The Lily Eater
In the waiting and the wanting there came a silence, where the rustling leaves were muffled, and the birds ceased to sing. There, inside that muted instant, he rose from the water, a man like no other. His flesh so thin and tender you could see the webbed veins pumping blood beneath.
From my seat at the edge of the pond I watched.
The man floated just slightly above the water, how, I could not say. Kneeling down, he plucked lily after lily from the pads below devouring every last one.
“Who? What...are you?” I asked.
“I find what is lost,” he said, flowers spilling from his lips.
His fingertips hovered like bees pollinating each plant he touched. For every lily he plucked two more grew in its place.
“Do the flowers taste sweet?” I asked.
“Depends how many tears have been shed in the pond. This bunch are decidedly salty,” he said, removing a stamen lodged between his teeth. “Now then, why did you summon me? What’s gone missing?”
“I summoned no one,” I replied, swishing two fingers round in the water. It was warm and thick like the medicinal broth the doctor insisted father drink before dinner. Once, he’d winked at me and dumped the bowl in the fern by the window. When the next course arrived our giggles rattled the cups in the cupboard. Chef didn’t find it amusing, but the fern fared quite well that year.
The lily eater fashioned a garland out of newborn flowers placing it upon my head.
“Father showed me how to make a garland for May Day,” I said. “He raced me to the garden at dawn and we rubbed dew on our faces. He insisted May dew was magical, said it would make my freckles disappear. Didn’t work, though.”
“Sounds like lovely chap,” the man said, chuckling.
“Sometimes,” I said, “but only on sunny days.”
“Well, you must be searching for something,” the man said. “A dolly? A sweet? A pair of skates, perhaps?”
“No, all of my things are in order. It's necessary. I’m moving, you see.”
“Yes. My aunt is taking me in.”
“Ah, my mistake then.” The lily eater’s gaze had no end.
I turned my head away, adjusting the ribbon on my dress.
“Are you sure you weren’t looking for this?” he asked, placing a brooch in my palm.
The gold pin had a garland of enameled daisies on it alternating with bright green crystals. “Now you will have May magic forever,” he’d whispered in my ear that last time as he hugged me tight.
I shook my head, biting my lip. “No. Take it away. It belongs at the bottom of the pond.”
“Seems an odd place for a pretty bauble,” he shrugged. “But if you insist, I’ll put it back where I found it.”
The man glided across the water.
“Wait,” I said.
“May I see it once more?”
“Certainly,” he said.
The starched grey afternoon could not prevent the brooch from glittering in my hand. Clouds heavy with rain concealed the sun. A black and blue sky, that’s what father would have called it. A cry lodged in my throat.
“You know, there are an awful lot of bits and bobs down below,” the lily eater said. “Don’t suppose you’d be willing to take the pin off my hands temporarily, would you? At least until I clear out some of the other refuse?”
“I suppose I could,” I said, rubbing my eyes.
“I am in your debt,” he said as his body began to descend.
“What is it now?” he said, already submerged up to his neck.
“Can you…can you tell him something for me?”
The lily eater blinked. “It can be arranged.”
“Tell him…thank you for the pin and…wherever he’s gone, I hope the sky is never bruised.”
“Consider it done,” the man said, disappearing into the murky pond.
“Goodbye father,” I whispered, pinning the brooch to my dress.