"The Blessing House"
Previous Chapters... Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
After completing the necessary paperwork at Lewis' office, Abigail stopped to pick up a few groceries and a bottle of Muscadet. She parked her car on Main Street, a short distance from the House, and carried her few bags, along with the staples, into the front entrance. She had no desire to unpack just yet, and left her meager luggage in the front hall. Shyly, Abigail walked through, or as she really felt, floated through the rooms of the Blessing House. Lewis hadn’t told her anything about the history or mystery of the House. She swayed, almost to a aged waltz, from room to room. She felt welcomed.
The rain started at sundown that evening and continued as Abigail prepared her dinner table. It was a comforting rain, steady, quenching, rather protective. Odd, though, for as a child, she always wanted to be protected from the rain. She remembered, at that moment, how she'd take all her dolls and stuffed toys to bed with her on stormy nights, making sure that they were tucked in, cozy. Yet, this rain is cozy. At the thought of cozy, she was summoned to the present, and thought how lovely a fire would be. There must be some firewood on the grounds, she reasoned. She started past the parlor to the front door when she briefly glanced toward the fireplace. In it were logs, thick, meaty logs of birch and cedar, piled perfectly with sprigs of kindling spread about. She was sure that the fireplace was empty when she arrived, but, she shrugged, and thought she’d been mistaken. She lit the logs and almost immediately they were ablaze with a fervor of reds and blues.
With the warmth and glow of the fire, Abigail settled into one of the plush arm chairs, and sipped her wine, and nibbled on her dinner of cold roast lamb and arugula salad. If Heaven exists, she mused, this is it, and perhaps it's the reason it's called the Blessing House.
With the sound of the rain and the hypnotic effect of the glorious flames, she barely heard it. Or, did she hear it? Probably a brief whip of the wind. But, no, it continued like the syncopated whine of a tiny baby. She rose from the chair, cocked her head to determine the source, and walked curiously and cautiously to the front door. The faint mewing began to sound more like meowing. She opened the door, slightly, and looked around. Then, she looked down, and looking back at her was the blackest of cats with the greenest eyes, eyes that looked enormous in its drenched little head. The cat seemed to sigh, this time barely audibly, almost as if it was no longer necessary to yell. Instinctively, Abigail scooped up the cat and brought it inside. While cradling the small animal, she opened one of her bags, still on the floor of the foyer, and reached for a towel, and wrapped it around the cat. She went straight away, back to the plush chair by the fire, and nestled in with the towel-draped cat.
For a few moments, Abigail and the cat snuggled in silence. The cat seemed content to be warm and still, and Abigail was happy to revisit her childhood by pretending to make one of her toys cozy on a rainy night. It wasn't long before the cat began to stir, shook off the towel, and leaped to the floor and strutted with inquisitiveness, with its tail in the air, around the parlor, then sprung onto a chair, then a table, then the mantle, all with the agility of a gymnast. Not more than a kitten, thought Abigail, as she watched, amused at the black cat’s ability to recover from its recent crying spell.
There was a modest glint of lightening, followed by a faint thunder rumble. Then Abigail heard a whisper...or had she? Not certain, she repeated aloud, in a uncertain tone, what she thought she heard, “Nadia?” The cat's ears went up, it turned and strolled to Abigail, who repeated, “Nadia?” The cat looked up. Abigail scanned the room with her eyes, barely moving her body. What's going on? she thought. The little black cat was now rubbing its face against Abigail’s legs. “Is that your name? Nadia?” Abigail was now certain that she heard a voice...but whose voice? And why did it murmur the cat's name? She knew she should have been frightened...stormy night...a black cat at the door...a voice out of nowhere. Yet, Abigail was not afraid. She was beguiled.
The fire faded to pink embers, and the room bore a slight chill. Abigail glanced at her partially eaten dinner. She wasn't hungry anymore. The half-filled glass of wine was warm. It was still early, too early in fact, for bed, but she felt sleepy. The House seemed to be signaling it own peculiar curfew. Abigail cleaned up the dinner setting, the little black cat following her into the kitchen. The cat was close on her heels as she brought her travel bag from the foyer into the Master Bedroom. Abigail changed into a plaid flannel nightgown and argyle knee socks. The adolescent bed costume was ridiculous looking...like the Mona Lisa in a USC tee shirt, but Abigail preferred comfort to frills. Before settling into bed, she surveyed the room once more.
