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Posts Tagged ‘old age’

The path was familiar, but the terrain seemed unknown. The child’s hands brushed the long purple cat-tail grass, then caught a drifting dandelion head as it bobbed upon the blissful breeze, making a wish before releasing it to dance away towards the sun’s bright rays.

The sweet scene proved but momentary delusion. The jaded adult stared blankly, mocked by words that no longer flowed where gentle streams once meandered through forests towards some iconic tree, embellished with fanciful stories like kite tails caught in branches where only children dared to climb.

When the feathery dandelion dissolved from sight, small feet skipped the pine-needled path to the place where kite tails dangled like mosaic mobiles from ancient branches; small hands traced the textured bark like a puzzle to be solved or a tower to be climbed.

The memory of childhood was rusting and eroding, tarnished by trials too terrible for small minds to comprehend. Some part had passed into dispassionate past, moving almost beyond recall. Thoughts that once danced brightly on air now suspended dimly in dust, threadbare and motionless like a forgotten child’s toy that might never bring joy or bright smiles again.

Hand over hand with bubbling hope, the child searched through leaves for any trace of life or light or laughter, any scraps of words or tails of kites that might unhide themselves in the tell-tale breeze. Then a reconnecting squeal of delight severed the silence. ‘You found me,’ the old man’s voice trembled, washing his tired spirit new like a breeze and a river and a kite taking flight.

‘I never forgot where to look,’ the small, white-haired boy replied. ‘The stars appear and disappear each day, turning days into endless years. Yet still this tree stands where it has always been.’

‘Another year has passed indeed,’ the old man lamented, the twinkle in his eye clouded by the threat of tears. ‘Once more, I am reminded that I am older than the universe itself.’

‘Yes,’ the child replied, ‘But you are as young as the universe too. You are the moon, but I am a star. A moon by itself is not a universe. Nor can a universe be made of a single star. I have climbed here today to show you the galaxy.’

The old man trembled as he received into his ancient hands the small box the child proffered. Actually, it seemed more like a wordless book than a box, and as he opened the cover, a galaxy of tiny paper stars and planets swirled endlessly before his eyes.

‘One day your time will come to join the stars,’ the little boy explained. ‘But until that time, you hold the stars within your hands, inside a book you must learn to read so that you might never forget what it means to be a child, though others might not understand.’

The old man closed the cover, forever protecting the paper stars that the child had cut one by one from coloured paper with tiny hands. And he sighed to know how painstakingly the little boy had glued and glittered each one, so that when light touched them, they would beam like cosmic jewels to remind him of the life he had now and the universe that would some day embrace him. And though he was eternally grateful, he also felt a sadness well inside him, for the child who had found him hidden in the tree was not the one he had most wished to see.

‘It has been so long,’ the old man’s voice trembled, ‘since the laughter of the little girl with pink bows in her hair filled these branches. I am truly afraid she has forgotten how to climb. Once upon a time she used to hang her tiny butterflies from long pieces of glittery string; I would hear her giggle from some distant place when I discovered what she had left for me to find. But now it has been so long, I am sure she has forgotten.’

Then the small child realised that the old man did not understand. ‘She is the one who sent me here! She is the one who cut out each star by hand. She is the one who gave each star its shine and placed each one inside this box for you. It may seem as though she has forgotten everything, but on certain days, her memory is awakened, and the universe that dances inside her smile flows only in the direction of this ancient tree. She knows that today is your special day, and she alone has sent me here with this gift for you.’

And as the old man’s weathered eye released a tired tear of relief, it washed down his cheek, smoothing the ripples that time had etched upon his ancient face. As more tears fell, they washed him clean and new, smudging the furrowed lines and erasing the countless years since childhood was all that he might ever know. Even now as he looked at the hand he lifted to brush the next tear away, he marvelled at how small it was, how totally devoid of any sign that he might be growing older rather than younger.

Opening the book shaped box once more, he drew from beneath the paper stars a tiny planet, made of glass so shiny and pure that it reflected his image back to his eyes so that he knew for certain now that he was indeed only a small, white-haired boy. The old man still sat beside him on the branch, but in the long distant future, gently reminding him to take all the time in the world to be a child, to marvel in the mystery of all that it meant to be so young and small.

