The Gift (Day Eleven)

Alana is dreaming.

It is daytime – noon, it seems, for the sun is high in the sky and blazing brightly – and she has walked outside of their house and is wandering in a strange wilderness outside which, though she cannot recall ever seeing it before, seems not altogether foreign to her. The ground has about it the arid brown of a desert but at times it seems damp like a swamp, and scattered across the vast expanse of land are pools of dank water which at first she walks around until she finds they are too large and she has no choice but to walk through.

Reaching the largest of the pools she stops and looks behind her; Peter is there, following at a tentative distance.

We have to walk through, she says.

Go on then, he says. I’ll follow.

And so she walks in, hitching up the hem of the nightie she is still wearing and steps out into the murky water. At first the water reaches only her knees, then her thighs, then her waist, and then it rises rapidly until it is almost at her chin and, though she can still feel the ground beneath her, it too has become more and more damp until it is scarcely ground. Unable to walk, she tries to move in a sequence of leaps, buoying herself up on branches and other bits of flotsam and jetsam scattered throughout the ever-increasing sea. With each bound she twists her head backwards to see Peter, only he is still standing at the edge, watching. She opens her mouth to call out to him, mouths the words and jerks her throat to make the noise, to cough out his name into the air between them, but the dankness of the swamp swallows them, and soon each attempt to call sends her beneath the water – if it can even be called water – and she can only move in upward leaps of always decreasing magnitude until she is static, head just above the water, feet nowhere and Peter, on the edge, watching and not for one moment understanding what it would mean to enter the water and follow her there.

~

Once, at Christmas, Alana had been playing with her niece, some elaborate game involving little plastic animals, dolls and a train track, when Simon’s girl for the year – Grace, or something like that – had come in and watched the two of them playing and Alana assuming voices for each of their characters. After a few minutes she had laughed and said, You’re great with kids, Alana. I bet you can’t wait to have your own. Peter had walked into the room at that point and Alana had briefly, awkwardly, looked at him.

Sorry, Grace had said. Did I just put my foot in it? And they had both just laughed it off and Alana had tried her best to resurrect the game with Annabelle, neither she nor Peter knowing for the life of them if Grace had said something wrong but both feeling a dryness about them that neither had felt moments before.

~

Peter is telling her another story, and the story he tells her comes with pictures, three dimensional pictures which they walk through as though wandering through an ever-unfolding garden. In the story there is a small tree, a sapling only just planted, and at the tree stand a husband and a wife, each wearing the attire of peasant farmers from a forgotten Europe contained now only in the mists of folklore. The husband is kneeling at the tree’s roots, plucking, it seems, a tiny stem which grows there. And as he plucks the stem he lifts it up to his wife to show her, and from that stem grows a flower, microscopic at first then the size of a rose, then a sunflower, and then it explodes with a puff of sunshine and its delicate debris floats in the air until the wife leaps to collect some in her hands; and taking them she finds that the debris has become a liquid, thick and glutinous like a heavy syrup, and she takes her hands to her lips and drinks. Then she looks at her husband and smiles; and together they walk, holding hands, back to the cottage where they live.

And then it seems that time has passed and they are now wandering in their garden with a child at their side playing with them, planting seeds and pruning trees, and Peter looks at the husband and wife and sees that the wife has become Alana and he is no longer watching but has become the husband too. And as the child plants small trees in the soil around their cottage they see a man approaching, a tall man in a cloak walking up behind the boy, and as he approaches he looks at them and says that it is time, and the child stands up and looks at them too, unafraid, and walks away from his gardening with the man at his side; and Alana, now crying, looks at him and asks where he has gone, and Peter replies, We knew this would happen, it was always the condition, and Alana leaves Peter in the garden and he stands by the tree that their child has just planted and watches it grow and shrivel and grow.

Go to Day Twelve

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