Melissa L. White Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Author
Melissa L. White Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Author

Twilight Between Aspiration and Desire

 

Twilight Between Aspiration and Despair

                 

            Marilyn Muro Blackstone sat down on a stump at twilight, gazing out at Crater Lake near the Oregon–California border with Mount Shasta looming in the distance. She focused her camera, catching the waning daylight at just the right angle between the encroaching dark clouds and the silver surface of the lake. Bingo! She knew this photo was a winner. Satisfied with the day’s shoot and especially this last series of shots at the lake, she packed her gear and prepared to head back to her cabin.

            It was late August 2021, and her husband Trace had died two weeks earlier on August 8. Wracked with sporadic bouts of debilitating grief, she’d taken her boss—a cancer research scientist at UCLA— up on his generous offer for three weeks bereavement leave from her job as his Executive Assistant, and she’d headed up from Los Angeles to explore the Pacific Northwest and try to adjust to life alone. She’d found Crater Lake quite by accident, driving east out of Eureka, California while searching for the perfect spot to photograph giant redwood trees, and she’d decided to rent a cabin for a couple days and go exploring. The landscape offered startling glimpses of beauty, which reminded Marilyn of peering through binoculars as a child— staring out into the mist settling over the horizon above the Grand Canyon— especially at dawn and dusk. The photo she’d just taken with her panoramic setting struck her as a distinct possibility to finally win a photography competition.

            After entering contests for nearly 30 years without ever winning or even placing as an honorable mention, she had all but given up those last stubborn shards of hope that clung to the cracked glass ceiling of her unrealized dreams. Now at 59, she recognized that her window of opportunity had narrowed. Closing her eyes, she meditated on her future— finally calm tonight, surrounded by nature, she felt resigned and defeated after believing for so many decades that her artistic talents would soon bring her the recognition and accolades which she craved.

            Feeling a sensation of sudden warmth and an intense tingling on the back of her neck, she blinked and saw her late husband Trace standing before her, his body silhouetted and backlit with the sunset behind him. This would make an excellent portrait! She grabbed her camera on its strap around her neck and snapped the photo. Then Trace spoke to her, shocking her out of her reverie. “Don’t give up, Marilyn. Enter this photo in the UCLA contest and see where it leads. It’s never too late to achieve your dreams!” Trace blew her a kiss then his image softened and faded into the sunset.

            “Trace?” Her eyes darted back and forth along the clearing by the lake. “Trace! Are you there?”

            A spotted owl hooted in the distance, echoing across the lake with a sorrowful cry. She shivered, aware that she’d just experienced a “visitation” by Trace’s spirit from the other side. She grabbed her backpack and hurried back to her cabin, wondering if too much solitude was beginning to play tricks on her mind.

            For dinner, she heated a can of pinto beans and opened a bottle of Merlot. Drinking three full glasses of wine, she then drifted off to sleep sitting in the rocker beside the stone hearth. At midnight she awoke from a dream about Trace dying from cancer after two difficult years of chemotherapy treatments. They had struggled financially, saddled with medical bills that weren’t covered by his insurance and this debt weighed heavy on her shoulders. Waking from this dream left her restless and anxious until the wind chime on the back porch tingled loudly even though the night was as still as a marble statue. She looked over her shoulder and saw Trace from the corner of her eye, standing in the doorway. He smiled and held out his hands. She stood up then backed away, frightened.

            “Don’t be scared,” Trace whispered. “I’ve come to tell you that I want to take care of you and look after you in your golden years, the way you looked after me. I will reincarnate and be born again on August 8, 2022, so you can adopt me, and raise me as your son.” He smiled, watching the fear in her eyes subside.

            “Trace…is it really you?” Her hands trembled at her side.

            “Yes, dear. It’s really me. Heed my words and follow your dream. Take that photography class at UCLA that you’ve wanted to take for years. Do it. Your life will never be the same…”

            Marilyn blinked, amazed by Trace’s gentle presence, then his image faded away as quickly as it had appeared. She took a deep breath and looked around, noticing the faint but unmistakable scent of Chanel Bleu cologne. It comforted her now, to encounter him like this, and it made her feel giddy, wide awake, and ready to get home, so she packed her things into her Prius and drove back to Los Angeles that night.

