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Waiting for Peter
It was late at night, or early in the morning, depending on how you looked at it. It was during that indeterminate hour which couldn’t make up its mind on whether to push the sun out into the sky, or let it sleep in. My fingers, heavy with sleep, gripped the thick comforter in anticipation, while my mind soared in tight, arbitrary circles. He had promised to come, had sworn earnestly to arrive this very day. But the sky continued to laboriously lighten, gradually outlining the cragged trees beyond my window. I heard the first bird chirp, in a manner that seemed, to me, overzealous for the grim circumstances. But the bird continued to sing with such levity and fervor that I felt myself physically drawn to the window, my bare feet smarting against the cold wood floor.
As I tentatively peered out the window onto the sleepy London streets, a thick morning fog obscured my view. It carried with it the smells and sounds of early vendors setting up their wares, and making breakfast and coffee to prepare themselves for the busy day ahead. There was no sign of the bird that I had heard, although it’s song continued to drift to my ears. I was incredulous that the bird would make an appearance anytime soon, not to mention Peter.
With a sigh, I wrapped the tattered shawl closer around my body, and turned to head back under the covers. I yearned to be back in my snug cocoon, welcoming me with the twisted sheets smelling of soap, and the lumpy mattress, pounded overnight into the shape of my sleeping body. There was a certain sanctity in the cozy tent of sheets I often made at night, enjoying thick, obscure novels, stolen from father’s den, savoring each forbidden word. The moonlight would strain through the sheet, and the air would be thick with the scent of fear for being caught.
Years later, I would always remember the aroma of the yellowed pages – a smell that was undeniably my father’s. It was one of sweet tobacco smoke and cologne, masculinity and also a certain gentle demeanor. I could imagine him carefully turning down each thick page with a wet forefinger and a sigh, and setting his glasses on his nose to begin a new chapter on some controversial subject. There would be a glass of scotch in his hand, and a cigar in the other, and he would be surrounded by his prolific collection of books.
There were books with crumbling, faded gold binding and scraps of newspaper marking especially interesting passages. There were sturdy textbooks whose very appearance suggested a blasphemous scientific connotation, and thin glossy magazines whose covers portrayed gaunt women in huge hats. He had seemingly hundreds of superfluous novels written by young men whose names were longer than the first page. I would love to run my hands over their smooth backs, feeling the story inside waiting to be discovered.
But now, I was the one waiting, doggedly believing that Peter would arrive. I could imagine him undauntedly soaring through my window, the curtains billowing behind him. He would be smiling smugly and his confident step would be jaunty. I could see his hair, sandy and alive, and right below, his sparkling eyes, always challenging. Right behind him, as always, would fly Tink, her hard stare showing clear animosity for me, her eyes haughtily surveying my every move. But all that was fine with me, so long that Peter was there. He would playfully brandish Michael’s hobbyhorse, skimming just above the floor, with the tips of his green slippers barely grazing it. With quick, agile movements, he would be soon wheeling through the dark sky, calling me after him. Tink would sparkle beside him like another star, as they rose into the clear night towards home.
Not this time, though. Today was going to be different. I would tell him what I had prepared to say, that I was getting too old for his silliness, and that he would have to lead the lost boys without me. He would have to understand – I was becoming a young woman, and young women can’t transgress rules, let alone lead a group of mismatched little boys in the middle of a jungle. John at least knew how I was feeling, for he had already grown up, and wasn’t interested in the nonsense of Never Land.
Although I knew all this, I still felt a gnawing sadness at the thought that I would never again follow the second star to the right, and fly straight on till morning. Never again would Peter and I glide over the Sea of One Thousand Islands, or listen to the tick-tock of the alligator, or scoff at the petulant Captain Hook, and his effrontery. I would never again witness Peter swooping down to assail Hook with a glinting sword. The Lost Boys would have nobody to comfort them, and Peter would have to continue being a child as I grew up without him.
As I thought these things, I realized that although I would grow up, and have a family, (and perhaps a dog like Nana), the mermaids would continue to swim in the lagoon, and Peter Pan and the Lost Boys would keep being children, running and flying free in Never Land. Did I really want that, I asked myself? Outside, doors were scraping open, and a horse whined loudly.
At some point, everybody must grow up, I thought. I suppose Peter will have to forfeit the pleasures of being a man – wearing a tie without looking ridiculous, and smoking pipes after dinner amid discussions of politics. Laughing at the thought of Peter Pan in a tie, I closed my eyes, listening for the soft clink a pebble on my window, or the smothered giggle as Peter tried on Michael’s top hat, prancing silently around the room so as not to wake me. On nights like those, he would sit on my windowsill in silent contemplation, until I awoke and discovered him, slightly abashed.
I squeezed my eyes tighter, as if by doing so, I could make him appear, whistling piously, with a slightly sarcastic smirk on his carefree face. I would tell him straight out, and by the time the words left my mouth, they would be incontrovertible. His face would be impassive, I writhing under his critical stare. For once, he would not call after me when he slipped, silently as a shadow, into the soft morning light.
Now, my hands are gnarled and spotted as they curl around the shawl that keeps these old bones together. Eyes fluttering, I sense another presence in the room. A young pale boy enters cautiously, obviously distraught and ill at ease. He seems to regret his decision to come, seeing my wrinkled face and other irreconcilable damage that time has done to my appearance. Absentmindedly, the boy fiddles with a stray string coming off of his frayed cap, and gazes at the ground. A shimmering light behind him darts this way and that in a heathen manner.
Peter’s face has no lines of worry, no dark spots around his gleaming eyes, so young and innocent. For a fleeting moment, I imagine a child version of myself by his side, long silky hair drifting around my pure features, so pristine and untouched by sadness and understanding and knowledge…The choice I made that night has haunted me for half a century. It is one every child must make, over and over again. I have regretted many things in my long life, but that night is not one of them. I know that if I had continued to live a fantasy life, reality would become farther and farther away, no longer there to welcome me when I came back. The memories of Peter’s reaction, though, to my decision, remain rancid in my fading mind. He was loath to accept my growing up and away from him. At that moment in time, I felt like a pariah in a sea of happy, innocent children – everybody was content to stay where they were, while I had to move on.
Although I am now old, and will never again believe in fairy dust, my eyes betray my longing. Peter reaches out a hand, and once more, lifts me into the sky of endless possibilities.