THE  JANITOR'S  BRIDE  

 

By  Jo Anzalone 2004


As he saw her coming along the lane, his handsome brow furrowed in concern.

He had been walking in the evening, the breeze cool upon his face, the rising moon

casting a soft sheen on his glorious tuxedo with its long tails, its wide cummerbund,

its silken shirt and tie.  She had no shoes on her cut and bleeding feet, and the fibers

of her old dress were worn and caked with the dust of her long journey. Bits of hay

clung to her knotted hair, gotten he knew, from the barns in which she spent her

nights. The evening air blew toward him, carrying clearly the scent of dried manure.

 

 

Tears furrowed in little tracks down her dirty cheeks as she made a half-hearted

attempt to wipe them away with her hand, her nails cracked and filthy. Her back

was bowed under the weight of a great, canvas knapsack that shifted as she walked,

keeping her constantly off balance.  His own eyes welled with tears as he watched

her stumble, falling hard, skinning both knees.  She knelt there in the dirt, her

stringy hair draping forward over her face, her shoulders shaking with sobs.

 

 

He wanted to go to her, to lift her to her feet, but he knew that should she see him

dressed as he was, she would be shamed and not let him near. Turning, he ran quickly

into the large, stone country club, shedding his tailed coat as he went, dropping his

cummerbund on the marble floor, unknotting his cravat. He slipped out of his patent

shoes, left his gold brocade vest draped over a chair, undid the pearl buttons on his

satin shirt. In the broom closet, he found the janitor's change of clothes, old and all

in shades of brown and tan. He smiled as he pulled up the baggy pants and buttoned

the frayed flannel shirt, then turned once again and ran toward the shadowed lane. 

 

 

She was there, her forehead now bent to the ground as great sobs wracked through

her.  He inhaled deeply, then knelt beside her in the dirt, placing his right palm gently

on her shoulder. She shuddered, then brought her head up a little, pushing back her

hair.  Her eyes took in his shabby clothing, then rested themselves upon his eyes

where moonlight reflected in his brimming tears. Her lower lip trembled and no matter

how hard she clamped it with her teeth, she could not make it stop.

 

 

"I'm so...tired," was all she managed to say.

 

 

"I know," he replied as he half-stood, extending his hand to her, palm up. 

 

 

She studied it a long while, then gasped, "I...I can't."
 

 

His eyes slid down to her knapsack, knowing its weight kept her from lifting her hands

off the road. Silently, he grasped its thick shoulder straps, pulling it off her back.  It was,

 indeed, very, very heavy and unpleasant, musty scents rose from its confines. In the

silvered light of the night, he stood there beside her on the lane, gripping it in his hands.

Again he inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, pressing his lips together tightly.  He had

known it would be heavy, but this...this was already straining the sinew of his shoulders. 

 

 

She watched him, not yet able to discern fully his intentions, but strangely attracted

by the moonlit beauty of his face.  Slowly, his lids opened, his lashes starred with his

own unshed tears.  The corners of his lips turned up in the tenderest of smiles as he

shifted the weight of the knapsack, moving it around and onto his back, settling the

straps over his shoulders. 

 

 

"Why did you do that?" she asked in barely a whisper.

 

 

"So you could stand," he replied, once again extending his hand to her.

 

 

She felt his fingers, warm and strong, curl around her palm as she lifted it hesitatingly

out of the dirt. At his touch, something inside her that had been pulled tightly all the

long years, snapped, making her gasp. Her other hand flew to her mouth, clamping

there, trying to muffle a cry that seemed half pain-half something else. Breathing

rapidly, shallowly, she let him lift her to her feet.
 

 

"Where are you going?" he asked quietly.

 

 

"I...I'm going to the bridge," she replied, nodding down the lane.

 

 

He knew of the old stone arch that crossed the narrow stream a mile further on and said,

"Ah, I am going that way, too. May I walk with you?" 