And as the sun began to set, the boy sat quietly, his leg dangling over the branch, humming a tune, completely alone. The old man and his box of paper stars had faded into some future time and space. The child breathed the crisp air into his tiny lungs, infused with the strange scent of magical winter leaves that grew only on this tall tree while all other trees bore the barest branches. An early star shot across the dusky sky, and the child closed his eyes to whisper his wish. Today was his special day. He kept his eyes scrunched tightly closed til he was certain he could hear the almost forgotten sounds of another child’s steps skipping with delight in the sparkling starlight.

Wishing the happiest birthday ever to my dear friend, LP – may all your wishes come true today and always – Angelica 🙂 🙂 🙂

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The old woman sat alone on the hard wooden bench, looking out over the largest of the park’s three lakes. It was late afternoon – almost dusk – and the slow rhythm of crickets chirping their evening song combined with the soft sound of the water’s gentle resistance against the slightest breeze. The two songs – one of summer, the other of spring – wove behind the old woman’s calm recollections like tapestry yarn lacing through a lifetime of vivid memories and faded, wistful remembrances.

How soft and cool the breeze now smoothed against her skin, erasing its ancient folds. She felt herself slowly losing hold of the present moment, the layers of years melting away and transporting her gently back to a time before age had made its presence known in the softly etched lines around her smile. 

“Ahh! Here is the magical breeze,” she whispered to herself and to the small grey rabbit that darted unexpectedly down the hill in front of her and into the scrub fringing the lake, “the same one that has followed me everywhere I have walked for the last two decades.” Far away, birds told other birds where the day’s flight had taken them, and somewhere children played some game that children sometimes played. How long since she had played such games herself? Their vibrant voices bobbed and bubbled – then floated past her – drifting on the dandelion that danced over the lake before dissolving like spun sugar into a glint of sparkling sun. 

Her oldest friend, the magic breeze, rustled the leaves of every tree in the park. It lifted the burden of age gently from her shoulders and carried it away from the bench to the far side of the lake, far from her view. A blissful smile spread across the woman’s soft face as it inclined towards the fading sun. “I shall be the Child once more.” She inhaled the magic deeply into her lungs, every cell of her tired body now renewed as though the air was infused with sparkly bubbles of glittery soap. “Here come my dear friends now.” And they began to appear as they always did whenever she wished for them, one by one as they had done for many decades. 

First, as always, came the delightful little girl in the red satin dress with eyes that sparkled like bright, dark rubies. Windswept hair like golden sand fringed the waters of her blue-green eyes. It had been many years since those tiny oceans had clouded in Angelica’s presence. Now they were radiant, filled to overflowing with the joys of the past and the sweet secrets of the untold future.  “I knew I would find you here, Angelica,” the girl beamed, climbing up next to her on the park bench. “How have you been?”  

The old woman smiled sadly. She could not bring herself to tell the child how tired the years had made her, how worn the threads of her joy had become since they had last sat here together on this bench. But the girl in red could not see the old woman at all – just the eternal friend of her delightful youth, returned to her not decades after their last meeting, but only weeks since they had last come to this pretty park to play. 

The old woman gazed deeply into the mirror of the little girl’s blue-green eyes and saw herself reflected clearly in her beloved bright pink overalls, long before the knees had become worn and the butterfly patches had been sewn on with pink sparkly thread. Yes, she was truly eight years old once again. “Come run with me,” her friend implored, her bright, sweet eyes twinking with mystery and bliss.

And the two girls ran, side by side, laughing along the sun-dappled path that wound like a leafy necklace around the long neck of shimmering lake. Before they reached the bench, the girls fell, breathless, onto the soft dark grass and peered at their panting reflections in the water’s darkening mirror. “There are only two reflections,” the girl in red smiled, nodding, “But in just a moment, there will surely be three.” 

