Tenacious Magic ~ Chapter 15
A visit in the loft * Christmas ritual chaos * Someone makes a move * Reconcile with the husband * A burial
Welcome back to the serial, emergent story, Tenacious Magic. This week we return to the Prieuré where it’s Christmas 1922 and things come to a head.
I started writing this week with a pit in my stomach. I’ve arrived at the crossroads I knew inevitably I must reach and was dreading. I asked myself over and over again… “Am I really going to do this? Am I going to propose that George Gurdjieff, the spiritual teacher, and Katherine Mansfield, the modernist writer, had a sacred sexual encounter weeks before she died?”
When I talked about my hesitation with my beloved, Ari, a fantastic storyteller, he listened for a while and then looked at me directly and said, “It’s Chapter 15. Someone has to make a move.” I laughed because he was right. It reminded me of Chekhov’s gun: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."
Katherine loved Chekhov.
This was not a rash decision and it’s not a whim. I believe the whole reason I have been entrusted with this story—by Katherine herself—is because something happened in those last weeks of her life that is unresolved. When she first came to me in 2009-2010 it seemed to be this relationship with Gurdjieff that she was pointing to. Over the years that I interacted with her spirit, there were many ways—including visions and dreams—she had of helping me “see” what happened between them.
In 2017, when I was writing the previous draft of Katherine’s story, I was facing the same dilemma: Am I making this up? At that time, I was working regularly with an intuitive coach who was also a psychic medium—a very good one. That summer, I spent a week at the beach writing Katherine’s story (some of that writing is embedded in today’s chapter). When I returned to Brooklyn, I had an appointment with Victoria.
Victoria tuned into my psychic field and laughed, telling me there were many voices wanting to come through—a whole host of them. Then she said, “Oh, now there’s one stepping forward. Her name is…Katherine?” I hadn’t told Victoria about the story or Katherine. She went on to describe her: short, brown hair in a bob, like a flapper…smoking, sassy. I said, “Yes, I know exactly who it is.”
Victoria channeled Katherine for about 20 minutes while I asked questions. I asked directly, “Did you and Gurdjieff have a physical relationship?” Her answer was a definitive, “Yes.” Then Katherine wanted me to know about the baby she’d lost in Germany; that she’d carried the grief from that experience all her life and it was this grief that ruined her lungs and caused her death. Then, she gave me some great writing advice—use fewer words to say more. Sage advice from the great short story writer!
This week, I asked for another sign. The sign came at dinner that night with my friend, Ali. I was telling him about the story in some detail. When I came to the fact that Katherine disappeared from my consciousness around 2010 and reappeared in 2017 when the #metoo movement happened, Ali pointed out that that was a sign. I think he’s right. I move forward with today’s chapter feeling supported by Katherine and even…by Gurdjieff.
Of course, I don’t know what happened or how. I have tried to listen to Katherine’s guidance. I’ve tried to stay true to the intuitions as they have come through over the years. We can read this as a possibly true story or as an archetypal story or as fiction. It really doesn’t matter. I am holding it as true-enough; true-enough to get the job done of laying the ghosts to rest.
So, reader…Am I going to do this? Yes, I am. I hope you enjoy. Please let me know in the comments how it all lands with you, what it brings up in you, what it makes you think of. Let’s “see” it together for Katherine and for Gurdjieff and for all the sacred lovers.
My soundtrack this week is Lana Del Ray’s Let the Light In…
If you want to know more about this project, started in January, you can find the introduction here and Chapter 1 here. The first seven chapters are free, the rest are behind the paywall. If you enjoy what you’re reading, I hope you will consider upgrading your subscription. It means a lot to me and helps me keep up this work. It takes me a couple of days (2-3) to ready a chapter for publication.