* * *

            The following Monday, Marilyn enrolled in the UCLA Extension photography class she’d dreamed of taking for the past four years that she’d worked at UCLA. With her generous employee discount, she was able to afford the tuition and the required textbooks, while keeping up the payments to the hospital for Trace’s medical debts. On the first day of class, she noticed that she was the oldest student in the room. Most everyone else was in their 30s or 40s, except for the teacher, Jorge Muro Ruiz, whose bio described him as a 69-year-old Pulitzer-Prize-winning photojournalist from Buenos Aries. Jorge’s energy was infectious as he stood before the class, describing his treks through Amazon jungles and the bush country of Botswana, in search of the perfect photograph. He admonished the class to not waste time seeking the perfect still shot, the way he’d done in his early days, but to venture out in Los Angeles and to discover the understated splendor in finding the extraordinary in the ordinary all around them. “No time like the present…”

            Marilyn jotted down those lines in her notebook: …find the extraordinary in the ordinary…No time like the present… writing this over and over as she listened to Jorge’s lecture. She watched his hands, gesturing as he encouraged them. “You must be relentless. Submitting to journals and magazines all the time. And don’t get discouraged if you are rejected. Persevere, be persistent. And one day, you will attain success. But not if you give up! So, go out this weekend into your neighborhoods and take dozens of photos of city life. Print your best three or four photos and bring them to class next time. Instead of a lecture, we will discuss and analyze each other’s work. Okay? See you next week.”

***

            The following week, Marilyn received many compliments on her photos, and she felt encouraged by the other students’ comments and suggestions. After class, as she put away her photos and gathered her books, Jorge approached her and asked if he could see her photograph of Crater Lake again. Surprised, she handed him the panoramic shot of sunset over the lake and watched his eyes as he studied it. In the photo, the sun was sinking over the tops of the redwood trees just beyond the lake shore as it reflected off the sliver smooth water. With so many shadows on the lake and the clouds back toward the east, they looked almost black—while the sunset in the western sky held sepia tones like an old black and white portrait from the early 20th century, which an artist had painstakingly “colorized” by hand. Marilyn loved this photo, and what it represented in her life.

            Jorge looked up at her and smiled. “This photo really speaks to me. There’s an energy present, and the promise of magic to come.”

She laughed.

He winked at her. “I see a bright future for you, Marilyn. Keep up the great work.”

***

On the last day of the class, Jorge brought his camera and tripod, and he asked all the students to pose with him for a group photo. He passed around a sign in sheet for everyone to write down their cell phone numbers so they could keep in touch and exchange photos or text each other updates. After adding her phone number to the list, Marilyn noticed that Jorge had written his own cell number on the top of the list, so she quickly copied it into her notebook. She wanted to text him to thank him for teaching this class. In the back of her mind, she hoped to continue communicating with him and this would be the perfect opportunity.

At the end of the class, she approached Jorge and gave him the phone list. Smiling wide, he thanked her and gently touched her forearm. “Would you like to join me for drink? We could discuss your work, and the direction you’re headed.”

            Marilyn smiled. “I’d be glad to.”

Later, they sat at the bar in Plateia at the Luskin Conference Center on the UCLA Campus. Jorge encouraged her. “I’ve noticed a real pioneer spirit in your work. Something that cannot be taught. You’ve got talent. And I want to help you develop it.”

            Marilyn beamed at him. “Thank you, Jorge. That means a lot to me.”

            “It’s the absolute truth. I wouldn’t say it otherwise.”

            When he invited her to dinner the following weekend, she accepted. She told Jorge about the recent death of her husband, and he took her hand, pressing it gently between his thick palms and asked her if she felt it was too soon for her to go out with another man.

            She looked down at her glass of Pinot Grigio sitting on the bar in front of her. She hesitated only for a moment, then said, “I’m 59 and have no illusions about life anymore. My time is limited. I don’t want to waste any opportunity for happiness by being overly cautious and waiting for some ill-conceived deadline to pass until I can open up my heart again to someone new.”

            He nodded.

She looked into his eyes and said, point blank, “That’s what Trace would have wanted. Besides, I feel drawn to you. Ever since reading in the UCLA faculty website that your middle name is Muro. That’s my middle name too, believe it or not.”

“Oh, really? That’s interesting.” Jorge smiled.

“It’s my maternal grandfather’s name. I feel certain he would approve of my seeing you.”

“It’s a small world indeed.” Jorge took her hand to his lips and kissed it.

