Fiction: A swan in the evening – love never dies, part 2

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A fictional story created and written by Damian Galvin, to capture the magic and beauty of Romania and its people.

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This is the sequel to part 1, which you can read here. Please give a ‘like’ if you enjoy this story.

Alexandru never recovered from the loss of his love with Elena and spent his spare time sitting by the lake shores alone, hoping one day to revive the magic and rekindle his love affair.

Days rolled into weeks, weeks into months. With each new season, Alexandru would regain his hope of finding Elena again on the lake. He saw many swans, but none were Elena. He even tried calling to them and talking to them, baiting them with bread, but to no avail.

One autumn day, he was out looking for decaying trees to cut down, for firewood. He came across a small cottage, with whitewashed walls & an old tiled roof with missing tiles. He thought to himself how nice it would be to live in such a character house. Although he had passed it many times during his forest scavenging trips, he had hitherto not taken the time to study it. It looked abandoned somewhat, so he approached to take a closer look. As he rounded the back of the house, since the fence had long broken down, he discovered a silver-haired little old lady, whose name he was to discover was Ludmilla. He apologized for startling the lady, and they began to chat away. Ludmilla was a warm and kind old lady, but hard of hearing and with poor sight. Alexandru asked if he could help bring her some firewood or other helpful tasks, as it was clear she was in failing health and unable to manage fully for herself.

Ludmilla had 2 grown children, Eugene 48, and Adina 43. Ludmilla also had 3, somewhat spoiled, grandchildren, all of which had left to America for better lives & very rarely came home to Romania, to see her. In fact, despite their birth rites, they had tried hard to forget their Romanian roots and instead to develop new personas in the new world, working on their American accents, learning about America’s short, pioneering and violent history, tying to assimilate it as their own.

Eugene and his young 2 sons lived in Boston, MT, and he had visions of sending the boys to MIT when they grew up. The boys practised American football, hockey and swimming. Eugene and his native wife, Adrianne (or Adi) were both IT programmers working on a secretive DHS immigration tracking programme, which meant that all of their calls and electronic communications were recorded as the standard protocol of anyone involved in such work. They somehow chose to avoid the subject of Romania to friends and colleagues, as much as anything, to avoid drawing further scrutiny to their lives, thinking it was simpler if they were seen as a good old American family. Both kids had the latest mobile phones, game consoles and of course, Nike running shoes. They were more interested in internet videos than in a distant grandmother who didn’t speak English, & since they had no desire to learn Romanian, they had little or no relationship with Ludmilla.

Adina lived in Phoenix, AZ, had recently broken up from a violent gambler of Irish/ Canadian descent, Seamus, and lived with her 6yo daughter, Eileen. Adina missed home but lived in fear of her ex-husband coming after her. He had always forbidden her to travel, for fear she would take Eileen away permanently, never to return. So, she had a job in a local Diner, working long hours to pay a babysitter to take care of Eileen. She too had forgotten about Ludmilla and they spoke only at Christmas, Easter, and the occasional birthday.

This distance between her family and herself had brought some considerable sadness to Ludmilla, who kept asking herself what had gone so wrong after all the love and attention she had given to her children. She would sit on the porch looking at old pictures of her family, running her crumpled, veiny hands over the images as if to once again feel their skin, their warmth, their touch in her fingers. Ludmilla could hear in her mind, her children’s squeals, laughter, joy, of play and real fighting as siblings always do. Of the tale-telling and snitching on each other, and of the jealous moods when one thought the other had received extra portions, extra love or kindness, over the other. Ludmilla would look at pictures of herself in her prime but was unable to stare too long as it brought too much pain, as to what was gone before and would never be again. She told herself she had no regrets, that she did everything to make those around her happy, and convinced herself that their current happiness stemmed from her hard work all those years before.

Ludmilla’s husband had passed away many years before as a result of drinking too much homemade alcohol, so the doctor had said. She spent her time reading, doing crochet, making soups, fetching water, and tending to her house duties such as washing bedding and clothes by hand. A very simple life.

Alexandru quickly warmed to Ludmilla and they became regular companions in their loneliness. Every few days, Alexandru would visit Ludmilla, drink wine or tea, and eat her delicious homemade soup, and share life stories. Eventually, Alexandru made Ludmilla a wheelchair, with a crude form of suspension, so they could tour around the many forest paths together & visit the lakeshore on warm days. Eventually, Ludmilla became too weak to live alone and since her children didn’t seem to care about her, caught up in their new lives in Boston & Phoenix, Alexandru suggested to Ludmilla that she move in with him & inhabit the ground floor room of his house. Ludmilla, a once strong and independent woman reluctantly conceded to her shortcomings and accepted the offer.

