Slow Fade

The sparkling magic faded to a dull sheen in the daylight. The light didn’t shine as bright in company of the sun. Some people thought the dark was a place to hide, but for her, all was clearer and truer at night. Her senses came alive when slightly deprived. In the full glare of day, her vision and hearing seemed to grow fuzzy. She couldn’t seem to grasp ideas as readily. But the night was hers.

She walked along a sidewalk lit by lanterns, as the town was celebrating its heritage and there were signs and ephemera from different centuries displayed. Music blared from shop speakers and from musicians in darkened clubs. Flashes from cameras flickered alongside flashes from fireworks from the square a few blocks away. The air was heavy, humid. The quarter moon had a sweaty haze circling it. She didn’t want to stop walking, not noticing her face growing slick with perspiration. She had met her responsibilities with hesitation but finished quickly to arrive at her real destination.

She drew close to an edge of town not as well-kept as the touristy section. Overgrown flora abounded as she remembered the pond was on the other side of the tree line. Making her way, carefully picking amongst weeds and shrubs and flowers at rest, she finally came to the pond’s edge. She found a spot of moss near a tree and sat and waited.

She wondered how people could be afraid of the dark. Sometimes what you could see was far less scary than what festered in the imagination. She sat and watched dark ripples on the pond. She heard frogs, crickets. Then a rustling. A light shuffling from beyond the reeds and emerged a few yards away, a vision in white. The swan reached its neck toward the stars, stretched out its wings. As she watched, she thought the bird would span the whole pond with its wings, but its reach was not quite so wide. But it did touch her somewhere deep inside as it had every time she had spent time in the presence of this bird.

When the bird folded and opened its wings again, she felt the wind brush off the wings and caress her, embrace her. The dark eyes seemed to look at the stars and she wondered not for the first time at the intelligence of this animal. A few months ago she would have thought anthropomorphism was silly. Now it seemed a surreal possibility. She just couldn’t explain the appearance of this swan in her thoughts when she had her accident, how it haunted her dreams at the hospital, and then how she felt led to this pond that seemed hidden away and neglected. She had questioned everything in her life after the accident, wondering at things that used to be so important and how they all fell away when it really counted. What was left was memories of dreams. She did not want to fondly think of her dreams if she made it to her dotage; she wanted to remember reaching and touching the stars. But she hadn’t known where to start.

Until that night she walked interminably and found this pond. And saw the swan.

She had sat with her toes in the water, singing a song from childhood when she had the idea for a painting. She could see the piece in its entirety. She hadn’t even drawn since her life had gotten busy. Why think of a silly hobby now? She was comfortable, ducks in a row and all. Though she did dream of rich colors and soulful songs. But they had no place in her life. Did they?

She had started taking a different way home, stopping to hear music at the bar, especially Thursday nights, when the horn player echoed the song from her dreams. She bought some oils and some canvas, started puttering in the mornings… and then after work… and then in the evenings… she felt restless and ended up at the pond frequently hoping for another glimpse of white. A few weeks after first spying the bird, she was sitting staring into the inky depths of the pond when a quick flash frightened her. As she looked up, the swan circled her and flew around the trees and seemed to be on its way to the heavens when it plummeted and headed straight for her. She stood, bracing for impact and not believing it when it came.

Shooting stars, meteor showers, fireworks. They all seemed to surround her. Her head throbbed. Her heart beat a quick staccato. She blinked and the swan was gone but for a rustle of leaves and a white feather floating to the ground. All was quiet, clear. She felt like she had put on glasses and could see everything better. She not only heard the crickets, but seemed to understand their language. She couldn’t be sure how long she stayed at the pond, but she saw the early colors of dawn streaking across the sky.

She often returned to the pond, hoping to see the swan, but to no avail. She was prolific with her paintings and felt a bottomless supply of inspiration had been awakened within her. Her days were short and her nights were long, just as she liked.

One night, when she was about to leave the pond, she stood still at the sound of a familiar rustling. She slowly sat at the edge and dipped her toes in the water. Before her, the swan emerged from the reeds, its wings opening. She reached her arms wide and they both stopped and looked at one another. Wings and arms folding back down, she and the majestic bird gazed at each other, neither blinking. It swam towards her, gliding so beautifully on the water, tears came to her eyes. She had represented graceful lines in her paintings, but nothing came close to the real thing. The swan came to rest at the edge of the pond, right in front of her. It reached its long neck forward and brushed the side of her face. Then it looked at her. She reached and touched its wings. There were no sparks or speech. But there was something ephemeral.

And she would take it with her and spend the rest of her days trying to paint it.

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