Midnight in the Garden of Light

Every 113 years, the Light Garden appears in the town square. People wander beneath the giant flowers, delighted. They hold out phones and cameras to capture its beauty; the flashes in the dark looking like fireflies that swarm the luminescent trees. Last time it was here, electric light bulbs were a phenomenon. Visitors were bedazzled by its brightness. The time before that, its opulence was said to rival the last days of Versailles. This time around, visitors are more knowing, longing simply for novelty in an ever-changing world. It transfixes them anyhow.

I look only for you.

I never meant for my actions to have the consequences they did. I was young and foolish then. An evening stroller in a worsted suit, chewing on a bag of toffees. What young swell wasn’t captivated by the ethereal beauty who danced in bubbles around the Tree of Dreams? Who wouldn’t have given the treasures of Egypt for a night in her arms? I only wanted to make it last. Beyond the days of the Garden, into the dull, grey world of banks and factories and trollybuses. I thought that if I learned your secrets, I could keep you for my own.

I was never the most retentive learner. Too much, too quickly. Panicking the Garden would vanish tomorrow and with it our dream. Did I misplace an algorithm? Mispronounce an invocation? Believe me, my love, it was never meant as a betrayal. In all my years of suffering, there has not been a single second without regret.

I pause by the Mirror Pool. Of all the mirrors in the world, only this one reflects truly. Only on this night, 113 years on, do I see the ancient outcast I really am. The crowd merely sees a quiet youth in a retro suit.

Around the Tree of Dreams, bubbles still float, catching white light and turning it to rainbows. Children leap with arms high, trying to catch them. Men with tripods discuss slow exposure, debating over the best ways to preserve the beauty of the night until morning. No one here is old enough to recall the beautiful young woman who once enchanted the crowds with her dancing. No one is alive to wonder what became of her.

The town clock chimes midnight. Parents drag reluctant children home, promising the garden will be there again tomorrow night. Perhaps. As the square falls silent, I press my face to the tree. Something breathes in my face. Your perfume. The waft of your hair. I pray it is not just my imagination.

“I will free you, my love,” I promise. “Though it takes me another 113 years, I will free you to dance again.”

I kiss the tree. There is a moment of perfect stillness. Then one solitary blossom flares white-hot. And falls.

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