The girls sat, waiting expectantly, gazing into the mirrored surface. An elegant lady in a long red dress strolled along the nearby path, walking two dogs, a Golden Retriever and a brown cocker spaniel with long, velvet ears. “Hello dears. What are you looking at, sitting so close to the lake?” Her voice was bright and full of wonder, and Angelica felt an odd sensation, as though she had seen the lady before.  Perhaps she had only seen her outline in the distance across the lake sometime, walking her dogs on some sunny Sunday afternoon? Or maybe they had met one another a long time ago, possibly even in a dream?  

“We’re waiting for a boy,” the girl in the red dress replied. “He usually appears when we wish for him to arrive and he always tells us a story. We normally don’t have to wait very long.” The lady’s dogs made their way close to the girls, nuzzling their noses against their hands and faces. “Did you really make a wish to see the boy?” the lady inquired. Angelica considered the question carefully, before concluding, “No, not really. I supposed we didn’t actually wish at all. We just sort of expected him to show up.”

“Well, dears,” the lady smiled. “I wonder if he’s anything like the boy I used to wish for when I was younger? It’s no good keeping your wish locked up quietly in your heart. You need to find a way to make it come out. I suppose you could always wish upon a star? That’s how I used to make my magical boy appear.” The girls looked up into the sky, and even though pink and red swirls had started to streak across it like a kindergarten painting, it was simply too early for stars. “How else can we make a wish?”

Angelica’s eyes widened and clouded at the thought that, without a star to wish upon, the boy with the white hair may not find a way to appear. There was no lunchtime wishbone, no cake candles to be wished upon – no pebble to skim across the lake, making it skip three times across the surface to make a wish come true. The girls looked into each other’s eyes, foreheads crinkling like an old woman’s wrinkles. Between them, they knew of no other way to make a wish. 

“Please look after my dogs for a while,” the lady in the red dress asked the girls, handing them their leashes. On her command the dogs sat stiffly, as though guarding the two children. She disappeared around a bend in the path, and each girl sat beside a dog, wrapping her arms around its neck, resting her head against its soft shoulder.  “It’s getting late,” the girl in red sighed. “And kind of dark,” Angelica replied, “And there’s not a single star anywhere in all that swirly sky.” But in a few moments, the lovely lady in the long red dress reappeared, her hands hiding everything that was needed to make a wish come true behind her back.

“And now I shall make you a trade,” she smiled, taking a dog lead from each of the girls, and putting in its place a large fluffy white dandelion on a long green stalk. “We’d forgotten about these!” the girl in red squealed with delight. And together the girls closed their eyes and blew their own magical breezes to send the white seeds flying like two fairies down the path beside the lake, around the corner and out of sight. Beside them, the lady waited in anticipation, wondering whether wishes still came true when dandelions took fairy flights on the breeze of a child’s most sincere wish-kiss. 

Even the dogs seemed to hold their breaths, wondering whether a magical boy would soon appear down the path towards them in his long blue coat, summoned or transformed by the girls’ wishes and their seed fairies. But nothing happened. No boy appeared. They all waited still, but knew with increasing certainty that their wait was in vain. There would be no reunion today; no story would be told.

“I’m so sorry, girls,” the lady tried to soothe them, seeing the heavy outline of disappointment beginning to etch itself on each of the girl’s faces. By now the sky was indeed darkening. Other visitors were slowly making their way out through the front gates of the park and back to homes where warm meals and warm beds awaited them.

“Park closing – 5 minutes!” they could hear the gate-keeper calling. “Please make your way out of the park!” Soon, the lady with the dogs was just a dark outline, moving slowly towards the park’s exit.  The girls remained seated by the lake. “He didn’t come,” the girl in red said dejectedly, all hope fading like a rose at sunset at the end of the hottest day. “We didn’t know how to wish him here with us,” Angelica sighed. “The dandelions didn’t work, and there’s not a single star in the sky to wish on tonight,” she lamented.

“Closing time now I’m afraid, young uns!” By now, the old gatekeeper had limped his way slowly towards where the girls sat on the dark green grass. “Time to move on!” His voice was grizzly and its accent came from far away, but in the descending darkness, Angelica felt sure that his eyes would be kind.

