"Why look so serious?" the
To the student. "Is there so much in your
You're next, so please, indulge us just a little
great knowledge -- but only on the fiddle,
Not the violin. Some simple
Plain words, in which our English tongue abounds,
the kind of stuff you fellows speak
To one another in journals. What we
Is merriment and pleasure, with just a dash
Of meaning -- just
for taste -- not much to ask.
So dive into your treasure trove to
A tale more of the heart than of the mind."
"All I can do
is try," the student replied.
"I have an ancient tale, known far and
From Chaucer's Tales, that I'll bring up to date,
people can relate,
With greater ease and pleasure than they
To times of which their knowledge is but slight,
ruled, and women were supposed
To bear whatever wrongs their lord
"Still, a tale's a tale, and we are we,
All one in our
deep down humanity.
The tale's wearing clothes you'll recognize,
naked beauty's only for the wise."
There lived on Sutton Place a
A bachelor on whom all women set their eyes
Handsome, strong, well-built, and with an air
Of being somehow
more than simply wise,
Perhaps some sort of god in human guise.
all set out to win his lucrative heart,
Enticing his desire with all
Yet though he oft enjoyed a bit of pleasure,
making any promises, he still
Reserved the sharing of his ample
For someone who not yet had touched his will,
For all his
many partners' wit and skill.
He did not really know just what he
But knew that by some demon he was haunted.
As he grew
older, he began to think
He ought to marry and start a family.
when he pushed himself up to the brink,
And all his close associates
This was the one, he backed away, for he
Still had it in
his head that he should wait
Until some sign might signify his
One day when he came early to his office,
He found the
maintenance contractor within,
And one of the workers cleaning the
Of his huge desk. She stopped and looked at him
just one second, and blushed, as if some sin
Had raced across the
highway of her mind
And into the woods to hide with its own
She was a tall, strong woman, black, with hair
tiny curls across her skull,
And features cut so perfectly, they
As if outlined in charcoal, her bosom full,
Her movements, even
As though life were a song, and work a dance,
one's fate might be turned by just a glance.
The billionaire stared
so hard and long
That she looked up, and smiled, and said to
"Could it be I'm doing something wrong?"
"Not at all," he said.
"Please. I'll go in
The outer office. It's too early to begin
"No, please stay!" she said. "I like you here.
If you don't
mind. You have a lovely stare."
He laughed and looked away,
But then looked back, as though by magnets
And knew at just that moment it was she
For whom he'd waited
obstinately and long.
She looked back, by fear and longing torn,
in that locked embrace of eyes both saw
A naked demon, angry, rough,
Again they looked away, and she went back
finishing the desk, and then
Gathering her things to leave, her
Skin burning into memory. So when
She finally reached the
door, he looked again
And said, "Don't go yet, please. What's your
"Theresa," she said. "Theresa Ste. Lorraine.
"And yours I
know -- it's written on the door:
Walter Young III. Just like a
But now I have to go and talk no more,
I'll lose my job --"
"You won't lose anything.
Your boss will dance to any tune I
She grimaced. "Don't control me!" she ordered him.
me!" And her anger did him in.
So court her he did, as though she
were the queen
And he the commoner, grateful for
The chance to win
her favor, and to glean
Whatever bit of pleasure he could draw
being in her presence, nothing more.
And though he showered her with
gifts, each day
She cleaned his office for the same low
This went on for months, until one night
He begged for
mercy, pointing out that many
Women would such steadfast love
And yet he saw from her no sign of any
affection, not one penny
Of return for all of his devotion,
Nor gain from his investment of emotion.
me now," he said, "just yes or no,
So I may weep with either pain or
I have for months endured this one-way flow --
One night a word
that would my spirits buoy,
The next a look that would my heart
But never an answer to my earnest suit!
My eyes and lips
say love, but yours are mute!"
For a while she was silent. Then
"Sometimes I wish this love would pass from me!
For all my
dreams that someday we'd be wed,
And all my joy in you, I cannot
How we might manage in reality,
I, a cleaning woman, coarse and
You, so rich, so smooth, so masterful!