During the move, there were many bags and boxes, ornaments and bric-a-brac. Alexandru patiently helped pack it all, and install it in his house. He was glad of the company if he was honest with himself. One box, quite small, was slightly heavy for its size. He asked her what it was made of, to be so heavy. She explained it was only tin, but that it was full of her precious jewellery, that she had amassed over the years, as well as what she had inherited from her mother. In another larger box, a lockable document file was some old documents. Ludmilla explained that their contents were strictly private, from a time in her life she did not want to remember or disclose. This sudden abruptness in her tone, chilled Alexandru momentarily, causing him to think he had made a mistake in befriending her and welcoming her into his home so readily. But he was also sure of her kindness so accepted the fact it must be from a traumatic experience that she was so fearful of disclosing. Ludmilla asked Alexandru, never to look into those 2 boxes, even when she was unable to see his movements.

He gave his word, and he was remembered of the last time he gave his word but broke it. It had cost him the love of Elena, the most amazing experience of his life so far, and the subsequent devastation after losing her. He had learned his lesson. A man’s word should be unbreakable. If you have no integrity, you have nothing to speak of. One day, Ludmilla asked Alexandru to bring the town’s lawyer to see her, to create her last will and testimony, which he duly did. The lawyer came, spend the whole day with Ludmilla, and left. returned a few days later with the documents typed up, for Ludmilla to sign, and he put them in 2 sealed envelopes. Ludmilla asked Alexandru to keep these envelopes sealed, and safe, until after her eventual death.

As the months and seasons rolled by, Alexandru’s role became more and more that of full-time career to Ludmilla, as her once-powerful lifeforce slipped away from her. What remained was the amazing character in her eyes. These always captivated him and he was somehow aware this woman was much more than he knew, but he could not explain why or how that was. As November came, the days became very short, and the fog set in, in the early afternoons, Ludmilla had developed a chest infection and became more seriously ill. Alexandru tried in vain to reach the family, and eventually contacted one of the family members in the US, via social media. He explained Ludmilla’s failing health and they promised to get back in touch, but he never heard back.

One evening, he was sitting by Ludmilla’s bed, and she had tears in her eyes. She explained that this was probably going to be goodbye. That “tomorrow you will be relieved of the burden of caring for this tiresome old woman”. He cried too, for she was not tiresome to him, quite the opposite, he lived for her company. They chatted on and off for hours in the dim light, but she was short of breath and spoke only in short bursts. She made him promise not to mix the 2 envelopes up. One was for him, and the other for her family as a whole. After a while, the talking stopped, and they just held hands. His big rough hands with broken skin from forest work, and her small, fragile veiny but warm hand. After a while, he fell asleep like this. But some time later he was awoken at the feel of her gripping his hand more tightly. Startled, he looked at Ludmilla to see what was wrong, but instead, he saw the most beautiful smile across her face, and her eyes closed. The smile became a look of great surprise as her lips parted as if she had seen a long lost friend in her mind’s eye. Then, just as suddenly, the grip loosened, she closed her mouth back into a faint smile and stopped breathing. Someone had come down to meet her, he thought, and he knew she had gone from his life, gone to a more beautiful place where she would be without pain, suffering, and loss.

Alexandru waited until the morning before calling the town doctor, who came and confirmed Ludmilla had died peacefully and naturally. The lawyer was contacted, who in turn informed the family, and Ludmilla’s body was taken to the local funeral parlour, where it was embalmed and kept in storage for a week. During this time, the family returned from the America to pay their respects.

There was a farewell ceremony and everyone took the time to get to know each other. Alexandru was present but didn’t feel it right that he should fraternize too much, so stayed in the shadows. After the ceremony, there was a short funeral, no speeches, no readings, aside from those of the priest. There were, however, some elderly gentlemen at the back of the church, in military uniform, adorned with medals. Eventually, the lawyer invited family, and Alexandru to his office later that day, and requested him to bring the 2 letters he left with Ludmilla.

Once at the law chambers, firstly, the family were invited in. Now seated, Eugene and Adina, and the 3 kids, eagerly waiting to hear the news from the Lawyer and to discover what inheritance they would be given.