The walls were a rich deep red. On the hardwood floors was a red, blue and mustard tapestry rug shaped in a looped wedding ring pattern. The heavily carved mahogany dresser and chest of drawers were appointed with ornate brassy gold knobs, and atop of them were dozens of multi-colored jars, vases and jewel boxes. The bed bore four posts, with distinct pineapple carvings, and it was covered with embroidered, starched creamy bed sheets and the coverlet, a gold-colored quilt with red piping. The heavy drapes matched the bed cover. On the night stand, a brass birdcage housed a red fabric humming bird. Abigail picked it up and turned it over. Just as she thought. She turned the key on cage's bottom and the humming bird's mouth opened and closed, while its wings flapped slightly, Feür Elise played. “Well, Nadia, if that's your name, it looks like it's you and me...for tonight, anyway.”
Abigail tucked herself in bed. She basked in the warm ambiance of the room and the goose feather pillows, as the music from the birdcage slowed. Without invitation, Nadia jumped on the bed and shimmied under the quilt. Abigail, now turned to one side, felt the cat cozy up to her back, and the birdcage music was replaced by Nadia's soft purring. The rain lessened to a soft drizzle as Abigail fell into a tranquil sleep.
Sometime in the quiet night while Abigail slept, the cat stirred a little, then began moving up and down Abigail’s back. It seemed to grow larger with each movement. Still Abigail slept. Within moments the cat took on a bulky form under the blankets that was longer and broader than Abigail herself. It was the shape of a man. In an easy movement, his head appeared and occupied the pillow next to Abigail while his muscled body lay against her in a spooning position. One of his hands cradled her waist, while the other stroked her hair. He moved his head closer to hers. He wrapped her long red hair around his face for a moment, and then, in an instant, as if the experience was overwhelming, he shrunk under the quilt and the small mound that was Nadia returned, her gentle purring resumed.
Abigail awoke earlier than usual to a brisk fall morning. It wasn’t the light peering through the curtains that induced her from a peaceful slumber...it was Nadia. The black cat had poised herself directly in front of Abigail’s face, and her emerald eyes seemingly willed Abigail to open hers. “I guess you must be hungry,” said Abigail in a drowsy whisper. Nadia’s tail sprung up as she brushed her face against Abigail’s hand. What a darling little cat, thought Abigail, but in a quick second thought reckoned that she’d have to put her outside after breakfast. She was sure that there was a no-pet policy at the Blessing House. Poor little thing, she must have been frightened by the storm. Surely, she belongs to someone in the neighborhood that is probably worried about her. Abigail wondered if Nadia was really her name, or perhaps the friendly cat would answer to Fluffy or Whiskers, or some such silly cat name. While she petted the cat, Abigail cooed, “Nadia?” The cat looked straight up at Abigail, with direct eye contact. “I guess that’s your name, all right,” she thought, and again, she was puzzled. “How could I know that? Whose voice murmured your name?”
While Nadia feasted on leftover cold lamb and skim milk, Abigail quickly bathed and dressed, then brewed some coffee in a kitchen absent any cold steel and formica...just warm oak. The rain had stopped sometime in the night, but the autumn leaves were still wet and glistening in the morning sum. A lovely autumn morning, Abigail thought, as she looked out the kitchen window, which faced the back of the Blessing House. There were several tall evergreens lining the property line. And in English style, charming little gardens, benches and a spattering of miniature stone statues of friendly animals surrounded the small paths. As she sipped coffee and admired the grounds, she kept her hands wrapped around the cup, enjoying the heat on her hands. She spotted a squirrel running up a tree, and silently vowed to buy a bag of nuts to put outside...and, she thought, some flowers for inside...yellow spider mums. Imposing on her thoughts, Nadia meowed and jumped on to the window sill, and stared out the window. Abigail looked at her, “So, you’re a nature lover, too,” and briefly scratched Nadia’s head.
