A morning in May.
A sweet-scented, dew-bathed morning in May. Heavy with the first flush of roses, their soft petals unfolding. When all the world was greening and all the trees were blossoming into fresh and glorious life.
She stood by the window just breathing the air. The fragrance of cherry blossom drifting in on the breeze that ruffled the curtain and lifted her hair.
A morning in May.
A morning filled with all the promise of a new world, like the promise that sang in her heart. So pure and strong it filled her to bursting. Like the buds on the trees, the flowers in the garden, the springtide that burgeoned just everywhere she looked. The air was sweet with birdsong, and she listened still and entranced. Their song was even more beautiful on this morning - this morning of all mornings.
A morning in May.
A shining morning. The sun already soft and warm as it climbed in the sky, still fresh and pure from it's rising. Bathing the whole valley in the sharp, pale lemon light of a springtime dawn. There was still snow on the distant caps of the mountains, but the valley was the bright new green only seen in spring before the parched hand of summer grasped hold of the land.
This was her valley. Her home for nearly all her life. God's own country - the most beautiful place on Earth. Awe inspiring in its majesty. Vast in its splendour and diversity. From the mountains to the forests, to the meadows and the deserts. The acres of grasslands, the fertile orchards and vineyards. Even the garden of the Hacienda itself with its stately oaks and scented junipers, the lacy, foaming fruit trees like dainty brides in their blossom covered veils. It was hers, all hers. And she loved every inch of it - never more so than on this morning . . .
A clear bright morning in May.
A soft knock, and she knew in her heart who it was. Winging across the room to the carved oak door and flinging it open, as he stepped in with a tray of breakfast. The breakfast wish she'd specified with Maria last night. Coffee and toast, butter, and honey from her own beehives, dripping and golden with the scent of lavender and acacia.
He looked at her a long moment, eyes soft with love and a glimmer of moisture, as he set the tray down and placed his hands upon her shoulders. He was so dear to her, this man. This man who was now her father in all but name.
Tall as his spirit, tall as his shadow. She walked unerringly into his warm embrace, her head only reaching the base of his breastbone as he held her close like a precious thing.
"Are you ready for this, darling?"
She trembled like a bird against him - face pale and shining with joy. "I'm ready, Murdoch."
He looked at her long and hard. "And you're sure you truly love him?"
"Oh yes," she answered softly, her lips parting tenderly. "With all my heart."
He nodded slowly with satisfaction. "And I know he feels the same," he held her tighter. "You have no idea how happy this makes me."
She smiled gently, fingers lingering lovingly on his cheek. "Yes, I think I do."
And watching as he left, she knew she did. She knew the peace he'd found in his heart at last, this man she loved who'd walked with sorrow for so many years. For far too long. Wearing his pain like a silent burden on his stricken shoulders as he tried so hard to fight the loneliness his losses had caused him, to relinquish the cruel grip of fate on his life.
In the last few years he'd known love again; with all of its hectic happiness and tears. The joy and anxiety, the rich reward, as his ordered world had tipped upside down and shattered into chaos. The noise upset and uncertainty that loving others brings. For love was fraught with danger, and she realised that was why he'd been afraid; too scared to face his past and let love back in again.
She sighed and blew a soft kiss after him. Thanking him for his determination, for his courage in never giving up his dream. If the dream had died, if he'd let it go, then she wouldn't be facing this morning.
The most beautiful morning in May.
The day stretched onwards, the heat gradually burning off the shimmering haze as the sun grew stronger and a warm wind jostled the flowers in the garden. The roses turned shy faces to the sky.
The women came to her then. Maria and Juanita, laughing and giggling with flashing eyes and inverted faces as they pushed and pulled her towards her bath. Soft milky water scented with blossom - her hair washed and perfumed with a similar fragrance. Their hands on her, bathing and preparing her as she submitted and drifted away.
Soon she thought dreamily, soon it will all be done and after today, I will never be the same again. No longer a child, no longer a girl. A new phase was beginning in her life, the blessed culmination of everything she'd hoped for since a day long ago in the spring - a day when she'd first met a stranger and looked into eyes of clear blue.
"You are beautiful, Chica."
Maria's fingers were tender in her hair. Looping and pinning it into a cascade of soft dark curls as she sniffed and wiped away a tear. And reaching up, she caught hold of the older woman's hand. Pulling it down to her lips and kissing the work-worn skin. This woman had been like a mother to her ever since she was a tiny girl. Her eyes overflowed once again, and they clung to each other for a moment, the simple gesture rich and filled with love.
"Sea feliz, hagalo feliz tambien - be happy, make him happy too."
Maria bent and kissed her shining head. Adjusting a sprig of orange blossom just behind her ear and fixing it with a pearl and tortoiseshell slide.
"It was my mother's - something old, something borrowed, Chica."
"Gracias, Maria. Es bello."
They pulled her to her feet. Helping her into the ivory satin bloomers, the beautiful lace corset. Breathing in as they tightened the stays and narrowed her tiny waist even further to nothing much more than a hand span. She flushed as she thought of his hands - such beautiful sensitive hands. Imagining them round her waist, on her skin, unpinning the comb from her hair and burying his face in its length. Stroking . . . stroking it free as his fingers wrought their magic on her flesh. She shivered, her face pink and rosy. Such delightful, unmaidenly thoughts - but then she'd been having them since she'd first seen him, from the first time he'd taken her hand.
He was the kind of man who made her feel like a woman. Aware of each curve of her body, every inch, every part, every pore. All the secret mystery of her sex had been unlocked by just his presence, the faint male scent of his skin. Unfolding towards him like a flower in the sun, unfurling herself like a lush pink rosebud.
