Spirit Lake Bed & Breakfast
The red and white afghan draped across her slight frame was not quite warm enough as the sun settled below the horizon. Clara had been outdoors for hours, but could not bring herself to pack up her wine glass and photo album and make her way back to the house just yet.
The wooden lounge chair on which she sat was one of many on the large red brick patio behind the bed-and-breakfast she and George ran. George had crafted the chair with his own hands, along with most of the other furniture at the establishment. Spirit Lake Bed & Breakfast was a handmade kind of place; she and her husband took pride in that.
Clara thought back to the day they’d closed on the house. It was 1972. She had been only thirty then, pregnant and hauling around two year-old Max. She laughed at how easy it had all seemed at the time. Why should they work “nine to five” jobs when they could stay home, raise their family together, and run a bed-and-breakfast? Neither Clara nor George could have guessed how difficult it would be, or how much of their lives they would sacrifice. But she loved it; they both did. Hell, the kids did too.
Max had gone off to college after high school, only to return to the apartment above the carriage house as a handyman. Alice was living and working in Milwaukee now, but came back to visit every chance she could. Alice would always sing and play the old upright-piano for the dinner guests when she was home. If Max wasn’t hiding in his little studio apartment, he would get out his guitar. They would charm the guests with music from the past, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, and the other artists Clara and George had raised them on.
The news of the planned highway expansion had blindsided the family. In fact, Clara had successfully convinced herself that the plans would fall through, much like the water bot- tling plant that had tried to come into town years earlier. Spirit Lake residents were not keen on change, and that suited Clara just fine. That stubbornness was her bread and butter. The rustic charm of the area around Highway Z kept her bed-and-breakfast full of tourists from the surrounding cities during the tourist season. When that notice of the town meeting came in the mail, she and George could no longer ignore the issue.
Clara opened the photo album again. It was full of Polaroids of smiling couples. Forty years of guests were within those pages. She flipped to the back of the book; the guests in this portion of the album were all young, successful looking couples. They had something else in common as well; they couldn’t conceive. These were the guests that stayed in Lilly’s Room.
– 40 –
Lilly’s Room was a beautiful, Victorian style room. It was furnished with a large, ma- hogany, four-poster bed, and a red velvet settee. It wasn’t the beautiful furniture that drew these couples to Lilly’s Room, or the captivating view of the tall, majestic pines dwarfed by the Wisconsin bluffs. It was the stories. After a couple had exhausted all other avenues of having a child, Spirit Lake was the last chance. The story went that if a couple were to make love in Lilly’s Room, they would conceive.
Clara flipped through the couples. The stories of the magical room had never left her lips, but they were well known throughout the region. Clara didn’t believe in such things, but who was she to deny these couples their last hope? A majority of them had sent baby pictures nine months later to be placed beside their own photos; maybe they were on to something.
Clara closed the album once more and pulled herself from her seat. As she bent to pick up what was left of her wine she felt the warmth of a pair of strong, sturdy arms circle her waist. She laughed as she rose and turned to kiss her husband.
“I was beginning to wonder if you fell asleep out here, my dear.” Clara laughed again and linked arms with the large man.
“Let’s go see the wild flowers.”
“But it’s so dark and cold. Let me go grab you a jacket and a flashlight.”
“Oh, stop worrying about me, George. You can keep me warm, and the moon is huge tonight.”
It was George who laughed now, and enveloped his petite wife in a long embrace. He led her down the path toward the large patch of wildflowers that sat against the line of pine trees that marked the edge of their land and the beginning of acres of DNR-owned property. Clara was right, the slivery moon lit their way quite well. It also illuminated the pinks, oranges, and yellows of the untamed beauty ahead. The path cut through the center of the wild garden to an open patch of grass where a small, rectangular slab of concrete lay. The couple stood silently over the slab. Etched into its surface were wildflowers, vines, and miniature birds. These delicately etched bits of nature encircled one simple line of text.
The etched flowers and birds began to glisten in the light of the moon as Clara’s tears splashed down upon them.
“She would have been thirty-seven today.” “I know.”
“Remember, she had jet black hair when she was born?”
– 41 –
“Do we dig her up, I mean, when they force us out?” “Do you want to?”
“Yeah…I can’t stand the thought of those excavators doing it.. I wonder if she would have lived if I hadn’t fallen.”
Silence. George had told Clara until his voice was raw that it had not been her fault. But after thirty seven years, he knew he couldn’t get her to let go of the guilt. Instead, he hugged her tighter and thought of the night she had given birth to quiet little Lilly in that Victorian style bedroom. George and Clara stood amongst the wildflowers for some time, studying the head- stone, the flowers, and the pine trees.
Clara wiped away the tears with the heels of her hands. “I am worried about the kids. Where will Max go? What will he do? And Alice, she works so hard in the city. She needs a balance. She needs this place.”
“Everything will work out, we can use the pittance Uncle Sam gives us and what we have saved to move to one of those retirement villages in Florida,” George said.
“You hate Florida.”
“It will be okay, Clara. What’s done is done. Let’s go inside. I will make you a cup tea.”
As the couple walked back to the house Clara thought about Lilly’s Room. There would be no more desperate couples coming to her for a little hope and a stay in Lilly’s Room. Thank God for that.
– 42 –