I am simply here. I no longer know why, if I ever did know at all. There is only a forest that goes on and on, endlessly, a sea of bark and leaves and grass. The trees are tall and thin, like wands, and like wands they feel magic. Small brown and black birds flutter through them, singing and building nests, and sometimes a shy deer will step out of a grove. There isn’t much else and yet, it is so beautiful here.
I am a grounds-keeper–someone who would be called, in other times and places, a Ranger. I walk along the paths and replace stones that have shifted, and tend to the trees should they become ill or wayward. I look after the wooden bridges where they cross over water or gullies, and watch for trespassers, even though there never are any. I suppose I’ve taken this job upon myself, for something to do.
One of the first things I noticed was that there were no flowers in this endless and perfect forest. I thought that interesting, because flowers are everywhere usually, annoying me with their brightness and extravagance. So, I was surprised when I one day saw a spot of yellow on the ground.
As I came closer to it, I saw that it was a flower, though not any kind I remembered ever seeing. A few feet away there was another, and another beyond that. Pretty yellow flowers, in a line. I followed them, and they led me to a fountain, and a pool, and a bench with a lady sitting on it. As soon as I saw the lady, I fled.
I came back later, on different days, and found places from which I could watch her without being seen (or so I thought). She would sit on the bench, or look into the fountain, or tend the rows of flowers, different colors, that grew in bright spoke-lines out from the pool. I could never see her clearly, but she seemed tall and fair, with long honey hair like new sap.
One day, she looked up from the bench and gestured to the place I was hiding. “Come here,” her finger said, but kindly, with a “please.” I stood, frozen, in the bushes.
“Yes, you,” she said aloud.
Trying to appear calm and fearless, I walked to her. As I grew near, I saw that she was horribly beautiful, with a circlet of vines and leaves in her hair that I’d never noticed before. I felt that she must be a Queen, the ruler of this place, if it had such a thing as a ruler.
So I knelt at her feet.
“Do you like it here?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied, pausing after, not knowing how to address her.
She went on, showing that a dignifier was not needed.
“Would you do something for me?”
“Of course,” I said, without thinking about it.
“By the fountain,” she said, “is a cup. Would you fill it and bring me some water?”
“Of course,” I said.
I went to the fountain, and there was the cup. Shaped like a half-egg and translucent, with shifting swirls of color, it felt warm and magic in my hands. Dipping it in the pool, I filled it and brought it to her. She took it from me, graciously, and I bowed swiftly and fled back to my familiar forest.
I did not go back to watch her for a long time. Yet, I began to miss her. I tried to hide better, and she seemed not to see me.
One day, as I was tending a path, she stepped out of a shadow.
She said, “why do you watch me?”
“Because there is no one else,” I replied.
“I would wish to be your friend,” she said, and disappeared.
In the days after that, I ventured closer and closer, until soon I was tending the lawns and trees openly near the pool. Sometimes she would watch me. Other times she was not there. Still other times, she would see to her flowers. Soon I was tending the flowers, too, but only when she was not there. Perhaps I thought she would be jealous.
One morning, she summoned me again.
“Why do you never speak to me?” she asked.
“Because you are the Queen of this forest,” I said, thinking that it was obvious.
“Do you think that means that I am not human?” she arched one eyebrow.
“Then what makes you think that you are?”
I looked, surprised, into her face. Her eyes were stars, in free fall, as she gave me a look that was nearly a touch.
I fled again to the forest.
For a long time, I did not see her. Then, one day as I walked, I found tools on one of the wooden bridges. Left there for me, by her, I knew. For a while I left them there.
Later I began building a home, in one of the great trees. I built it slowly, and with great care, and soon there was an entire house in the tree, with different rooms for the times of day, and one room circling the trunk, safe in case of storms. At first, I climbed up and down the trunk, until she left me a rope. Then, I whittled a pulley and arranged a counterweight, and that made it easier to ascend and descend.
I snuck back to the pool, and while she was gone (for she was not there when I arrived), I carefully stole a flower from each of her spokes. There were six, in the colors of the rainbow-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. I planted them at the base of my tree, roughly in the shape of a heart.
One evening, I returned to the tree to find her standing and staring at my stolen flowers.
“If you plant it thus, it will grow.”
“Yes,” I said, “but it would not grow if it was not right.”
This time, it was she who fled into the forest.
The next day, she was back.
“Would you show me your house?” she asked.