 

 

Side by side they made their way to the bridge, its dark arch resembling a cave in the

night.

 

 

"I am resting here," she said, stepping off the lane. "You can give me back my knapsack

now."
 

 

"Is it not too heavy for you?" he asked, looking at her frail form.

 

 

"I have carried it all my life," she explained, "adding to it little by little and
am very used to its weight." She looked at him carefully. "Do you not have
a knapsack of your own?" she inquired.

 

 

"No," he responded, "I've never... needed...one." He followed her off the lane, down the

bank to where a wide shelf of grass went under the bridge on one side.

 

 

"You are coming?" she asked.

 

"If I may," he said. He stopped beside her, looking at her seriously in the soft light.

"Do you wish me to come?" 

 

 

She turned her eyes from his to the darkness of the arch, imagining being alone. She

was familiar with aloneness, yet somehow the thought of his leaving her now made the

darkness seem strangely darker and solitude an unbearable thing. "With all my heart,"

she murmured, surprising herself with her sudden depth of feeling.

 

 

He sat, then, at the edge of the small stream, patting the grass at his side. "Come, sit,"

he invited...and she did.

 

 

Tearing off a piece of his shirt tail, he dipped it in the rippling water and began to wash

the dirt and grit from her bleeding knees. Never had she been touched so gently and

again her chin trembled as a silent tear tracked down her cheek. Then he gathered

leaves, making her a bed just a bit under the curve of the arch. He sat down outside,

leaning back against the stones.

 

 

"You did not lay down my knapsack," she commented, nestling into the leaves.

 

 

"I know," he replied.    

 

 

An early morning sunbeam found its way under the bridge, waking her with its
rosy brightness. She saw him then, standing in the grass near the stream, a loaf
of bread in his hands. "You have bread?" she asked, amazed.

 

 

"I do," he replied, breaking off a large piece and handing it to her.

 

 

Just then a jogger passed by on the lane, his outfit new and expensive. "You have bread?"

he, too, asked when he saw the man by the stream.

 

 

"I do," the man repeated, giving the jogger the rest of the loaf.

 

 

"You gave...him...your bread?" she said, frowning, when the jogger had run on toward

the country club.

 

 

"He needed it," was all he said.    

 

 

Together, then, they walked as the day came. Without the weight of her knapsack, she

carried herself taller and straighter and for the first time noticed there were pear trees

along the lane. She laughed as he reached up, plucking her a piece of the fruit. She bit

into the pear, letting its juices run down her chin. He smiled, delighting in her happiness,

his eyes dancing with joy.

 

 

Seeing his face, she paused. "You...you...love me?" she whispered wonderingly.

 

 

He took a step toward her, wrapping his arms about her shoulders, kissing the top of

her head. "I do," he replied, his heart filled.

 

 

She tipped her head up to look at him. "But you have no reason to love me." 

 

 

"Love both has and is its own reason," he said, but she did not understand.

 

 

She was, though, beginning to love his love for her. Now when they walked, she slid her

arm through his, drinking in the sound of his voice, wanting him near. They sat in a field

of daisies and she said, "I think I love you."
 

 

"I know you do," he replied.

 

 

"You know I love you or that I think I love you," she pursued.

 

 

"Yes," he said, closing his eyes.

 

 

She laughed, shaking her head fondly at him. "But you love me?" she went on.

 

 

"Without boundary...without end," he said.

 

 

She liked that. She wanted to be loved like that. "Thank you," she said playfully.

 

 

"You are welcome," he replied, but a sudden shudder shook his body.
She was too happy, too in love with his love to notice.
  

 

They walked more and he picked grapes for her, and figs. "I didn't know there
was so much fruit along this lane!" she cried delightedly. Then she smiled at him again.

"Not until you came," she added. "Not until you began to carry my knapsack."
 

 

"It is often that way," he said.

 

 

"I think I love you," she giggled.

 

 

"I know," he said, a tear welling.