"Soon you'll tire
of me, regret your choice,
And be ashamed of me before your
While I myself will flinch at my own voice
And bear the
burden that that message sends,
Knowing even now how such love
I've tested you, and you have passed the test!
But I have not
-- please! It's for the best!"
"My darling Theresa!" he answered.
"Your words make me
So happy, since you've spoken of your
These months of torturous uncertainty
Have tested me, and made
me certain of
My love for you. Now tell me how to prove
That we can
be happy together, even though
We are so different. My love can only
"As I see your spirit, brave and strong,
Meet the daunting
challenge of a life
So different from your own! Even more I long
make you my own precious, treasured wife,
The jewel of my days, sweet
partner of my nights!
Believe me, your reluctance makes me
Determined to have you than I was before!"
she said. "Your own? But I am mine,
And ever will be, even when I'm
No ownership implied! Nor neon sign
Proclaiming property! The
Of so much marital woe! Love knows no laws,
But like a
cat must follow its own will,
Though it stay within its harbor
"Then be my cat!" Walter replied, "or what
And then he dared a kiss, which she
Returned with equal fervor, as she
The door to all her doubts, and happily
Let go her passion,
long starved for such glee.
Soon they were married, amid much
As for one month they riveted the nation.
this beautiful black cleaning woman?
Cinderella, clearly! What a
Marrying Prince Charming, as the common
Folk watched, hungry
for vicarious glory,
Imagining themselves, with all the fury
empty hearts, the love and happiness
That must accompany such large
And for a few years, yes, the two were happy
children came, a girl and boy,
Though Theresa lived but
Insisting that although she might enjoy
Great wealth, no
cheap indulgence would destroy
Her family, but their wealth would be
Unless well used, as Christ and others taught.
was a gracious hostess, and a jewel
That brought great luster to her
Yet something in him, primitive and cruel,
that he wound his loving wife,
Abandoning this harmony for
What it was, he had nor thought nor clue,
But in him slowly
this strange impulse grew.
It began with little insults,
That she could feel but barely recognize;
(you couldn't call them fights)
That festered unresolved, for all her
A little discontent around the eyes
That tightened into anger
at a word;
An attitude when nothing had occurred.
matter?" finally she asked
One evening when they both had gone to
"You seem unhappy. Why?" And then at last
He told her what he
long had in his head.
"This isn't working -- not for me," he
While part of him turned towards the other part
And plunged a
six-inch knife into his heart.
"What isn't working? What?" she
A sudden storm swelled up, with fury filled.
quickly love's sweet harmony can fade
When just one drop of dissonance
If neither partner is in passion skilled!
she thought that her black skin
Was what had turned the power off in
She waited for his answer, as in her grew
A certainty from
what had been a doubt:
She knew that this would happen! Yes, she
And fear within became cold rage without.
"Please let me know
what this is all about!"
She said, her voice an adamantine
Signaling a choice she would not yield.
"I need some
time alone," he said. "It's not
Anything you've done, or failed to
It's me, just me. I know that what I've got
Is more than I
deserve -- the kids and you --
But now inside I long for something
Please wait for me, just until I find
What might resettle me in
my own mind."
"What are you?" Theresa asked. "Man or boy?
have two children! You are past such things!
What demon in you now
wants to destroy
The happiness that love acknowledged brings,
that weaves our fortune as it sings?
Tell me now! Is it yes or
If it's yes, I'll stay; if not, I'll go!"
He did not answer,
so Theresa left
With their two children, finding a small place
slum, of all they had bereft,
Surrounded by poor people of her
And leaving for her husband not a trace.
She found employment
as a home companion,
Enjoying the sweet flow of her
Meanwhile, Walter, in self-inflicted pain,
alone. No other woman pleased him,
No interest touched his heart. He
tried in vain
To care about his fortune, but what seized him
bitter rage at life. No thought released him
But dreaming of Theresa
and their children,
Imagining some unlikely reunion.
would not look for her, but drove
Himself into a deep and lonely
As though by loving her he only strove
To find something of
worth to wound him well.
