Wind and leaves sway their lullaby above my head as I slowly wake up. The cygnets have drifted back to their mother on the island in the middle of the pond, no longer waiting by the fencing that encompasses their world for me to hand them clovers that grow out of their reach. I hear them faintly muttering to their mother and other siblings as I stretch a little, eyes still closed. Music continues to play through my earbuds, one of which has fallen out of my ear and into the grass I rest on.
The kingdom of the morning star
can pierce a cold and stony heart.
Its grace went through me like a sword
and came out like this song.
Now I'm just waiting for the day
in the shadows of the dawn.
Gray Havens' "Shadows of the Dawn." It's just after the song I was listening to when I drifted off. But has it only been the length of a song, or have I been asleep the whole album and it started playing again? I put the question from my mind and inhale deeply, the grass, dirt, pond, and gentle summer air, smell like sweet colors that fill my mind. The grass murmurs as someone leaves the concrete path and approaches. I know this pattern of steps, the soft chuckle.
I stretch, smiling, and open my eyes. Seeing him smiling down at me, my own smile broadens. "Hi."
"Hi." The laughter gracing his shining eyes tickles his voice as well. "Were you asleep?"
"Not just now. I was thinking."
"Sure you were."
"I might have been sleeping for a while beforehand."
He chuckles again, pulling a leaf out of my hair. "Let's get going, Silly Woman." Taking my hand, he helps me to my feet.
Evening autumn chills have wrapped themselves around my fingers like strips of cloth as I leave him at the door, worry prodding my heart with icy fingers. He's sick. Just a cold, but I still feel lost, unable to help him recover. Instead of going straight home, where I can make cocoa and wrap myself in a blanket, I wander along paved paths while the chapel bells sing songs. Eventually I make my way towards the glowing sunset. An illusion from the distance told me the sun had set the fog to a red glow, but no fog exists to greet me when I reach the cliff's edge. I lean on the fence and gaze down at the water, its strange surface a mix of dancing textures, waves that dissolve into the shore and ripples that resemble the wrinkles of a fluttering silk cloth.
I drift away with the breeze, back up the path, leaving behind the people hammocking, chatting among themselves. When I am behind the library, I pause. We've sat in the grass here together, he and I, talking about various universes. This evening, I see something I have repeatedly overlooked when the grass was green and vibrant: a well worn path. Without consciously coming to a decision, I find myself following it. I place one foot at a time, not rushing myself when it's even a little steep. I've learned caution from a childhood of running through fields and walking along ledges beside creeks. I gently lower myself down large rocks similar to the those at the cliff point I just left. At the end, I stand on a flat slab that overlooks the lake below. I feel different here, more myself than work has allowed me to be in a while. There is no fence here. No fence to protect me, but none to confine me.
I sit down, alone but for the occasional owl call and cricket symphony. The sun continues her near completed journey, settling ever so slowly behind the tree blanketed hills in the distance. As I trace senseless shapes and patterns in the red clay dust that covers the stone, I study the almost twinkling cities in the distance and the reflections of lanterns on the lakeside docks. Watching the water so late at night, I understand the writers who came back again and again to ink. It's so dark I can hardly imagine ever seeing through it clearly, but even as I accept the obsidian depths, remembering my mother's inks and pens with which she does not write, but draws, the words to paint the universe, I cannot help but notice how much clearer the reflection is in this black mirror. Eventually I take my camera out and try to capture a fragment, but none of the pictures satisfy me.
After a while, I return up the path again, find my way to my room, curl up with a blanket, and make cocoa for my roommate and myself. The night passes gently, and I fall asleep in a deep pile of blankets.
The next day, I wake in a cocoon of warmth but manage to force myself to get dressed and out. I see him at lunch, still miserably ill. He eats quickly, and I walk him back to his place again. Again I wander to the cliff behind the library. Today, I notice a path that enters the trees. Curious, I follow it until I find a place to sit. There I build a small fairy house in the base of a tree. Inside, I place a sun-bleached snail shell. The rest of my time on the path, I take pictures. There's something about light that touches the human soul. So many stories from all around the world, and light is almost always a force or symbol of good.
Before I go back to my room again, I sit on the stone slab for nearly half an hour, staring out at the lake and surrounding countryside, far away but somehow close enough to see. Despite the chilly weather of late, I am warm in the sunlight, warm and content. Absentmindedly, I reach up and touch my hair. My fingers encounter a stowaway there, a yellow leaf. Its edges are jagged and must have caught in my hair while I was hidden away along the forest path. Although I am not certain why, I give it a gentle kiss before I return it to the trees.
Standing, I stare out one more time at the vast segment of the enormous garden I am a part of. It's not the perfect garden, the Garden of Eden, but it's still a garden, brimming with life, beauty, and the fantastical. How wondrous. I brush the dirt from my jeans and sigh happily.