Now, back to the story…
“And you don’t drink a Vodka right away. No, Sir. First, you take a deep breath, wipe your hands and glance up at the ceiling to demonstrate your indifference. Only then you raise your vodka slowly to your lips and suddenly: Sparks! They fly from you stomach to the furthest reaches of your body!” – Anton Chekhov
Christmas Day 1922, The Prieuré
Christmas morning Katherine is in the barn with the children decorating the stalls for the livestock. Ribbons are tied around the necks and horns of the cows and goats, evergreen bunting is hung from nails. The children laugh and frolic with the animals, feeding the goats scraps from breakfast by hand. They laugh and point when the goat tries to eat the string of Katherine’s apron. She bends down, stares into its funny eyes, and scolds it comically.
She becomes tired quickly and soon retires to the loft to rest. She lays down on the divan and closes her eyes. She dozes lightly for how long she doesn’t know. When she wakes, the barn is quiet except for the gentle rustle of hay below. She senses a presence and is startled to find Gurdjieff sitting at her desk.
“Merry English Christmas, my dear,” coming from an Orthodox background, he doesn’t observe this day as the birth of Christ. But, they will honor the holiday and tonight a big feast is planned.
She is caught off guard by his sudden appearance. She sits up and coughs violently. He hands her a glass of water from the pitcher on her desk. When the fit has passed she leans back against the cushions and smiles weakly. He speaks…
“In my travels as a young man I met a gentleman in Egypt who was descended from a long line of priests. Not the priests of the church you know here. Priests of the temples and counselors to the great Pharaohs. These men were wizards, magicians, with powers that cannot be explained by modern science. These priests instructed the royal family in the techniques that assured their power and command, even during times of great chaos. I spent several weeks living with this man and his family In exchange for my physical labor around the house and farm he taught me these techniques. This meditation is the simple practice he and I engaged in daily. Through it I saw many things. It is a practice for generating a new form of energy in the body; a kind of crystallization of an energy finer than any of the currents running our motor functions: the digestion, the elimination, even the breathing. It is closely associated with the sexual energy and indeed, it is an act of procreation. When we—generate—this energy, something new can be born within in us and between us. Some call it a soul. Some claim it is a channel for Divine intervention. I don’t give it a name, but it is the key to immortality.”
Certain words—generate, immortality—resonate in her chest. He uses the emphasis as if to chip away at some calcification in her.
She feels her body relaxing. Her mind begins to slow until there are few thoughts. He seems to be holding her gaze with his own. Even if she wanted to look away she couldn’t, or wouldn’t. The feelings arising in her, the relief, is too great. She is sailing away on a ship, a tiny boat on a calm ocean. The small barn is an arc and they are adrift. She feels glad to be here with him—safe…She doesn’t want to think anymore. She wants to follow his lead. His eyes. He is far enough away that she shouldn’t be able to see them so clearly. It’s as if they have expanded.
He asks gently, “What are you waiting for?”
“Something to happen,” the words come from deep inside her. She is surprised by them.
“Ah…a miracle that will save you?”
She feels into her desire, “No…I just want to experience something miraculous before I die.”
“I can help you with that. Relax your mind.”
She does as he suggests. It’s so easy.
Suddenly, she begins to see a scene playing out in front of her. She is with Gurdjieff, only he looks younger, different. And she is wearing an elaborate dress. They are both dressed like courtiers, but she knows her role. She is a courtesan. They are walking through immense gardens. She is struck by how vivid the scene is.
“I see us…” she speaks with some effort, like crossing a chasm. “We’re walking through the gardens…”
She seeks an answer in the vision and receives a knowing, “Versailles.”
“Who are we?”
“Lovers,” she says this with certainty. Then the scene changes and they are in a bedroom, an ornate boudoir. The opulence is staggering. She can smell perfumes, bergamot, tobacco. He is a counselor to the king and she is his favorite, his beloved. There is unrest in the background…a sense that it is all coming to an end, but for now they are living in decadence. She describes the scene for him…lost in the details he asks,
“What happens now?”
She gasps, “They’re banging at the door. You jump out of bed…naked, your body…you’re dressing…”
“Who is at the door?”
She checks the vision, “The castle guard…they’re yelling through the door. I hear something like a roar, I feel…there’s a mob. They’re demanding the head of the king. You must go. You must go and I am tearing at your clothes. I am distraught. I can’t let you go…we may never see each other again…” She is crying now…deep in the memory…deep in the feelings of it, immersed completely, “You’ve gone and I’m alone. Scared, but resolved. We knew this moment would come. It all feels so temporary. There’s a knowing that it was always temporary.”
