The Woman in Blue by Carol Holland March

As the days shortened and the maple leaves blazed red, the rooms in the old man’s house began disappearing.

It started with the mud room, a small space off the kitchen that led to the back yard. Filled with piles of magazines and rusted garden tools, he rarely noticed it unless he wanted his rain slicker that hung on a hook beside a sink. The mudroom’s outer door opened to a tiny porch with four wooden steps down to the lawn where Marie hung laundry on the clothesline he had strung between the house and their one tree, a scraggly apple that no longer produced fruit. Gabe hadn’t opened that door in months. Left untended, the yard bloomed with tall grass, colorful bindweed, and black nightshade. He rather liked how it was shaping up on its own.

On the day when he stood in the kitchen and considered the inexplicable disappearance of an entire room, no explanation came to mind. There had been a doorway where he stood. He liked to stand under the arch and gaze out the two-paned window of the outer door, painted an ugly brown because he had run out of white paint and Marie said an unpainted door would warp in the humidity. Or was he remembering the door to the shed?

Gabe stared at the kitchen wall, thinking his memories of seeing the garden bursting with life must be wrong. Another mistake. They happened more now that Marie had gone. Gabe shuffled to the other end of the kitchen and noticed with relief that he could see the north end of the garden from the window there. This was the window he remembered. It must be. Satisfied, he poured water into the kettle to make a cup of tea.

That night he dreamed again of the silver thread. 

Marie’s sewing room went next. Drawn to open the door off the living room he had painted white to please her after the fiasco with the mudroom door, he turned the knob and pushed. Nothing happened. The paint had peeled in strips, leaving the wood bare. He had to give it a shove before it would move. As the door swung inward, it evaporated like smoke.

Gabe stared at the space where the sewing room had been. Where Marie had hunched over her machine surrounded by boxes of swatches and threads and buttons, producing curtains for the windows, shirts for him, and the occasional skirt for herself. Her rocking chair, oak with a blue cushion, had sat beside the window that looked out on the side yard. That yard was visible from the street, so he paid a neighbor’s grandson to mow it once a month to keep up appearances.

Instead of the familiar room he had neatened but changed little since her passing, a smoky film lingered in the air, dissipating with every breath he took. He stepped back, but the smoke did not move with him. As he watched, it vanished.

Gabe closed his eyes. He had to be dreaming. If he waited a moment, he would wake up in his bedroom, safe in the double-poster bed he shared with Marie until the nurse came. He waited, counting in his head. To ten, then twenty. Thirty seemed long enough. He opened his eyes. The living room wall was solid, an expanse of yellowing wallpaper decorated with tiny blue flowers and pale green leaves. No sign of a doorway. He reached out and touched the wall where the door had been, half-expecting it to be less than solid. But it felt like an ordinary wall—dense and unremarkable.

Gabe turned away. Marie was gone and now she had taken her sewing room with her. It didn’t matter. All he needed was his bedroom and the kitchen so he could heat soup and tea.

That night the silver thread hanging in dark space quivered under his gaze, almost as if it were happy to see him.

The second bedroom, what they called the guest room, vanished without a trace, but by then Gabe had grown accustomed to the dwindling of his home. He thought of himself as a man who needed little to be happy, so being reduced to essentials pleased him in a vague, inchoate way.

He wondered if he were dying, or perhaps descending into forgetfulness like Marie. Had she missed rooms that were present for him? He sat in his bed, propped against a mound of pillows, and pondered what the end of her life had been like, when she recognized him only occasionally and had to be reminded to eat by the nurse as she lay in the guest room, distanced from him in body and mind.

Now Gabe dreamed of the silver thread every night. In his dream, he asked what it wanted of him. The thread shivered and glowed and undulated like a snake stalking prey in the desert he had once seen on a vacation to Arizona, but never spoke. Not until he met the woman in blue did he learn that the silver thread belonged to him.

A cloud of light burst through the window and filled his bedroom with silvery blue vibrations that shimmered and glowed, making him feel light and weak, as if he were happy or perhaps could fly. The light coalesced near his bed. Its warmth reached out, enfolding him in serenity. A portion of the light formed into a shape, long and narrow. Nearly as tall as the ceiling, as graceful as a mermaid diving through a waterfall into a deep pool, the shape looked like a woman wearing a blue gown, its voluminous folds merging with the light spreading through the room.

