blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

The Last Piece – pt 2

rainbow landscape edit
k_r_craft (edited) via pixabay

part one here

“Bedtime stories are the best kind. Some of them are even true. What would you say if I told you that my life is a kind of story, a search for something most do not believe in and have never seen?”

I sat up. “I would say, tell me more.”

“I found the end of the rainbow.” He glanced at me and went on.

“It happened many years ago. I was a poor farmer’s son then. I thought I saw it touch down in the next field, brilliant and about a yard wide. I dropped my tools and ran, but to my horror there was another man running for the same thing. He was weighed down by saddlebags, but he got there first.’ Gavin’s tale had my complete attention and I nodded at him, fascinated.

“Oh. And what happened next?”

“I was prepared to fight him for the gold, but to my surprise he dumped the saddlebags as soon as he reached the rainbow. Gold spilled all over the grass. I thought he was crazy, and I ran faster than I ever had in my life. As I drew closer, I saw his hair turn white. He aged in front of me, becoming bent and wrinkled, but he continued to smile. The yellow band of the rainbow widened and grew bright like sunlight, and he stepped into it and vanished.

“Well, all I cared about was the gold, as you can imagine, and I scrabbled around gathering every last coin.” He stopped and stared out of the window. A light rain fell, and he stirred his cooling tea absently, his eyes fixed on some distant spot.

“I paid off my family’s debts, and I found a girl, and we married. I spent a lot of the money on a house and land. We travelled and lived well, but we never had a family. Then Catherine was taken by the smallpox.”

I looked at him, confused for a moment. Smallpox was some old time disease, wasn’t it? “When was that, Gavin?”

Silence stretched between us, and when he raised his head, a tear ran down his cheek.

“I made the wrong choice, Laura. I only looked at the short term, and I was blinded by greed. In turn I was cursed to stay young, to watch those I loved come and go. Now, I want to make the right choice. I have all the gold save one piece, and this is the best place to return it. I should know.” He laughed bitterly. “I have wandered these many years in search.”

I reached over and touched his hand, the soft hand of a man who had never laboured for a living, who was clothed in an old-fashioned shirt of fine linen.

“I am so sorry.” I thought of my Pa’s tales, and the pendant he had left me in his will. There was nothing to keep me in this forgotten town.

“Why do you tell this story, why me, why now?” I kept my voice down, though the café was empty.

“Something compelled me, from the first time I saw you. I cannot fully explain it. This is my burden to bear and I have no right to foist it upon you.” He produced a white handkerchief from his inside pocket, and dabbed at his eyes.

I decided that a fresh drink would help, and excused myself. He had regained his composure by the time I brought our tea and hot chocolate back to the table.

“Gavin North, you may have your wish. I have a proposition for you.”

I pulled my pendant out of my shirt, and watched his eyes widen. Silently he took a single gold coin from one of the bags, the twin of my own. A little spark passed from one to the other, and both coins glittered. Our eyes met.

“My father found this coin in a field, before I was born. He had it made into this pendant for my twelfth birthday.” I closed my fingers around its familiar shape, felt the warmth where it had lain against my skin.

“It was the only thing he left me, but somehow I could never sell it, even when times were really hard. He told me stories about it. I know where, and when, we can make both our dreams come true.”

Expressions chased across his unlined face, finally settling on hope and relief. There was something ancient and deep about his grey eyes, and his smile was beautiful to see.

“I knew it. I left this place more than once, but something always drew me back. I hardly dared hope, but…you mean it? Do not trifle with me, Laura. I am so tired. All I want is to rest.”

I gripped his hand. “I want time, and you have had all you want. We return the gold, you pass through, and I will have all the lives I need.” Excitement bubbled in my chest as the sun peeped through rain clouds. “Let’s go, right now.”

Gavin kissed my hand, and shouldered his weighty bags. Together we stepped outside, into sunshine and rain that promised the futures we both dreamed of. The rainbow was already showing pale in the sky, as he took my arm and guided me to his motorbike parked nearby.

“Horses are not much in vogue nowadays,” he said with a wink.

“Very true,” I replied. “Head west, out of town. It’s getting brighter every minute.” I’d never been on a motorbike before, but I climbed aboard without hesitation. I settled behind him and put my hands on his waist.

Then we were off, watery sunlight glinting off wet roads, the wind in my hair and hedgerows flashing past us in a green blur. At my direction, he rode through a gap in the hedge and into a field. The rainbow glowed above us, and Gavin slowed down. He came to a halt a few yards from where it rested on the grass, shimmering and beautiful.

“I have to leave the gold here, and then it is all yours.” He dropped the messenger bags on the ground, and took my hands in his. His curls were already turning silver, his cheeks sagging and lined, but his smile still lit up his face.

“I am so glad to have known you Laura Bevan, if only for such a brief time. You remind me of her, and now perhaps I will be with my Catherine again. Thank you my dear, and good luck. Don’t stay too long, until the world is a burden on you. Remember life is nothing without love.” His voice wavered, the words of an old man.

I supported him the few steps to the band of yellow light, which expanded as we approached. “I will remember you, Gavin North. Rest well.” I kissed his hand, now gnarled and liver spotted, and watched his hunched figure vanish. The rainbow sparkled for an instant, then vanished with a distinct pop.

The bags really were heavy. It took some effort to hang them on the bike. I couldn’t ride it, not yet. But my house, the place where I grew up, was only two fields away. That was no distance to push a bike, not when it carried your whole future.

Excitement bloomed in my chest and I laughed, exultant, giddy with possibility. Clouds chased across the blue sky and a thought came to me.

Even several lifetimes will not be enough for all my adventures.

***

First published in While glancing out of a window, an anthology of short fiction.

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