By Valerie Brown.
The willow’s long vines drift lazily atop the calm waters. Birds sing in its droopy branches. Moss climbs up its soggy trunk. I pick up the soda bottle leaning against my chair and take a long swig. Fifty years I’d been visiting here, but I never saw Pegaea. Others in my village saw her, but not me.
I close my eyes as a light breeze blows the curls off my face. I haven’t much time, now. Though I’d been seeking the water nymph my whole life, cancer proved an unconquerable dictator.
“Grandma, are you ready?” My grandson descends the shallow slope leading to this hollow nook. “It’s starting to get dark.”
“Yes, but I’ve never waited in the dark. Perhaps Pegaea dances at dusk.”
He rubs the back of his neck. “Well, mom asked me to bring you up.”
“And I’m your mother’s mother.” I glare at him over my shoulder. “I’ll call you when I’m ready.” As proof, I retrieve the cell phone from my pocket and wave it around in the air. “Now go on, Nick, I won’t have you scaring her off.”
Nick lingers in the deepening gloom, a look of disbelief on his young face—a look I don’t have to see to know is there. He sighs and climbs back up the hill.
The sun sets behind the farthest knoll, but a pale light still loiters in the heavens. Stars blink in the velvety sky. I will miss everything. I’ve marked my life by this willow tree, by the olive trees rooted on the opposing hill. When I married there were only two trees there, now there are twelve. Tears pool in the corners of my eyes. Had I the legs, I would traverse the shallow river and read our initials carved into the trunk of the oldest olive tree—whittled into immortality by my husband’s strong hands.
Had I only the legs.
I press my lips together. Gripping the arms of my plastic lawn-chair, I push myself into a standing position. The brook whispers only a few feet away. My breath catches as my ankles sink into the cool stream. Little pebbles wobble beneath my soles. A few steps in and I’m steady. The water’s up to my calves.
The opposite riverbank reaches for me like an old friend. I step again, but my ankle rolls and the gurgling waters rush up to meet me. Something grabs my arm, keeping my head above water. I open my eyes. There’s a pale hand gripping my bicep. Though petite, its hold is firm and begins to pull me up. My body struggles to comply.
“Pegaea,” the word rasps through my throat.
She stares at me with large, emerald eyes. Her hair hangs about her face like the willow’s vines, soft and wispy, draping her entire body in dark, silken strands. The moonlight glimmers off the iridescent freckles on her cheeks.
“Breathe, Aida,” she says.
Sucking in a breath, it gets caught in my chest, only to burst out in a desperate whisper. “You know me?”
Her lips part to form a small grin. Placing a hand on each of my shoulders, Pegaea ensures I’m stable before letting go.
“I have so many questions—”
She kneels down, cupping her hands in the stream. Rising, she offers me the sparkling water in her palms. “Drink, and be well.”
Trembling, I lean forward, lips touching her soft fingers. The water rushes down my throat, cools my esophagus and stomach. I blink and she’s gone. I glance around in a panic, but the waters are empty. With night fully upon me, I hobble back to the soft riverbank and sink into my lawn-chair.
“It’s miraculous, there’s no other word for it.” My doctor shakes his head, rereading the charts clasped in his hands. “You’re clear. One-hundred percent clear.”
“My cancer’s gone?” I lean forward, hanging on his words.
“So, I’m not going to die?”
“Not anytime soon, with any luck.” He chuckles.
I launch off the examining table and wrap him in a bear-hug. “Thank you, Dr. Gervaldi. Thank you!”
He pats my shoulder. “Don’t thank me, Mrs. Vidolucchi,” he points upwards, “I think a higher power’s at work.”
I can’t wait to get home.
My daughter cries when she hears the news and hugs me like she’s been too afraid to for so long. “We’re throwing a party!” She turns away, grabs her phone off the table, and begins dialing numbers.
Nick hugs me, too. “I’m glad you’re all better, grandma.” He steps back, eyes wet with his words.
While everyone’s off calling their friends, I pick through the pantry and place a small assortment of goodies into a wicker basket. It’s early evening when I sneak down to the river. The crickets are chirping. The water’s calm.
“Thank you, Pegaea,” it comes out a whisper, choked with tears. “Thank you.” I place the basket offering upon a small stone at the base of the weeping willow. The jar of olives reflects the moon’s pale face. I turn the wine bottle so that the label can be easily read. “It’s a white wine … my favorite kind—and the Feta’s fresh.” I rub my palms together, absorb the beauty of nature around me, then turn back up the hill.
VALERIE BROWN has been writing for five years. She loves creating character driven stories in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction. She lives just north of Richmond, Virginia with her husband, two kids, a golden couch potato/dog, and two wired tabbies. Check her out on: Twitter and her Blog.