Gurdjieff is sitting silently across from her as she cries softly; the memory has flooded her system and released a store of hidden grief. The tears are hot and the grief comes in gentle waves. Her shoulders shake. He sits and watches over her.
“This is the grief we must sit in. The suffering is real. It’s been with you a long time. If feeling is intentional…it will clear.”
She looks at him, “Do you remember?”
“This time? At Versailles? Yes. And there are others. We have known each other a long time, my darling.”
She says it lightly aloud as the words spark more memories, “My darling…” She wants with all of her heart for him to come to her. Her whole body yearns towards him. She needs to embrace him and be embraced. Nothing feels more natural.
She has her eyes closed as he moves across the room. She feels him approach, like a cat, without sound. He sits next to her on the divan and she feels the warmth of his body for the first time in this life. His presence is like the arrival of spring, the return of the king. She feels the yearning of every lover for the beloved. She turns her face slightly towards him not knowing what to expect and not thinking. Just following the heart’s desire. She feels him turn his face to meet hers. For a brief moment, their cheeks touch and she thinks she has never felt something more pure. Skin to skin, body to body. The touch is electric.
The electricity of his physicality is overwhelming. She can scarcely believe she is touching him; that he has a physical body at all. He had begun to seem super human. Now, here she is with her head on his chest and he has a heartbeat, smell his musky scent of tobacco and cardamom, cinnamon, resin. She has never felt someone so solid in all her life. His chest is like the trunk of a great oak.
She realizes slowly as he caresses her that her senses have sharpened. The sensation is like coming out of a fog. She becomes aware that the scent is intoxicating her, filling her head with memories of places she has never seen: Morocco, Egypt…and something even older. She can hear everything at once—his breathing, her own, the rustling of the animals below, the distant sound of a car now and then on the road. His touch is stimulating every nerve ending. She longs to taste his neck; his skin looks so smooth. She feels awake and aroused, all at once.
In one motion, his arms are around her and his lips are pressed to hers. She cannot breathe. Her stomach has jumped up into her chest, the energy in her belly is awake, alive, ascending…arriving at the mouth to meet his as if he has sucked the life up from within her. Her chest expands and she feels a surge as the lungs open wide again to receive, to receive his dark and powerful aliveness.
He holds her head back with his hand in her hair. She is pinned, opened. Her neck is exposed from under her thick jacket. He kisses it, biting, sucking like a vampire. She wants to die in his arms—has the thought that she could die here now in this loft in his arms and be happy.
If a flash-light photograph had been taken at that moment, or a fire had broken out, and we had been unable to move and only our charred bodies found, it would have been the most natural thing in the world for people to suppose we were—together.
He pulls back and looks at her. His kaleidoscopic eyes are hypnotic, changing even as she stares into them. Her hands are around his ample waist and she feels the strength below the thick clothing. She cannot believe they are here like this. They breathe heavily as the moment catches up to them.
“Not here,” he says. She wonders if they have made a mistake, but how could this be a mistake? It is the most exquisite reunion she has ever known. She waits for his next words, but he draws back, touches her cheek lightly and stands. She notices now that her heart is racing. He goes to the top of the stairs and turns to look at her.
“We will follow the impulse until we know more. Come to my room tonight after the dinner if you want. It is up to you. It must be up to you.”
He walks down the loft stairs and out of the barn. She sits there on the divan feeling the aliveness in her broken body and marveling at the way time works. Life after lifetime. The dust in the air gleams in a shaft of light. The cows below rustle in the hay.
Later that evening, Katherine is dressing in her room when she hears music from the main floor. The tune is festive and bright, not the complex and atonal melodies she has grown used to in the execution of the movements, but…she realizes this with some elation…a Christmas carol. She hears some of the British students singing Hark the Herald and her heart leaps.
