At first, life was sugary sweet, fairy floss sticking to clumsy fingers, teddy bears and mother’s arms to keep her warm, bedtime stories, Father Christmas, fairytales.
Nothing could go wrong because the world was an enchanted forest sprung from the whirring mind of a childish, innocent fool. There was no bad wolf because wolves where kind and could be wolves only if there was a full moon nestled amongst the stars. The witches weren’t mean and crooked – how could they be, when her mother, her nana, her cousins and her aunts were all witches, too, pretty and kind and loving and isn’t that what witches are really like?
Dreams merge into reality at her age. There isn’t a difference, yet, between the smiling princess of her imagination and the freckly image of her older cousin dressed up in pink bows and a light blue dress. A warped image of toothy grins and smiling eyes overpowers any small insight she may glimpse of another world. Soothing words to comfort worries are always there, ready, quick, and sharp, almost instant. She is young. She doesn’t know.
Fairy floss and teddy bears are hard to fit into once you start to grow up. She tries to squeeze into her little girl mind, to grab at Father Christmases’ drifting red coat before the lie can be revealed, but her newly cleaned fingertips scrabble with empty air, leaving her lost and confused; the enchanted forest she grew up in has suddenly turned into a maze of towering buildings filled with strangers she’ll never meet, wolves and witches galore.
Her walls of innocence crumble, slowly, and at the tender age of eight she realizes that her cousin with her pink bows is secretly hurting on the inside, and that her big, worried eyes haven’t the slightest resemblance to the proud princess of her dreams.
Dreams are soon forgotten. The coat of childhood slips, easily, off her shoulders. She doesn’t want to fight it anymore. She is older, she understands everything, she’s never wrong.
She’s always wrong.
Her brothers teach her their ways, now that she’s ten and can reach the ladder to their creaking tree-house. They tell her what they know of this newly discovered world she lives in, what to fear and what to love.
How to fear. She needs to burn her fingers before she’s sure the plate is hot, and that’s just how she is. So they worry, her brothers, but they stay silent because no one should ever put a doubt in little Lily’s mind. She’s the innocence that holds this family together, and though they all know it’s not safe, they treasure her and protect her, they hide her away from bad wolves and evil witches, they hoard her gullibility like a precious jewel.
But at ten going on eleven, she wants to know. She is tired of guessing why some people prefer to sleep on the side of the road rather than comfortably at home, sick of wondering what really happened to Grandpa Arthur and where he’s gone. Fed up of asking, over and over until her throat got sore, why Lorcan didn’t have a daddy and why his mum was always crying behind her smile.
It’s time, think her brothers. So reluctantly they let her go, watching from the sidelines and she discovers life, hesitantly, step by step. To their relief, she doesn’t burn herself.
She is in awe. Her eyes are wide open in a constant state of wonder, though others don’t see how amazed she really is. Everything is color and sound, light, bright, blinding flashes of things that she doesn’t understand. Her mind is screaming at her that it’s too much, too much all at once but she ignores the feeble warnings and instead she explores this newfound freedom, this wonderful, wide new state of mind she has slipped herself into.
Tongue like electric, eyes like a child, she roams and she wanders, fingertips alight with an energy that is nearly consuming. Others may say she’s lost, but she knows better because now she’s fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and she’s seen so much of this electrifying world that she could never go wrong. She’s wise, she’s strong, she knows everything.
Still, she knows nothing.
She’s running through life on light, bare feet, unaware of the thorns that are crushing into her toes with each new step she takes. It’s a race with destiny, and she wants to reach the finish line to go beyond, go further and further until fate is left far behind and all her decisions are truly just her own.
You don’t test fate. Her mother tells her. Be safe, my love, be careful.
You go too fast. Warns her father. You’ll fall if you don’t watch where you’re taking those feet of yours.
You’re crazy, Lils. Her older brother declares. Didn’t I teach you better?
I love you. Whispers Albus, and that’s all he says.
But Lily wants to taste it. She wants to experience a life that she can tell stories of once running has become too tiresome. Adrenaline pumps through her racing veins, clouding her judgment with a feeling of false excitement, her heart racing faster and faster as this giddy, limitless sensation slowly takes over every part of her body, inch by inch.
Friends watch in silence as she spins out of control. They are just as lost as she is, but, like her, they won’t admit it. They tell themselves that she just has a wild heart, a wandering soul. That’s all.
Now their fear of breaking her has turned to a fear of her breaking, but like before they ignore their instincts and hide their worries, toothy grins wide and loving eyes half pleading, begging her to slow down and come back to them, to start living in time with the rest of world.
She runs on.
