The Promise of Rain
"I want always," he'd said earnestly, "To be a boy and have fun."
The golden fairy-light in his hair, young Peter Pan, bastard son of Bacchus and the wild Maenids. He was achingly beautiful in his youth and innocence. It was the way Wendy would always remember him. The arrogant smile, the free and easy laugh, the smooth cheeks that would never know a beard. His scent, like necter and fairy dust and the haunted witch-water of the mermaid's deep. The glitter of his sword, kept sharp for killing pirates. Eternal and constant as the second star on the right.
Straight on til morning, Wendy-lady. Straight on til morning, and remember your happy thought.
She thought of him often, especially now, in the winter of her life.
Somewhere there were still clouds, pink and substantial as pulled taffy, that could hold your weight even when you were dancing or jumping or falling from great heights. Somewhere the spring always came by three o'clock in the afternoon, and the window was always open. Somewhere there was a place where a dog DID make a wonderful nanny, where shadows could be sewn on to avoid losing them, and faeries lived in all the trees and never died and could make you fly if they wished to.
"Peter, I'm sorry," she had whispered, her voice choked with tears, under the watchful red gaze of Captain Hook, "I must grow up." And she had kissed him, the first kiss of her life, and the war was won, and the clamor of the Lost Boys in their rejoicing had reached all the way to Heaven.
But she had gone.
Back to the nursery, back to the schooling and the soot and the human misery of London. It was ridiculous, the choice she'd made, but it had seemed as natural as birth. The feel of her mother's arms, her father's tears of relief on her face as he embraced her. It was a different sort of happiness, a raw and human blessing that echoed down through the years and contained within it both bitter pain and keen joy. Forgetting was a byproduct of growing up and away from the things of youth, but Wendy would never forget Neverland.
She told the story of Peter Pan to her children, and they to theirs, and they in turn to theirs, but the tale never changed and Peter never grew older. In fact, when Wendy looked at the shining faces of her great-grandchildren through her failing eyes it seemed that the stories were breathing something of the vigor and fearlessness of the Pan himself into their hearts.
If only the elixer worked in her own blood.
With a sigh, Wendy, grandmother, great-grandmother Wendy rose and turned down the gas lamps. Her body was tired, but her mind was as bright as in her youth. She'd never left the old house, though it crumbled all around her like a broken dream.
"I taught you to fight and to fly! What more can there be!" he had demanded angrily when she pressed him for his feelings. How her soul had ached! But his heart was a wild thing and could not be tamed.
"My new obsession is you..." James Hook, his hair a dark shroud around his velvet-clad shoulders, had purred the words down at her on the black ship in the even blacker water just before releasing her. The woman in her warred with the child in her, neither one coming out of the match victorious. She understood, somewhere deep within her, that James represented her future, the sensual bewitching pleasures and agonies of the grown-up world. Was it to be Peter and the endless innocence of young love? Or James and the dark fire that would eventually consume her?
Neither world, no more fantasies and eidolic pseudo-nightmares.
So she had gone. Gone on to mate and procreate and then eventually die like the fireflies and the fish and the birds and all the other mortal things on that smoggy miserable ball called Earth.
Wendy lay down in her bed, gentling her old bones beneath a hand-stitched coverlet that kept out the chill from the open window. It would be time to rest soon. Not the fresh slumber of youth any more. Those days were gone. Now for the lion of death to cover her heart with its inky paw and shut out the light.
A breeze lifted her grey hair away from her face as she breathed, deep and even.
Somewhere the waves still rolled and the ship still sailed. The crocodile ticked and tocked fitfully, weaving malice in his dreams. James Hook still stood like a spectre in the night on the deck of his lonely ship, pale empty eyes looking always for his nemesis with eagerness and loathing combined. Somewhere Tinkerbelle laughed and zinged through the air, indolent and swift as a dragonfly. And the mermaids sang sad, wet siren songs, the Indians danced, the Lost Boys told stories, and even the smallest whimsical idea could lift one's spirit and body to touch the sky.
Somewhere it was Spring in Neverland, the clouds holding the promise of pure cold rain to wash away the stains of sorrow on even the most jaded soul.
Somewhere the flutes still played. She could hear them, clear as morning, clear as crystal, clear as dreams.
James. Tinkerbelle. Lost Boys.
And the sound of the flute rose up to mingle with Wendy-lady's final breath, rising to a crescendo that was so tangible it caused the very air of the room to shimmer. Higher and higher the music rose, and her eyes snapped wide to stare unseeing at a land that sight was never meant to reach.
The light left her, but it left her with the shadow of a smile on her lips. The men would come in the morning to take her away in a long wooden box, and they would see that smile and it would stay with them for a very long time afterwards, but they would not know why.
The music, the soft piping music that Wendy knew in an instant and would always know, became fainter and fainter as morning drew near. Finally, when the rose of dawn tinted the windows with yellow light and began to melt away the hoarfrost, the music faded away all together, and was never heard again.