The lawyer opened the first envelope & read out the contents

“My loved ones, I realise you have a lot of emotions now, as I did when my mother died, so I comprehend what you are feeling. I am so sorry that I had to die while you are so young and I assume it hurts for you. Perhaps you can use some of these emotions and feelings to become better humans. Let me assure you that I did everything stay alive for as long as possible, but I lived much longer than I should have, given my journey through life, to begin with”

“I am proud of you for everything you have done in your life. I will be watching over you every day to see what new and exciting things you will accomplish, regardless of what occupations you pursue over your lifetime. Do your best to support each other, especially during this period. I remember that difficult time when my mother died. Time will certainly help, but it takes a long time to focus on the happy memories while the sad thoughts are more immediate and closer at hand”.

Elisabeta & Gheorghe Rizea

“I had many fantastic years on earth, more than a lot of people, hence, I have no complaints. I survived being shot, tortured, numerous illnesses and many things I never told you about. So I have already lived many lives and I was extremely grateful for each and every moment. Try and live your life that way and you will be a happy and fulfilled human being. But above all, try not to forget your motherland, Romania. This country has given so much to you, behind the scenes; its riches, its nature, its geography, even the blood of its people, for you to live the lives and freedoms you now enjoy. Do not turn your back on her. Always carry the tri-colour in your heart, somewhere”

“As for the part of this experience you have most been waiting for, for the riches that you will inherit, I say to you, I do not wish to spoil you more than you already are, to make you more selfish than you have become in the new world, so I will leave you not with material wealth or assets, but only with these words – I love more than you will ever know, my dearest children and grandchildren, and I will forever watch over you”.

“With maternal love, Beta.”

Stunned silence and disappointment filled the room. The already restless 2 boys started stomping around. One even said: “We came all this way, and for what?”

Adina looked at the lawyer saying, what does she mean ‘Beta’? Are you sure this is from my mother Ludmilla?” The lawyer assured her it was and showed the signature, but was not permitted to explain why it was signed ‘Beta’, as part of his client confidentiality clause. After much discussion, the various family members left the room, frustrated, disappointed and confused, yet with very little true sadness.

Next, the lawyer called in Alexandru, alone.

He opened the sealed envelope, and 2 small keys fell onto the desk.

“My dearest Alexandru, I owe you a debt I can never fully repay. You showed me kindness when my own flesh and blood did not. You never lost your patience with me, and you never betrayed me. But I have an apology to make. I was not fully honest with you from the beginning, and now I want to correct that. My real name is not Ludmilla, but Beta, or more correctly, Elisabeta Rizea.

I was a resistance fighter in the communist times, imprisoned for many years, I was shot, repeatedly tortured, but I never gave up my secrets nor betrayed my comrades, true nationists, and I learned never to trust people because everyone has a breaking point. Sooner or later, they release their secrets. In my case, it is post-mortem, and so far, only to you. You should receive a key, the key to the file safe. In there, are my life’s memoirs. Enough to write the real story of what happened under communist Romania, if you so wish”

“You will also receive a second key, the key to my jewellery box. Its contents are yours, along with the cottage, and my belongings. I wish you a long and happy life together with whoever is lucky enough to catch you, for you will make a wonderful husband and father someday soon”

“My dear Alexandru, I wish you all the love in the world. You will forever remain in my consciousness, even in death”

“Forever grateful, Elisabeta Rizea”

Alexandru left the lawyers office to rush home as fast as he could, to open the document file. He could not believe the array of rich history that lay within. Original passport for Beta, charge warrants for her arrest, copies of secret police statements, sworn testimonials from traitors and heroes, black and white photos of the torture chambers, and several diaries spanning her entire life with every imaginable detail, from the food she ate to a description of the whip used in her torture. He was spellbound in his reading. Hour after hour he sat transfixed. Eventually, he fell asleep in the armchair in the early hours, beside the fading log fire, surrounded by endless documents about Beta’s fascinating life.

He dreamed of Beta, in her youth, how tough she must have been, to resist such a life, and still retain her softness that only a real woman can, and marvelled at the amazing strength she must have. In his dream, he felt her lift his hand and squeeze it, the same squeeze she used when she died and kissed his forehead. He felt real tears in his dream, running down his face. But this touch felt real, not virtual.

He opened his eyes, to see the beautiful Elena standing before him once again, holding his hand while wiping the tears with the other hand. Elena, his one true love, had returned into his life, and he was sure this was a gift from Beta.

The end, for now…

Elisabeta Rizea was a true hero, a bearer of truth and integrity, and a prominent Romanian historical figure. You can read more about her here.

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