“I thought I was awake,” he murmured, thinking he spoke to himself. He startled when the blue light laughed and called him by name. Her features more distinct now, he saw that she was too old to be called pretty, with eyes that belonged on an ancient carving inscribed on the wall of a deep cave, so intense he could barely meet their emerald depths. Her skin was almond-colored, her mouth wide and severe.

“You are quite awake, my dear Gabe,” she said, “and ready to move out of this tired old house. Haven’t you noticed it’s leaving without you?”

“I’ve lost a few rooms,” he said, surprised at the defensive tone in his voice. “But I have what I need.”

“Do you know what you need?” She moved closer to the bed.

Gabe had toyed with the idea of death, fleeting thoughts that settled in his mind and warmed him with the possibility that his suffering would end. He had never considered what death would look like but now that it had come, it pleased him immensely.

“I’m ready.” He pushed himself up on his pillow. “Since Marie left, I haven’t known what to do except wait. I want to find her again.”

She smiled. The light in the room warmed. “What did you dream?”

Something strange. Important. He closed his eyes. The silver thread shining against a starless sky. “A thread,” he said. “Hanging in space. In the distance a flower. Maybe blue. The thread moved as if it were alive.”

She nodded. “How much more of it must you traverse before you reach the blue flower?”

Gabe realized the thread was his life, and when he reached the flower, a doorway would open. “An inch to go. Maybe less.”

“How long is the silver thread?” Her voice was gentle, like faraway bells calling a flock home for the night.

“Long,” he said, in awe that he had just noticed. “So long.”

“You have lived longer than you know. And learned what you came to this beautiful, beleaguered world to learn. Now you can return to your true family, the ones who have loved you through eternity. You have fresh adventures to explore and futures brimming with possibility.”

“Marie loved me the most,” Gabe whispered.

The woman in blue extended one long finger and touched his forehead. “Are you certain?”

Gabe closed his eyes. His earlier life opened like a series of photographs preserved for posterity. “I did everything I was supposed to do,” he whispered. “I worked, married, contributed. It wasn’t my fault we couldn’t have children. We helped when we could. Marie taught school, and we donated more than most—to orphans, to children in trouble. We lived good lives and never hurt anyone.”

His voice faded as the pictures of his earlier life pushed into the center of his vision. His parents and younger sister. Playing basketball in high school. His college sweetheart. The professor who encouraged him to go to law school. The summer in Italy after he graduated, a gift from his father so he could see the world before he settled down. Italian girls and sunny days and art museums swirled so quickly he could not discern their features.

When he saw the young man wearing cutoff jeans and a white cotton tunic leaning against a crumbling stone wall, Gabe caught his breath. The picture froze. That face he remembered perfectly. Open, smiling, warm eyes, a tall, lean body flexible enough to run without effort and leap over any obstacle. They traveled to Crete on a whim, swam on a beach on the northern end of the island. The windows of their rented villa presented both the shining sea and the green-studded hills where goats roamed. They drank ouzo and danced in the village cantina.

The memory pierced Gabe’s chest like an obsidian blade. He gasped and opened his eyes. The women in blue nodded. “The summer before you took up your life.”

Gabe’s breath was quick. “I can’t remember his name.” The blade twisted.

“It was a route you chose not to take. But he is a member of your ancient family. You can see him again if you choose. And all the others you love.”

Gabe kicked at the bedclothes to free his feet and twisted onto his side. “I thought you came to help me. I want to live another life. Here, where Marie and I were happy. I want to leave this tired body and have another chance. The next time we could have children.”

The woman stepped back. Gabe longed to grab for her, but didn’t dare.

“You have done well. You learned you had choice, and exercised it. Marie needed help and you provided her with love and security. Your life was well spent, but there is no need to repeat it. Your home world awaits. That is what I came to tell you. That is what the thread of your life is telling you. We measure your life in eons, not years. It is your choice, of course. Always.”

