A Summer's Night, Long Ago
(Author's note: This is a partial re-write of a piece I originally put out on WB in January 2006. It also 'ties in' in a manner of speaking with a Love Buzz piece ('An Anonymous Couple') which I published here last year. 900 words approx. Genre: Fictionalized Reminiscence: Swearing: None. Sex: None. Violence: None.)
On a balmy summer's night almost 36 years ago a student nurse and her boyfriend of fifteen months are setting out from a long since vanished home counties Youth Hostel for a half hour's stroll prior to 'lights out' at ten. She has the face of a photographic model and the hair of a Pre-Raphaelite heroine. Fully natural Titian red - not ginger - nor copper - but red, which as per her favoured style she is this night wearing in an elaborate French plait. Her tall, slim boyfriend, four months her junior, recognizes by now that her looks make her very much the 'senior partner' of the relationship - a fact she certainly acknowledges also! - but at barely 19 years of age his devotion is unconditional and his love absolute. For differing although not entirely unalike reasons both have recently come through far from pleasant childhoods.
Hands linked, fingers laced, they set off unhurriedly along a soon to be moonlit lane. There's no traffic. Leafy trees closely overhang its hedge lined margins. Maybe owls look down unseen from the dark branches: Other night creatures rustle unheard in the silvery verges. At length the strolling couple come upon a rickety old field gate guarding the entrance to a gently rising, rutted farm track. Scaling the gate they proceed up the hard baked mud surface which begins to climb a long, gentle curve up the flank of a high ridge.
The ancient world is still young to this couple, just now commencing their own Life's journeys.
On the open hillside the moonlight is intense. They realise they've been walking for more than two hours. The silvery-grey landscape becoming revealed down to their right as the track continues its ascent is picked out in startling monochromatic clarity. Fields, ditches, hedges, roads, tracks, trees, farms, the church spire and roofs of the village they've walked out from. Darker grey-black shadows against polished pewter. Such intimate details, imagined if not actually seen, spread out below them. Curtained latticed windows tight under cottage eves. Closed up, sleeping blooms in moon whitened gardens. A narrow path ending in a green painted paling gate running by allotments full of silvery cabbages and cluttered bean frames. A tiny rabbit venturing cautiously across a silent railway line. A kenneled dog dreaming of sausages and gravy ...
To their left runs a solid green beech hedge - now transformed into tarnished silver - demarcating a boundary line perhaps five centuries old atop a slightly raised bank which parallels the track. By a solitary old elm the couple pause to kiss in the moonlight. From below a distant church clock strikes a single note.
Further hours have passed. But who cares? After a succession of scorching days the night air remains pleasantly warm. They lie on their backs, still hand in hand, and gaze up at the night sky. A pillowed mattress of dead beech leaves is not so uncomfortable. Behind their heads the hedge runs on to who knows where. A myriad of stars sparkle and twinkle down at them from the black void of eternity. The Universe they fancy, the whole of Creation, looking back at them. The boy tries to pick out the few constellations he knows the names of: “The Pleiades,” he says. “The Seven Sisters!” she responds. She has a younger sister whom she's not seen in twelve years. Sometimes in the night she sobs in her sleep, and the boy can only wonder what dreams are taking place behind her wet rimmed, darting eyelids. Such times he cuddles her tightly, and whispers words of comfort into her ear. “And there, forever pursuing them, is Orion the Hunter. See the line of three stars making up his belt?” “What are they called?” she wants to know.
The boy doesn't know the answer to this. So he replies with the names of three stars he recalls from a school visit to the London Planetarium some years before. “Rigel, Betelgeuse, Cassiopeia.”
“Cassiopeia?” The girl is fascinated by the name. “Who was she? She must have been a she.”
In Greek mythology Cassiopeia was the mother of Andromeda and had boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than the sea god Poseidon's nymphs the Nereids, thus incurring his anger. In order to save the coast from the ravages of a sea monster sent by Poseidon Andromeda is chained to a rock as a sacrifice, but is then saved by the hero Perseus who slays the monster and marries her. But neither the boy nor the girl know anything of that. So instead they conspire together to create a persona to fit the evocative name. Cassiopeia, all seeing all knowing queen of the night sky maybe?
Beyond even the slowly revolving stars the Milky Way stretches across the darkened cosmos like some gauzy bride's veil. The boy and girl run their gaze up and down its horizon spanning length for long minutes on end. Addressing the Universe, the boy speaks heartfelt words of love to be reflected back again to his girl beside him. And she, perceptibly tightening her grip on his hand, replies in similar manner. Have they truly then inadvertently entered some other-worldly magical kingdom? Of Faeries and Magik, of moon shadow and silvery imagination - Cassiopeia's Realm?
Still bourne by the Wings of Love, they finally drift off into magical, starry sleep.
Come the dawn and the long walk back, and they'll be ready for the breakfast awaiting them at their erstwhile lodgings.
Copyright Terence Hugh Hazelton, 2008
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