Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Elf and the Magnolia, part 8 (ending)

            Throughout the rest of that day, Goldenrod did not play with his siblings or climb to the treetops or dance among the leaves or visit the other finches or his spider friend. He remained by Summer’s side, holding her close to him and kissing her and saying, “I love you, Summer. I love you, I love you” over and over again. He slept by her side for one final night, crying into her brown petals. The next day, when it was all too clear that Summer was really dead, he carried her corpse to the top of the tree and let her sail away on the wind.
            Goldenrod returned home after sending Summer off and said solemnly, “I will never love another.”
            His mother took him into her arms. “Never?” she said.
            “Never,” he told her.
            “But what if you were to find a lovely elf maiden?”
            “I don’t want any elf maidens.”
            His mother asked no more questions then. She held him and rocked him gently back and forth as he cried into her feathers.
            Months passed. Summer turned to autumn, and Goldenrod’s brothers and sisters talked of marriage and their plans to migrate. Goldenrod had recovered from his grief, but he did not speak of courting. He wondered what would happen to him when the winter came and the finches migrated south. He would be grown then, but without a suitor. Would he go with his mother?
            Goldenrod approached his mother in the nest one November morning. “Mama,” he said, “where am I going to go when winter comes?”
            His mother turned to look at him, and there were tears in her eyes. “You will be going with other elves,” she told him.
            Goldenrod’s heart began to flutter. “Really? I’ll be going with the other elves?”
            His mother nodded. “I’d been holding off on this for as long as I could manage,” she told him wistfully, “but now it’s time.”
            “But I’ll get to see you when you come back in the spring, right?” Goldenrod asked. “I want to help you raise my new brothers and sisters.”
            His mother took him into her arms, and her tears finally began to pour out. “Of course,” she said, kissing the top of his head. “I’ll come back for you as soon as I return.”
            Goldenrod pressed his cheek into his mother’s shoulder and held her as if he never would let go. “Mama, what if the other elves don’t like me?” he asked.
            “Oh, Goldenrod, who wouldn’t like you?”
            So when winter arrived, Goldenrod’s mother carried him off to a place in the forest that he’d never seen before and had never had any desire to see; the magnolia grove where the other elves lived. In winter, the elves didn’t take shelter in the branches of the magnolias. Instead, they migrated to the knot holes in the bark and the roots. The mother finch set Goldenrod down outside one of these knot holes, kissed him, and told him that she would come right back for him the very day she returned to the forest. “Please have a good life with the elves,” she told him.
            “I will, Mama,” said Goldenrod. Then he hugged her. “I love you, Mama.”
            “I love you too, my dear Goldenrod.”
            Then the two of them tearfully parted company.
            There Goldenrod stood, outside of a strange knot hole belonging to strange elves that he wasn’t sure would even like him. For a while, he paced outside, wondering what to do next, when a pretty young elf maiden strolled up behind him. “Hello,” she said cheerfully. “Are you lost?”
            Goldenrod looked at her, and beheld another elf for the very first time. “Yes, I’m lost,” he told her. “I’m very lost. You see, my mother is a bird—a finch—and she’s flown south for the winter. I’ve lived with her all my life, even though I’m an elf, and now she says I have to stay with other elves until she comes back in the spring. When she comes back, I’ll get to help her take care of her new babies. But right now, I need to find some elves to live with. Do you know who lives in this knot hole?”
            “Yes,” said the girl. “I live in this knot hole. Why don’t you come inside and tell me everything from the beginning, and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
            Goldenrod was overjoyed that the very first elf he met turned out to be so kind. He told her everything that had happened over the summer that he was born: he told her about the mother finch that had taken him in, and who would come back for him in the spring. He told her about his brothers and sisters, and how they had accepted him as a bird, and how he had believed he really had been a bird until his mother had told him he was an elf. He told her about the flying lessons and the courting. He told her about his spider friend. And most of all, he told her about Summer.
            “I think you’re very beautiful, and very kind,” Goldenrod told the girl. “And I think that I would like to get to know you. Maybe I might even grow to love you. But I’m afraid that I could never love anyone as I loved Summer.”
            The girl said, “Why, don’t you know that when next summer comes, there will be hundreds more magnolia blossoms? The trees will be full of them! Do you think you will court another?”
            Goldenrod shook his head. “I’m glad that I will get to meet other magnolia blossoms,” he said, “and I bet they all will be very, very lovely. But I am loyal to Summer, and I can never, ever love another the way I loved her.”
           Goldenrod stayed with the kind elf maiden, and they both reached their marriageable ages within a few months. But they didn’t court, and they didn’t marry. Goldenrod stayed true to his word; he never did marry. His heart belonged only to a magnolia blossom named Summer. 

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