There was a soft rapping at the door. Nadia swiftly leapt from the sill and ran out of sight. Abigail went directly to the front door and opened it to find a curious Lewis Rogers. Abigail gestured him to come inside. “Good morning. I hope I’m not intruding,” he smiled. “Everything all right?” Abigail smiled and sighed, “Better than all right. I love this house. I feel like I belong here.” Lewis nodded. “I believe you do belong here...I knew it the moment I saw you.” Abigail started to speak, when she glanced down and noticed Nadia weaving through Lewis’ legs, and purring loudly. Lewis looked down, “Well, what do we have here?” Abigail explained, tentatively, the happenings of the previous night. Lewis did not seem surprised, nor was he concerned with any pet policy. “Her name’s Nadia, you say?” Abigail nodded, then, haltingly told Lewis that she heard a voice call out the cat’s name. She felt very silly, but Lewis did not think her silly at all. He lifted the cat. “Nadia...very curious, indeed...a female cat...very curious.” Abigail told him she was just about to leave to inquire about a missing cat. Lewis waved her off, “Don’t bother, my dear, this little cat doesn’t belong to anyone around here - might as well keep her, if you like. She seems to belong here, too.” With that, Nadia climbed out of Lewis’ arms and strutted into the parlor, her tail proudly pointing up. Abigail laughed, “She’s a darling. She slept right up against my back all night - frightened by the storm, I guess.” Lewis raised his chin; his mouth slightly ajar replied, “Yes, I suppose so.” Then, in a paternal tone, he affirmed, “You’ll have company. That’s good.” He then asked, “Do you have a moment to go over the lease?” Abigail replied, “Of course, let’s sit down at the kitchen table.”
They reviewed the lease together, agreed that it was in order, and Lewis offered Abigail his fountain pen to sign at the bottom of the page. Abigail signed on the line, and playfully added, and Nadia, too. Lewis blotted the signature with his personal-sized blotter, then placed the blotter ink side up on the table. He began folding the lease to replace it to his pocket, when he glanced at the blotter...the name Nadia had inverted to read aidaN. Lewis looked closer at the name and his gaze went slowly to Nadia roosting on one end of the table, staring directly at him.
Back at his office, Lewis took the lease out of his pocket and placed it on the desk. He then reached in for the blotter. He studied the blot that read aidaN. He lifted a pencil from the desk and jotted the cat’s name on a scrap of paper...Nadia...then wrote it, reversing the letters...Aidan...He whispered the name ...Aidan...Aidan. Yes, he thought, Aidan...Aidan Jonah Blessing. He leaned back in his leather chair, looked up at nothing in particular, twirled the pencil, and asked aloud, “Do you know what you’re doing, my friend?”
Abigail climbed the stairs to the Master bedroom. The sunlight effect was even more prominent in this room. The bedroom emanated such warmth, so much so, that she had a desire to slip back into bed and tuck herself in for the day. Nadia was lying on the coverlet, sprawled out, looking like a feline of the highest order. Her green eyes followed Abigail’s every move. Abigail started with the carved bureau, opening drawers, feeling around inside them...the chiffonier...the night stands. They smelled faintly of Bay Rum. All were empty, which reminded her momentarily that she should unpack. She sat on the bed and stroked Nadia’s back. She actually felt a little embarrassed, as if she was behaving like an old Snoop Sister. What did she expect to find? The cat arched her back in an inviting pose. “You’ve certainly made yourself at home, little Nadia, haven’t you?” Nadia shifted a little on the bed. Abigail spotted a small triangle of fabric peeking out from under one of the pillows. She reached for it. It was a man’s white linen handkerchief bearing the initials AJB. She held it up to her face...it felt newly starched, and it smelled of Bay Rum - not faintly like the drawers...distinctly, seductively, as if it was just applied. She looked closely at the initials...AJB. Why, she thought, those are the same initials that are carved in the mantle downstairs.
Abigail sat on the bed for a few moments, stroking the linen square and mused about the strange but stimulating events since her arrival. Nadia was staring at her, intensely. Abigail decided, abruptly, to unpack. She placed the handkerchief on her pillow, walked downstairs to the hall to get her bag. Back in the Master Bedroom, she set her bag on the foot of the bed and opened it. Well, she thought, plenty of drawer space for her meager belongings. As she opened one of the top drawers of the massive rosewood bureau, the faded smell of Bay Rum emerged. Arranging her underwear in the drawer, Abigail’s finger touched upon something that felt like paper. She ran her hand along the side of the drawer, where it meets the frame. A sheet of parchment paper was against the wood, creased in the shape of the drawer. She pulled it out. She straightened it and looked at it closely. It was difficult to read...all the words seemed piled upon each other, and it appeared to have been written in two different handwritings. Then, she realized. It was two letters, written on the same paper. The reply to one letter was written in between the lines of the first. She read the one with the earliest date first.
