Waters of the Dancing Sky
by Janet Kay
"The leaves of memory seemed to make a mournful rustling in the dark." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Beth felt like she was stepping back in time as she approached the clearing in the woods. The rustic log structure that her grandfather had built stood facing south on a rocky knoll perched above Rainy Lake. The lake lapped gently on the shore far below the screened porch that wrapped around the front and sides of the house. The willow-branch rocking chairs that she remembered from her childhood still rocked in the breeze on the porch. The hanging porch swing was still there. She'd spent many hours here as a child swinging, reading, watching sunsets and storms moving in...and later on, planning her escape from the island. An assortment of tangled vines climbed peeling logs that supported the suspended porch. Wild ferns crowded empty flower pots that surrounded the sagging wooden steps leading to the main entrance. Nana hadn't had time to plant her red geraniums in the pots this year...
The heavy wooden door was unlocked as always. It creaked and groaned as she slowly pushed it open and stepped into the main room. The last rays of the day's sunlight filtered in through dusty window-panes, across the hardwood floors and the flowered Victorian rug that lay beside the stone fireplace. Papa had built that fireplace with rocks that he had hauled home from neighboring islands. It was the focal point of the room, surrounded by wall-to-wall bookcases that were filled with hundreds of books accumulated over the years. Reading had always been an avid interest and pastime for her family, especially during the long winters they spent on the island. The library included some of the school books that Nana had used to homeschool Beth's mother on the island. My mother, Beth sighed. It was hard to remember her anymore...
She wandered through the house, touching things that Nana had touched. Her bag of knitting that sat beside her favorite chair in front of the fireplace. An assortment of knick-knacks and souvenirs that represented highlights of her life. Framed photos of the past were scattered around the room - Nana and Papa beside Kettle Falls on their honeymoon, Sarah as a baby, Sarah as a beautiful young woman sitting on a big rock surrounded by water, Beth as a baby and growing up on the island, a mother-daughter pose of Beth and Emily. There were no pictures of Rob, Beth's soon-to-be-ex-husband...
The old desk that Papa had built long ago of hand-hewn boards supported by crisscrossed log legs stood beneath the French glass windows. Beth could almost see Nana sitting at the desk, stroking the wood that Papa had sanded and varnished, as she gazed out toward the gazebo on the rocky point. Several antique kerosene lamps sat on the desk. She remembered Nana lighting them every time the electricity went out.
The big country kitchen was exactly as Beth remembered it. Still painted light yellow, Nana's favorite color, still full of Nana's violets and house plants - most of which were badly in need of watering. The family-sized wood table stretched out beneath an expanse of French windows with a view of the vegetable garden and the woods beyond. Beth had eaten her meals here while watching deer grazing at the edge of the woods. She and Nana had laughed at the silly little spotted fawns scampering and playing in the field. Together, they had watched the birds coming in to the feeder in the winter, the squirrels trying to chase them away.
Peeking into Nana's bedroom, Beth saw an unmade bed and a pile of dirty clothes in an overflowing laundry basket. Dust had accumulated on the dresser top, which was stacked with old photos that Nana had apparently been sorting through during her last days. The adjoining bathroom needed cleaning. There were stains and built-up scum on the claw-foot tub, smudges on the mirror over the sink, an overflowing wastebasket. This was not at all like Nana's usual meticulous housekeeping.
She needed help...she needed me, Beth collapsed into Nana's chair in front of the cold fireplace. "Why didn't anyone tell me?" she cried aloud, her shaky voice echoing through the empty house. "Why wasn't I here for her?" she corrected herself. "It's all my fault..." You're pathetic, Beth...Rob's words pierced her heart. Maybe he was right...at least as far as the way she had treated her loving grandmother.
Hot tears began to flow like a river bursting through the dam. Tears of sorrow, of regret for all the things she should have said and done. It wasn't Nana's fault that her mother had drowned. It wasn't Nana's fault that she had no father. Yet, Beth realized, she'd blamed Nana in some ways. There was nobody else to blame. She'd taken out her frustrations on the one person who had loved her and been there for her over the years. Beth rocked back and forth, clutching Nana's furry blue slippers, the ones she always kept beside her rocking chair.
As darkness fell upon the island, a chill filled the air. Shadows of the past seemed to swirl through the room where Beth continued to rock. Her tears were spent. She stared into the past, consumed with memories bubbling up from the vault where she'd buried them long ago. Perhaps it was time to face the past that she'd hidden from for so many years. She was shivering. She hadn't eaten since breakfast. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.
The house was cold and dark by the time an exhausted Beth found the flashlight in its usual place on the fireplace mantle and climbed the familiar staircase to her old bedroom. Her footsteps echoed eerily in the silence of loneliness. The house itself seemed to miss Nana. Nothing was the same without her.
At the top of the stairs, Beth entered the room that she had shared with her mother for the first six years of her life - until the lake had taken her mother away from her. They'd called it their "eagle's nest" since it was perched above the main floor of the house with shuttered windows on all four sides of the room. Memories flashed through her mind. Memories of her mother reading stories to her on the window seat as they looked out at their world, listening to the sounds of nature. Memories of cuddling up beside her in their big bed at night. Of playing imaginary games together, watching the clouds floating in the sky, picking wild daisies, braiding chains of clover. That was so long ago, Beth sighed, realizing that she needed to learn more about her mother, about her life. Until she filled in the missing pieces of her past, she would never be complete. She would never know who she really was. She would never be free.
Beth had been alone in the eagle's nest after her mother died, after the first few weeks that she'd spent sleeping downstairs with Nana. She'd decided then that she must move back upstairs. She wanted to be there, waiting in bed, when Mommy came back home. But Mommy never came home again. Still, she sometimes visited Beth in her dreams...
In later years, Beth found refuge in this room. It became her sanctuary, a place where she could sit on the window seat gazing out at the world below. Watching the trees shimmering in the sunlight, moonbeams dancing across the hardwood floor. Listening to the lake, the wolves howling, the cry of the loons. Thinking and dreaming...
It had been twenty years since Beth left the island, pregnant with Emily. In some ways, it felt like yesterday. In other ways, it felt like forever. Her room had not changed. Nana had kept it exactly the way she'd left it - as if she expected her to come home again someday. Beth had forgotten the incredible views from their eagle's nest. Tonight, she threw open the shutters to let the evening breeze flow through the room. Sheer lace curtains fluttered into the room, dancing in intricate patterns illuminated by the full moon. Taking a deep breath of the fresh lake air, she suddenly realized how exhausted and emotionally drained she was. Somehow, she felt safe here. She would sleep tonight in her old four-poster bed, snuggled beneath the down-filled quilt that Nana had made for her so many years ago.
"Good night, Nana. Please forgive me. And always remember
that I love you," Beth whispered silently, as she crawled into bed in her