As her form dissipated, Gabe whimpered. The light faded. He slept.

The room where the old man lay dying had faded and blurred from lack of attention. Every time he roused from his stupor, he propped himself against the headboard and focused hard on the objects in the room. He needed them all. The dresser that held his clothes and, in the top drawer, the photographs and mementos of their vacations. The Queen Anne chair, upholstered in green and blue, sitting by the fireplace. The rug, the soft handwoven rug beside the bed. It was the first to go.

Even when his concentration brought the dresser and the chair and the framed pictures on the wall back into focus, the rug refused to materialize. Gabe swung one leg toward the floor and set down his foot, half-expecting to feel the rug, but his foot touched cold, bare wood. He moved the other leg, stood on his feet, upright and trembling. Every time he fell asleep, something else disappeared. The framed photograph of their wedding day never reappeared, no matter how clearly he remembered it. The other photographs, of family and friends, still hung in their spots, but where the wedding picture had been was only a slightly darker mark on the faded wall.

The kitchen was gone. He remembered the day it disappeared, and the living room soon after. There was no way to make himself soup or tea, so Gabe resigned himself. He made his stand in the bedroom. Of all the rooms in his house, it reminded him most of Marie. Sitting in the chair by the window. Adding trinkets to the drawer of remembrances. Dusting the framed photos.

Gabe touched the side of the dresser. The wood was dry and faded, but solid. Satisfied, he returned to his bed and sat up as straight as he could, remembering everything.

The woman in blue woke him with a touch. Gabe smiled at her light, without noticing he was no longer in bed.

“I thought you had gone.”

“Look around, my dear. You have held on to your life even though everything you know has returned to its source.”

He was standing. Gabe turned in a circle. All he saw was the shimmering light the woman brought with her. “What’s happened? Will I be reborn now?”

Her voice commanded him: “Look!”

He looked where she pointed. In the distance, a single tree, an oak, green and lush as if it were still summer. Its foliage formed an inverted teardrop shape, and its leaves rustled in a breeze Gabe could not feel.

“It’s beautiful,” he said.

“Look there.” She pointed in another direction.

He turned toward sand, a desert, no water, no trees. As he gazed, a cave appeared, its mouth widening to reveal a whirlwind of gray light, moving fast in a clockwise motion.

“What is it?” he asked. The gray color alarmed him, but he felt drawn to it, just as he did to the tree.

The woman in blue faced him with her terrible ancient eyes. “There is no more time. Enter the whirlwind and you will meet a woman willing to be your mother. She will love you, and you will grow into a man. Approach the tree and the passage to your true home will open to you. You can leave this world and continue the life you led for ages. Those are your choices.”

Gabe looked again at the tree. When he focused hard, he saw that its roots beneath the surface of thick grass widened into paths leading in many directions. The paths led to buildings that sparkled like light. He could not make out the shapes but knew he was looking at a city he had once known. Columns of light, blue and pink and violet and green, lined the paths. They swayed in unison. Glimmers of gold and silver danced through their colors. Even though he could not see their features, he recognized people in the form of light.

“Their human shapes are hidden from you now,” the woman in blue said, “but you know them.”

Gabe looked back at the whirlwind, now rotating faster. “If I go back, will I find Marie?”

“If you choose,” said the woman in blue.

He looked again at the tree, marveling that a world opened from its roots. He heard the tinkling of bells worn by goats wandering the hills of Crete. He thought of Marie, so loving and grateful for the life they had made together. He breathed in, filling his lungs with more sweet air than seemed possible. He straightened his shoulders as he used to do before an important business meeting.

As he lifted his right foot to take his next step, the old man stood straighter and taller than he had in years. His foot landed firmly. He smiled and walked forward.

Carol Holland March lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the veil between the worlds often disappears. She writes about the intersection of dreams, reality, and time and what happens when the lines separating them are crossed. When not writing, she teaches writing and creative expression at the University of New Mexico. Her stories have appeared in numerous online and print publications, most recently in New Myths.  Her fantasy trilogy, The Dreamwalkers of Larreta, explores how love overcomes the barriers of time and space. You can reach her at her website, on Amazon, and on Facebook.