***

After six weeks of dating, Jorge told her he was in love with her and wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. After six months, he invited her to move in with him to his home in Bel Air near the UCLA Campus. He had a verdant garden with dozens of leafy palm trees, and throngs of Rosa ‘Sunsprite’ rose bushes. She loved the Sunsprites, with their deep lasting yellow color, super sweet fragrance, and multitude of glossy green leaves. She knew when she first saw Jorge’s rose garden that she could be happy here for the rest of her life. So, when he suggested she move in with him, she jumped at the chance to take their relationship to the next level and delighted in their new-found domestic partnership. With Jorge’s encouragement, Marilyn entered the UCLA Department of Photography’s Annual Photo Competition, and her photo of Crater Lake won first prize. She’d titled the photo, “Twilight Between Aspiration and Despair,” and she explained the title to Jorge one night over the dinner he’d cooked for them.

            “I took that photo right after Trace died. He appeared to me that night and told me that he would soon reincarnate and be born again on August 8, 2022, so that I could adopt him and raise him as my son. He said that he wanted to take care of me in my old age, the way I had cared for him in his final years. It was a critical point in my life because I was struggling with giving up my dream of ever attaining success and quickly sinking into despair. But he encouraged me to enroll in your class…”

            Jorge’s eyes grew wide. He pushed his plate away from him, folded his napkin and put it on the dish. “Let me tell you something I learned early in my career,” he said. “The quickest way to success is to focus on your inspiration. You must seek beauty. Seek truth. Aim to evoke an emotion in the viewer. All these things will help you follow your dream— not a hunger for fame and fortune. You follow your dream for the sheer love of taking a beautiful photo and forever capturing a moment of truth— a split second in time— which has past and can only be experienced again by others as they view the photo. Saving a moment in time for future generations of viewers to enjoy— that is the biggest inspiration and motivation I’ve ever found. And fortunately, I found it early in life.”

            Tears rimmed Marilyn’s eyes. “If only I had learned this in college, instead of nearing retirement age…”

            Jorge took her hand, squeezing it and said, “We’ve still got plenty of time. No time like the present. Seize the day!”

 

            That night while Marilyn lay in bed reading, Jorge took a hot shower. When he stepped out of the shower and donned his pajamas, he glanced into the bathroom mirror and wiping the fog from the glass he caught a glance of an older man behind him. He turned around, immediately recognizing Trace from the wedding photos Marilyn had shared with him. He stood face to face with Trace’s translucent image and grabbed his chest, as if panicking.

            “Don’t be afraid,” said Trace.

            “What do you want?” Jorge stiffened, his breath quickening.

            “I’ve come to tell you that I will reincarnate on August 8, 2022, and I want you and Marilyn to adopt me and raise me as your son. I will take care of Marilyn in her old age, the way she did for me.”

            Jorge backed away. “This isn’t real.”

            Trace chuckled. “I assure you, it’s very real. Apply for the adoption, and I will find you.”

            With that, Trace’s image dissolved into the steam from the shower. Jorge turned around, checked the mirror again, then ran out into the bedroom. Marilyn glanced up from her book.

            “You okay?” She laid her book down on the nightstand.

            Jorge sat on the edge of the bed beside her. “I just saw Trace. He appeared to me for a moment and told me the same thing he told you. That he would reincarnate on August 8, 2022. He said that exact date! And that we should arrange for the adoption because he intended to find us.”

            Marilyn hugged Jorge and whispered in his hear. “I believe he will find us.”

            Jorge pulled away from her and looked her square in the eyes. “I believe he will too.”

 

            The next day, Jorge and Marilyn made an appointment with an adoption agency and put their names on the waiting list. Theirs was a very specific request— a male baby, to be born on August 8, 2022.  “You realize the near impossibility of finding what you’re asking for,” said the counselor at the adoption agency. “Very few babies actually arrive on their due date.”
            Jorge and Marilyn nodded in unison. He took her hand and winked at her. “It never hurts to ask for exactly what you want. Because if you don’t ask, what chance do you have of ever getting it?”

            The counselor scanned her laptop. “I’ll enter your request into our database, but I must tell you that given your ages and the closeness of the approaching August 8 date, I doubt your request will be approved. Some couples have been waiting years to adopt.”
            Jorge sighed. Undeterred, Marilyn asked the counselor, “Could you recommend the name of a good adoption attorney?”

            The woman smiled. “Of course. We’ve worked with this firm before. They’re very good.” She took a business card from her desk and gave it to Marilyn.

