Marianne knew something was wrong.
The ocean wave brought a sensation of pain as the freezing waters lapped over her naked feet, sending a sharp shock up her shins. Her thin shawl covered her shoulders, but the wind stole it from her back. She looked out into the endless ocean and could see a spot out in the distance, a single sign of life, a ship passing the line of the horizon where the earth curves and only man’s tenacity can push him to that place of heroes in the unknown distance.
She let the pain take her away. The pain was warmth. It was his spirit. It was what he felt. The thing in her hand bit into her flesh. It was red hot, as though all her energy flowed into her palm and in it she felt the Truth.
Taking two steps she moved deeper into the frigid cold, ocean.
They said everything was all right, but every night she had felt so cold. Last night was the worst. She dreamed of him, of their conversation prior to his departure.
“I’ll return to you. I promise.,” He had said. “There’s someone who needs help and I can help. I’ll return. Nothing can keep me from my sunflower.”
“Our honeymoon! How? You... Don’t go. Have someone else go. The Guard can survive one day without you. Promise to stay. Just stay. You have too! It’s my right. My right as the bride.” She clung to his chest as he buttoned the last button on his shirt. There was finality in his action that she knew she had no power to stop. Ted was an indomitable force. His decision was reality. She knew he’d made up his mind and not even his love for her could make his body stay there. She loved and loathed this about him.
“They need me.”
“I need you. I need you to keep me warm tonight. So cold and you’re so warm. So warm. Don’t leave. Not tonight.” She shook her head like a petulant child and gripped his wide set shoulders in her tiny hands. His shoulders were thin but hard as iron.
“My spirit will keep you warm, sunflower. I promise.”
She almost froze to death the following night. Though she on an island in the Atlantic, she called her sister to fly out and keep her warm. For Marianne, Ted had been a warm sun during the most chilling nights.
On the first night after his departure, she put the heater on and still she trembled.
On the second, she threw on extra blankets but yet her knees knocked from the cold.
On the third night her sister, Susan, arrived and yet still Marianne cried from the cold.
“I can’t stand it. I’ll die! I’d rather be dead than so cold. I can’t feel my legs, my arms are numb, my nose tingles. What can I do? So cold. I just can’t...”
Susan put her hands on Marianne’s body, “You’re hot. You must be sick. This honeymoon was a terrible idea. What kind of a man leaves his new wife to sickness and derangement? I told you. Didn’t I tell you? Never marry a sailor. Bad luck. Selfish.” Susan babbled for minutes and Marianne stared off into the corner of the room.
Her eyes were glued to the chair. Upon their arrival, Ted had gone straight for the chair to sit down. Not because he was tired, but due to his passion for carving and constructing wooden chairs. It had creaked and squeaked with every movement. It was an old chair, but good quality, he had said. His next movement was to escape the confines of his stationary position—Ted could never sit still, he was always taking action, fixing this, altering that, improving, changing—he flipped the chair over and noticed the hinges on the rear right lever were loose. He shot to his feet as though he were under enemy fire: “Need my tools.” But he was on his honeymoon. Marianne had convinced him to leave them behind. Nothing could stop him. He ran outside and grabbed a porter, demanding tools. He treated the boy like he treated his sailors, and the boy acted accordingly, following the words from the man with the stern glower. Ted made everyone believe that they were under the most dire circumstances and that only immediate action could save all their lives. For the first time, the boy felt as though he were a soldier embarked on a
grand campaign. A campaign to get tools for Marianne’s new husband.
Ted fixed the squeak.
Now, four days later, Marianne stared at the chair. Then she heard it. The creak. He was here, she thought. She pushed her loving sister like one pushes away a nosy dipsomaniac, and she ran to the piece of faulty furniture.
He sat there and gave her the small thin-lipped smile he only gave to her, for he was not a man to smile on the regular.
She dropped to her knees and trembled and her sister was reminded of the last leaf when fall is beaten by winter.
“He’s dead! Dead.” She wrapped her arms around her torso and brought her knees to her chest. “He never should have gone on that ship. Why does he have to save every damn drunken fool out in the ocean? Why my Ted? I can feel the coldness. OH! I should keep him warm. He needs me to keep him warm. I know it. He’s so cold. Freezing. He kept me warm for so long and now for the first time, he needs me. Where am I? Ah! This can’t be. Get me a ship.” She bellowed and her sister almost obeyed as though she suddenly had the power to conjure a ship at will.
