I stared, empty-eyed, as hammering rain lashed at the windows, running down the latticed panes until the shapes outside streaked together like a Cézanne painting caught in a torrent. It was only 6:00 pm, but the pitch black of night had settled early, casting a bleak and ominous impression on my world.
“Hush a bye, don’t you cry … go to sleep my little baby …” I crooned softly, absently rocking back and forth in that innate, age-old rhythm that every mother possesses.
“When you wake, you will see … all the pretty little horses …”
The pendulum-like motion had become such a part of me ever since the baby was born, that I sometimes feared I would instill an unquenchable desire for perpetual motion in my little charge.
“Blacks and bays, dapples and grays … all the pretty little horses.”
I closed my eyes against the storm raging outside and brought my focus inward; to the quiet of my soul, to the warm weight in my arms, to the melodic vibrations thrumming in the back of my throat as I drew out the lullaby.
White lightening and a resounding CRACK! jolted me out of my trance, illuminating my closed lids and reverberating throughout my ear drums. Bat ears, as my husband calls them, can be an asset when listening for a baby’s whimper in the night, but sudden, deafening blasts are a curse altogether and I shrank back from the assault.
Frowning at the darkness, I changed my tune, nonsensically thinking that by mere words alone I could impact the course of the weather.
“Rain, rain, go away … come again … NEVER!” I finished defiantly, swaying away from the window and making my way towards the stairs.
I paused to stroke a stray wisp of strawberry blond hair away from the protruding bottom lip of my little girl, eliciting a sigh that smelled faintly sweet and milky. Leaning down, I breathed deeply, inhaling the scent which is unique to baby’s breath.
Another flash illuminated the window, followed instantaneously by yet another cacophony that plunged the house into complete and utter darkness. I froze, motionless, not trusting myself to circumnavigate hazardous obstacles – such as remotes, couch pillows, and carelessly discarded shoes – with a sleeping baby in my arms.
Faced with the dilemma of calling out to my husband and risking a serious disruption of the REM sleep cycle, or inching my way, blind, to the upstairs nursery, I breathed a sigh of relief when two flickering candle flames bobbed their way towards me like a pair of disjointed eyes in the night.
“Hi, Sweetie … I’ve come to rescue you,” my husband whispered, glancing down at the bundle in my arms. I could hear the smile in his voice and returned it with one of my own, acknowledging the chivalrous gesture, be it ever so domestic in nature.
“It just so happens we’re in need of rescuing,” I murmured, leaning in to meet his kiss.
As we neared the top of the stairs, I was surprised at how well my eyes had begun to adjust to the dim lighting, but the reason for this soon became evident. Aidan had strategically arranged a path of lighted candles leading into the nursery, setting the fairies of Pixie Hollow to flight as their iridescent wings seemed to flutter in the candle glow. An oil lamp shone like a beacon on the knotty pine dresser, warming the wood with a soft aura of light.
“Get Ellie tucked in and then join me downstairs,” he said softly, rubbing the soft down on his daughter’s fair head. “We’ve got a few hours before she wakes up, right?” he asked, oh-so-casually.
This time I suppressed the smile that was hovering around my lips, and raised my shoulder in a slow, deliberate shrug. “Perhaps,” I replied ambiguously, indulging myself in a bit of mischief at my husband’s expense.
It was true though. While sleeping through the night may be a far off reality yet, we did, in fact, have some time on our hands.
Glancing at the noisemaker lying silent and useless on the crib side table, I conceded that, if nothing else, the rain lent a much more natural element to the night; a pulse of nature that no device can accurately simulate. As if deferring to a sleeping baby, the thunder and lightning had begun to diminish in both ferocity and volume, now casting only occasional flashes and mild rumblings from a safe and reasonable distance. Quietly, I reached for the oil lamp as I tiptoed from the room, blowing out candles along the way and leaving the fairies cloaked in darkness.
From the direction of the kitchen, I heard the whoosh of a gas burner coming to life, followed by the muffled clunking of earthenware. I knew any effort to investigate would only thwart a well-intentioned plan, so I chose, instead, to stand as sentinel at the window once more, as if my watchful presence could somehow keep the storm from re-asserting itself.
Warm breath ruffled my hair a moment before strong, plaid-covered arms wrapped carefully around my shoulders. I accepted the steaming bowl of Masala chai with gratitude, relishing the heat of the stone against my fingers.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Aidan offered, nuzzling the hair at my temples. His breath was warm and earthy; smelling of cinnamon, clove, and ginger root.
“Oh, just … thinking,” I answered evasively, bringing the bowl to my lips.
Not satisfied with my response, Aidan shifted around to the window seat in front of me, drawing me onto his lap. For a moment, we didn’t speak; eyes on the retreating storm as we drank in silence.
“It’s the rain and gloom, hmm?” he asked, tenderly running his finger down my cheek. “Too long in a season without sun.”
