An owl cried for loneliness in the dark. The trees whispered secrets as the wind ruffled their late summer leaves. Above, the stars winked down at Benjamin, who was finally alone in the heart of the forest to do the one thing that gave him more pleasure than kissing his wife Vashti. Of course, this breed of pleasure was a bit more feisty and unpleasing to the public eye, so he had to do it alone. He had many times over resolved to end his engagement in it altogether, but was now resigned to being a lifelong slave to this illicit passion.
He reached into his satchel and extracted the crumpled papers he’d stolen from the library. The next person who took out Romeo and Juliet would never know what happened between pages twelve and fifteen. But Benjamin tried not to wallow in guilt as he brought the delicate sheets to his mouth. The ink smelled of boysenberries with a touch of liquor. He took a bite, enjoying the sensation of yellowed paper ripping between his teeth, of balls of crumpled sentiment forcing their way down his throat. He could swear he felt the weight of unconditional love traveling down his esophagus to his stomach, as if the words of Shakespeare became real inside Benjamin.
He spent the next hour enjoying his forbidden dessert as slowly and profoundly as he could. Then he trudged back to his cabin, the pricks of guilt (or perhaps of crumpled pages) penetrating his heart and filling him with self-loathing.
When he stepped inside, he was surprised to find Vashti kneeling by the fireplace, intently focusing on something he could not see. “Are you knitting at this hour?” he asked gently.
Vashti quickly shoved whatever she had been working on under her skirt. “A woman needs some secrets, even from her husband,” she said softly. “Be confident that I am doing nothing to hurt you, but do not ask me what I do. It is between me and my crazy mind.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy,” Benjamin assured his wife. He was the crazy one. He stood in the center of the room for a minute, but Vashti just stared back at him with the eyes of a deer in a hunter’s trap, not recommencing her work. So Benjamin sighed and left to await her in their bedroom.
One week later, Benjamin was again drowning in the biting wind of midnight as he stood in his secret place in the forest, several pages of Cinderella clutched tightly in his hand. His chapped lips opened as his hands elevated the pages toward his mouth.
“Benjamin! What are you doing here?”
The sharp call of a human voice made the man freeze. Who else knew this spot in the forest, and how special it was at midnight? Who had taken his solitary moment of peace away from him?
Vashti emerged from the foliage, hands behind her back. “I noticed you’d been acting strange lately.” She squinted as if trying to read the fine print scrawled on his skin.
“Me?” Benjamin laughed nervously. “What are you doing here, might I inquire? And what are you hiding behind your back?” He tried to circle around his wife to see her concealed hands, but she turned, always facing him, her eyes empty of meaning. After dancing in this way for several minutes, the woman reached out to push her husband away. In doing so, her hand released a scrap of paper, which fluttered around the couple and began heading for the obscurity of the trees.
Without a thought, Benjamin dashed to meet the angelic page and caught it in his fist. He began to unfold it, but Vashti’s scream paralyzed him.
“Please,” she begged. “No one is to read these words. They are destined for the fire, and only the chimney may examine their ashes.”
“It’s a noble intention, essaying to feed the fire,” Benjamin said, “but I think we have plenty of wood for that. I can dispose of your secret writings just as easily, if I have your permission.”
Vashti sighed. “I suppose it is impossible to keep something from you forever,” she lamented. “Do what you will with this garbage. I only plead that you not feast your eyes upon the ridiculousness…”
“Feast my eyes? I have not the willpower to merely look at such an appetizing article.” And with that, Benjamin closed his eyes and took a big bite of Vashti’s creation.
If Romeo and Juliet tasted like boysenberries and liquor, this untitled masterpiece was a hot, exotic pie topped with inky cream. Once the words reached Benjamin’s digestive system, he could read with his insides: Vashti had been writing love poems for him. Perhaps the words were unusual and the construction would not stand in a publishing house, but to Benjamin it was the architecture of a love he had not before known existed. Immediately, he began devising his own strange love poems for his one and only.
Together, the husband and wife skipped back to their cabin like a pair of schoolchildren who had just discovered friendship. It’s no secret that their forest meetings became a weekly ritual. No more did they hide from one another, and with each other’s mental mutations plainly in sight, they finally fully appreciated one another’s pristine beauty.
Image credits in order of appearance:
By Tom Bayly from England (British Night Sky Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
“Chałupa z Niebocka (1892)” by Lucekbb – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cha%C5%82upa_z_Niebocka_(1892).JPG#/media/File:Cha%C5%82upa_z_Niebocka_(1892).JPG