            “Thank you.” Marilyn gave the card to Jorge. “We’ll call them today.”

***

            A month later, Jorge and Marilyn were married in a civil ceremony at the L.A. County Courthouse. They didn’t need flowers or champagne. They didn’t need a huge guest list or bridesmaids. All they needed was to be together, and now that they’d managed to build a life with each other, they embraced their future as man and wife. Marilyn had questioned Jorge about his eagerness— even though she’d been amenable— because she didn’t want to awaken one day and find he’d changed his mind. Everything had happened so quickly with few if any obstacles. Jorge delighted in reassuring her, and he never failed to ease her mind when she voiced her persistent reservations.

Six weeks later, on August 1, 2022, they got a call from the adoption attorney. He’d found a birth mother willing to give up her baby for adoption whose due date was August 4. She lived in Ojai, and she wanted to meet them. Ecstatic, Jorge and Marilyn drove north out of Los Angeles to the restaurant at the Ojai Valley Inn. They met with the woman, a girl really, a seventeen-year-old high school junior, who lived with her single mom, and who wanted to go to medical school and become a surgeon. Being a teenage mother was not part of her game plan.

When the baby was born the following week, at 4:11 am on August 8, 2022, Jorge and Marilyn were present for the birth. They adopted the baby and named him Jorge Muro Ruiz, Jr., calling the child Muro for short. They lavished their son with more love, affection, and attention than they’d ever imagined possible, both agreeing that their lives had been somewhat incomplete since they’d neither one experienced the joys of parenthood until now. But as the days passed and they grew to know their son, they began to feel more complete, and grounded within a circle of life, laughter, and belonging.

One night in the nursery as they stood beside the crib watching their son sleep, Jorge turned to Marilyn and said softly, “What more could you possibly want out of life?”

Without missing a beat, she replied, “A career as an artist.” She then proceeded to tell him about her deep admiration for the work of Vivian Maier.

“I’ve heard of her,” said Jorge. “Her work only became known posthumously.”

 “Yes,” said Marilyn. “She worked as a nanny for most of her adult life, taking hundreds of thousands of photographs, but never submitting or selling her work. She died penniless in obscurity, and her work was only discovered in 2007— due to her lack of payment on her storage unit— when an art historian in Chicago bought her entire life’s work in an auction. He knew he’d stumbled upon something extraordinary and miraculous, so he began scanning, printing, and chronicling her photos.”

“Amazing,” said Jorge.

“That’s right,” agreed Marilyn. “Her work is now highly sought after by museums and collectors worldwide.” She looked up at Jorge with tears in her eyes. “If my work were only discovered after my death, at least it would finally validate my existence and my creative process.”

“That’s crazy,” said Jorge. “Don’t wait for someone to discover you after you’re dead.  Submit now!”

Marilyn wiped the tears from her eyes.

Jorge took her by the shoulders and held her firmly. “Your ‘Twilight’ photo just won first prize. Your work is every bit as valid as Vivian Maier’s. Keep submitting. And you’ll achieve your dream. I can help you.”

She smiled at him. “Thank you for saying that. And thank you for believing in me.”

Jorge kissed her cheek. “Our son will be an artist, just like his madre y padre. I’ve got big plans for him. Big plans for you too.”

Marilyn smiled and gazed down at their sleeping baby in his crib.

***

As the months sped by, time raced ahead like heat lightning with its spidery electrical fingers reaching out across the sky— here only for an instant, then gone in a flash. Jorge and Marilyn read to their son each evening before bed, and they continually showed him photos in magazines and online while he watched enthralled as his parents scrolled through website after website of beautiful photographic images: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Vivian Maier, Alfred Stieglitz. They firmly believed their son could never see too many photos. He could never be exposed to too much art.

As Muro grew into his toddler years, Marilyn began taking portraits of him out in nature at Joshua Tree National Park; on the beach at Malibu; and sitting in a field of wild poppy flowers blooming along Highway 101 near Point Dume. These portraits won several contests, and she started submitting them to numerous magazines, publishing more and more of her work until when Muro turned four years old, Marilyn’s portrait of him playing in the surf at Diamond Head beach in Honolulu won the $10,000 Grand Prize for the Photography Today Magazine’s annual photo contest. At last, she felt satisfied that her work was “good enough.” She felt validated. She felt happy, at peace with her place in the world.

Then her world upended itself overnight.

