Cassandra’s Tears

Tears of joy, tears of pain, we are reflected in the salt-water pools we create. So let us build a fleet of paper boats and sail them on our ocean of indecision, laughing at the wind-whipped white-crested waves that would wash over us, drowning us in our own despair, yet somehow never vanquishing us in the end.

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Location: Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Old Man Partington and young Sarah Billingsworth

The old Partington place sits alone off the road a ways. You can approach it from the weed-ridden driveway, but Sarah Billingsworth always comes at it through the brush and woods that have grown up around it over the years of neglect. It’s not that the place is vacant, boarded-up windows staring blankly as the world continues on around it. Oh no, old Mr. Partington still lives there and keeps up with its basic maintenance. On a summer day you can see a lace curtain flutter through an open window. In the winter smoke curls out of the brick chimney, fed by the wood stove the old man keeps fueled with the logs he gathers and chops each summer from the adjoining wood lot.

But it’s a big, rambling house, and the old man gets lonely. Once the house was full of life, when he and Mrs. Partington were younger. They had five children who filled the rooms with laughter, and eventually a myriad of grandchldren would come to visit. But those days are over. Mrs. P. is many years dead, the children moved away, the grandchildren caught up in their own adolescent lives. Old Man Partington gets very few visitors these days, but he does have one regular.

Sarah Billingsworth isn’t from around here. She came to the town from England to work as an au pair at the Stilton house. The work meant that she could escape her oppressive family life in Manchester and strike out in the New World to make her fortune. She discovered the Partington place quite by accident when she was out in the woods with her little Stilton charges looking for blueberries. Mr. P. was chopping wood, stacking it neatly behind the house on the lee side where it was less likely to get rainsoaked, when their eyes met. Sarah, 18 and Old Man Partington, 72, stopped thunderstruck as an unspoken recognition passed between the two of them. For a moment the rest of the world did not exist, the three Stilton children forgotten, the axe dangling loosely from the old man’s hand. Suddenly a blue jay called from a nearby tree and was scolded by a chickadee, and time resumed.

But from that moment, the unlikely pair became very close. Sarah would come and visit Mr. Partington evenings after her charges were in bed and on her days off. She started helping him around the house, and he saw in her a reincarnation of his departed Nellie. When they made love, as it was inevitable they would, there were no fireworks, just a feeling of homecoming. It was their secret, and it was special.


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