On a beautiful morning in May.
The satin shimmered over her like a waterfall. A cool smooth whisper of pleasures to come, a promise of beauty and sensuousness. A pull here, a tug there, and Maria did up all the buttons, Juanita relegated to the background now in deference of the older woman's right and status.
And now they were done. Maria standing aside with her hand at her throat as they regarded her in silence and Juanita gasped sentimentally.
"Well?" She smiled tenderly. "How do I look?"
Maria shook her head for answer. Leading her wordlessly across to the huge antique mirror and standing her before it. She stared, and a stranger looked back at her. A small swaying lily. Exquisite and slender, with dark smoky eyes full of hope and dreams. Petal pale tinted lips and cheeks, her mouth full and solemn as if waiting only for the words she would soon speak.
It was her and yet not her. Like a glimpse of her soul. Radiant and shining with all the love she felt inside her on this bright morning, the brand new first morning of her life.
She took a deep breath and nodded her head. Waiting patiently as they helped her into her dainty fairy princess shoes. Nothing in her hair but flowers and Maria's comb, nothing on her face except the merest touch of rouge. The tiniest hint of pink gloss on her lips.
She laughed at herself - at this beautiful stranger, and turned back to the safety of the woman at her side. "Will he like me, Maria? Will he think I'm beautiful?"
For answer the older woman kissed her cheek. "He always has, querida. From the day that he came he has seen who you are. He has looked at you with beauty in his eyes."
Oh she hoped, how she hoped that was true. For that was how she'd always looked at him, and she'd never quite dared to believe, that one day, he'd look back at her too.
It was time now. The women had left her alone for the last five minutes she would spend in this room. Looking round at it carefully, her cradle of dreams, with its echoes of girlhood and memories of youth. She crossed to the window and breathed in the air. Gazing down through the trees to the gardens.
The guests were still arriving. The women like gaudy butterflies in their best lace dresses, the soft romantic music of the Spanish guitars sweet and gentle on the breeze.
The mountain tops were steeped in haze and seemed to bestow a fatherly nod upon her, as though they too had seen and approved of this one small girl in her ivory gown. She smiled back at them; thanking them for all the years they'd been here for her, listened to her, watched over her. Unjudgmental custodians of all her hopes and dreams. For they knew better than anyone all that lay hidden in her heart - the days and nights she'd sat in this window and gazed with her soul in her eyes.
The sky so wide above her, the land so vast around. The nostalgia so strong, that for a moment, it hurt her. The ghost of his precious memory never far away.
Her daddy had helped to build this dream, had fashioned out this country alongside Murdoch Lancer. And almost now, in the still cool room with its faint scent of beeswax and the sunlight shafting across the wooden floor, she could sense his presence at her side. In the silence between the ticking of the clock and the strum of distant music, in the shadows that seemed wider than her own.
She knew he was with her, approving and proud. The feeling so strong she could smell his pipe tobacco, feel the big reassuring shape of him as it stirred the shivering air.
"I love you, daddy."
The words were tender on her lips as she reached out to touch the mirror behind her shoulder. The place where she knew he would be standing. And she heard him answer, she knew she did, and felt his soft kiss on her hair.
A soft tap at the door, and her guardian entered once more. His silence as he beheld her, more eloquent than a thousand words as he gazed with simple pride and joy. A combination of gladness and sorrow.
She did not smile, she did not twirl. Looking up at him with utmost solemnity as she held out her little white hand. He took her fingers almost reverently. Tucking them through his arm as he led her out into the morning.
A beautiful morning in May.
She heard the music, she heard the voices. All of them trembling into a sudden hush as she approached. The soft minute's pause as they waited in the shade of a dappled tree and a spring breeze danced in her face.
Tightening her grip on the arm of the man beside her as the faces coalesced and shimmered into one big sea of watching eyes, all of them turned towards her. He patted her fingers reassuringly - the gesture giving her strength and filling her with calm as the music began again. The soft melodic strum of the guitars.
Walking in step across the courtyard and down through the white stone arch. Underneath the graceful boughs of cherry-blossom that stretched to the heavens above her head. Stepping past the fountain with its thousand blooming sprays and on, into the deeper shadows that darkened beneath the cypress trees.
Across the lawn to the rows of seats and the huge displays of flowers. The orange blossom and roses, the perfumed arching stems. Down the aisle on the cool young grass, watching only their shadows pass until she saw the one she sought. No other shadow on the grass but his.
No other face in the world but his. The face she'd waited for all her life, a face she had known from the first.
Watching his eyes as they burned into hers, eyes full of pledging and promise and love. Eyes that said everything without a single word as she stepped up towards him and held out her hand.
The feel of his fingers - tender yet strong. The touch of his skin that made her restless with longing. The day shivered and was still. The veils between the worlds parting as they trapped and held them in a brief fragment of space, like an image in a painting captured on canvas forever. As though from this moment onwards, they would be holding hands beneath this tree for all eternity. Two ghostly lovers caught in a shimmer of time.
On a morning in May . . .
He clasped her fingers even tighter, compellingly warm and alive. So filled with vitality and spirit that the moment was broken, and her breath caught in her throat as he smiled for her alone.
Drawing her nearer and pulling her close to him as the birds burst into sweet song above her head and the sun shone like honey to bless them at last. Giving her heart and soul to a pair of blue eyes, as he gave of his own back to her.
On a beautiful morning in May . . .
Lisa Paris - 2003.