She has spent most of the afternoon in her room trying to rest. She hasn’t been able to sleep—her mind has been racing, replaying the experience in the barn—but she’s spent hours laying very still in her big bed. She wants so badly to feel well for the festivities this evening and for her next encounter with G.
She looks in the mirror at herself—pale, glowing, she thinks. Her hair is longer now than it has been in years and she looks to herself…fuller. She straightens the little olive jacket over her white silk blouse and pulls at the matching olive skirt to align the seams with her hips. Satisfied with her appearance, she walks slowly and carefully…as she must…downstairs.
The musicians are in the library and there are voices coming from the dining room. Several of the children are decorating a large pine tree they’ve brought in for the occasion with sugar cookies and popcorn strung with cranberries. Their faces are bright and they shriek with joy when Orage puts the star at the top. Wrapping paper and a few small boxes are strewn around the base and she knows they’ve been allowed to open their small presents—paper dolls for the girls and sling shots for the boys. She knows because she helped with the wrapping. She stops and talks to one of the boys; ruffling his hair when he wishes her a Happy Christmas.
The chandeliers in the hall are lit and there are candelabras placed in the deep window sills. The same evergreen boughs that decorated the barn stalls are here, running up the stairs and along the balcony. A shimmer in the house is festive, warm. A group of people are waiting to enter the dining room, which has been decked out for the occasion.
Katherine and Orage walk together to join the others. As they approach the grand dining room they see that a large enneagram has been marked on the floor with chalk. Ancient symbols including the cross, Star of David, yin yang, and others she does not recognize—mandalas—have been drawn on the floor around the edges of the room. The drawings are bold and primitive. They seem to mark sacred space. Olga is there and managing the growing crowd. She tells them they must wait for the Master to enter.
When Gurdjieff finally arrives, he is dressed in a spectacular costume that makes him look like he’s just stepped out of the Ottoman Empire. He is wearing a long kaftan over loose pants. The kaftan is white and hits at mid-calf. It is intricately woven with gold and silver threads and tied at the waist with a red belt. An elaborate mantle of red forms a kind of vest with a collar of black fur at the neck and shoulders and his head is wrapped in a white turban. He looks every inch a sultan.
Everyone claps with joy at his spectacular appearance and Gurdjieff looks very pleased with himself. They follow him into the dining room. There are gasps of pleasure and awe as they take in the rich display of foods on the tables—roast Christmas goose, small partridges and doves wrapped in bacon, various puddings and cakes, vegetables garnished with sprigs of rosemary and parsley, great heaping mounds of couscous and tagines, olives and loaves of bread, yogurt sauces and stuffed peppers… The room smells divine and is lit entirely by candles. Olga shouts that they are to find their names on the place cards and sit where they’ve been assigned.
Katherine circles the first table, her usual, and doesn’t find her name. She circles the second and sees that Orage has found his spot, but her name is not there. Finally, she approaches the main table, Gurdjieff’s, and her heart races as she understands she has been seated next to him on his left. She sits with a great sense of anticipation and pleasure. She follows the others and puts on the paper crown sitting on the table in front of her. They are all wearing colorful hats, paper crowns and garlands now. Gurdjieff takes his seat and smiles at her warmly. He takes her hand and kisses it and then turns to his wife on his other side and kisses her on the cheek.
Some of the younger Russian students have volunteered to serve tonight and they begin to fill the wine glasses around the room. Gurdjieff takes up his ornate goblet and stands to make the first toast of the evening.
“My dear students and friends, comrades and companions, idiots of the highest order…and I mean that as a compliment…” They laugh. He looks around the room, making eye contact with everyone, “I wish you a happy Christmas, the first here at the Institute. It’s nothing less than a small miracle that we are all sitting here together tonight when just last year I spent Christmas night mending the rug of an elegant lady in Grosvenor Square for a few pounds for my piggybank. I do not know how this great feast was procured or paid for, but I believe it had something to do with the ladies and gentlemen in the room and by that, I mean all of you. You have been generous in your donations of money and muscle. We have made something of ourselves in just a few months and are probably well on our way to being a thing of envy to the general population. Tonight, I want us to celebrate our successful launch of this bold endeavor. I want us to say and do things we might regret if only we remembered them in the morning. Bon appetit.”