I pray that you are well. It was clear in your last letter that your legion was about to enter into a battle that would perhaps prove to be a determining factor to end this beastly war. The mails carry at a maddeningly slow pace, and I am frightened so. I seek out news from our neighbors who might have even a vestige of information. Perhaps that is not a good practice, dear brother, as facts have a way of distorting into rumor. Aunt Gertrude took to her bed when Mrs. Jones told her about a bloody battle that took place during the early days of this month in a small Pennsylvania town. I fear that you have fought in that battle and I pray that you are safe. Forgive me, dearest Aidan, but I do not understand why we are fighting against our own countrymen. It is true that the South is a peculiar civilization, and their practice of enslaving other human beings is an abomination to God, but surely there must have been peaceable means to convince them to abandon the abhorrent custom. But, here we are, in a terrible war, and you are far away from home. My one thought is of your safe return to Musgrove. I have, as you instructed, secured the plot of land on Bramble Lane. Keep close to your heart the dream of building our new home. Keep close to your heart, also, that when our home is completed, you will surely find the perfect woman to be its mistress. I will close with fond thoughts of you and await, quite impatiently, good news. Your loving sister, Catherine
Abigail then read between the lines of that letter, and it was difficult, as the words on the faded old parchment seemed to run together, except for the difference in the handwritings:
My Dear Sister, Sister, dear, I am well. It is true that I was at Gettysburg and I have witnessed the most horrific battle between men. Hundreds of men wounded, and much more dead, their bloody bodies lying in the greenest of fields. Such cruel irony, dear sister, to see the grass so alive cradling the wretched, bloody corpses. Alas, Catherine, I was wounded, my dear, but I beg that you do not worry, as my wound is a trifle. As I contemplate on the many, many young men who will not be going home, I wonder why I was spared. I will be coming home at Christmas time for a short furlough. Bid Aunt Gertrude well, and ask her to bake a delectable apple pie for me. I shall see you both very soon indeed. In your prayers, dear sister, implore God to end this war. Ever fondly, your brother, Aidan
When Abigail finished reading the letters, she sat on the bed holding the folded paper. Nadia jumped from the bed to the top of the bureau. Lost in thought, she paid very little attention to hearing a sneeze, then another, AH-CHOO!! In a reflex response, she whispered aloud, “Bless...” She looked up, a bit startled. Nadia was not on the bureau. Instead, there stood a man, tall with jet black hair, and a complexion toughened by summer’s sun, dressed in an ensemble characteristic of the latter part of the 19th century. His green eyes sparkled and his mustache danced slightly as he finished her words, “Bless-ING, Blessing...Blessing.” He sneezes again. “Don’t know why I used a damned cat. They always make me sneeze. I beg your pardon.”
Abigail knew that a sane person would run, screaming wildly, at the thought of speaking to a phantom, but there she sat, gazing up at this extraordinary looking man speaking plainly and matter-of-fact, in a resonant baritone. His manner of speech was more old British than New England, and the conversation was as natural as if they had talked about a cat and other commonplace topics many times before. It seemed just as natural for Abigail to continue. “You are Aidan...from this letter?” He stood, arms folded across his waistcoat, and replied, “Aidan Jonah Blessing...born February 6, 1840, died, regrettably, December 19, 1878. In declaring his date of death, his manner was as if he was declaring that there might be a chance of rain. As a matter of fact. Nothing more. His demeanor was cavalier, neither impressed or depressed by anything. He simply was.
Still planted securely on the bed, Abigail offered, “Nice to meet you...I think.” Aidan continued, pointing to the letter, “Bloody war...of no use, really. They still go on and from what I hear; nothing has changed...wars are fought, men die, and unless one reads the history books, damned if anyone remembers why they fought at all.” Abigail began to speak, but Aidan quickly added, “No, my dear, I survived the war.” He sneezed again. Abigail asked, “What about your trifle injury, what was that?” Aidan slapped the calf on his left leg, “Lost my leg, right here. It was damned inconvenient at the time.” Abigail, confused, pointed, “But your leg looks fine.” Aidan laughed. “That’s death for you...full of surprises...after I died, well, there it was...good as new.” Abigail mumbled, “You wrote your sister that it was a trifle?” Aidan shrugged. “No use upsetting my family. They were going to see it for themselves, soon enough.”
