A woman in a red dress stumbled out onto the open lawn. The warm light behind her glowed like a fire and excited voices and jovial music seeped from the castle into the blue summer night. The woman stood for a moment, breathing, enjoying the soft, cool air soothe her hot skin.
Her eyes searched wildly for the moon and when she couldn’t find it she glanced behind her, wondering if she should just abandon the night and drink until she was dizzy. Though, she knew what she was feeling now wouldn’t slip away so easily.
“Fuck you,” she whispered at the single star she could see because there was no-one else she could say it too.
The star twinkled back and the woman knew it was mocking her, trust you to be so naive to wish on me, it was saying, why would I ever have helped you?
And the woman remembered herself, aged eleven or twelve, sneaking out of her bedroom window, naked, to dance a frenzied dance to the moon and her special star. Her body twitched in its red dress. I could dance for you, she whispered in her head, staring at the star, but she was only playing.
Though now her hips itched even more, but she couldn’t take off the dress. Someone would come out to find her and think she was having a mental breakdown. Or they’ll think I’m high, she thought.
She walked to where the lawn sloped sharply down, and, like some dark queen, her arms stretched out, she descended the grand steps that cut down the middle of the garden onto the neatly mown grass below. She imagined herself in a movie, a bride escaping on her wedding night.
This fantasy excited her and she quickly undid her heels. She started running, her bare feet bouncing off the short grass. The lawn spread far out; her arms powered through the air like oars and her heart beat like an engine. She wanted to scream and laugh like a child. She’d forgotten what it felt like to run in the dark. It was always so much faster and the air slipped in and out of her lungs with little effort.
The woman stopped at a fountain, it’s water was inky black. Now more memories exposed themselves, sweetening the air she breathed.
There were a few weddings when she was a child. The kids would chase each other around the gardens in the evening. She’d never really felt that same thrill since, that fear twisting in her chest and the exhilaration as she ran with her brother and cousins down paths and through bushes to hide from the catcher.
She was hit again by how very short childhood is. Though when you are a child it feels like it will last forever. It clings to you, she thought, touching her stomach, it holds you so softly in its arms at first, then as you grow it grasps desperately and soon it is nothing but a ghostly sensation.
She stared at the water, slick and gleaming, and tried to notice every little swirl and sparkle. She stared so intently and in that moment she tried to remember what it felt like. She tried to believe in fairies, to wonder about love, to sense a great, beautiful unknown stretching out before her. The thoughts crept into the sparkling water and rose, suspended in the air, before falling and sliding seamlessly back into the blackness. The woman knew she was too old to believe those things now.
She drew her eyes from the water and studied the cherubs carved into the stone. Moss fringed their eyes like lashes and their round cheeks were grey and smooth. It made her think of dead babies and the baby graves she’d walk past in the church yard back home.
She sighed, and breathed, imagining everything she felt rushing from her chest, up her throat, bursting from her mouth, and framing her head like a halo. I can be naked out here, she thought, now I’m away from everyone.
She wandered on past the fountain, balancing over the pebbles. Images from the day lit up the darkening garden around her, as though her eyes were a projector.
She saw the bride walking up the aisle, as everyone watched in awe. She’d only glanced at her, before studying the groom. His leg bounced nervously and his eyes crackled as he watched his future-wife come closer and closer. She’d stared at his dark eyebrows and imagined his nipples pressing against his shirt, as her own dress stretched around her body like a second skin.
There were many people there she knew; faces swam around her like they did in dreams. It had been impossible to tell why some people looked familiar until they opened their mouths and spoke. She’d usually guessed they’d been to college together and she’d usually been right.
Now they were all in a grand castle, wearing long, swishy dresses and sipping from champagne flutes. The collage parties flashed like neon lights in her eyes. Flesh sprawled across mangy sofas, red lips and bleary eyes. Music pounding loud enough to make your heart confused.
She trailed her hand along the tall hedge beside her as she walked. She could almost smell the cigarette smoke. Those times are nearly passed too now, she thought. The fearless woman with the tiny waist and blazing eyes stood still as the woman she was now walked on. She stopped, imagining her nineteen year old self standing behind her, arms folded, watching, judging silently.
I wish I was still as beautiful, she thought. She hastily pulled away the clips that held up her dark hair. Thick, black curls tumbled down her back and the woman instantly felt a little younger. The feeling bubbled, making her feel giddy and she noticed the warm summer air on her skin. It made her yearn for foreign lands and beautiful people, though most of all it made her remember the many summers that had already passed.
She reminisced the times when she drifted amongst strangers as though they were angels. Gazing knowingly at eyes, whose pupil’s brimmed at the edges; lips soft and wispy with secrets. The sunlight would burn all night. She’d felt so alive and loved, curled up next to familiar souls. When they woke, they knew time was up and whispered goodbye, giving one last glance before travelling on. It was love in its rawest form. That kind of intimacy she hadn’t found since.
She walked slower, the pebbles turned to dirt, and caked her feet with dust. Where am I now? she asked. She didn’t believe in God but the garden seemed to be listening. A breeze rippled the leaves of the trees, a couple of pink rhododendron flowers floated to the ground. The woman’s hair tickled her cheek. I’ve always known what to do next, she whispered to the undulating trees. They did not answer and continued to sway. I always knew what to do!
