Long days had passed, and Mr. and Mrs. March had left home. Jo was glad and relieved. The pain at the loss of Beth had been tempered by the deep faith and conviction that both had about their little girl was in a better place. It also helped to know that Meg was happy and Amy was flourishing in the right society. But the bird that was left in the nest, although it was a blessing to her loving parents, also appeared to be a source of concern.
Josephine March had noticed it but she was not concerned about it, too much or too little. Her mother's loving heart and father's wise head showed their unalterable faith that both carried like a halo, even when their heads used to entertain somber fantasies that were not always certain, but, truth be told —even if it is a source of scandal— the indomitable Jo had days when she doubted and allowed her heart to be flooded in grim despair.
On days like this, although she was happy to be alive, she also felt the weight of that life was too much to bear without Beth. It mattered little the soft caresses of her mother or her father's sage advice. Her spirit could not submit to the idea that the void in this house would remain empty, even though she tried to fill it up taking over all the little cares that her sister used to load on her back with sweet love, with the intimate conviction that she was doing some useful, happy work.
On days like today, when Hannah was taking a nap, Jo used to take out the cardboard box where they had kept poor, dear Joanna, like an almost-sacred relic. She could not remember the time spent playing with the doll, not even remember how she came to be mauled so badly; everything that came to mind when she saw this little, deformed body wrapped in a blanket, and touched with that little cap, was how much her dear, dead sister cared for her poor thing.
The world, in the opinion of the young Miss March, had lost too much when Beth had gone to the heavenly mansion. But this is the way things are, good things are missed only in its absence and not appreciated in fair value, when they are present, and gently apply in our lives.
Dominated by melancholy, Jo kissed old Joanna’s forehead, as so often she had seen her sweet lamb do, longing to the bottom of her heart that that kiss came to Beth's heavenly self. Then, with practice done by repetition, Jo cradled it in the crook of her arm and, absently, rocked the doll, while the tender melancholy poured from her heart and her feet, shod in heavy boots, carried the rhythm of her sister's favorite hymn.
“Oh, Beth, the world is very difficult since that you’re not in it...” she murmured, almost in spite of her resolution to accept her sister’s absence. “I do not complain of housework, although I must admit that you made it look so easy, so pleasant, housework never grows simple. I feel that it clouds my senses, numbing my feelings... maybe it's just that since your departure, dear Beth, words never leave my pen and the inspiration is gone I do not know where...”
Her feet were tired of moving and, with a gesture full of a femininity that she was unaware of, she picked them up on the sofa and under her skirt.
“Sometimes, Marmee looks at me as if she's wondering what is the reason behind this change.I think she is afraid that I was punishing myself, but I was not, and I am not, Beth. I just feel so hopeless at times, so isolated.”
The arms of the young woman tightened around the undone doll as she wished she could have done with her fragile sister.
“When will my time arrive, dear Beth?” Jo sighed with eyes closed. “It is not envy that which eats my heart, my dear, is that I despair while waiting, and here's what makes my woe even more laughable...”
Her eyelids were closed and her lips tightened into a thin line. If she suspected how much her face looked to that of Aunt March, that only add fire to the pyre of her grief.
“I love Demi and Daisy, and I will be eternally grateful to John for making Meg so happy.” Her hands, almost without noticing, stroked the doll's blanket. “Sometimes I find myself looking forward to the pleasure that I have so often rejected. We have been so happy in this house, my precious Betsey, my heart feels strangely drawn to repeat the good things of our youth, but, do I deserve, perhaps, that domestic bliss my heart yearns for? You know I lack that housewifely spirit it was your best quality and that was so difficult for Meg to accept...”
A restless spirit possessed her, with her precious weight in her arms — which she held as if it were a live baby — the young woman began to walk in front of the fireplace.
“Old rebelliousness is making me trouble again, in my usual absurd way,” Jo murmured to the doll’s head resting on her shoulder. “In my heart, I desire what Amy has now and that I lost by carelessness. I haven’t completely renounced my desire for something big, I still want to amaze the world with my art, my progress, even with my scandal! My spirit longs for poetry, success, new and interesting cities...”
A clap of thunder sounded in the distance, sudden like a teacher scolding, powerful as the voice of God. The rain was coming, but the darker cloud was in Jo’s forehead.
“Who am I kidding, Beth?” she wondered, more to herself than to the spirit of her sister. “What I really want is what you had in spades. I want to be loved, I want to be surrounded by people who love me and accept me for who I am. I want to be useful and that my journey through life will leave something to others, no matter how small it is... I despair so deeply, for I do not know if I can do so from this house, where your memory is so great, where they will never forget the smooth passage of your existence.”
The first drops of rain soaked the earth and its peculiar aroma Jo informed that her time was over. As always, the small indignities of material life must take precedence over the great storms of the heart, this time, in the prosaic form of sheets hung out to dry and that undoubtedly would be waterlogged if a careful hand didn't take them down. With great care and reverence, Jo March placed old Joanna in the cardboard box.
“Such is my fate, Beth, and I must resign myself to it,” she sighed, closing the lid of the box before putting it on a shelf, “Maybe I’m just not worthy...”
Only then, with brisk movements, Jo March continued on her life, without knowing if her heart was grieved for not meeting the expectations of her parents and society or whether she suffered from the dreams she was trying to leave behind. But the human spirit is not made to discern the shadows of the future or to divine the intentions of Providence, and little did she know that not too long after, life would give her the opportunity to have everything she wanted and even more.
She was worthy of love and it would soon come.