Rolling thunder drowned out the clanging church bells across the street. Lightning zig-zagged across the sky. Fear clutched my heart as Mother Nature crashed around me. Was this reality, or had I been caught up in a time warp that transported me to another place–magical, ethereal, and terrifying? Stay calm. It’s just a sudden summer storm. A torrent of water rushed down the Austrian cobbled street, threatening to overflow the gutters onto my feet. Were the bells warning of some disaster? Had war been declared? Had someone assassinated the President? Did Austria even have a President?
Cold spines of rain stung my face and bounced off the pavement onto my legs. Another clap of thunder and a flash of lightning made me jump. I pulled my sweater tighter around my chest and huddled closer to the wall beneath the narrow, striped canopy. And then a man stepped beneath the awning and tilted his umbrella over my head. “Do you wish to share my umbrella?”
“Thank you, how kind.” His presence soothed my fear. My pattering heart slowed. “The storm came up so quickly, it caught me quite unawares.”
“Sudden storms are not unexpected at this time of year.”
We stood side by side beneath the canopy, watching the ribbons of lightning zigzag across the afternoon sky, chatting about bells and clouds and weather. I tilted my head toward the church towers. “Why are they ringing the bells? Is there an emergency? The street is flooded.”
“The priests ring the bells to frighten the storm clouds toward the next village.”
I suppressed a smile, doubting that bells could drive away the clouds. “If that’s true, I’m sorry to say, it’s not working. It’s been raining buckets for twenty minutes.”
“Oh, it’s working fine.” A smile lit up his face. “But, the next village also rings their bells, and the storm clouds get confused, so they drift back here again. From village to village they drift. Soon they will find a quiet place where they can rest.”
I was pleasantly amused, but did not wish to dispute his quaint belief in the magical power of the bells. As we talked, we stood shoulder to shoulder. His scent comforted me–a woodsy manly scent, strong and secure.
A train whistle pierced the air. At the sound, he turned. “My train… I’m sorry, I must go. You will be alright?”
“I’ll be fine. Thank you for sharing your umbrella and for the secret of the bells.”
He caught my hand and lifted it to his lips. “It’s been a pleasure. I wish we had more time to… Good-bye.”
We looked deep into each other’s eyes and in those few seconds, as his lips brushed my fingertips, I was whirled through another time warp. In that instant, surrounded by the lightning and the chiming of the bells, it was as though we shared a lifetime together, infinite days and endless nights of love. I heard the blare of a hundred marching bands, saw the night sky explode in a fifty years of New Year’s Eve fireworks, felt the coolness of a thousand springtime rains, the color of a hundred rainbows, and an untold myriad of golden sunsets…
The rain stopped as he released my hand, waved a final farewell and strode toward the train. As he disappeared into the station, the blare of marching bands…became the tinkling bells around the cow’s necks in a nearby field. A final streak of lightning…replaced the image of fireworks in the night sky. The sun came out…and cast sparkling rainbows through the dewdrops dripping from the awning.
His scent lingered, but as I reached for the place where he had stood, the memory of his touch melted through my fingertips. I ran toward the station, “Wait! I don’t even know your name. Wait!”
The whistle blew and the train clacked down the track. The magic spell was broken. Was it a crack in time and space? Was it another lifetime of love that two strangers shared in those few moments, or was it just a dream caused by the magic of the bells and the storm clouds?
Years have passed. I’ve had the best life one could hope for–marriage, a satisfactory career, and children. But, every time I hear church bells, I close my eyes and remember a summer storm in a faraway land.
I am reminded of church bells echoing from mountaintop to mountaintop, as the storm clouds scramble from village to village in their frantic search for a silent, peaceful place. Finally, they drift onto a quiet hillside where the only sound is the tinkling of cow’s bells, as they amble across the meadows and disappear into the mist…. and I remember the man I loved who was only a dream.
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