 

 

"Will you love me no matter what?" she asked, dancing in a small circle.

 

 

"No matter what," he said, thinking of the meaning in 'what.'
   

 

A single lily grew beside the lane, its scarlet petals shading into peach. She plucked it,

putting it in her hair, unaware of a brief pain crossing his face.

 

 

"It was lovely," he said, looking at the severed stem.

 

 

"I needed it," she replied, "to make me lovely, too."

 

 

"No," he whispered, touching one of its petals. "You were arrayed in love."

 

 

"I needed more," she said.

 

 

"There is no more," he smiled.

 

 

"No more than love?" she frowned.

 

 

"It is everything," he said, "the beginning...and the end."

 

 

"Love has an ending?" she asked, her frown deepening.

 

 

"Sometimes it may...appear...that way," he said so softly she could barely hear.

 

 

Throwing the lily to the ground, she stepped upon it.   "I do not like these words!" she

cried.

 

 

"I know," he said.    

 

 

Looking across the stream, she saw a man in golden robes, holding a bouquet of lilies in

his arms. "He will give me lilies!" she snapped at her companion.
 

 

"Yes," he agreed, "he will."

 

 

"Do you CARE that he will give me lilies?" she almost shouted.

 

 

"I care more than you can think or imagine," he said.

 

 

"How can that be so?" she replied, her eyes narrowing.

 

 

"It has been so...forever." 

 

 

"I doubt that," she said sharply.

 

 

"I know."

 

 

"STOP!" she cried. "I want no more of your knowing! Give me back my knapsack!"  She

looked across at the dark-eyed man clothed in gold. "He," she said furiously, "will give

me lilies and never say, 'I know.'"

 

 

Turning her back to the stream, she grabbed her knapsack, stumbling and surprised

at its forgotten weight. She did not see the man in gold drop his lilies and draw his bow,

aiming between her shoulder blades. Her companion did, and moving quickly, stepped

around her, the feathered shaft lodging in his chest. As he fell, his hands gathered up

her knapsack, holding it as he crashed to earth, its weight driving the arrow completely

through his body.

 

 

Stunned, she looked down at him. "You would carry it for me even now?"

 

 

"Even now," he gasped, his mouth filling with blood.

 

 

"Why?" she shouted. "WHY?"
 

 

"It's why I came," he whispered.

 

 

"I thought you came to love me," she said.

 

 

"I loved you...before," his voice was fading.

 

 

"Before when?" she begged.

 

 

"Forever," he said, and died.

 

 

The man in gold across the stream had regathered his lilies and was holding them out

toward her. How beautiful they were! How beautiful they would make her!

 

 

Her companion lay still now, his blood puddling beneath him on the grass, her knapsack

lying on his chest, bearing its weight for her even in death. "I think I love you," she said,

blowing him a kiss, then struggling to lift the knapsack in her arms.

 

 

The waters were cold on her feet as she waded across the stream, but the man in gold

came forward, smiling, handing her dozens of lilies.

 

 

"You are beautiful now," he said, his black eyes glittering.

 

 

But the lilies seemed somehow to add to the weight of the knapsack and when he said,

"Come, walk with me," she could barely stand.

 

 

"Please," she asked, her voice almost a moan, "will you carry it for me?"

 

 

Arching an eyebrow, he replied, "I do not carry knapsacks, my dear."
 

 

She looked back across the stream at the quiet form. "I know," she whispered, "I know."


For the next two days she walked with the man who wore the golden robe. Well, more accurately, she followed him as he seemed to walk too fast for her and her knapsack

was heavier than ever with the addition of all the lilies.  Finally, she collapsed onto the

ground and, frowning, he stopped, turned back, and walked to where she lay.

 

 

"Can you not keep up?" he chastised. 

 

 

"It...it's the weight of my knapsack," she whimpered. Looking up his tall, splendid form

she asked again, "Could you help me carry it....just a little while?" 

 

 

He laughed, showing perfect, white teeth. "It's not in my job description." 

