"From the life that I've been livin'
Now freedom I've been givin'
And you're standin' in the shadow of a lady."
June Carter Cash
Maggie Mae Flowers stood on the corner, looking back in wonder at the small log cabin nestled in a grove of willows and the one huge cottonwood shading the cabin. Now the bright afternoon dimmed as the sun began its descent over Mt. Evans and the remaining late summer snow on the mountain turned a blood red.
A wan smile tugged at her lips as she wrapped her mind around the newness of the name Mt. Evans after years of knowing it as Mt. Rosa, or sometimes Mt. Rosalie. The Colorado legislature, somewhat embarrassed at having one of its most distinctive tourist attractions named after a well-known adulteress had recently renamed the distinctive peak after the former governor.
Looking back at the cabin, her sad eyes lingered on the lamp over the door. It was dark now, and the white candle that that been in place over the last ten hated years was missing. In a fit of pique she had thrown the candle into the nearby South Platte, forever removing the stain the flickering light had cast on her life when lit in the evenings.
As she lingered, she thought not of the shame and hardship of the last ten years at the small cabin but of the new life promised by the visits first of the priest from St. Mary's then by Sister Roberta from the Sisters of Loretto. The small bag in her hand was no encumbrance as she prepared for the several miles' walk to St. Mary's Church.
There were few things she had left of her earlier, happier life before her husband of five years was killed in a mining accident in Cripple Creek, leaving her alone and destitute. A worn picture of her husband, husky and plain, a simple man but good – strong but gentle. A locket with a tiny photograph of her mother ... clothes she had knitted with such love for the baby that died three days after birth. A plain and simple housedress, the gaudy clothes of her anguish burned in the fireplace of the simple log cabin.
Her ruminations were interrupted by the voice of the man, asking if she were free for the evening.
She looked at him, not a bad man, actually a kind gentleman, but a man that was from her loathed previous life. She turned away from his inquiry with tears in her eyes ... but the tears could not hide the shame she felt.
She turned back with a proud anger – the tears disregarded her voice shaky. "Sir, you think you know me but you don't. Please let me explain. I took the light down from my door and I don't work there anymore." She said this with a nod towards the now darkened cabin.
"From the life I've been livin' I've been given freedom. You're standin' in the shadow of a lady! So, Sir, don't say the things you think are true; that isn't me but someone else you knew."
The man froze, staring at her as she walked around him on her journey to a better life. She stopped and turned back, and added with a bitter voice, "Be careful what you say about me, Sir. You could be held for libel." With a small smile she continued, "Sir, do you know where I can find a bible?"
With a swish of her full skirt she turned and was gone in the night.
"And he wondered what had happened to his rare live pearl
Must have been another woman,
Must have been another world."
"The Shadow of a Lady"
John Goodnight stared at the retreating figure, now almost lost in the heavy evening shadows ... shaking his head in wonder. Embarrassed, he looked at the money in his hand and, feeling shame, he fumbled it back into his pocket. Running his fingers through his hair, he shook his head in wonder, "What had happened to his rare pearl that he had treasured more than he had let himself realize?"
Head hanging from the suddenness of what had happened with the woman he had known as Maggie Mae, he mused, "It must have been another woman ... another world."
He walked slowly over to his one-horse shay and, climbing in, he shook the reins and started back to his large, lonely house in Cherry Hills. His wife had died of consumption eight long years ago and his only child, Robert, was serving as an instructor at Texas A&M.
He had stayed true to the memory of his beloved Martha for several years but loneliness had lain as a heavy burden on his soul for a long time until a good friend told him about Maggie Mae.
"Yes, she is a fallen woman but she's not like the rest of them. Life was cruel to her and she took the only path left. She's different from the others. She is well educated, a fine conversationalist, all-in-all just a good woman in a bad life." He went on to tell him that if the light was on she was receiving visitors, but neglecting to tell him that it was never lit on Sundays.
He dithered for a few weeks, now yes, then no, before he gathered his courage one evening after a quick winter storm had left a couple of inches of white loveliness over the grimy streets. He pulled up at the corner nearest her house and parked his two-person carriage under the dim streetlight and walked down the dirt lane a few yards to her house.
All was dark; the candle was not lit over the door. There was a dim light seeping around the edges of the closed shutter over the one window in the front of the log cabin. Feeling overwhelmed by his need for contact with another person he timidly knocked at the door.
After a few silent minutes, she opened the door a bit, ready to chase the unwanted visitor away.
"I'm sorry, Sir, I don't see anyone on Sundays."
He stood there a brief moment, then with slouched shoulders he started to turn away. Hesitating, he turned back, stuttering, "It's just, well, Madam, my Martha has been dead for these years and I ... well, the loneliness weighs so heavily on me. I just wanted to talk to a woman. I'm sorry, I'll not bother you."
He turned and walked up the lane, his pain showing in his slow, stumbling walk.
"Just a minute, Sir. I ... well; I was just ready to eat dinner. I'm..." Hesitating, she continued, "Sir, I'm not open tonight but if you want to share my meager food you may."
That night started a slow, fumbling relationship between the two. He sat silently, at a loss for words. After a few quiet questions from her he talked of his life, his love for the lost Martha, the pride he had in his son and the large lonely house he lived in. Dinner was plain food but prepared well and coffee afterwards was better than his housekeeper usually prepared.
Afterwards, not knowihg what to do or say, he, with some hesitation, left some money on the small table near the door.
As he opened the door, Maggie Mae surprised herself, "Sir, if you would like you can come for dinner next Sunday."
The next week John brought a bag of food from his larder and made this a regular practice. He would come about two Sundays a month, having to travel some with his business. For three or four months, dinner and conversation was all that happened. Then one Sunday evening in the first warmth of spring, as John rose to go, Maggie took his arm and led him to her bed. Afterwards they held each other and cried for their lost loves and shared loneliness.
As he dressed to go, she whispered, "John, please don't leave any money."
But John had the money prepared as usual in a small envelope and he knew she needed it to get by on. She never said anything again and he was always discrete in leaving it.
This became the routine they followed on the Sundays he came and he never showed up on any other day. He knew she saw other men during the rest of the week but knew that if he ever saw one it would ruin things for him. The few hours he spent with her became a time-out-of-life for him. The very unreality of his relationship with her made the reality of his sad, lonely life bearable.
And that was the way it went for five years until that fateful evening on the corner where she gave him the message that ended his years of relative happiness. When he arrived home, for the first time in his life he opened a bottle of whiskey and went to bed drunk.
He had lost his "rare live pearl."
MAGGIE – A NEW START
During the half-hour it took to walk to St. Mary's Church, she thought about her run-in with John. After considering it she was disappointed in how she had handled it. If she had any friends at all it was he. She had come to enjoy his visits and not once had he insisted, or even asked for, sex with her. She knew how he treasured the few moments they had been able to spend together. She understood that he looked at the physical part of their relationship for the extended intimacy, the added dimension it gave to what they had shared.
She hated to take the money from him but she knew he had money and might have stopped coming if he couldn't leave a token of his caring. In his way he was a proud man and thrived on their time spent together. She was sure that he never would have asked for anything more than just their conversations, their sharing of a meal and even their moments of silence.
She was grimly committed to making her future work for her but what would it be like for John? Did she owe him anything? Would she miss the time she had spend with her Sunday friend. With a start she realized that John was the only man she had shared a meal with since her husband had died. Arriving at the church she resolved not to worry about anything but getting started on her new life.
.... There is more of this story ...