The woman was weathered with deep wrinkles and light silver grey hair. A tiny grey and wrinkled dragon was curled up in her lap. She put her hand on the girl’s, closed her eyes and said, “Do you really want to hear the story?” The girl nodded, eyes wide with anticipation.
“All right, but let me warn you, it is not a Nice story.” The old woman paused. The girl nodded with encouragement. This was it. This was The Story. This was her birthright. It was time.
“Once. Once there was.” The old woman sighed and rubbed her eyes.
“Once upon a time? Yes, that’s better. Now we shall begin.”
“Once upon a time there was a little girl with bright eyes, wild hair and bare feet. The girl lived in a thatched cottage on the edge of the Estate. She lived with her mother, her father, her grandmother, her grandfather, her seven older brothers, and a big orange cat. They were poor and every day was a struggle, but they worked hard, and were able to get by. Every night they sang together before bed. Life was good. The girl was happy but always felt like she was simply waiting for her life to begin.” The old woman smiled as she remembered the happy days of the earliest part of her life.
“One day the girl walked through the field of the Estate. She skipped. She twirled. She laughed. She felt pure joy and a sense of anticipation. She stared up at the sky marveling at the beauty of the world. Then, she tripped. She looked and there was a perfect, shiny, metallic black egg. It was warm and hummed softly.”
“A voice spoke in her head, ‘Finally. It is you. You are here. I have been waiting for you for so long.'” The small grey dragon purred and snuggled in closer to the old woman who looked down at it fondly.
“Words, words, words …” she mutters, “Words, words, words …”
She pauses and repositions her hat to keep the mist from her face. A man walks by hat pulled low, coat collar up, studiously ignoring her. When did she become invisible? She shakes her head and says to him, “How does it go? Please … I can’t remember …” No answer. Did she say it out loud? Or only inside?
She pushes her cart along the sidewalk, the wheels squeak loudly. “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind …” she shouts. And then she whispers, “...the slings and arrows … outrageous fortune …” A woman and child ahead of her cross to the other side of the street.
She knows the words are there, she can feel them on the edges of her mind, just waiting to be found again. She reaches the end of the sidewalk and gives the cart a well-practiced shove onto the grass, careful not to tip out the precious contents. She makes her way to her shelter made of pieces of wood and a green tarp and unpacks her cargo.
The books, the books will help her remember.
Kelly sits on the grass beneath the apple tree. She puts down her sketch pad and leans back, resting on the trunk of the tree, eyes closed. The warm sun. The scent of apple blossoms. The buzz of bees. The feeling of the bark of the tree, uneven against her back. An ant crawls along her leg. The wind rustles gently in the leaves. There is an earthy smell in the air.
She remembers that, as a child, she would to lie on the grass and look at the blue sky through the individual blades of grass. Together, the blue and green were the most beautiful colours in the world. She would lie there for what felt like hours and feel at one with the world. She felt like she could see the grass growing in front of her eyes. Close to the earth. Warm in the sun. Nothing else.
She frowns. How did it happen? How has she stopped noticing the beauty of the world? It is easy to blame it on time, obligations, deadlines. Running to catch the train. It is easy to think that the world has changed. Traffic jams, office towers, concrete. People hurrying, rushing, intent.
But, the world hasn’t changed. Not really. The bees still buzz and the wind still moves through the trees.
Thunder rumbles. It will rain soon. Wrapping the beauty of the world around her, Kelly picks up her sketch pad and walks quickly back to the house as the first drops begin to fall. She will carry this moment forward with her into the days, weeks and months ahead.