 

 

"It's so....heavy," she sobbed.

 

 

He studied her with glittering eyes. "But you knew that all along....didn't you."  It was

a statement, not a question. 

 

 

Closing her lids tightly, she sighed, "He....carried it for me." 

 

 

The man sneered, his lip in a sharp curve. "He had nothing better to do with his time."
 

 

She looked at him again then, and he smiled. "While I....I have work to do, places to go,

people to see." 

 

 

"You are busy then?" she asked, not understanding really.

 

 

He looked back over his shoulder in the way they had come. "Because of him." 

 

 

Then he snapped, "Get UP! I have no patience for your weakness! Here!" And he handed

her another lily, deeply scarlet with its center shading into black.

 

 

She took it, fascinated by its rare beauty. "Put it in your hair," he commanded. 

 

 

She did as he asked, but the weight of it caused a terrible pain in her neck and shoulders. 

"I...I don't think I can wear this lily!" she gasped.

 

 

"Of course you can, " he said, looking at her, his eyes narrowed and hard. "You chose

it." 

 

 

"I...I chose it?" she asked, confused.

 

 

"Did you not?" he almost laughed. "Did you not choose to cross the stream and come

to me, taking my lilies?"  

 

 

"Yes," she whispered, tears welling in her eyes. "I did."
  

 

She had fallen near a large pine tree, and digging her fingertips into its bark, used it

pull herself upright. Swaying unsteadily, she looked at her hands, cut and bleeding from

the rough bark, one nail halfway torn off.  She remembered the warm gentleness of

hands that had lifted her to her feet on the shadowed lane, and her chin trembled.

 

 

"Tears," he said, "will get you nothing but wet cheeks. You have delayed me long

enough! Walk!"  

 

 

Inhaling a ragged, deep breath,  she trailed after him.  For two more hours she trudged,

barely seeing where she was going as her thoughts were so filled with memories of a

hand patting the grass beside the stream, a voice inviting, "Come, sit."  She recalled how

he had looked standing in the morning light, holding the bread. Even now she could taste

it on her tongue.     

 

 

The man in the golden robe stopped and she walked right into him, so unaware had she

become of her surroundings.  The knapsack shifted and she fell hard.  He crouched beside

her as she tried to get her breath back and when she could focus somewhat again, noticed

he was holding out a lily in a flaming dark orange color. 

 

 

"Do you want it?" he asked, a knowing smirk on his face. 

 

 

She looked at it long and carefully. Surely it was beautiful and were she to wear it would

be....  Suddenly she saw a face...a face filled with joy as she had eaten the fruit he gave

her. Blinking, she looked again at the lily, aware for the first time that these lilies had

no fragrance.  In his hand, the orange lily seemed almost to flame and burn, becoming

an ugly, horrid thing.
 

 

"No!" she said, "I do not want your lily." 

 

 

His eyes grew blacker as he stood, glaring at her. "Do you think...he...would have given

you better? You have made your choice, my dear. " He poked at her knapsack with the

tip of one elegant shoe. "I have proof of your choice." He smiled. "Besides, he is dead

and you...you have come to walk with me." 

 

 

It was true, she knew, it was...all...true. "I have...rights...you know," he continued, "when

you make your choice. You are quite stuck with me, now and forever."
    

 

"He lies," a familiar voice said firmly from behind her.

 

 

Both heads jerked around quickly at the sound. A man stood there upon the grass, garbed

in a marvelous tuxedo, a smile upon his lips but a truly fierce look in his eyes.

 

 

"Who...who...?" she stammered, not recognizing him at first. 

 

 

"She is MINE!" the robed one snapped.

 

 

"So it would...appear," the man in the tux replied levelly, coming forward, standing

near her.  He looked down at her, his eyes filled with galaxies, with wings, with things

for which there are no names. 

 

 

"No matter...what," he said, "without boundary...without end." 

