The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897, by Henry Rousseau via Magpie Tales
I cherish the memory of her breath. The roughness of strong tea and fried ramps is no ordinary aphrodisiac but it haunts me still. Travelers when we met, travelers when we parted long ago under a hunter's moon, I do not believe I can gaze on a sky such as that without weeping at the loss.
To live in the verge is no simple thing, but possible. More of us do it than one might consider. Magadalena certainly did. I was one of them for however brief. Chasing my spirit animal over hill and sward had become my life's work. She had already accomplished hers when I crested the rise and saw her tending a small fire under a nearby tree. She looked at me with eyes of sunlit ice.
I stood on the shoulder of the road. My hands fidgeted nervously with my hat. I hadn't know I had taken it off, I was so mesmerized by those eyes. A smile broke the road-weary map of her face. She raised a dusky hand and bade me join her at the kettle. I sat. We talked of warm sun and cold hearts. She gave me tea. We became lovers at that moment, though we knew it not.
The day we parted began in an unsettled dawn. Road weary from several days of hard walking, we had come to a fork in the road the night before. There was a clear stream, with fish, and soft grass in which to sleep. Dreams kept me in motion much of the night. Shadows. Beasts that bared fangs at me across strangely colored campfires. I ran through forest and field in argentine moonlight, wondering if I was pursued or pursuer. In my last dream I stumbled over a log and woke up confused and breathless.
The light was submarine. Faint rosiness on the horizon and a barely smoldering fire. I raised my head, bleary eyed to squint over at her. The breath seized in my throat.
She lay asleep. There was a smile on her face and her right hand was trembling, fluttering. In the dim light and thready smoke I saw what I thought was a beast standing over her, shaggy maned and bright-eyed. Magdalena appeared to be reaching out to it.
In my confusion, I thought she was being attacked. I bolted upright and shouted, waving my arms at the apparition. The beast dissolved, or so I thought. She jerked awake with a loud gasp, blinking at me with those glacial eyes. The look of concern and fright sent a pang through my heart. Taking my hands, we talked of what I had seen. She grew solemn as we made tea.
The fork in the road lay before us. Magdalena had quietly told me that we had different paths now. Mine was not hers, and the creature I sought abided in a different realm. We talked long, and deeply. My heart broke, as did hers, I think, but knew she spoke the truth. After moonrise, we split apart.
Forks in my roads ever give me pause, nowadays. On nights of the hunter's moon, I walk from moonrise to moonset, looking for Magdalena in the thickness of shadows. Sometimes, I do not weep.