“And your sister?” She asked. Aidan’s face grew grim, and he sighed heavily, “Catherine...a good, kind girl...she died in January 1864...swiftly...of Typhoid Fever. I was grateful to have celebrated one last Christmas with her.” He pointed to the letter. “Catherine was twenty-eight years old when she died...a spinster, as it were. Terrible word, spinster, used to imply that something vital about her went wasted. I’m sure if she had lived she would have married, eventually....dearest Catherine...a bit too trusting, for she met up with several scamps that were only courting her money. I tried my best to protect her.” He lightened a little, “Have you met our neighbors, the Winnebeck sisters?” Abigail shook her head. Aidan continued. “Funny pair, they are...they watch everything, but they are quite harmless, and devoted to each other. Hannah reminds me of Catherine. Never considered a beauty, but kind and soft-hearted. One day, when she was a young woman, I had to intervene on her behalf, and give her a little push so that she would see her suitor for what he was ...a scoundrel - and a disgrace to his country’s uniform!” He sneezed again. Abigail chuckled, “Bless you, Mr. Blessing.”
She looked around the room, admiring everything in it. Her admiration was not lost on Mr. Blessing. “You love this house, don’t you?” Abigail’s eyes watered. “Oh, yes!” She quickly added, “Did you build it?” He nodded. Abigail stuttered slightly. “By...I mean, you built it...?” Aidan rescued the conversation. “Yes, my dear. I built this house, with one leg, and with the assistance of three talented helpers. The thought of this house kept me going in those dark days of the war. As my beloved sister wrote, ‘Keep close to your heart, the dream of building our new home...’ She did not live to see it, and I did not live to find my bride.” He was silent for a moment.
Abigail, almost afraid to ask, “What about Nadia?” He caught her reference and replied, “Oh, yes, the cat. Well, it was just a way of coming through. I knew a little cat wouldn’t frighten you, and I was sure you would take her in. As for the name you call her, I was trying to tell you my name, Aidan, but you heard it backwards, I’m afraid....Nadia.” He smiled as he reflected, “Once I came through as a mouse, briefly... nimble creatures...quite useful for the purpose at the time...scurrying in and out of all those clocks....” Then he laughed, “If I’d had come through as a mouse, surely you’d have swatted me with a broom!” Abigail chuckled and continued, more seriously, “How did you...” Aidan finished, “Die?” She nodded. He cocked his head and bowed, “Quite unceremoniously. I would like to say that I died, saber in hand, defending a woman’s honor, or heroically, on the field of battle, but alas, I died of congestion of the chest - rather mundane, I should think.”
They looked at each other,eyes locked. Abigail felt an inexplicable release within her. Aidan could not tell her that he already knew her touch, her smell, and, he knew the truth. He wanted her to stay, but it would have to be her choice.
Aidan took a step toward her and inquired, politely, “May I kiss your hand?” Unafraid, Abigail extended her hand and whispered, “Yes.” But, the moment his lips touched her hand, Abigail’s body recoiled in pain, as if a thousand knives had struck her. Her head pounded from a blaring sound of a screaming siren, so loud, and so in contrast to the peace she was feeling. She knew, in her soul, where the truth lives, that the knives and the siren were not coming from this place, this time, this moment, and had nothing to do with Aidan Jonah Blessing. Abigail tried to keep her attention on the calming eyes of the man standing in front of her, on the tranquility of the Blessing House. But, the penetrating noise and unendurable pain persisted, so that she was forced to draw back and crumble to the floor.
Where was she? She saw a flashing red light. Strange people surrounded her as she lay in the wreck. Her car was smashed. She was in it, mangled and helpless. The strangers were talking to her, comforting her. She tried to speak, but all she could manage was “Blessing...blessing..” One of the strangers called out, “I think she wants a priest.” Abigail just smiled and closed her eyes. Then she heard a voice. “You can stay.” The pain was gone. She knew where she was going.
Some time later, Mr. Rogers paid a visit to the Blessing House. He used his key and entered. In the parlor, he saw two cats sitting on the mantle. One was Nadia, and the other an earthy beauty with red orange fur tinted by the heavens, with eyes the color of honey. On the mantel, one sculptured cherub bore the initials AJB. On the other side, where it was once smooth and blank, was chiseled AJS. Mr. Rogers winked at the cats and as he turned to leave, whispered, “I hope you will let me come back some day...to stay.”