His perceptiveness, as usual, hit the mark and I nodded wordlessly, reluctant to surrender to my complaints. Inside, a battle raged, but I fought against the urge to rail against a cold, wet winter devoid of sunlight and warmth.
Aidan drew me in closer, until I was leaning back against him. “Tell me what you wished for. Tonight – looking out there.”
It was a fancy of mine, wishing on stars. Not that I placed much stock in the outcome, of course. In reality, it was the actual stargazing that gave me pleasure; the sheer enormity of out there. The window seat had been my anniversary present the year after we had moved into our home … a comfortable place of my own to look into the vastness of the heavens.
“I couldn’t see any stars to wish on,” I managed, trying to force some semblance of a smile, but failing miserably. “I can’t even remember the last time I saw the stars.”
“Ahhh,” he said knowingly, turning my head to look me in the eyes. He held me in a strong, steady gaze. “What is it you want, my love?”
Not knowing if his question was literal or rhetorical, I merely shook my head and answered tentatively, “More vitamin D?”
Aidan chuckled at that, gently rocking me with the rumbling of his chest. “Yeah, I suppose so … but I was thinking of something more … whimsical.”
“Whimsical?” I repeated, trying to engage in the gist of his thinking.
Setting our empty bowls aside, he took me by the hand, drawing me away from the gray cast window and the cold shadows beyond. “Sit here a moment,” he said, patting the couch, “and close your eyes … and no peeking!” he added with mock sternness.
After much shuffling, drawer thumping, and muttered oaths, I was finally allowed to open my eyes to behold his creation. I sat, mouth agape, at the wonder before me.
The room fairly pulsed with the life of every candle I was sure we owned, fluttering to its own rhythm in the primitive dance of raw flame. We sat ourselves among the plethora of pillows that had been heaped around the Karastan rug, and I was instantly transported into a circle of warmth and light. I was thoroughly enchanted.
Reclining back against the cushions, Aidan laced his fingers with mine, bringing each of my fingers to his lips in a show of tender affection before expounding further.
“Now …think whimsical,” he prompted, returning to our previous conversation.
It was, admittedly, easier to enter into the mode of ‘make believe’ with such a captivating setting, but I was still hesitant about joining Aidan on this magic carpet ride of an amusement.
“This is silly,” I protested, shaking my head in refusal.
“Of course it’s silly,” he agreed, “but that’s the point, isn’t it? To take our mind off the gloom of reality and imagine … ”
“I know – whimsical,” I replied, finishing his sentence.
I was rewarded with an encouraging grin, which turned out to be mildly contagious.
Responding with the first idea that came to mind, I blurted out, “Six months of June!”
“Six months of June?” Aidan wondered aloud, prompting more elaboration.
“Six months of June,” I sighed blissfully, contemplating the fairy tale that would embody.
I inadvertently slipped into an imaginary realm of perpetual green grass, daisies in bloom, a garden bursting with bounty … T-shirts, flip flops, and lazy days at the lake. Picnics, lemonade, crickets at night … berry picking, dust under my feet … and stargazing out of doors.
“Would that make you happy?” Aidan’s question broke into my reverie, derailing my escalating train of thought.
His smile was still in place, but looking into his eyes, I saw it. Deep down, past the smile. Beyond the thick, black lashes. Beneath the beautiful shade of moss green irises flecked with brown; it was there.
Fear. Fear of failure. Fear of not meeting my needs. Fear of not being able to fix my discontentment. A fear that should never be his to bear.
Would that make you happy? he had asked, but insinuating so much more!
“No,” I answered, searching his eyes to see if it would go away.
“No,” I stated again, this time with conviction, in response to Aidan’s questioning gaze. “Six months of June would not make me happy. It was a fanciful notion, nothing more. Besides, that is much too big a responsibility for just one month!” I added playfully, fingering a strand of hair before brushing it back off his forehead.
Then more seriously, “You … this,” I said pressing my hand firmly against the strong beating of his heart, “Ellie, our home … ” I breathed in heavily with the weight of my words. “That is my life’s blood and I am happy.”
“Life’s blood,” he echoed softly, as if weighing the implication of the words. Then his mouth curved into a slow smile, “I like the sound of that – did you get it from one of your books?” he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Maybe,” I replied, blushing at being caught red-handed in the act of romantic plagiarism. “Still,” I countered, “I meant it, so it has to count for something!”
“Oh, it counts,” Aidan assured me, inching closer. His five o’clock shadow gave him a roguish appearance, heightened all the more by the flash of white teeth in his curving smile.
“Actually, it counts for everything,” he whispered, voice catching on the sentiment of his words.
The rain was still falling through a sky dark as coal, but the feral intensity was spent, a reflection of my own, inner well-being. I became aware of a subtle, internal shift as the anxiety drained from my body and I absorbed the tranquility of the moment; emotional osmosis, no doubt – the ultimate balancing act. Come what may, I resolved to embrace the time and season of my life, re-discovering peace, joy and contentment in those things that give it value beyond measure. After all, what is six months of June compared to a lifetime of treasured memories, shared with those you love?