In time, she finds someone to run with her. He has her crazed passion, her life stained fingers, her searching eyes. They fit together, him and her, like two pieces of some restless puzzle. He loves her because he doesn’t know the fairy floss covered girl she used to be, he thinks that she has always lived in a wild mess and is like him, unloved and uncared for.
She lets him dream, and she loves him back.
The end comes with a simple conversation, started in the middle of a snow covered bridge arching over winding waters. Its winter and its cold, but she dragged him out of bed in a sudden bout of spontaneity.
Let’s go see the river! She says, pulling at his hand and tripping over her own eager feet. More than anything she just wants to get out of their suffocating room, with its dust covered windows and messy bed she has been lying awake in, tossing and turning and yearning to cut off all her strings and fly.
Now they’re walking along the slippery stones, and he holds her frozen fingers with an intensity that nearly scares her.
Where did you grow up? He asks, and it’s light, curious, unsuspecting. She is amazed that he has never asked that question before, and glad, too. For too long she has let him believe that she has lived a life like his, worried that if his deluded image of her was broken it would shatter the frail, static filled bubble they have been sharing since they met.
She stays silent. She is scared. Her wild life hasn’t left her time to think about a thing. She didn’t think; she did. She acted on impulse over and over until her lips went numb with the loss of a regular heartbeat. She had left her family and her friends behind her, all of them too sensible to try and catch up with her breakneck speed. She missed them.
She loved him.
So she lied.
It doesn’t matter where I grew up. She whispers, her dishonesty coming out in cloud-like puffs that disappear quickly into the night air, as if ashamed. I was lost before you. You saved me.
Not true of course. He didn’t save her, no one did, she didn’t need saving. She was nineteen after all, a big girl, with experience and trust and courage, she could never make mistakes.
Everybody made mistakes.
Someone showed up at the door the other day, He goes on, his voice gruff. Lily doesn’t look at him, she is staring at the drifting dark snowflakes, but she is suddenly aware that his hand around hers hurts and she wants him to let go, Some bloke in important robes. Said he was looking for you. Said he was your brother.
He falls silent and their shuffling footsteps are all but drowned by the steady racing of her heart. She puts a hand to her chest and wonders if every sleeping person around can hear how loud it’s thumping, rattling away in her ribcage as if struggling to jump out.
Did he have glasses? She asks, her attempt to maintain her restless soul illusion shattered by the mention of her brother. She hadn’t talked to either of them in over a year. Brown eyes? Or green?
He stops in his tracks. Her fingers are suddenly freed and the cold night air bites at her fingertips, pulling her back into reality and reminding her that she is standing in the middle of Westminster Bridge in nothing but a coat and boots, staring in despair at the man she has loved for the past year, and wondering whether her endless race with life has suddenly come to a screaming halt.
Lily, He says, his voice sounding like broken glass and empty promises, and guilt, You lied. He told me everything. He said you needed to go home. Back to your family of perfect heroes. He stops here, and everything she has shared with him since they first met seems to float up into the frosty air like a memory falling into an empty pensive, and suddenly she knows that their frail bubble has finally exploded. The static that filled it escapes and sends the hair on the back of her neck prickling up in excitement.
She wants to grab at the floating fragments and stitch them back together, just like she tried to catch Santa’s red coat years ago, but now that she’s older she understands everything, and she knows that she’s wrong.
So she lets him go.
Just as he starts to leave, he turns back to look at her. Green, He says sadly, his eyes filled with an intricate maze of anger and finality, his eyes were green.
The falling snow swallows him whole.
Lily is alone on the bridge, shivering and shaking, her electrified eyes wide with understanding. She sees it now, sees that all her little girl ideas about the world were wrong and that she is lost and confused and too far ahead to ever fall back in pace with the rest of the world. She thinks that she is doomed to roam and wander on her own now, slowly pulling out all her thorns until all that’s left is bare, vulnerable skin.
A frightening thought.
But then she remembers her brothers and their tree house, and her mother and her father and their smiles that made her feel so alive she wonders how she could have left people like that behind, for anything.
With one last sigh she lets go of it all, watching in wonder as that all-consuming energy that filled her floats gently up to meet the stars.
As soon as it has disappeared she pulls herself back down to earth, wraps her coat tighter around her shivering bones, and moves her feet forward, through the fallen ice and frozen snow, her back turned on the past five years of her life. All that’s left of her childhood ignorance and grownup stupidity is dead and departed, leaving her free to fill her mind with fresh, new ideas.
The falling snow has blurred the world outside, but her numbed heart has finally started to beat again, and a new kind of electricity sparkles at her fingertips.