As she walked a white bench emerged. It was in the corner of the garden, softly illuminated in the twilight. Suddenly the woman noticed the shape of a figure on the bench, it had blended in with the bushes and shrubbery but the woman was certain it had moved.
She crept towards the shape, her heart thudding. It sat still, but the woman could sense it was watching her. She felt the burn of a stare crossing her body, could feel the tug of a heart. She stepped between the flower beds. The sky was now a blackish purple and the flowers looked alien in the dark. The woman shivered, imagining eyes peering up at her through the foliage.
A gasp caught in her throat, it was a woman sitting on the bench. The figure seemed to melt into the dark garden surrounding them but jewels twinkled like stars on her ears and chest. She wore a dress the same shade of purple as the sky.
No one spoke, the figure continued to sit gazing up at her. She walked closer, placing her feet softly. Now she was close enough to see the other woman’s face, to trail her eyes over the high cheekbones and lines across her forehead. The woman looked a little older than she was. Her cheeks shimmered silver and her eyes were dewy like the water fountain. There was something ethereal about the woman that made her think, perhaps, she wasn’t a women at all.
She stopped a few feet from the bench. The woman looked up at her.
“Hi,” the woman in the red dress whispered.
The other woman didn’t say anything, but her lips curved slightly and her eyes sparkled.
“Were you at the wedding?” the red-dressed woman asked.
“Yes,” the woman’s voice was smooth and low, “I had to get away.” She spoke slowly, falling silent for a moment before continuing, “I don’t like weddings.”
She sat with her arms at her side, her back straight like a queen. The younger woman sensed a power in her similar to the energy of stars and ancient trees.
“I used to love weddings,” the younger woman said. She wanted to talk to the stranger as though she really was a fairy. She wished she could say whatever she wanted, but it scared her now to completely expose herself.
The older woman watched her standing, running her hands down her red dress.
“Have you ever been married?” she asked, her voice drifting like a cool breeze.
The question slipped inside the young woman like a knife and tears formed in her eyes.
“No,” she swallowed, “and I don’t think I ever will.”
Slowly everything was trickling out of her, revealing itself through her quivering limbs and swelling tears. The woman let out a sob.
“Sweetie, come here,” the older woman held out a slender hand.
The younger woman stood, her dress constricting like a snake. She couldn’t breathe. The garden swirled around her and the beautiful fairy’s eyes were like mirrors; she could see herself in them.
“Sit down with me,” said the woman softly.
The younger woman breathed deeply, adjusted her dress, and sat down on the bench. She cried quietly.
“I was going to get married once,” the older woman said, she looked in front of her, into the garden, “but my boyfriend never turned up.” Her eyes glistened and her face looked older, “it’s nearly been thirty years but I’ve never gotten over it.”
This made the young woman cry even more.
“I never wanted to marry after that. Anyway, I had my kid to look after.”
“You have a child?” the young woman asked, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.
“Yes, he’s a man now, nearly thirty.”
“Weren’t you ever lonely?”
The older woman finally turned from the flowers and looked at her.
“No,” she said, smiling, “I never felt lonely. Why? Are you lonely?” she stared into the young woman’s frightened eyes.
The woman smiled through her tears, “yes. I...” she tried to catch her breath. “I’ve never felt so alone.”
“What’s wrong love?” the woman asked, placing a hand on her shoulder. She began to massage in little circles, the young woman imagined her fingers creating ripples, as though her body was water. Are you real? she wanted to ask but she knew she was only avoiding the woman’s question. She inhaled, trying to loosen the dress around her stomach.
“I’m pregnant.” The words made little noise but they exploded in her head.
The other woman continued to stroke her shoulder, “well, that’s wonderful.”
“It’s not wonderful! I’m pregnant and the baby’s daddy got married today,” tears pooled over her eyes and slid down her cheeks.
“Does he know?”
“Do you love him?”
No, she knew she’d never loved him, not really. It hadn’t even hurt when he’d told her he was engaged.
“I think... I think I could have loved him.”
“Oh honey, that’s not enough,” the woman spoke gently. “But the love you will feel for your baby...” she stopped stroking.
“I don’t know if I should have the baby,” the woman whispered. The thought danced around her again, and it felt like hope. If she gave it up she still might have a chance to be who she wanted to be, to meet a man and live happily ever after. She could walk out of the garden, into the warmth of the castle, she could smile brightly at the groom, down some vodka, and dance as wildly as she used to as a child.
“It is your choice, my dear. It is up to you. All I can say is that I love my son more than I could love anyone else and I would never change what happened.” She stared deeply into the young woman’s eyes but they were gazing far away.
“I’m just scared,” the younger woman said, “I thought I was scared of growing old but I’m more scared of being alone. And I’m scared I’ll regret whatever I choose.” She blinked and looked up at the woman, her eyes piercing.
“Don’t worry about the future, that will take care of itself. You have to do what you really want now,” said the woman, “what feels right deep down. Because, at least what I’ve learned, is that we don’t really change. We always yearn and love the same things we loved as a child. Yes, the elements shift, rearrange, expand but in essence they stay the same.”
Her words got tangled in the air between them and the young woman scrambled to make sense of them.
“Trust yourself,” the woman said, silver framing her like a halo.
The words echoed through the garden and the woman in the red dress understood. She felt her soul pulsing, curling out, and weaving like roots into the garden. The woman was right. She couldn’t see the future but she knew the past. I know who I am she thought, I know, whatever I choose, I will be happy.