 

 

He rested a palm on her head and she felt a strange awareness of every cell in her being

and that each of them was being filled with some great charge of positive light that

changed their very molecular structure.  It was then she noticed the white satin of his

shirt was stained with blood and she knew him for who he was. Her hand reached out,

fingertips touching the large, red stain. Then, turning her palm, she looked at it, looked

at his blood upon her flesh.

 

 

"NOOO!" cried the golden-robed man.

 

 

She moved, turning toward him, holding out her hand between them. "Yes," she said.
 

 

His face a mask of rage, he pointed at her knapsack. "What of THAT?" he shouted.

 

 

The other man bent and in one smooth motion, lifted it off her back, dropped it on the

ground and placed his foot on it. It disappeared.
 

 

"Knapsack?" he smiled. "Was there a knapsack?" 

 

 

His eyes turning suddenly lion-like, he said sternly, "Now...GO!"       

 

 

Taking hold of her arms, he lifted her to her feet. Pulling the lily from her hair, he crushed

it in his hand, though he never once took his eyes off hers. A smile grew and grew upon

his lips even as tears of joy welled in his eyes.

 

 

"Oh," he said, nodding slightly, "HOW I love you!" 

 

 

"Why?" she said, "Why would you love me?"

 

 

"It is why you were made," he replied.

 

 

"Why I was made?"

 

 

"Yes," he continued, "for me to love...to...to...be loved."
 

 

 

He looked at her seriously then. "Do you think you love me?" 

 

 

A great light shone in her eyes as she answered. "No." Then she threw her arms about

him and cried loudly, "I KNOW I love you!"

 

 

Sweeping her lightly up in his arms, he walked swiftly over a long rise, coming out at

the entrance to the country club.
 

 

"Here?" she said, puzzled, when she saw where they were. "But we...began... here."
 

 

He smiled. "It is when we return to where we had our beginning that we know where

we are."

 

 

"But," she protested, "I...I can't go in THERE!"

 

 

He had by then carried her up the stone steps and had stopped just outside the great,

carved entranceway.

 

 

"Look," she pointed out, "there is a security pad. You see, I can't go in side. You have to

have an approved fingerprint to gain entry." 

 

 

"Try," he said, turning her so her hand could easily reach the pad.

 

 

"No," she cried, "it won't work...it can't possibly work!" She buried her face in his neck, ashamed.

 

 

"Try," he repeated.

 

 

Hesitatingly, she reached out her right forefinger, but kept it hovering just above the

pad.

 

 

"Try," he urged again.

 

 

Reluctantly, she pressed it firmly on the pad, her teeth clenched down on her lower lip.

As though it had been a mere hologram, the huge door simply melted away, leaving a

wide open entryway.

 

 

"How...?" she marveled.

 

 

"Look at your hand," he said simply.
 

 

She did and saw that her fingerprint was covered in his blood.

 

 

"My God," she said, looking at it, stunned.

 

 

"Yes," he murmured.
  

 

Still carrying her in his arms, he stepped over the threshold and into the enormous room,

all oak-paneled and with candled chandeliers everywhere. A table was set, close to a

large bay window that overlooked the gardens. He walked to it and stood her gently on

her feet. Her eyes were wide as she stared at the magnificent dinner that was spread

upon the table.

 

 

"For...me?" she whispered.
 

 

"For us," he said. "It was all prepared but could not be eaten alone...so I went outside

to wait. I knew you were coming down the lane."

 

 

As she remembered that night, she suddenly recalled how she was dressed, how out of

place she was in this glorious hall. She clutched the front of her dress with both hands,

 shamed by her appearance.

 

 

"Look," he said, knowing.

 

 

Tremblingly, she let her eyes gaze down her front. All her dirt, all her grime, were

gone. She was not only clean, she was spotless, and her dress fell in soft white folds to

the floor.

 

 

"My God!" she said, amazed.

 

 

"Yes," he replied, smiling, "yes."

 

 

 

 

 

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