When Jorge died from a sudden heart attack, Marilyn dove into her work with a burning drive and intensity which she’d never experienced before. She acquired gallery representation, and the portraits of her son started selling for $5,000 each. She began traveling, photographing her son at exotic locations all over the world because she knew her time was limited.

One day while photographing Muro at Stonehenge, Marilyn adjusted his sunglasses on his face for the next shot and he said something that chilled her blood.

“I saw Daddy in a dream last night. He told me that I would grow up to be a filmmaker and touch the lives of millions of people all over the world with my films.”

Marilyn froze. She questioned her son further, until she realized that he’d been having “visitation” dreams for weeks now, the same way she and the boy’s father had done when Trace came to them both on separate occasions. She felt uneasy and grew apprehensive when Muro talked about death, as if it were something to be welcomed and longed for. When she questioned him further about this, Muro explained that Jorge had told him about the place where souls go, after their lives on earth are complete, and how they have “families” in this spirit world, where they live and study together in groups. He described the afterlife as supremely peaceful and serene, much more desirable than the chaos and struggle of physical existence in the world as we know it. “Daddy said we go to school during the afterlife, getting ready for our next life on earth. He said it’s fun. And so very peaceful and nice.” Muro lifted his sunglasses and smiled at Marilyn, his eyes twinkling with excitement. “Much nicer than you could ever imagine.”

That weekend when they returned to Los Angeles, Marilyn found a psychic online and took her son for a reading. The psychic, Madame Silvia, agreed to do a Tarot card reading, then laid out the deck and asked Muro to draw three cards. He grinned and picked his cards, selecting the Hermit, the Hanged Man, and the Tower. Madame Silvia clicked her tongue, frowning, and shuffled the deck one more time, while the ancient grandfather clock ticked loudly against the back wall of her salon and the scent of lavender candles hung heavy in the air.

“Pick another card,” she whispered to Muro. The clocked ticked on and on in the salon.

When he picked the final card, he peeked at it then turned it over face up on the table. The Death card lay there as if announcing certain doom. Madame Silvia stood up abruptly.

“Let’s forget these cards, shall we? A séance is what we need instead. To find out more about the boy’s future.”

Marilyn hesitated, nervous. “Why do we need a séance? What’s wrong?”

Madame Silvia smiled and said simply, “It’s in the cards. They foretold something mysterious in the boy’s future and I must ask his spirit guardians how to protect the child. It’s for the best.”

Frightened, Marilyn desperately wanted her son to be safe, so she agreed to the séance saying, “Yes, of course. If it’s for the best.”

“Wise choice,” chirped Madame Silvia, dimming the overhead light. She then placed her crystal ball on the table before little Muro. His eyes widened with delight when she lit three more lavender-scented candles and set them out around the crystal ball. Holding hands with Muro and Marilyn, Madame Silvia began chanting an old Hungarian verse, reaching out to the spirit world in her native tongue. All at once a cool wind gusted through the salon, extinguishing the candles.

A distant male voice called out from across the room… “We are here. Do not delay. Let the boy join us on the other side today…”

Marilyn jumped up and grabbed her son. “No! You’re not taking my son!”

Immediately the chilled wind swept through the salon again with a vengeance, and Marilyn panicked as she felt her son’s body being lifted out of her arms. She freaked out, screaming, and crying in anguish as the boy flew across the room and out the front door, like a puppet dangling from an evil puppet master’s unseen strings.

“Muro!” Marilyn chased after him, running outside into the street. “Don’t hurt my son! I’ll do anything you ask, just let him live!” Marilyn spun around, looking up and down the empty street, searching for the child. Panic-stricken, she started to cry and begged the spirits to release Muro. “Please bring back my baby!” She dropped to her knees and prayed in the street. “Dear God, please save him!”

A mystical voice called to her from the shadows. “Arise and come to me.” Marilyn looked up but saw no one. The voice spoke to her again, this time louder and more distinct, saying, “Promise your son to me, and I will let him live for 17 more years, so that the two of you will achieve your fame and fortune, but on his 21st birthday I will take him home with me.”

            Desperate to save her son’s life, Marilyn agreed. “I’ll do whatever you say, just bring him back to me right now!”

At that exact moment, a child’s faint laughter echoed from behind the building. Marilyn ran toward the sound of the laughter until she stepped around a trash dumpster in the side alley and found her son kneeling on the pavement holding a little black lab puppy.

