The warm evening light stretches the fruit trees’ shadows across the garden, while a gentle breeze causes their leaves to dance. Cho stands slightly stooped, her once raven hair falling neatly down her back like a grey waterfall. Her lined hand grips a tree branch forcefully, though whether to help her stand or to simply keep her tied to this earth it cannot be said.
Her eyes are now watery blue, like thin ink stretched across a page, dotted with narrow fingers of red that reach across the white corners. They survey the garden but perceive very little, her eyesight a mixture of half-blindness and memory.
When she speaks it is with surprising youth, though her lips are cracked and dry.
“Hello, Ced.” She smiles, the ghost of her previous beauty alighting on her face for such a brief moment it might never have happened.
“Not long now. I feel I belong more your place than here.” She chuckles a little sadly, though it isn’t apparent what the joke is.
“It’s a year now since Edmund passed. It was always a quiet house, without children to run and laugh and cry and dirty the place as they do, but it’s lonelier without him. He hardly spoke, but I miss him just being there. Sometimes I act like a girl again, pretending to look away and then glancing up, fast, as if I might catch him there, sitting in his favourite armchair.”
She inhales a soft, wheezing breath. There is a quiet interlude, in which she closes her eyes as if praying. A daring ladybird crawls inside her loose sleeve and the distant hum of a lawnmower joins the evening chorus, unheard by Cho.
The sunlight turns her pale eyelashes invisible. Her face is tired, her skin loose, her lips curve down proudly in one corner. There are a thousand details to notice. Her aged face is like a story to be read; it is simultaneously repulsive and beautiful.
“I often wonder what things might have been like. If I wasn’t an only child... perhaps there would be nieces, nephews to visit me. I sometimes... sometimes feel like my body aches with the child that never was. I imagine my womb might be as lonely as I am.”
She exhales, a faint imitation of a breath.
“Look at me, an old woman. Talking nonsense. It’s funny what your mind thinks when your my age. I never was so morbid.”
Her fingers trace the branch, coating them with fine green dust. She opens her eyes, gazing fondly at the leaves above her, which dapple the light as they sway.
“But I’ve had a beautiful life, Ced. I’ve always been so blessed. I’ve never regretted it and I wouldn’t dare start regretting it now. Besides, I’ve got you.” She patted the tree affectionately. “You are, and always have been, my oldest friend.”
A stronger wind sweeps through the leaves, bringing the summer smell of cut grass and making the leaves whisper tenderly in response.
Cho tilts her cheek to sky and smiles, as if she is being caressed by a lover.
“Is that you, Cedric?”
She feels a warmth grow from her core, spreading through her body like thick honey. Subconsciously she begins to hum, an old tune that has stayed with her. Cho closes her eyes and lets go of the tree, straightening herself with unexpected grace. One arm reaches for an invisible shoulder, the other looping round a waist.
She is fifteen and her black hair swirls elegantly behind her as she spins. She cannot stop smiling. The glistening Yule Ball decorations seem to blur while they twirl. She gazes into Cedric’s wolfish grey eyes, her own happiness mirrored in his features. She is acutely aware of the heat of his touch, his hand on her waist. They are young and feel as if they could dance like this forever.
In the garden, the odd pair spin in and out of the fruit trees’ shadows peacefully.
How strange it would seem, to a passerby, to see an old woman dancing with the air, talking to an apple tree named Cedric.
Many thanks to tell_me_what_the_truth_is for being a wonderful beta! Your feedback is as always massively appreciated. Thank you ♥
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