Anna sat by the fire and listened to her grandchildren as they made their way up the lane outside her home. Once again it was the evening of the Starry Night Festival and they were all together to celebrate the year and all it had brought to them. With a sigh she placed her knitting needles together and moved her work to one side. The door was suddenly flung open and in rushed her small granddaughter, Teela. Her little face was screwed up in anguish, her cheeks red with anger. She flung herself at her grandmother and Anna could feel the little girls hot tears on her hand.
" What's this all about sweetheart, " she asked anxiously raising Teela's face to look into her tearful brown eyes.
" It's not fair," Teela sobbed. " I want to be a pirate, I can be a pirate, can't I Nanna"
" She's just being a baby," came a voice from the doorway and Anna looked across to her elder grandchild, Teela's brother, Marty. " Girls can't really be pirates."
" I'm not a baby and I can too be a pirate, " Teela yelled back.
" Tell her Nanna," Marty scoffed. "You have to write real dreams on your boat for Starry Night, you can't just write any old rubbish."
Anna smiled and held out her hand for Teela's little paper boat. It was scrumpled and torn and on it were a few lines of wobbly writing and a drawing of a pirate boat. Quite a good drawing for a five year old.
" Now, Marty," she began putting her arm around Teela. " She can write anything she likes on her boat, after all it is her dream. It doesn't have to make sense to you, only to her."
" See," Teela answered.
" But Nanna," Marty began,
" You know, when I was a young girl, I remember writing on my boat how I was going to be a great explorer or was it a traveller, I can't remember."
" But you didn't Nanna, did you?"
" No, sweetheart, things change and so do your dreams but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try."
" Did you have Starry Night in the city Nanna," Marty asked.
" No, I came each year to spend it here, with my cousin Sasha and we'd go with our friends down to the beach and release our dream boats onto the water."
" Like we do Nanna?"
" Yes, sweetheart, just like you."
Closing her eyes Anna could see that cold, crisp night so many years ago as she raced along the sand to send her dreams out across the star lit sea. She had worn her new red mittens and Sasha had held her tight by the hand. The adults were so slow that year. They always seemed slow to them then and the little group of children had raced ahead heedless to their calls to wait. There was Manna and Doug from the Inn, Rosheen from the clinic, Lillia, the little pink haired girl from the farm and her cousin Sasha. Sasha was two years older than her and she thought she was wonderful, so pretty and so clever. Not as beautiful as Rosheen, the eldest of the group but she wasn't going to tell her. They'd all spent the evening colouring their little paper boats pouring out their heartfelt dreams, brightening the winter night with their fantasies. Lillia wanted to be a fairy and fly across the summer sky. Rosheen was going to be a ballerina and dance before the queen. Manna was a princess. She had dreamt of exploring the world with her faithful companion but Sasha didn't share the dream and she'd woven a spell for all of them of how she would be a famous beauty and become rich enough to buy all of Mineral Town.
Together they'd launched their little boats out into the future, confident that nothing would ever stand in their way, that all they had to do was dream and the world would turn to their commands. Well, that's how the world seemed when you were five, six or seven or even eight. But that's not how the world works. It revolves to a tune of its own making and the wise learn to turn with it.
The years turned and there they were again, now young girls, poised on the threshold of adulthood and eager to leap but still sure they could bend the world to their tune. Gone were the fantasies of innocent childhood only to be replaced by the confident arrogance of young girls. They had changed but the innocence still remained as they sat around the firelight and dreamed. Now their boats were wonderful creations made to carry their dreams across the sea in breathless wonder. Anna now lived in the town, her parents gone in one tragic summer storm. She lived here with Sasha and her aunt and uncle. Living here had tarnished Sasha's brilliance somewhat but she was still a little in awe of her splendid cousin. Still she now knew her a little better, knew her rather selfish, self obsessed behaviour, how she liked to be right no matter what but she also knew her kind heart and loved her all the same.
" Rosheen, have you finished already," she'd asked as Rosheen had sat back and sighted.
" Yes, I knew what I wanted to put. I dream of marrying a handsome, blue eyed hero who'll make a home for us and we'll be happy ever after with lots of beautiful children"
There had been a general chuckle around the table as everyone there knew Rosheen was already courting a young man from the city.
" Well, I want to marry a big strong man," Lillia had lisped." Someone with big muscles who'll sweep me off my feet and marry me."
" Just big muscles eh? Manna had winked making Lillia blush. Manna had been much more experienced than either Lilla or herself and had hinted at things that only made her feel awkward and uncomfortable. " That's alright but I want a man who knows a thing or two," Manna had mused, " A real man of the world, handsome of course but dangerous, maybe a spy or something."
Sasha had scoffed at this and turned to Anna for support. " We don't just want some boy to make my future for us, do we Anna. I'm going to be a world famous beauty model and I'll have any man I want. I'll be so rich that I won't have to spend my life in this hick town."
All the others muttered under their breath but no-one tried to contradict her. Anna had turned away a little and pushed her own boat under her scarf. Sasha may want this fantasy of a future but Anna remembered how she had dreamed of a serious young man who would love her and spend all his time with only her. How she would make him her world and he would live only for her. How between them they would have the perfect family and everyone would envy their happiness. Now she knew just how much her insecurity had influenced her choices but back then it had all seemed so important.