Wine is drained. Vodka is passed. They drink from crystal goblets and ritual vessels from the East—They recite poetry and give toasts. They eat meat with their fingers; gnawing on bones and then throwing the plates into the fireplace. By the end of the meal, there are offerings of spontaneous verse and spirits are channeled.
Katherine’s head is spinning and her face is flushed from the vodka, the toasts and G’s proximity. She feels alive like she hasn’t in years. She’s not drunk, so much as high. The bottle comes around to her and she is encouraged to make a toast. It is her precious Chekhov who comes to her in the moment. She stands shakily and raises her glass.
She says to the room, “I’d like to offer a toast from the beyond. I speak now as the great, Anton Chekov…” She steadies herself and pauses, seeming to receive the message through the ethers… “Za zdorovie…Through my friend, Katya, I bring you a piece of literary advice that can also be applied to life…” They laugh and nod at the accuracy of the accent. She is Tchekhov. “If you have presented a pistol in Act One, then it should be fired in Act Two.” Her voice returns to Katherine’s, “May you live with regard for cause and effect, may you love like it’s all a great mystery.” Gurdjieff wipes his hands, looks up at the ceiling, and then downs the glass of vodka in front of him. Everyone follows suit and cheers. This goes on until well past midnight. Between toasts and through the dessert course, Gurdjieff tells jokes. He seems to be enjoying the steady descent of the gathering into a kind of sensual chaos.
After dinner, music fills the hall again and many of the men and women dance languidly. They smoke cigarettes and hashish in the library. In the darker corners, couples—long-established or just for tonight—whisper, embrace and caress without reservation. Katherine sits with Olgivanna on the bottom stairs. She is beginning to feel sleepy. Olgivanna is singing lightly to the music, an ancient folk song in Russian. Her voice is soft, but sure. Katherine hears it as a lullaby or even a warning.
“What’s it about?” She asks with her eyes closed.
“It’s about a weeping woman. Her lover has gone out to sea, never to return. She walks the shore every night singing him home, but he never comes. She loses her mind from grief. Then one night, she sees his ship in the moonlight and thinks he’s back, but she doesn’t know it’s only his ghost. And his ghost has taken a new wife.”
“And they live happily ever after?” Katherine jokes.
Olgivanna is wistful, “Is there such a thing?”
“That’s very Russian of you.”
Gurdjieff approaches the stairs. He kisses Olgivanna on both cheeks and then grabs Katherine’s hand and pulls her to her feet. He says nothing, but gently guides her up the stairs. She thinks he is putting her to bed, but they pass her room and continue down the hall to his.
His room. She has never been here. It is the last room on the left at the end of the hall. She realizes if she’d ever opened her own window and leaned very far out and he did the same, they might be able to just see each other. She isn’t thinking as he pulls her inside and closes the door. They stand there in the dark and echoing silence. He leaves her to light a small lamp on the bedside table, stoke the fire, and put a log on. She watches him move through the firelight and feels like they are in another time, or maybe in a dream.
He pulls back the curtains and another light enters the room…moonlight…silver. He comes to her and pulls her into his arms. He kisses her fully on the mouth. She yields completely and allows him to hold her up. Her body is like liquid fire. He pulls back and touches her forehead with his left hand, her mind opens into pure space, no thoughts, even her breath is suspended…exquisite this emptiness. She is immobilized, watching geometric displays of light behind her eyelids. It is like time or space travel. She has lost all awareness of the body…she is free.
She does not know how long this lasts. He guides her to the bed, a simple iron bed. He deftly removes his clothes and then hers. They are naked together and it is thrilling. There is a seriousness about him she has not seen before—to know him in this way feels like a gift…They are sharing something precious—themselves.
He whispers in her ear, "I want you to know…this is not the end. I want you to feel courage and certainty.”
They make love that night, but it is not sex. It is not like anything she has known in this body in this lifetime. It is a ritual act, a practice, a communion with the Divine. In his embrace, she feels she is making love with the Cosmos. His passion and strength drive them to the verge of collapse and then like two circling stars, they unite in a supernova. She is for the first and last time in this life—beyond the body, one with everything, complete.
