Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Forty

Story time began at 9:05 on Sept 8, 2006

As Nan fell asleep that night, she thought she heard the beat of wings on the window.

It was probably only the branch of the vine that clambered up the front of the house and crawled over the roof of the porch. Still, it "sounded" like wings. And her dreams were filled with strange creatures and far-off lands.

She saw again the strange bird-person. It was perched on the tall roots of a toppled tree near a river.

The cataracts of the river drowned out the sound of its voice, but Nan strained to figure out what it wanted.

The wind shifted, and so did her dreams.

She was walking in a lovely valley, bright with spring flowers and the blades of new grasses. Little birds cavorted on the breeze and a baby rabbit hopped across the path in front of her.

A shadow fell across the path and the birds scattered.

She looked up, and a huge bird was circling, circling.

The wind outside shifted again and rattled the tiles on the chimneys, sending a puff of smoke through the brickwork into the room.

Nan was standing at the door of a tavern or inn, looking for someone. She couldn't remember who she needed to find, but she knew it was urgent.

She tried to find the innkeeper, but in all the commotion and confusion, she found herself in a corner of the inglenook, face to face with a ragged, dirty stranger who shook a bony finger at her and started to scold.

The wind shifted and died down, and Nan was in a small room lined with wood panels. Around the room were arranged beautiful boxes and brilliant lanterns in many colors.

She reached out for a red and green bottle.

Esmeralda was in the downstairs bedroom, kept warm by the kitchen fire through the night. She lay a long time, thinking about her life.

She remembered how, as a child, she had learned from her mother to recite poetry, and from her father to look carefully at everything and describe it with words.

She remembered how as a young woman, she had married and set up house not far from her parents, anticipating many years of working side by side with her mother as the children grew up.

The tears leaked from her thin eyelids as she recalled the day she and her mother had climbed the hill to gather fresh bitter greens, leaving her husband to care for the little boy, just learning to walk and chattering in a happy tone all day long.

From near the top of the ridge, they had looked back at the village in horror as they heard a rumble, and saw the village swallowed by a wall of mud and trees and rocks.

Her mother had fallen there, her heart broken, and had not risen.

Esmeralda put her hands to her face and focused, as she had been taught in the monastery.

Slowly, small memory by small memory, she constructed the face of her husband. She recalled the sound of her son's voice. She felt the touch of her mother's hand.

Her husband smiled at her, and held out his hand. She reached out, and -- just for a moment -- felt the warm strength as he embraced her.

Then, in an instant, they were gone.

Nan was standing by her bedside, shivering, despite the warmth of the room.

Esmeralda skootched over and let the child in under the covers.

"Doctor, I had a dream."

She hugged Esmeralda as if she were about to slip away.

Esmeralda hugged her back, gently.

"I dreamed the bird person told me I needed to find you, and I was in a pretty place that was in danger, and then I was alone, and didn't know my name. And then I was in my pretty box and it was safe again."

The doctor cleared her throat, "And what do you think that was about?"

Nan shivered, "I think it was about a Journey we take."

In a very small voice, she added, "I think it is about a journey you have to take."

They were silent for a moment, each thinking her own thoughts.

The little girl's heart stopped racing, and she relaxed as she felt the steady, strong rhythm of the old woman's breathing.

Finally, Esmeralda spoke again. "Long ago, when I was a little bit older than you are now, my parents took a journey and I went with them."

"We had to travel by boat and we went over the same ocean that your father did. It took us many days on the water, and then many weeks traveling beyond that to reach the land where my father had been born."

"My father's people were known for their wisdom and ability to create things. They lived in strange woven houses high up on the sides of cliffs."

"I remember my grandmother, she had very dark hair, like a young woman, that she wore in an intricate braided manner. But her skin was very thin and pale. And her nose was sharp and pointed. Her mouth was almost lipless."

"I was quite afraid of her, at first."

"But after a few days, I grew to like her. She would take me with her to gather things -- bits of bark and grasses, roots and berries, flowers and branches and leaves. She gave me names for all of them, and repeated them as often as I needed until I knew them."

"I had aunts and uncles there, too, and cousins. They were not all as solemn as my grandmother, but they all had a way of looking at one as if they were seeing through them to another place or time."

"But they were all very much older than I was, and had their own tasks and lessons. Only my grandmother had the time and the patience to take me along on her walks."

"My mother just sat in the little house, doing needlework. My father would bring her a beautiful hank of wool or linen -- it was very soft and shiny, and I never did learn what it was called in our language -- and my mother would work as long as there was light, stitching, knitting, mending. She was very fast, and very good. It was a skill that all my cousins and aunts and uncles did not have and they were grateful for her abilities."

"My father was gone most of the time with his brothers and the other villagers. They seemed to be working on something important, but they never spoke of it near me or my mother."

"Meantime, I climbed the cliffs with my grandmother, as spry as she was wrinkled, and walked the valleys, and paddled in the river on the warm days, looking for beautiful stones."

"We were there for a year and a day."

"The night before we left, my mother presented each of my relatives with a beautifully made robe. They were black when you looked at them one way, but rainbow colors when they moved. My father presented each one with a carved box."

Nan yawned and snuggled a little closer. Esmeralda gave her another gentle hug and kissed her forehead.

"My grandmother gave me a necklace, with a flask on it, and told me to guard it carefully and that I would someday know what it was for. She gave my mother a basket that could fold up very small, and a thin book. And to my father she gave a kiss."

"We left early in the morning, and did not look back at the village as we walked. When we came to the ocean, we got on a boat and came home. We did not look back."

"My parents never spoke of our travel unless asked, and to strangers they would say only that we have visited my father's family and spent some time with them so I would know them."

"And to me, they would smile and say -- remember..."

Nan snored gently and Esmeralda slipped her arm out from beneath the girl's head.

Carefully, she climbed out of bed and sat wrapped in an extra blanket in the chair by the window.

She watched the tops of the trees dancing in the moonlight, and watched the clouds as they scudded along, now thicker, now thinner, but never threatening rain.

She reached inside the neck of her shift and pulled out a delicate green and red vial. In soft, birdlike tones, she began singing a song of cliffs and updrafts, of the delight of the sunrise and the dark of the night.

She was there when the sky turned indigo, then pink, then violet and teal... and the clouds melted away like the dreams of children.

On the top of the mountain, the birds were gathering.