A lonely woman finds pleasure with the Valentine's fairy.
Choosing appropriate reading material for this trip proved surprisingly tricky. I turned my nose up at romantic stories about soul mates finding each other and living happily ever after. And yet picking stories with no romance in them seemed once again to be trying too hard to avoid thinking about my own single status. In the end, I decided that all the true classic love stories are tragedies anyway, and that I had a plentiful choice by dipping into some of the delightfully leather bound books with yellowing leaves that I had inherited from my grandmother.
The story I am reading is 'Tristram of Lyonesse', the classic tragedy of Tristram and Iseult as written in that era of Victorian King Arthur enthusiasm. Before too long, I find myself lost in the world of mediaeval heroism, chivalry and courtly love. I linger on the passages that describe Iseult and her noble rescuer Tristram drinking the love potion intended for the lady and her husband and the yearning feelings of mixed desire and fear before they consummate their union.
'And shuddering with eyes full of fear and fire
And heart-stung with a serpentine desire
He turned and saw the terror in her eyes
That yearned upon him shining in such wise
As a star midway in the midnight fixed.
Their Galahault was the cup, and she that mixed;
Nor other hand there needed, nor sweet speech
To lure their lips together; each on each
Hung with strange eyes and hovered as a bird
Wounded, and each mouth trembled for a world;
Their heads neared, and their hands were drawn in one,
And they saw dark, though still the unsunken sun
Far through fine rain shot fire into the south;
And their four lips became one burning mouth.'
I blink and then wake up. It's dark outside. The dregs of my cocoa are cold in the mug in my hand. The fire is dying into glowing embers and the book has slid from my hands. I'm not sure what time it is, how long ago the sun set nor how long I have been asleep. I had gone so far into the world of the book that I have passed some time, between sleeping and waking, in the surroundings of mediaeval romance and it takes me a few moments to set straight what is the dream world, what the book world and what are my real surroundings.
I stand up, stretch and yawn. I go over to the fire and poke at the embers until I get a bit of a flame back and then add some more lumps of coal. In a couple of minutes I've got a real fire going again. The rest of the room is in semi-darkness and the flickering flames of the fire produce a dance of light and shadow shapes on the cottage's opposite wall.
With the room this dark, I begin to be able to see outside through the window. There is a bright moon, almost full. It glints off the marshy waters of the fens opposite, giving the illusion of light that I always found so fascinatingly disconcerting. I feel myself drawn to it, I am excited by the mystery the marshes offer. As I stare out of the window, however, my eye is caught by some light and colour that I had not previously noticed. I think to myself that I must be seeing a trick of the light, a combination of the bright moon and growing cold breeze, but it looks like where there just weeds and messy hedgerows earlier this afternoon, flowers in scarlet and violet have blossomed in the night.
I know that it's foolish to go out into the cold in the middle of the night chasing an optical illusion, but I am curious. Part of me wonders whether my garden might genuinely have been filled with roses while I slept. At worst, I'll just be a little cold and embarrassed when I see nothing but overgrown hedges and wet marshland. There isn't anybody here to laugh at me.
I pull on my boots and open the door to a blast of February cold, which causes the fire to flicker more violently than before.