When it is over, they sleep. The first light of dawn comes through the curtains and she wakes to find him dressing. He looks at her with pure love and says gently, “I must go prepare.” She knows he means for his students, for the day, for whatever the day will bring. She also knows this will not happen again. She lays there staring up at the ceiling, feeling the vague effects of the feast and drinking the night before, but also the pulsing energy that is running through her from their union. She sighs and smiles from the depths of her being.
He comes to her when he is dressed and kisses her lightly. His face is very close when he says, “The Prophet says, ‘Die before you die.’ This is my gift to you…”
He reaches up into the air with his right hand and pulls through a thread of something invisible. He pulls it with a quick, elaborate flourish like a cobbler stitching a shoe or a weaver fixing a dropped stitch or a sailor tying a knot. Before she can wonder what it is he is doing he places the hand on her shoulder and she is sent flying. Her head jerks back and she is filled with a light so bright she feels she might explode—like the sun has landed in her chest and is shining from the inside out. The effect lasts several minutes. She can hear his thoughts:
The truth is, I know we have little time. You will die, but I remember who you are. You must, too. This was best medicine I have to offer. I knew it would come to this months ago, but it is hard to understand these ways. The charging of your light body will ease your transition through the portal of death. You will need those fine, pure energies. We cannot allow ourselves to feel romantic love—it would be foolish and would end up hurting both of us. It’s not an option. You must not see the body as the prison. It is a temple. You are a priestess. Do not carry this pain of the body into your next life. You must make peace here and now. That may be the last thing you do. I will come to you again—at another time—whenever the world is craving the dynamic balance and union of opposites. Do not think I don’t care about you…no matter how I act…I am, after all, also human.
Then she hears the birds singing outside the window and he is gone.
As she dresses, pulling on her skirt and blouse form the night before, she knows she has experienced the miracle she has been waiting for all her life. She walks quietly down the hall in stocking feet and falls into her own bed. She sleeps peacefully for hours.
Life at the Prieuré quickly returns to order. Within a few days, routines have been restored. They are in preparations for the new year and the opening performance of the Struggles of the Magician in the finally completed Study House.
When Katherine sees Gurdjieff, he is polite and deferential, as before. There is no indication in his actions that anything happened between them, but this is fine. This is how it must be. She knows this and she is beyond any small feelings about it. She takes every opportunity to be near him physically. When she is watching the dances, at meals. They speak very little, but feel very much.
The morning of New Year’s Eve, there is a light knock at her door. She calls for the person to come in…it is Gurdjieff. She is surprised to see him here. He has never been in her room. He walks in gracefully and takes a seat. He is dressed to go out and has his hat in his hand.
He smiles. She smiles. They sit for a minute breathing and staring at the fire. She offers him tea and he shakes his head. He looks around the room.
“It’s a nice room.”
“Yes…it’s been a perfect home for me.” She says, she thinks somewhat stupidly, “I plan to decorate some…I was thinking of making a chart of the constellations here on the wall. I want to learn them…”
He nods and then says, “Katherine. I am going to Paris to secure more funding and to meet with theater directors. I will be coming and going more often in the next months.”
Her heart sinks.
“I think I have taught you all I can teach you for now.”
“Oh, that can’t be true…I am just a beginner.”
“Maybe this life. You are far from a beginner, but you have forgotten much. You will remember in time. But for now, I do not have more for you.”
She hesitates. She hasn’t even thought of leaving. Hasn’t thought of what next. She realizes she hasn’t thought beyond the next week in months. She has no plans.
“Of course, you will stay until you have a vision. Until you know where you are going.”
She relaxes a little, “Thank you.”
He looks at her directly, “There is one thing you must do. You must resolve things with your husband.”
“John? He doesn’t care what I do. He gave up on us a long time ago…he was tired of waiting for my recovery and didn’t know how to deal with my death. I haven’t spoken to him or received many letters from him…”
He stops her with a gesture of his hand, “This does not matter. He will respond now. You must make things clear. Invite him to come here. He will come. It is necessary.”
