Without the map she would not have come. Forty years had passed and she was settled a hundred miles away. She had long closed the drawer on that part of her life, packing up and disposing of more than books and diaries. Unfolding the map’s feeble creases had caused tears to drip onto the biro and felt tip. Night was falling. But how could she be afraid? Modern bad boys were warm indoors playing games online, too engrossed to be out bullying or vandalising.
She trusted only one friend with her secret: that in her loneliest days, strange and out of synch, transplanted from rural Berkshire to West Glamorgan, mocked for her accent, uncomprehending of theirs, she had gone alone to the river and alone to the copse and had talked to the spirits there and they had comforted her. They had sparkled under the trees hanging over the tumbling river and they had murmured from the larches and she had felt at peace.
Life was not so lonely anymore. But it was busy. No longer any time just to sit. Constant rushing and organising, buzzing with demands and responsibilities. Once she had been the lonely girl who drew a map to show where the fairies were, not sparkling childish tinkerbells, but living breathing spirits of wood and water. Now she was a practical adult, sensible and unemotional. Or that was what people thought. Life had taught her to hide herself.
But here she was, sitting under the trees as the full moon rose. She closed her eyes and was silent. But the wood was not silent. The air was cold, but she was not cold. The tree felt warm to her back and her heart filled with peace. “Croeso” it whispered. “We’re glad to see you” it breathed.
She opened her eyes and saw a child before her. Silver and made of moonlight and holding something and then gone. And she remembered. It had been what she had meant to do all those years ago. She unfolded the map for the last time – she could barely see it in the dark but she knew that it set out all the secret magical places and did not belong to her anymore. She folded it back up and poked it down into a cavity under the tree. “Diolch” she heard.
She stood up and rolled her shoulders and looked up into the moonlit trees. “I’m going now” she said, “I won’t be back again. But I want to say thank you. Thank you for being my friend when I was so lonely. Thank you for helping me learn to be happy on my own. Thank you for reminding me how to listen.”
She walked away, down past where the playground had been, where the pigsty had been, where the boy with the rotten teeth had lived and got in her car, parked outside her old house. She looked up at the moon as she drove away – she would never come back. But she was taking the child she had once been away with her and together they would learn to be still and at peace.
Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission