My attempts to get Anna’s attention failed in her reverie.
With no other recourse, I followed the police down the hall to the Dean’s office. Despite my protests, I was not allowed in the room. Someone put a hand on my shoulder and I whirled around to see the Dean of the university.
“Let me go in first and intervene.” He squeezed my arm and then left me. When the door opened, I couldn’t see Anna. I cried out for her, but my voice was lost as the door shut in my face.
I turned and hurried down the hall and up the stairs to the second floor. The wood-paneled hall was divided by glass fronted doors leading to the individual offices of the faculty.
At the end of the hall, there was a cul de sac of three offices. I knocked on the one to my left. My knock was answered by an invitation to enter.
The overhead light shadowed his face as he sat bent over his desk. When I entered the room, he looked up and then sighed and then returned to the book he was studying. He looked the same as I’d remembered him, though as I stepped into the room, it became clear that creases above his brow and around his eyes had softened his chiseled features. Sprinklings of silver frosted his dark hair.
“It’s me Natalie, not Anna,” I said, stopping before his desk.
He leaned back in his chair. “I know.”
I kept in mind that they had not broken up easily. Anna had fought his rationalizations that the affair had come to its natural end with painful, sometimes hysterical entreaties that had lead to embarrassing arguments in front of other faculty. I often wondered if their breakup had precipitated Anna’s descent into her imaginary world, or whether his recognition of her decline caused him to seek an end rather than watch her fall.
“Deszo, I need your help.”
“It’s good to see you, Natalie.”
“Anna’s in trouble.”
“I don’t think I’m the right person for you to see.”
“Please, come now,” I said reaching for his hand. “I’ll explain it as we go.”
“I don’t want to get involved...”
“Deszo, she came here believing she was still a professor. She gave an enflaming speech. Damn it, this has nothing to do with your affair. I’m asking you as a friend.”
“For Max,” I cried.
His expression remained implacable.
“Then do it for me.”
Deszo’s eyebrows arched and he looked at me without comment.
He stood and walked around his desk. I grabbed his arm in mine and hurried him down the hall. I explained my confrontation with the soldiers last night; the event that I believed had given Anna the impetus this morning. Deszo stopped on the landing under the light from a window and touched my forehead. “Natalie.”
“We don’t have time.” I brushed his hand away.
The crowd around the Dean’s office had subsided when we reached the door. Deszo went first and I followed.
I looked around the room, “Where’s Anna?”
The Dean nodded towards his office. “I had them put her in there. I felt it would be less stressful for her.”
“Thank you,” I said, heading for the door.
I entered the room quietly. My heart skipped as I looked around the room and found it empty. Then I heard the chair behind the desk squeak on its castors and it rolled a little closer to the window.
Walking over to the chair, I saw Anna. Her palm, splayed against the cold glass left a moist impression.
My hand stopped in mid-air at the sound of her voice.
“It’s colder than usual this winter.”
I followed her gaze to the barren trees in the courtyard outside the window. “Yes.”
“I was looking for the birds.”
“There aren’t any people in the park to feed them.” Her voice took on a singsong quality.
“People are starving, Anna.”
“But who will feed the birds?” Her whisper, childlike.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“They’ll die if someone doesn’t feed them.”
“Is that why you came here this morning?”
She shrugged, but refused to turn away from the window. “Do you remember when we were little, how Marie would let us put breadcrumbs on the windowsill in the kitchen?”
Her hair had come loose from the neat bun at the nape of her neck, releasing wisps of blonde curls. She swayed in her seat, keeping rhythm to a song I couldn’t hear. Her voice slipped between the ebullient authority I’d heard only an hour before and a childish banter, as if the two warred within her for authority.
“And when we came home from school in the afternoon, we would go to the window and see that all the breadcrumbs were gone. Marie said that the birds had come while we were at school.”
I smiled and touched the collar of her jacket, letting my fingers run along the nubby tweed, wishing I could join her in this innocent reflection.
Anna continued without me. “So one Saturday I put out the breadcrumbs as we did every morning. This time, I sat by the window and waited for the birds. But they never came.”
Anna’s voice broke. “When I asked Marie why they wouldn’t come, she just laughed and said, ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen.’”
“I don’t understand your point, Anna.”
“How can there be evidence of things not seen?”
I looked out at the steel gray sky, pregnant with unreleased snow, and felt the desperate frustration of my sister. But I felt no sympathy. I sighed, exasperated. “Anna, some birds will live and some will die. We cannot save them all.”
Anna shook her head and then pressed her forehead against the glass. “If not us, who?”
“Is that why you came here this morning?” I repeated.
“Someone has to feed the birds,” she whispered. “If not us, then who, Natalie?”