A Happy Ending

The old woman had come here to die. The palm fronds and ferns, dark emerald and shining like hair with the sleek moisture that is an integral part of the rain forest, bent gracefully beneath the warm, powerful wind. Above her, the dark purple-gray sky pressing down upon the forest was veined with the black and brown branches of the dead trees, and bruised with the soft green of the living ones. There was an electric current of suspense in the air, and the old woman knew the storm to come would be nothing like the others. Not a tame, regular, turning off and on of the sky's faucets, as it had been in England, nor the diabolical thunder and lightning that had so petrified her as a child in her granddaddy's manor, or even the ferocious squall of 1982 that had almost capsized her and her husband, Frances. No, what was coming was a monsoon, or a hurricane. She could feel its anticipating power thrilling in her dust-dry old bones, rejuvenating her for the last time with a sense of purpose. She pushed her way through the undergrowth along the old muddy trail, parting the luscious ferns and bushes as she passed. It was an exquisite, primal world through which she moved, a dream-scape of which she had been dreaming all her life. Giant russet-barked trees with their raised roots like the flying buttresses of cathedrals lined the path like beautiful ancient watchers, draped with moss and vines and coral pink orchids. Wasn't that another name for angels, the watchers? Slender, pale saplings bent almost double in the hot wind, their vines trailing behind them like the scarves of young girls. It brought to mind the Christmas of 1928, of singing carols in the crisp English snow, and then returning to steaming rich hot chocolate in the multicolored, soul-melting warmth of fire, Christmas tree and candle. The old woman could almost taste the hot chocolate on her tongue. So strange, that memories from the beginning of her long life should suddenly become clear as photographs, now that it was all about to end.

She was close to the place; she could feel it. It called to her, a deep sweet pull that seemed beautiful and painful at the same time. The hot air whispered around her and whipped her long snow-white hair up around her head like a halo. Thunder grumbled deeply in the distance. The old woman parted a last curtain of vines and knew she was finally there.

Above her stood the tallest tree she had ever seen. It was even more massive than it had been in her dreams, easily wide enough for 15 men to put their arms around and still not touch hands. Its ragged bark, scored with the passage of years, was a dark, deep brown, almost black. She knew that if she passed her wrinkled old hand over it, it would feel strangely soft to the touch. Its rustling deep green canopy held thousands of scarlet flowers. The moss and vines and flowers that grew in miniature gardens upon its thick branches had the twinkling dew-like look of jade and jewels, or of beautiful faces seen through crystal. The foot of the tree was surrounded by ferns, whipped almost flat by the wind, and at its base there sprang forth a tiny spring, clear and sweet as diamond. Oh yes, this was the place. The place she had longed for throughout a life of cultured aristocrats who slept in silk sheets and powdered their faces, throughout an eternity of neat civilized gardens and then the regular, rational, cityscape of concrete and glass and steel. Throughout a life haunted by the clinking of china teacup on china plate, she had longed for here, now, the heart of beauty and nature and what was wild and pure and strong. She and Frances had scoured the world for this one place and when he died she had kept on looking and now she had found it.

The storm was almost here. The clouds above her seemed to sag, held up only by the straining branches of the trees. They churned and broiled and the sky was dark as night. She saw a burning artery of lightning illuminate the sky, and then the crashing boom of thunder. The old woman turned to the giant tree and found what she had been looking for: the twisted arch in its side, like a dark doorway. She stepped inside and fell into a womb of soft blackness. She was 100 years old.

The storm was here. The wind screamed outside, and rain fell in pounding sheets, but inside it was safe and warm, safe and warm. Lightning struck the tree and the old woman felt her heart burst with happiness.





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