Mary glanced up from pulling up the weeds to hear footsteps on the soft grass. Her heart leaped at the thought that it might be her husband, Dickon, but instead, she saw, it was her cousin.
"You've been working late out here for the past few days," he noted solemnly, gesturing to the lantern she had set beside the place she was working, "Why let the light shine? The moon is beautiful out tonight."
"Indeed, it is," she answered, going back to her work.
Things had been strange between them since she married, and she could not figure out why. He dropped to his knees next to her and began pulling at a weed. She glanced at his legs—he had learned to walk, but had never gained the status of health everyone hoped that walking would be the gateway to.
"Colin . . ."
He glanced up at her.
"What do the doctors say?"
He moved immediately away, rising, crossing to a stone bench that was illuminated in a spotlight of the moon. He looked like a ghost in the moonlight, clad in his crisp, black suit, his pale skin glowing silver.
"I'm sorry," Mary quickly said, "It's just that, well . . . you know you're scheduled for regular checkups and . . . oh, Colin, it must be awful! Here we all had the hope that being in the garden, in the presence of such good healing powers, in the presence of the Magic . . ."
"Oh, please, Mary, none of that childish dribble—if people could be cured from disabilities or weaknesses or whatever from simply sitting and meditating in a garden, do you really think there would be any medical problems in the world? I'm ashamed we ever thought such—it's insulting to the . . . different."
She knew how much he loathed that word and so she was shocked to hear him use it, even if he did so hesitantly.
"Colin . . . there's no reason to be so bitter. Medical science is advancing every day—who knows, maybe someday, the doctors will . . . maybe, one day, there will be a way for them to bring . . . perfection."
Colin leaned against a tree that grew by the bench.
"What do they know of perfection?" he asked. "Physical perfection is nothing but lies. It is too logical, too cold. No one ever pays attention to what lies beneath that, in the heart, in the soul—emotions, feelings . . . desire. Why are people so afraid of their passion? It is the source of true perfection, of all things truly beautiful. My father knew that—hunchback though he was, deformed though he was, he knew that—why else would he never remarry? He knew that, in my mother, there had been the person he was meant to spend his life with, the person he was meant to love forever."
He came towards her and reached out a hand, the pale ivory coming into the soft, yellow glow of the lantern's light as he reached out to softly caress her cheek.
"Why is that lantern on?" he asked, "It is too critical. Blow it out. Let the beauty of the night show. The night doesn't judge like the harsh, scorching, garish daylight does. It doesn't point out physical flaws—it only sees people."
His hand came to rest on hers.
"Do you remember when we were children, and we were here one day and I said that I wanted to marry you? I wasn't saying so just out of the childish solution that marriage would be a way to always be at your side . . ."
Mary leapt up.
"Colin, I am married!"
"And how could you?" he suddenly exploded, the gentleness gone, "How could you settle for a life with that—that—."
He swept her into his arms, but she wriggled away and began to flee towards the garden gate's opening.
"I love you!" he called after her.
She stopped as if she had been shot in the back and turned to look at him with wild, frightened eyes. He was now bending down, slowly collapsing to the grass, his hands outstretched toward her.
"I love you . . ." he said, barely audibly.
He looked up at her shocked, horror-stricken face.
"If anything gave me hope, it wasn't the garden. It was you. I've been devoted to you since the moment I laid eyes on you—and you, you are the medicine I need, the medicine my soul needs—a doctor could not prescribe such a wonderful cure. Let me love you and you will know what true happiness is—I'll never betray you—you will never hunger . . ."
She glared at him.
"I would never betray my husband, especially never with you."
He looked at her, stunned, hurt.
"But I . . . am offering you a rare gift, a gem—true passion, pure, perfect love—that is the very core of life!"
"It is the core of the mind of a madman."
"How could the angel in my life say such a thing?"
"Colin, I am as mortal as you are."
He came toward her, on his knees, and, gently taking her hand in his, he brought it to his lips.
"My goddess," he murmured, resting his cheek on her hand after he had kissed it.
She fled from him.
"So," he said to himself, "You are just like the rest of humanity—you know the sweetness the medicine will bring, yet you fear the bitterness of its taste, the cost of the cure. You cannot bear a mere few moments of bitter taste in your mouth even though you know that, after the bitter taste, a warm sweetness will wash over you. Then why does the medicine even exist?"