And as night fell and her eyes adjusted to the old gatekeeper’s hunching form, Angelica remembered that she was not eight years old at all, but an old woman, daydreaming once again as she had done so many times before in the park. There was no little girl in a red dress beside her, just the gate-keeper – a man just a little older than herself. She recognised in him another victim of time and age, like herself, at the end of another long day, and closer than either of them would like to have been to night’s inevitable descent.

“Sorry, Ma’am,” he told her, “It’s really time for you to make your way home.” Embarassed to have stayed seated by the lake so long and to have forgotten herself so completely once again, Angelica apologised and began to raise herself off the grass. And like so many other old women whose frail arms fail to support their bodies up off the grass, her knees gave way underneath her, bringing her crashing – as if in slow motion – hard onto the ground, now slippery with fine evening dew.

She winced – a sharp pain striking her ankle like a hammer – and wondered if the howl that filled her ears had somehow come from her own mouth. A flurry of voices floated behind her as the last few visitors leaving the park retraced their steps and crowded towards the old woman who had fallen. As embarassed as she had been to have stayed so long in the park, she was more humiliated now by the full extent of her folly.

“No,” she remembered. “I am not eight years old. I do not wish upon stars or seed fairies. I do not run around lakes. I was a fool for sitting here on the grass, and a greater fool for thinking that wishes could make the white haired boy appear.” In her shame, she gazed briefly back down at the waters of the lake, now black as a mirror against the full sky of night. And as if to mock her, now there was finally the taunting reflection of a single star, shining dimly on the water’s surface.

“I wish I could be young again,” she whispered, in the same breath scorning her extreme foolishness for wasting a wish that could never become a reality. Yet somehow, in the water’s reflection, instead of her own old wrinkled face, she thought she saw the dim outline of a child with pink bows in her hair, wearing overalls with butterfly patches sewn onto the knees. Steadily, the reflection of the child grew brighter as the star seemed to find the full strength of its glow. 

Angelica could feel the gatekeeper’s arm across her shoulder, and his other arm at her elbow, supporting her off the ground. Then she saw his reflection in the water beside her own. But in the mirror of the lake, the man’s face was no longer carved by the chisel of time. His features instead took the familiar form of a young boy in a long blue coat, smiling brightly as he raised her to her feet. “It’s ok, Angelica. I’m right here. I know you couldn’t find me, but I’ve been here all along.”

Joy swept over and through her in the magical breeze that began to blow across the lake without disturbing the two young reflections – which very soon were joined by a third. The woman in the red dress had returned to the lake with her dogs upon hearing the old lady cry out with pain when she slipped and fell. “Are you alright, dearie? Can I do anything to help you?” But in the water’s mirror, the woman’s face belonged to the young girl in the red satin dress; kindness, love and compassion now flooded the pools of her beautiful blue-green eyes.

“It’s ok, Angelica. We’re both here now, as we have always been. You twisted your ankle, but we three shall all just wait here for a bit until you think you’re ready to walk to the gate.” Reunited at last, the old woman, the gatekeeper and the lady in the red dress settled back down onto the grass to wait until the pain in Angelica’s ankle subsided. In the glowing mirror of the water’s surface, they were all young again, friends as they had been forever, smiling over the secrets they had shared for an eternity. They needed no words, only the pleasure and presence of each other’s smiles. But soon a familiar gleam appeared in the white haired boy’s smile and – as had happened so many times in decades past – he asked his two best friends in all the world: “Would you like me to tell you a story?”

His question needed no response from the girls, as their reply came floating in the form of two dandelion fairies, dancing now towards him upon the invisible waves of a magical breeze. He cleared his throat, gazed deeply into the eyes of his two young friends reflected upon the water’s dark surface, then began to tell them a tale from the deepest well of his vivid imagination. Angelica was not at all surprised by the story’s opening words. She listened to them intently, as though she had somehow heard them before: “The old woman sat alone on the hard wooden bench, looking out over the largest of the park’s three lakes …”

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