But of such demons, who can really
Two years passed, and then he thought he would
children from her, if he could.
An army of detectives soon
Where she lived and worked, and found the school
their children went. Walter hovered
Over them awhile, his cravings
Knowing well this woman was a jewel,
Yet wanting to inflict
on her such pain
As would bring him the touch of life again.
afternoon he took them home with him,
Telling them their mother soon
Overjoyed to see him once again,
The children hugged him
happily, as from
The moment that she left, his wife was mum
his cruelty, and why they left
Him there, of him and of their home
When Theresa came for them at school
And found them
gone, she hoped that it was he
Who'd taken them, though she knew well
That wealth wins all. She called immediately,
find them safe, and said that she
Would come to get them soon. And then
Herself think what might come of this, and wept.
lost them, that she knew, though she would fight
With what she could to
get them back! What more
Could Walter do to her? And by what
Could he deprive her of her children? Law
Was on her side, and
yet grief through her tore!
Never would she see them, never
Ahead of her she saw but lonely pain.
Anger gripped her
in its hard-clenched hand!
She hated Walter, hated him! And
She'd loved him once. Were such foundations sand?
sweet days so easy to forget?
God! She wished, she wished they'd never
The demon rose in her, a puissant knight
In armor dressed,
ready for the fight.
She went to his door on Sutton Place and
Knowing well he'd see her on his screen.
Inside her head the
righteous anger sang,
Shading at each cadence into scream.
appeared on camera hard and mean,
As Walter's demon, dressed in iron,
Rode towards hers, lance aloft, to battle do.
He came down
quickly to the door, quite white
With righteous rage, while unaware
The children played at princess chained and knight
her rescue, fraught with love,
Ready to cross swords and honor
Face to face they came with beating hearts,
Primed to play
their pain-appointed parts.
"You think you could just kidnap them
He screamed, an echo of the very words
She was about to
scream, as suddenly
She had a vision of two screeching birds
branch above the dusty herds
Of cattle being driven to their
Screeching, screeching hatred with each breath.
that mirror of Walter and herself,
She saw the ugliness of what she
And turned away to gaze across the gulf
Between what one would be
and what one does.
She leaped across and looked through Walter's
And saw a truth that burned through all her lies.
me," she then said. "Forgive me, please.
I swore to love you always,
all our lives.
We should have separated, yes, agreed,
But in a way
that faithful love survives,
As is the case with truly loving
I should have thanked you for your honesty
And let you have
your taste of being free.
"I acted out of anger, fear, and
Without one thought of you and of the pain
You must have felt
to keep such thoughts inside,
And courage to reveal them. Mine the
We should have talked things out, sincere and sane!
my wish? That you would choose to lie?
Who should have shared your
secret, if not I?"
"The fault lies not entirely with
Walter said involuntarily,
As though some long-lost obligation
Now weighed upon his will, and let the sea
Come rushing in,
impervious to his plea,
To sweep away his demon, who had long
his will and led him to do wrong.
"Yes, you acted out of injured
Understandably. I did you harm.
Of free will I took you for
And promised to be faithful. What strange charm
demon give me? So soon gone!
Swallowed by the bitter joy I found
hating you, by pain and fury bound.
"Forgive me, too, then! Please,
forgive me, too!
And let us once again attempt to love
humility in what we do,
Moved by what good grace might in us
The best in us, that will our conscience prove,
And bring us
back to where we were before
I turned away, and our sweet love
So it was: The two became again
A loving man and wife,
and parents good,
Remembering well their self-inflicted pain
taking care to do the things they should,
As humankind has so long
Faithful to their vows and to each other,
Steadfast as a
father and a mother.
Let all couples take good heed of this,
like Theresa put aside their pride,
Countering wrong with right. The
key to bliss
Is seeing oneself from the other side,
one's map and guide.
And may we let such stories be the eyes
which we see the pathways of the wise.