But there was no ship to commandeer.
Her robe rolled in waves behind her as she ran through the halls of the hotel. “A ship!” she yelled. A man opened his door, peering cautiously out.
“Crazy women at this hotel. I told you we shouldn’t have come here.” He said to the person occupying the title of his wife.
A woman with curling irons in her hair stepped out and said “that girl needs to put on some shoes. Yuck. No, what she needs is to comb her hair. Never get a husband with hair like that.”
“Catch a death of cold she will...”
“Look at those legs...”
“Woman like that can’t be single. Can’t be...”
Reaching the front desk she spoke imperiously to the tall man who frowned at her, “A ship. I need a ship.”
“We don’t keep ships for the whims of our guests.”
She slapped the desk between them, startling the man and making his long nose wrinkle in distaste.
“A boat then.”
“Miss! I cannot condone your going out on that ocean by yourself in the dark in the cold. You’ll freeze.”
“I know! Why don’t you understand he needs me. He’s freezing.” She rubbed her arms for warmth. “I can feel it. He needs me. He’s so cold. Can’t you feel it? So cold.”
They had forced her back to her room after she would not leave. No sleep would come to her because every minute brought a drop in the temperature as if God were turning a dial.
The next night she pretended to be fine. When they left her to get sleep, she escaped through the balcony, which faced the ocean. She ran, falling and scraping her knees. Only a thin piece of white cloth and a shawl covered her nude limbs. Only one object gripped tightly in her hand to keep her warm.
The ocean greeted her like a lover. It could be so warm if she were just with him.
She took a step and the water touched her feet. It felt like needles.
Two more steps and the pain felt so real she almost screamed, yet she thought that she would be warm soon. Just a little farther and she would be warm.
Two more steps and she gasped in fright and pain. Her heart was pounding. “Soon I’ll make you warm my love. I promise. It was your job. But I’ll do it. I will keep you warm. I promise.”
She walked until the water was inviting her deeper in the forever. Then she heard it: his voice. The lids of her eyes were heavy. After she heard his voice she felt something. The warmth was like a campfire, like a blanket occupied by a lover, like the sun when lying on the beach spreading through every limb, every pore, every fiber of her body. It was him. His arms wrapped around her waist. His lips on her cheeks, his hot breath on her face, her neck; his burning body pressed so tightly to hers she could hear the blood coursing through his veins. His arms embraced her from behind. His breath held a message; “It’s me my sunflower. I’m here to keep my promise. I told you I’d return.”
“Something’s wrong. I can feel it. You always said I had a sixth sense, so why don’t you ever listen to me. You never listen.”
“It’s my choice to go where others dare not. They need me.”
“And me? Don’t I need you.”
“I’ll always be within you. My spirit will always look out from that place that could have been ours—that will always be ours—but now it is yours. Don’t you see? You’re my legacy. You’re my vicar, my strength, my will.”
He was gone and the coldness returned. Her skin was blue. She saw the ship disappearing beyond the scope of her vision. He was there somewhere, in the deep blue forever.
With a mighty effort no man could fathom, she walked back to the shore. Falling to her hands and knees she began to cry, not in pain or fear but in the feeling of failure, an emotion of defeat against a foe upon which she had lost prior to any encounter.
“Marianne.” Someone was yelling but she resisted, longing for the warmth.
“News! I have news! What are you doing?” It was the boy Ted had ordered to get the tools. He had ice cube hands. He lifted her up. “Marianne?”
“I’m sorry but Mr. Galvin’s ship...”
She cut him off, “I know. Leave me be. I’m fine.”
He left, but watched from a distance to ensure she returned to her bed. To the warmth.
Opening her hand she brought to her lips the symbol of the dream she had had since girlhood, a symbol of love that she lost and that she now knew was out there in the world in a form that she could not yet envision but had to believe still existed; a symbol passed down from hand to hand for a millenia until finally it was passed into her hand by the greatest man she’d ever known; a symbol for the strength she would have to muster—his strength, his will—in order to move through the rest of her life without him:
A Band of Gold.