They chose to lunch in town at a diner near the Inn, but the mood was sombre – its source being the sense of inability to move on just when she had arrived at the place in her life when she desired to head off in a new direction.
“Well, there is one thing I gained that never would have happened if I hadn’t climbed into the Ford and driven here.”
“And that is?”
“Me,” she interjected with an attempt at a smile. “I saw what I would become – or couldbecome if the fates were different.”
He sipped his coffee, obviously thinking over what she had just said. “I didn’t know you believed in fate. When you were in my class all those years ago, you freely spoke of your belief in God and how your family felt the same way.”
“Honestly, Duyi, the years have kicked my belief system pretty hard. I don’t really know what I believe anymore. Life was just a kind of dull ache since those days, with nowhere for me to turn. I just couldn’t see how belief – or God – could help. I am stuck, I’m afraid.”
“And yet yesterday you were free.”
It was brief and to the point … and he was right, she knew. Meadow brooded on that for a time before saying, “Yesterday was about dreaming and hoping and painting, Duyi. Today is about money.”
“Is it not enough for you just to paint?”
“I want to say yes, but that would be a fabrication and, besides, I think you know that wouldn’t be true.” He nodded briefly as she continued. “You saw my work yesterday. I loved it – the whole process of putting it together – but we both know it wasn’t very good.”
“It was brilliant,” he replied. “And it was a start.”
Meadow understood what he was saying: the gift was there, but wrapped in plain brown paper. She had lost her refinement in the years since the crash. There was no mistaking the rustic greatness in her strokes, but it was still contained – restrained – in a state of disuse. She would somehow have to receive the guidance and discipline to unleash what had once been her profound talent.
“I wouldn’t be true to the talent God dispensed to me if I didn’t pursue it – but it seems like I can’t”
Koay grinned at her. “There’s that ‘God’ word again. Which is it, God or fate?”
“Right now, it’s just grasping at straws. My parents were both good church people and taught me that belief is about more than getting what we want. But right now, all I want is to paint, but I feel little hope that I’ll get there in a way that helps me improve and develop my talent. I am not looking for recognition or fame, but I wish to reconnect with the stream of progress that I was once in.”
He pulled his chair closer to hers with his legs, causing an embarrassing scraping sound on the floor. “I understand. It is like eddies in a stream that have no reality apart from the currents of water that create them.”
That statement in itself was one of the most profound things she had heard in a series of days full of profound revelations. Koay was right: she was cut off from life as long as she remained removed from her passion for painting.
Their lunch arrived and Meadow unfolded for him the dream of her father’s hand, re-enforcing for him the reason for her arrival in Clifton Forge. And then she recalled having the same apparition the previous night while on his studio couch.
“Yet it didn’t wake you,” he observed nonchalantly, as if in an aside.
It was true, and for the first time that Meadow could recall, she hadn’t awoken the moment she saw her father’s hand putting the paper in the secret nook.
“Since you remained in the dream, do you recall what happened?”
Suddenly she understood that her old instructor was on to something. What if she could remember the entire dream? Her mind raced feverishly, attempting to reconstruct the pieces of what she experienced in those moments of musing while asleep. But she was stymied, fretting that what she must have experienced would slip away. She looked up at her companion, as if pleading.
Koay understood the importance of this precise moment. Unable to grasp the meaning of her father’s hand and the paper, he was nevertheless keenly aware that it was this particular dream that had brought the two of them together again.
“Do you remember what you did prior to your arrival in that room?”
Thinking about it, she remained unsure.
“We came in together and I remember seeing old wooden desks against the walls, leaving the centre of the room empty. There was a raised platform across the front where I presume the teacher once had her desk. And against the wall was a dilapidated old blackboard that had come loose from its corner mooring, causing the whole thing to swing down at an angle, with the one corner resting on the floor. But I’ve known all of that before.” Her voice had a tinge of panic in it, as she realized that was all she might ever remember.
“So, the nook that you talk about was on the platform?” Duyi asked, grasping at straws in an effort to assist.
“No, one of the wooden boards that had been behind the blackboard was exposed and was broken off. The piece of paper Dad had was put in the break. Because he was responsible for the heritage reconstruction in the entire area, it had always been his intention to fix that wall and put the board back in its place. He never got the chance; he died a short while later.”
The last sentence was uttered through a shedding of tears that always emerged whenever she thought of it. Her face turned morose as her mind started journeying towards the memory of the crash.
Koay understood this, seeking to pull her back. “And then what? Did he begin working on the repairs right then? Did he explain why he chose that particular place to hide the secret? Why not just hide it in your home?”
“Because it was our special place, where we would sometime steal away and have lunch in the summer and talk about my future, and art, God and gift. That old schoolhouse on Summer Road was our special …”.
She looked up as if struck by lightning.
“What?” he asked, alarmed.
Meadow grasped his hand, her eyes wide and wild with electricity. “Summer Road. That’s it. That’s where the old schoolhouse was.”
Hope more alive now than ever before, she rose suddenly, journeyed to the front door of the restaurant where tourist brochures were displayed in a steel rack. But no maps. Meadow quickly vanished out the door to the Ford 150 and pulled out the detailed map she had used to get to Clifton Forge days ago. She already had it partly open as she sat next to Koay.
“I remember it now, Sufi. I had a younger sister that died only a few days after she was born – something about being premature and not strong enough to survive. We had all decided to name her Summer. I’ve often thought about her over the years, but had completely forgotten the road of the same name. That’s why Dad and I found it so special.”
The map spread out on the table before them, they scanned it with focused precision, searching the names that paralleled the roads themselves. “There,” both said at the same time, as Meadow’s finger fell on the side road coming off of Highway 220, near a place called Falling Spring.
Her tears wouldn’t stop coming now. Nothing had prepared her, after years of searching and thinking in vain, for the revelation breaking on her so suddenly. Every sense in her was alive, electric, expectant.
“Let’s drive there now, Duyi. It’s not far – a half-hour or so.”
“It is your discovery, Meadow. Perhaps you should enjoy it alone.”
“No … I want to be there with you. It was your questions that stimulated the memory of Summer Road. You have been my guide for so long in art; now you must be so in life.”
They quickly paid the bill and walked to the truck, their emotions at their peak and their friendship at its deepest.