She senses he is right. This is an order, not a suggestion. She nods.
He stands to leave. She feels a tug at her heart as she watches him go. She feels tears welling up. He turns at the door and says, “No crying…dry like the desert. These tears will not help anyone.”
“I’m just sad to see you go,” she says stoically.
“I know the feeling,” he says with warmth and then he leaves the room.
After a few minutes, Katherine stands and walks to her writing desk. She pulls out a fresh sheet of paper and not finding her fountain pen, begins to write with pencil…
“My Darling Bogey,
I want to see you. I want to mend thing, to share with you all I have learned here. Will you come? Mr. Gurdjieff says you will be his guest. There is a London train that gets into Paris at 4 something. You could then come on to Fontainebleu the same day. I hope you do, my dearest. Let me know as soon as you can—won’t you? I have gone back to my big, lovely room, too, so we shall have plenty of space to ourselves. We can also sit and drink kiftir in the cowshed.
Your ever loving,
Before dawn on January 1, Katherine knocks at a small bedroom door in the servant’s wing of the house. She hears rustling and then a sleepy Olgivanna opens the door a crack.
“Yes…Olgi I need a favor…”
“Yes, it’s important. I need you to be a witness. To help me bury something.”
Olgivanna looks confused, but she senses the seriousness of the moment. She says, “Hold on, I’ll get dressed.”
“Wear something warm. We need to go outside.”
Katherine waits in the hallway a few moments fingering the small silver object she holds in her hands. When Olgivanna comes out she is fully awake. She takes Katherine’s hand and they walk together down the hallway and through the kitchen in silence. Katherine lets them out the kitchen door into the backyard and then leads them to the far side of the garden. At the shed she stops and turns to her friend.
“Olgivanna. I want to give my son a proper burial before I die…you remember what I told you about the pregnancy and the…procedure? When I left Germany I left a part of my heart there. I need it back. I think if we can give him the burial he deserves, I can finally gather that part of myself back in.” Katherine’s dark eyes are shining in the dim light. Her breath is visible in the cold. Olgivanna nods solemnly. She understands.
Katherine pulls a little silver spoon out of her coat pocket. She hands it to Olgivanna. The younger woman turns is over and sees that it is engraved with KMB.
“Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp…it’s my birth name. That was given to me at my Christening. My mother held onto it and gave it to me when I left for boarding school in England. It was meant for my own child. When she learned of the pregnancy and the circumstances I was in, she demanded it back. I hid it. It was supposed to be his.” She takes the spoon and turns it over again, “I’ve named him Jack, after the husband I wished had been a father. And when I go, I want to be with them both. I thought we could bury the spoon and make a little monument or marker here in the garden?”
Olgivanna nods vigorously, “It’s a wonderful idea.” She opens the shed and finds two trowels.
The women get down on their knees and begin to dig a hole under a rose bush. The earth is cold, but not yet frozen. They are able to dig down far enough to ensure the spot won’t be disturbed. Katherine places the small spoon in the earth and looks at Olgivanna.
“I’d like to share a poem I wrote for him. It’s called ‘Firelight’…” In a delicate voice she recites the poem, choking back tears, “Playing in the fire and twilight together/My little son and I/Suddenly—woefully—I stoop to catch him/”Try, mother, try!”/Old Nurse Silence lifts a silent finger:/”Hush! Cease your play!”/What happened? What in that tiny moment/Flew away?”2
Katherine throws the first handful of dirt into the grave and then pushes the whole pile in. She cries softly. Olgivanna searches the garden for sticks and stones. They make a small cross on top of the grave with the sticks and surround the spot with a circle of tiny stones. When they are finished, they hold each other. The sun is coming up now in the east. They see the first light through the trees like Apollo himself arriving. They walk back to the house arm-in-arm and make coffee in the kitchen.
Inspired by letters written between KM and JMM found in Letters Between Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, Cherry Hankin, New Amsterdam Books (May 1, 1998)
Firelight, by Katherine Mansfield: https://mypoeticside.com/show-classic-poem-18136