“Muro!”

The child glanced up at her and smiled. “Look, Mommy. I found him just now. Can I keep him? I want to name him Spirit.”

            Overjoyed, Marilyn hugged him, kissing his cheeks, and holding him tight. “Of course, you can keep him. Let’s go home.”

Marilyn took Muro and the puppy home and tucked them in early, letting Spirit sleep in her son’s bed with him. She knelt beside him as he said his prayers, and she made a promise to herself that she would treasure every moment of her son’s life as if it were his last. She also vowed never to tell him about the prophesy that he would die on his 21st birthday, in the hopes of preventing it from coming true.

***

In the years that followed, Marilyn took legions of photos of her son. All sorts of portraits of him with Spirit. She made a name for herself, selling these portraits to galleries and collectors worldwide. As the years raced by, Marilyn encouraged Muro to take his own photographs and make little films with these photos. She bought him a Digital video camera. Early on they made little tone poem films together, taking hundreds of photos for each film and putting them to moving musical scores. As he grew older, he branched out into documentaries, and Muro’s films started winning awards in Film festivals. The summer after he graduated high school, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship to make a feature-length documentary film about preserving the world’s oceans. Among a slew of other awards, that film ended up winning an Oscar for Best Documentary Film. Now firmly entrenched on the career trajectory his father had envisioned while he was still an infant— and to Marilyn’s unbridled relief— Muro decided to forgo college, and dive directly into filmmaking as a profession. Making a half dozen more films, Muro won a multitude of awards, evolving into a young celebrity of sorts. While still a teenager, his work was critically acclaimed, and his photos periodically graced the covers of various magazines. Headed down a path that made Marilyn proud, Muro’s future seemed bright. Yet as her son grew older, she became more and more anxious, dreading the day he would turn 21.

For years, she had convinced herself not to give any credence to that ridiculous prophesy. Inevitably, however, she remained filled with foreboding and dread about each of his birthdays, as it inched him closer and closer to his predicted death. She then tried bargaining with the sprits to let her son live a little longer, but as his 21st birthday approached, marking the day he was supposed to return to the spirit world, Marilyn grew increasingly distraught and tried desperately to find a way to ensure that her son would survive this fateful day. She finally admitted her fears to Muro and explained the prophesy to him. She then took him to a priest, who gave her a Help Hotline phone number for emotionally disturbed adults. Exasperated, she rushed her son across town to a Buddhist temple and asked a monk there what she should do. The monk replied, “It you are so worried about your son moving on to the spirit world without you, make a pact with him, that he will not die without you.” Marilyn agreed.

Unsympathetic to his mother’s crippling fears, Muro laughed at her and downplayed her stress and anxiety. “Don’t be silly, and do not worry over this! Everything will be fine.” His cell phone beeped, and he responded to the text, making plans to celebrate that night with friends.

Marilyn frowned. She hugged Muro, begging him to stay home. “Please don’t go out tonight. Stay here with me where you’ll be safe.”

He laughed. “It’s my birthday. I’m not spending it hiding at home with my Mommy.”

Undeterred, he left with his friends, and his mother cried alone in bed that night, fearful that she’d never see her son again and terrified of what lay ahead. When the doorbell rang at midnight, she jumped out of bed and ran to the door right away. She peeked through the peep hole, seeing two uniformed police officers standing there, holding their hats in their hands. Marilyn hesitated, then opened the door, and took a step backwards.

“Ms. Marilyn Blackstone?” one of the officer’s asked in a subdued voice.

 “Yes? What’s happened?”

“I’m Captain MacDonald with the LAPD. Your son has been in an accident…”

She screamed, heartbroken, knowing exactly what was coming next.

“He was killed by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident…”

Dropping to her knees on the floor, she wailed unconsolably.

Captain MacDonald continued, “Ms. Blackstone? Is there someone I can call to come and stay with you?”

In that instant, all the air was sucked out of the room in a vacuum of despair. Marilyn collapsed onto the wooden floor, sobbing, and gasping for breath, the stranglehold of unimaginable grief gripping her by the throat with its iron claw. As if time had marched into her home, and permanently ripped her heart out after making her fear this day for the past seventeen years. All the joy she’d experienced in her life with her son, was now usurped by his tragic death. But why? Why did Trace want to reincarnate to be her son so badly, when he only had a short time to be in her life? Wasn’t he motivated by the desire to take care of her in her old age, the way she’d done for him? How could life be so incredibly cruel? Was there no justice? No sense of karmic balance, where she might finally receive the relief that she craved? It was all too much to bear.

