. She started walking slowly along the path, and I followed.

Somewhere in the park there was a small area that seemed to have missed the attention of the parks department. While all other remnants of untouched nature had been meticulously pruned, weeded and cleared away, this was a tiny spot that was not yet conquered by man. A thick wall of shrubbery seemed to block our way, but she just pushed it aside and it was as if a door opened. We slipped through and were standing in another world.

It was a shielded room surrounded by four natural walls; bushes on two sides, a small hill on the third and a lovely little pond in front of us. The water was so curiously clean. Presumably we were still in a public park in a big city, but all pollution out there had somehow not penetrated into this place. It was as if this spot was the entire universe, unaffected by everything else because nothing else existed. (And here I was alone with her!) This pond was all the water that existed on earth, and therefore it was a great ocean. We were sitting on the beach looking into eternity. The horizon could be seen out there, but it did not confine us. Space was without limits, and time stood still. She and I, the lilies of the field, ocean and heaven; no one has ever needed more. These flowers were without thought for tomorrow, but they were still rewarded with glory. Why should we let the world disturb us? We were safe. From the mount it was spoken to us, and we understood.

"Can you hear the birds?" my friend asked.

I heard them, surely I heard them.

"They are singing about joy, can you hear, for they have everything and need no more. They fly in the air looking down upon people who are toiling to collect superfluous riches that they have never time to enjoy. But look at this. We have everything already. We can also sing. And she sang to me. She sang wonderful tunes that rose to the heavens and took part in the harmony of the spheres. It was a music that joined our human life with eternity and expressed a higher meaning without words. I understood. I loved the world and I loved her.

However, it is grossly insufficient to put this into words, for it was through music and beauty that I knew, and only those who can see and hear the same thing will know. Now, many years later, the memory is a knowledge I carry in my heart, and language is incapable of conveying it. Nevertheless, I need to use those poor words that I have, for that is the only way I can communicate with you, my fellow human beings. With her on the other hand, the real conversation was a spiritual union. We became one with each other and one with nature.

I don't know how long we stayed in this universe. Time was anyway abolished for us. I think it became dark when night fell, but that is insignificant, because we felt more than we saw. We were safe together. She slept in my arms. I was in her, and she was in me. Our bodies were also united as a confirmation of our spiritual unity, for in human form the angel had come to earth. We dreamt among the lilies that night.

It was summer, and the summer was long. For two months I was together with her; to months in the forest, in the park, on the bench. We were in the city and we went into the countryside. The place was not so important, because wherever we were, we recreated the environment in our minds and made it more real than reality.

Two months. Two months may be an entire life, and for me it was the entire life. But autumn came that year too. I don't understand why, and I will never understand why. The passage of the seasons we cannot halt, we must succumb to nature, but why do we surrender in the face of accidental human laws? It gets cold when the summer withdraws, but surely we don't have to let the cold enter our own minds.

When autumn came the world was supposed to reclaim my person. That was long since decided, and it never occurred to me that I was the one who decided if I wanted to get caught. My new job was in another city and all social rules expected me to go there. Of course I didn't intend to leave my friend. I told her I would be back in the weekends. We would continue to meet, but just not as often.

"Duty calls," I said with a light laugh.

"Yes," she replied quietly, you are serving more than one master."

I didn't understand. "Am I not my own master?"

"No," was the answer and she looked sadly at the ground in front of her. "We are all somehow subject to the circumstances, but we can choose who we consciously want to serve. No man can serve two masters. We have to choose. You are going away to obey someone else; not yourself, not your nature, not the ideas. We are of course living in a material world and that we must accept, but we don't have to become its slaves. What are you seeking out there? Other people's expectations or your own true wishes? Wealth and success in the eyes of the world, or the truth? Both, you say? Can you strive in to opposite directions at the same time? Can you go east while going west? Where will you end up?"

It was difficult to answer. I tried to tell her that I didn't want to give up beauty even though I chose to participate in society.

"We are human beings, aren't we, and therefore we shouldn't withdraw from human life," I tried to object.

She looked at me with sad eyes. I didn't understand, did I? For a long time she was quiet. Then she said:

"Yes, we are human beings, and our lives are human lives. Therefore a complete life can only be lived together with other people. But all those other people are not real human beings. There are many wolves in disguise among them and they are eating each other. If you join them, you have to eat or be eaten yourself. I am worried about you."

"Don't worry," I said, and I wanted my words to sound strong and brave, but I was not convinced.

This was the day before my departure. We were sitting on our bench, and I held her hand timidly. Was I becoming a stranger to her? That must not happen. I wanted to keep her more than anything, but out there the wolves were howling for me, and the next day I went out to them.

I felt exited to be back in business. Here the suits fitted me perfectly and I was again eager to follow the laws of the market. There was nothing to fear, I thought, and wholeheartedly I joined the game. Of course I didn't forget her that first week, surely I didn't, but this world was not hers, and it is difficult to keep two very different thoughts burning at the same time.

