Moon Shadow – By Lisa Kessler
Sonnet 128 – William Shakespeare
How oft when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap,
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips which should that harvest reap,
At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand!
To be so tickled, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more bless’d than living lips.
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.
She danced in his garden every night. Greg could see her out of the corner of his eye. If he turned for a better view, she vanished.
Long curled waves of golden hair spilled past her shoulders and down her back, and her wings sparkled in the moonlight. Her skin was opalescent, and her eyes were ice blue. She played haunting melodies using the evening dew and mist that rested on the buds of the flowers. With slender graceful fingers, she circled the flowers with her fingertip until they sang like fine crystal glasses.
He longed to be the flower petals, to feel her touch on his skin.
He hadn’t felt the softness of a woman’s skin since Nancy lost her battle with cancer. His brow furrowed when he calculated the years. Could eighteen years have already passed him by? His children were grown, and last year his first grandchild graduated from high school.
But none of them understood the anguish he’d suffered before he found the faerie in his garden.
Since he lost Nancy, he slept in the guest room. He couldn’t go into the master bedroom without hearing the echo of Nancy’s last coughing fit. Even though the bed was untouched, he could see her frail body laying there. When her lungs finally quit spasming, a single tear rolled down her pale cheek. He kissed away the tear, fighting with every thread of his being to hold his own tears back. He owed it to her to be strong. Nancy was a determined woman, and he knew she’d suffer in her disease-riddled body until she was certain he’d be all right.
"I’ll always love you, Nans," he whispered, struggling to keep his voice steady. "You can rest now. Just let go."
He pulled back and looked into her eyes. For the first time in over six months, he saw no sign of pain. She squeezed his hand, closed her eyes, and released one final thready breath. He sat beside her, paralyzed, waiting for her to inhale again. When she didn’t, part of him panicked. He kissed her fingers, hoping she’d open her eyes for him one last time. Suddenly all his courage was gone. It left his body the moment her soul lifted past his.
Greg sniffled and wiped at his nose. He’d never cried so hard in his life as he did the night Nancy died. He figured he got it all out, then and there. His children never saw him weep for their mother. No one did.
Except his garden faerie.
It was tough not to shed a tear on his wedding anniversary, or her birthday. He’d go outside to work in the garden until the sobs faded away. He was lonely, sure, but that wasn’t why he cried. His tears weren’t for himself. He wept because there would never be another Nancy. She’d gone too soon, and she took half of his spirit with her. Many friends, even his own children, had set him up to meet wonderful women over the years, but he couldn’t connect with them. He did try. But it wasn’t fair to them to have Nancy haunting his thoughts and his heart.
He couldn’t let her go.
And Teeah, his garden faerie, understood.
The first time she’d come to him, he only saw her shadow. He blinked his eyes hard, hoping to clear his vision, but the shadow remained, just in the corner of his eye. When he turned, she was gone, with only the faint tinkle of laughter left behind.
Each day he’d come out to the garden and tend the flowers, always waiting for her to appear. He learned that the fae were skittish about humans. It took months before he learned her name, but in his excitement, he’d made a careless mistake.
He told his eldest son about her.
He’d been simmering in a kettle of loony bin stew ever since.
"Come on, Dad. Your imaginary friend will still be here when you get back."
Greg rolled his eyes. "I’m not crazy Ricky. Just because you can’t see her doesn’t mean she’s not real."
"Right Dad." He draped his arm around Greg’s shoulder and herded him back toward the house. "But just in case, we want you to spend a couple days with these doctors to be sure you’re all right."
"Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke," Greg grumbled under his breath.
"You’re not broken, Dad," his daughter-in-law said as she helped him to the car. "You’ve been through a lot. It’s natural you might need some medicine or something."
"Nothing natural about drugs," he said and yanked the seatbelt across his chest. "I’m not crazy."
"We know that, Dad," Ricky said as he got into the driver’s seat of his SUV.