I demonstrated the pulley, and walked her through my wooden castle. By this time, it had grown large, a child of my labor and joy. She said nothing as I showed her different rooms, decorated with the forest and things I had found. Pretty stones in mosaics, and the feathers of birds.
She said little, but made almost imperceptible exclamations at things she found pretty. I made a note of these, intending to bring her the things that I now knew she would like.
We stood together in my northern room, and watched the sun set. As night rose behind us, unseen, she said that it was time for her to leave. I escorted her to the rope.
I waited several days before going to the fountain, in the meantime making for her a fan of bird feathers. I felt I could not go without an offering of some kind.
She was sitting on the bench, waiting, as if she knew I would be coming. Perhaps she did. She smiled as she took my gift.
“Would you like to see my house?” she asked.
I was surprised. I’d not thought that she had one.
It was underground. She took me to a grove of small trees, one I’d not noticed before, and we descended into the earth on weathered steps overgrown with moss and lichen. There was no door; the steps led simply into a hallway of dark stone. On the wall were hung lights, in which she inspired illumination as we walked.
Her home, also, had many rooms. There were cavernous halls, hung with tapestries, where the ceiling disappeared upward into darkness. Rooms with flowing water and underground lakes, with tinny dripping water and accretions of sulphurous rock. Rooms for sleeping, and eating. and playing, although they all looked lost and unused, as if they were lonely.
The last room she showed me was a library, and I felt my desire flare. I walked to her shelves, reaching for the leathery spines of the books. Her look was one of approval, and I caressed them, lost loves found anew. She spoke.
“You may come here, whenever you wish. My house is not closed, nor is it private, nor,” she paused, “am I even certain that it is mine.”
I smiled at her, and she smiled back.
It was a new thing, the sharing of smiles.
In later days, we grew closer. Sometimes she would accompany me in my journeys of maintenance. Other times I would sit with her by the pool, or we would simply walk. Always we were talking. At first, it was about the books, our common ground. Later, we discovered that the common ground was more extensive.
One day, as I walked, I found a circlet of silver on a path. This puzzled me, because it did not I seem like a thing that she would leave for me. Still, there was nowhere else for it to have come from. When I arrived at the pool, she was sitting quietly and looking into the water, perhaps trying to see another future.
“Do you know what this is?” I asked, holding it out to her as I approached.
She looked at it with surprise and amusement, then took it from my hand and placed it on my head. She stood very close to me, as I trembled in the wake of her proximity, and held my blue gaze with her warm brown one.
“It is a gift from a power higher than I,” she said. “It means that you have been christened.”
“Ah,” I said. “Then who am I?”
“The Queen of Air,” she said, and kissed me.
I remember in the days afterward, playing the memory over and over, trying to carve the imprint in my mind into a relief, so that as the waves of time washed over me it would be one of the last things to erode. I still remember it so well. The way her lips, petals, brushed mine softly. The way her hair was braided, and silky to the touch. The dress she wore, a dark one of browns and greens, and the circlet of polished stones around her ankle. A stray wisp of hair that dangled across her face, and her sigh. I remember the moment that I understood what her crown of leaves and vines must mean. I remember the taste of her mouth, and an unexpected heat that rose within me, and a hunger.
This time, I believe that we both fled. But that I do not remember.
I had a new thing to think about, now, as I sat in my treetop with the breeze against my face. This new thing was a thing called “love,” and it both frightened and enthralled me. I wondered if she also thought of it, or if to her the kiss was nothing magic but merely a token to be given away. In agony, I pondered, but without an answer.
I was walking, thoughtful, along a path when she fell into step beside me.
May I ask you something?” her voice was light, hesitant.
“Of course,” I smiled, and stopped walking, turning to face her.
She looked at the ground, shy.
“Did you mind?” she glanced to my face.
“No.” I reached out and pulled her to me.
It was different, this time. It was like a storm at sea, as a wild passion blew us to a different shore.
A little later, as I held her close to me, she whispered, “I would wish to be your lover. I would wish for our love to grow as you planted.”
“Is it forbidden?” I asked, a thought carried over from a different time and place.
I felt her smile.
She said, “where earth and sky are magic, nothing is forbidden.”
I am simply here. I no longer know why, if I ever did know at all.
There is only a forest that goes on and on, endlessly, a sea of bark and leaves and grass. The trees are tall and thin, like wands, and like wands they feel magic. Small brown and black birds flutter through them, singing and building nests, and sometimes a shy deer will step out of a grove. There isn’t much else and yet, it is so beautiful here.
This beautiful short story Gen Lawson. Gen is a police officer in Santa Fe.