The promised land is in the west. There is unlimited wealth there; not only milk and honey, but mountains of money that can buy anything you can imagine and everything you had never thought possible. There the servants are ready to satisfy your constantly growing needs, and you indulge in luxury.

In the east there is destitution. Whatever the barren soil can generate is sucked up and sold to cunning strangers. Of course no one wants to go there. There came wise men from the east. They brought precious gifts, but that is a long time ago. The oriental wisdom has now become sadly decrepit. The progressive youth want to consume fast and hurry on and who can avoid getting carried away. It was so easy to influence me. I was another person today than I was yesterday, and tomorrow I would probably buy yet another personality.

I couldn't make it to my hometown that weekend and not the next either, but three weeks later I had finally time for love. Cheerful and fresh, dressed in new and fashionable clothes, I went to the park to meet her. She would be proud of me, I thought.

She was sitting on the bench when I arrived. I wanted to rush toward her, but already at a distance I noticed that something was wrong. She was sitting so strangely huddled up. I sat down next to her, but she didn't react. She was sleeping. How skinny she was. The same red dress now seemed too large for her, and the high cheekbones looked pointed and almost sickly. She was pale too, and when she woke and looked up, the light had been extinguished from her eyes. I asked her what was wrong, but she just shook her head. I tried to elicit some energy by recounting the excitements of the last few weeks, but that only seemed to weaken her even more. Then I was silent too. We were sitting there like two strangers. In only a few weeks I had grown to be a strong man of the world, while she had wasted away. Doesn't that prove the victory of matter over mind. Obviously nothing is more important than a healthy body.

"You are not well," I said to her.

I had meant to show compassion, but it sounded like a reproach.

"I'm so worried about you," she replied.

There was a deep pain in her voice, but I still had to smile ironically. Had she not noticed my strong constitution and the well-fitting clothes?

We remained on the bench for a while, but we hardly talked. It was good to be close to her, but it was also painful, because there was now a distance in the closeness. She was sick, and I was healthy, or maybe it was the other way around. When I suggested that we should walk over to our secret place, she did not agree at once.

"Maybe it doesn't exist anymore," she said cryptically.

On the way I had to support her, she had become that weak, and when we reached the place, she almost fell. But even I suddenly felt dizzy, for the place was really gone. The last piece of untamed wilderness in this well-groomed park had been leveled out and removed. The shrubbery was cut down, and the pond was filled up. Some ornamental plants had been put in its place. They were so stylish that they could have been made from plastic.

"It is over," she said. "It is all over."

She collapsed on the path. I lifted her up and carried her back to the bench. She was breathing heavily and was uncommonly warm, but her temperature was probably not that high. What was actually the matter? I patted her on the forehead and tried to soothe her the way one would comfort a confused child.

"Everything will be fine," I ventured naively. We'll just find another place. There are lilies in many places, right."

"Oh no," she replied, they only exist in the heart.

I really didn't understand her. "Women are romantics, I thought. They would rather live in cheap novels than adjust to reality." Loudly I said:

You simply need food and rest. I'll go and buy some bread for you.

She didn't agree, but didn't stop me either. She resigned and bent her head, and I left her with determined steps.

That was all. Our story was over. I never saw her again. She left me as suddenly as she had come, or maybe I was the one who let her go; I who took her life.

I was very delayed on my shopping trip. (There was so much that I needed, and I met an acquaintance who wanted to discuss business.) When I returned to the bench, there were many people standing around it, but no girl in a red dress was anywhere to be seen. A man told me willingly about an unconscious girl who had just been taken away in an ambulance, but no one knew the details.

Of course I rushed to the hospital and asked for her in despair, but the clerks did not talk willingly to someone who couldn't claim a close relation to the patient.

When I finally got to speak to a doctor, it was too late. She was dead.

Some cause of death was stated, but I didn't really care. She had hardly been a physical being, so a corporal decease could not possibly have killed her. Perhaps she could not live in this world which lives by bread alone. She needed another kind of nourishment, and that I had denied her. I was the murderer. For twenty years I have been doing penance and this I will continue for the rest of my life.

I left business, and I left my previous life, but I never left her. She remained with me where the lilies grow; in the heart.

I went away shortly after, because in my native country almost nothing seemed meaningful anymore. I became a poor wanderer in foreign lands. A home on earth I did not have anymore, for I followed the birds in the sky and rested where they happened to rest.

Tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself, but the past I could never forget. She is my bad consciousness that is haunting me, but she is also my comfort. At night she visits me in my dreams, and during the day she often appears to remind me of what is essential.

I am wandering around on earth, but once a year I must return to where I came from. Then I enter the park and sit down on the bench. It is early morning, and the day has not yet completely begun. Then the sky opens, and a beaming light falls on the ground. In the rays she steps down, stands before me and says:

"I am so glad you could come."

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