Spin the clock forward again and now they were young women, young mothers with children of their own and Starry night came round again. One year stood out in Anna's memory so vividly that even now the memory brought bitter tears to her eyes and she could once again feel the fear that gripped them. It was the year they lost Rosheen.
They were all gathered at the Inn trying to make some sort of festival for their children while coping with the grief each one of them was feeling. Anna could still feel the way she had struggled to remember the optimistic innocence of that night when they were teenagers. Life was so different to how they had dreamed it would be. Lilla had brought her two children down from the farm and she sat by the fire trying to catch her breath after the walk. Yes, she had married a handsome young man who was devoted to her and together they had two sweet children but the births had taken a toll on her health and she seemed to fade a little more with each passing year. Popuri was the image of her mother when she had been a girl and shone like a little star but Rick, who was a couple of years older, already sensed that things weren't right . He hovered around his mother large, anxious eyes magnified by his glasses. Anna had seen how the atmosphere affected him and it broke her heart.
Across the room Manna was trying to rein in her daughter, Aja, who always seemed to be bursting with life but Anna had noticed how her eyes kept drifting over to her husband, Duke, as he stood at the bar. Manna had married a man from the city who'd come back to Mineral Town with her to take over the vineyard. He was a large handsome man with dark hair and flashing dark eyes. He was gregarious and volatile but Anna knew that he wasn't faithful. He had become over amorous with her one picnic that she'd rather forget and she heard rumours about his trips to the city. Poor Manna, she got her dangerous, street wise man but it didn't look to be giving her half the fun she'd imagined it would. Right now he was more than a little drunk and leaning far too close to a good looking young woman at the bar. Anna had looked across at Basil but he'd shaken his head to warn her not to interfere. She'd know then it would have done no good, Manna wouldn't thank her and Doug would more than likely take it out on his wife. They all knew what he was like, especially Sasha.
Yes, Sasha. She'd been there that year and Anna knew just how far the two of them had grown apart. Sasha had left for the city just as she had said that memorable starry night, gone off to make her splash on the fashion world as she had predicted. She'd returned three years later pregnant and penniless and married the first man who asked her. Jeff was a quiet, nervous young man who couldn't believe his luck that so beautiful a woman had agreed to marry him. He had moved there a few years previously with his elderly parents and he ran the village store. Now they had had three beautiful children, Sasha's son Lyon, their son Donny and their daughter Karen. Jeff doted on all three, making no difference between them but Sasha seemed to be indifferent to all of them. It was cruel to see how much they competed for her affection and how little they received. Right now they were huddled in a corner, frightened and hungry while Sasha sobbed in Jeff's arms. Once again she remembered how Basil had followed her gaze and automatically scoped them up and taken them to their table where he sat with their daughter, Mary.
Yes, Anna had pondered she'd gained the wonderful husband she'd dreamt of and she'd made her world around him, him and her precious Mary but had he done the same with her? He was thoughtful, handsome, intelligent and loving but she wasn't the centre of his world. No, his work took that place and she was slowly learning that she would always come second. Funny, she thought, how they had all had little girls. It was almost as time had tried to duplicate that happy pack of little friends for, what now seemed so long ago. Mary was her only child and doubly precious. Anna remembered the fear that had clutched her heart that night as she wrapped her arms around her large, pregnant stomach. There had been several lost babies between Mary and this longed for child. With each failure she and Basil had grown more remote from each other. Then she had been so afraid but now she knew she had already begun to accept that there wasn't going to be a happy ending. The child kicked so rarely it was as if he had begun to fail even before his birth.
A third little girl sat at their table, her head down and her quiet sobs audible to all. Back there in the room a tiny little boy lay wrapped in his cradle. Rosheen had wed her handsome prince and they had been happy but not ever after. Rosheen had died giving birth to her son and they were all still trying to come to terms with it. That Starry Night no-one had spoken of their dreams or pubic ally wrote them down on little boats to sail into the future. Anna still had her paper boat on which she'd pinned her dreams that this child would live. She could only imagine what the others had written. Perhaps Lillia had forgotten her dreams of being a fairy and now only wanted to be free of illness. Maybe Manna regretted wanting to know more and now wished she knew less. Did Sasha look in the mirror and curse her beauty and only see what time had taken away not what she had gained?
Shaking her head Anna tried to bring herself back to the present and that Starry Night. What good did it do to dwell so in the past? Now she was a grandmother and her family were once again around her. In her hands she held a little paper boat that she had been folding without thinking and she smiled. Mary had come in from the snowy yard with her father and her husband, Jack. Mary had married a young farmer who had come to live on a small holding just outside town, They seemed very happy, she hoped it was so. They had given her three beautiful grandchildren, Teela, Marty and baby Dylan and Mary was due to give birth again in the Spring. What would the future hold for them? She remembered Mary's Starry night dreams from her childhood of being a famous author and, to some extent, fate had smiled on her shy child. Leaning over, Anna took a small teak box out from under her work table and opened it. There inside were the small boats she had made all those years ago. She had never been able to bring herself to abandon her dreams to the cold winter sea she had smuggled them home and hidden them. Now she added this years to the pile and smiled.
" What have you written, Nanna," a little voice spoke up at her elbow.
" Yes, mother," Mary asked, " Tell us what are your dreams for the coming year?"
Anna closed the box and held out her arms for her youngest grandchild.
" More of the same, just more of the same."