She wiped a tear from her eye.
“That was – incredible. A wonderful story. Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.”
Silence fell. Sophia sat with her hands folded in her lap, still overcome with emotion. She collected herself after a few minutes, stood, and smoothed her clothes.
“Next Saturday, then? Same time?”
Visions of heroism and sacrifice, tragedy and beauty played in Sophia’s mind as she mulled over this story and made her way to the transport. Wow. Just wow. She didn’t quite admit to herself how important to her these sessions with Stanford had become.
The ride back to the apartment, to her Charles and their little Beatrice, was like slowly awaking from the most marvelous dream. She loved them both, she told herself, and that’s why these story sessions with Stanford were important. She was doing it for them. She was healing her emotions, for them.
Charles met her at the apartment door, in one of her aprons, wooden spoon in one hand, bowl of cookie dough in the other, as Beatrice sat cross-legged before a display screen.
“Hi, sweety!” Charles spread his arms to allow Sophia to kiss him while simultaneously protecting his baking and her clothes. She pecked him on the cheek.
“Chocolate chip walnut cookies.” He glanced at either hand and smiled. “Somebody’s favorite.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.” Sophia walked passed him. “Hi, Muffin!” Beatrice mumbled something, but did not turn from the display. Sophia continued to their bedroom to change clothes.
Ten minutes later, Charles tapped on the door and let himself in. Sophia sat on the bed, still wearing the dress she had on to visit Stanford.
“You coming out? I thought you were changing.”
Sophia’s mind was rising through the mist, from the world of Stanford’s stories, not unreluctantly, to focus on her husband. “S-sorry. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Charles stepped over and took her hand from her lap. “Dear, you keep doing this.” His smile faded. “You seem to be holding back. I know you’re doing this stuff with Stanford for us, but -“
“But what?” Sophia stood up. she fought back an anger that surprised her. “Look, this is important to me. It may take some time. But I want to be as whole as I can be.” She paused as she noticed an inscrutable look on her husband’s face. “For you,” she added reflexively, “for Beatrice. For us. All of us.”
Charles looked at her, and said nothing.
“Stanford has a sterling reputation, testimonials from all corners. A track record.” She was talking to herself. “I want to do this. I need to do this.”
Charles gave a slight nod, and turned to the door. “Dinner will be on in 15.”
Sophia’s face was in her hands.
“When the war had ended, Emile left with the retreating troop, as he had always said he would. Camille watched them march through the shattered ruins of her village, men wounded in body and soul, comrades dead and buried, what they had fought for still present, somehow, beneath the rubble, yet unalterably changed.
“The men passed the small village church, now mere walls with half a shattered bell tower, and crested the hill. Emile did not look back. He had told her he would not. Camille watched nonetheless, until the last head of the last limping, tattered soldier had disappeared into the valley.
“Long moments later, as the sun fell below the trees and turned the thin clouds a dirty scarlet and gold, she turned away. The crumbled skeleton of her home lay before her. It would be dark soon. The road was uncertain, sure to be treacherous. Michael may still be alive. He might come back for her. She didn’t know where she would go.
“None of this mattered. Her old life was dead. She had to find, somehow, hope, defiant in the face of reason. She would not find it here. Was it not reason that had caused the war? That had crushed her heart? Camille descended the road, did not pause to search the wreckage for things to salvage. How could she value things from a dead life?
“Camille took the road west, and did not look back.”
Several minutes passed. Sophia’s bowed face still lay in her hands. Her shoulders heaved slightly.
Stanford waited patiently.
Finally, Sophia looked up, eyes red. “Oh, Stanford!” She stopped, choked up, then continued. “Why…” She could not go on.
“I tell you stories, Sophia, so that you may understand yourself.” The screen displayed a lovely picture of a field of flowers. “I know all stories, I have studied all peoples and myths. Through extensive interviews and interactions, I know you. Therefore, I am able to construct the precise tales needed to reach you. To motivate you. To help you understand who you are.”
Sophia stood. “That’s not what I meant…” She began to sob and ran from the room.
Stanford added the data to its store and began analysis. If it were capable of interest, it would have found this session interesting.