Marilyn buried her son three days later. The following day she refused to get out of bed. Devastated, she lay silent under the silk sheets, beyond heartbroken— a mere catatonic shadow, longing only to die. As she lay there, eyes closed, she felt Jorge’s presence. She felt him whisper to her that Trace had fulfilled his mission, to keep her company and ease her pain after Jorge’s sudden death. And most importantly to help her actualize her evolution as an artist, by being both her inspiration and her motivation to succeed, so she could give him a better life than what he’d known as her husband, Trace. Once they had achieved this actualization for each other, Trace was no longer obligated to live on as Muro, facing a lonely and isolated existence, as he tried to care for an elderly parent on his own as a very young man. Jorge also pointed out that Trace, as Muro, had to die young because Marilyn was meant to be alone – on her own for a while, so her soul’s journey could be complete, allowing her to learn the crucial life lesson of becoming more independent and self-fulfilled. When Jorge imparted this wisdom to her, Marilyn knew in an instant what she had to do. She closed her eyes and willed herself to stop breathing. To just let go and be at peace.

***

            Three weeks later, Marilyn’s neighbor noticed that her mail had piled up outside on her front porch. The neighbor called the police who entered Marilyn’s home to do a wellness check, and they found her body in bed covered with photographs of her son.

***

After Marilyn’s body was cremated, the funeral home held her remains until the courts could probate her will. Because she had left everything to her son Muro, who had preceded her in death— leaving no other heirs— the state and local courts fought to control her estate, as it was substantial. Marilyn had arranged for her burial near the lily pond at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, next to her husband Jorge, whom she had buried there years earlier. Finally, on October 30th, after many weeks of delays in the backlog of probate hearings, the court determined that Marilyn’s estate would be controlled by the state of California, and her remains were to be buried in Memorial Park as she had stipulated in her will.

The following afternoon— on Halloween, the graveyard worker who buried Marilyn’s remains stopped on the corner after leaving the cemetery. He lit a cigarette then picked up a newspaper as it blew across the sidewalk. Seeing that it was the Arts Section of the LA Times, he thumbed through it and found a feature article about Marilyn Muro Blackstone, (81) who had died in her home several weeks ago— the exact date unknown— under mysterious circumstances about which the article did not elaborate. The following three pages showcased an extensive collection of the photos Marilyn had taken of Muro and herself, along with portraits of Muro and his dog Spirit. The article also featured photos of Muro as an adult, with several candid shots she’d taken of him on the beach just outside of Eureka, near their vacation home in the sleepy Northern California coastal town.

            The final picture in the spread was Marilyn’s very first prize-winning photo—her “Twilight” photo which had lured Jorge to her during his class. The graveyard worker decided that this was the best photo in the lot as he finished his cigarette then dropped the newspaper into the trash can on the corner of Glendon Avenue at the cemetery’s entrance. He then hurried off to the bar at Skylight Gardens several blocks further up on Glendon, to grab a beer after work. On the way there, a little black lab puppy began following him on the sidewalk. He stopped, picked up the puppy and said, “Are you lost? Don’t you have a home? I think I’ll take you home with me. Maybe I’ll call you Spirit. Would you like that?”

The puppy licked his face, wagging its tail. The graveyard worker decided right then to skip the bar, so he continued walking home with the puppy tucked inside his jacket pocket, protecting him from the crisp Halloween breeze. It was twilight now, and a cool gust of wind blew the discarded newspaper out of the overflowing trash can on the corner near the cemetery entrance. Another strong gust blew the newspaper up against a tree so that Marilyn’s photo of Crater Lake ended up wrapped around the tree trunk, displaying the striking image of the sun sinking over the tops of redwood trees on the western lake shore.

The caption underneath the photo showed itself clearly with the title in big bold print as the cast-off newspaper hugged the trunk of the Japanese Maple tree at the entrance to the cemetery. A bright red maple leaf fell from the branch up above, then another, and another, until a thick layer of red leaves all but obscured the words, “Aspiration and Despair…” leaving only “Twilight Between” visible against the tree trunk.

As darkness descended on Halloween night, the wind grew stronger and more erratic— arising as abruptly as the Angel of Death— then ascending gracefully into the twilight between the living and the dead.

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© Melissa White