Greg twisted backwards, watching his home and the flowers get smaller until he could no longer see them. He sighed and faced forward again, losing himself in the memory of Teeah and her magic. She made his garden sing, serenading away his sadness.
Why would he take a pill that promised happiness when he already had it back home?
He scratched his head and started to smile. His house hadn’t felt like home in years.
After a seven day stay in the Memorial Hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit, Greg was released with a clean bill of mental health. He was old, but he wasn’t stupid. He didn’t mention Teeah to the doctors even when they tried to trick him into talking about faeries. They sent him home with a prescription for a low dosage of Paxil, and encouragement to find new friends and invite them over to see his garden. His other two children were waiting for him in the front yard when the SUV pulled in.
But there was only one friend he wanted to see.
"Daddy!" His daughter Julie embraced him the second he was out of the car.
"Hi honey." He pulled back. "Did you water the garden while I was gone?"
"Yep, everything’s still alive back there, waiting for you."
Greg smiled and let out a sigh of relief. "Thank you darlin’."
His youngest son gave him a tight hug with a firm slap on the back that almost knocked the wind out of him. Greg cough and smiled. "Good to see you too, son."
He looked at each of his children and smiled. "I passed all my tests. Your old Dad’s not off his rocker just yet, so you can all go home now. I’m going out to the garden."
That said, he walked up onto the porch and through his house. Julie left a vase of fresh cut flowers on the dining room table. He’d have to thank her for them later. As quick as his gaunt legs could take him he hustled through the house and out the back door.
Teeah was waiting for him, not in the shadows of his peripheral vision, but right in front of him beside the fountain. He smiled, wrinkles lining the corners of his eyes. Her fingertips brushed along the top of the water as she looked toward him, blinking her large eyes.
"You are home." Her voice sounded like springtime and her smile warmed his old heart.
"I am," he said, glancing over his shoulder. The last thing he needed was for his kids to hear him out here talking to himself. It wasn’t his fault they couldn’t see her. She lifted her hand from the fountain, and he could see the water glisten on the end of her fingertips. Greg cleared his throat and took a step toward her.
"Dance with me?"
He held out his hand, roughened from years of hard work, and waited. His heart fluttered at the sight of her smile.
"I do not know your dances, Gregory."
"Don’t matter none." He winked. "I used to be a strong lead."
Teeah giggled, and it echoed on the breeze like wind chimes. She took a tentative step forward to take his hand.
"My magic is…" She paused. "Unpredictable here."
He didn’t move. "It’s only a dance."
She smiled and took his hand. Greg lifted her hand up and carefully placed his other hand at the small of her back between her wings. Giving her hand a squeeze he moved his foot, guiding her back into a slow waltz.
Her skin was so soft that he was afraid she slight slip out of his grasp, and her hair smelled like lavender and roses. Just like his garden. He closed his eyes and he could hear music, lilting in time with their steps.
Gradually he turned her faster, keeping his steps even. 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3.
"Do you see that?"
The sound of his daughter’s voice almost made him
"What’s he doing… Wait. What the hell?"
Now Ricky was there too. But Greg didn’t stop dancing.
It was his youngest, Dan, that made him slow his steps.
"I can see her shadow…"
Greg stopped dancing and looked over at his three children, then down at the moon shadow on the ground. Their shadows were still dancing. Teeah smiled and whispered, "Unpredictable."
He glanced up at the kids again and Julie gasped. "Dad you’re…"
Dan finished her sentence. "Young."
Greg looked at his children and then grinned at the magical woman in his arms. "I should’ve asked you to dance months ago."
She rose up on her tip toes to kiss his cheek and whispered, "We have forever Gregory."
Suddenly he felt light. All the pain from his arthritic joints was gone. In the distance he could hear voices calling his name, but he didn’t respond. Instead, he danced, and this time in the corner of his eye, he saw his body collaped on the grass while his children struggled to pull him back into his body.
He was finished with this world. Greg smiled and kissed her lips, as their shadows danced away in the moon light.