It was a small wooden boat, a dory that had been painted red a long time ago. And if you looked real hard, you could see what remained of a sky blue stripe studded with little yellow polka dots at the water line. It held her weight, balanced nicely, and only felt tippy when the wind blew hard enough to make the water rough. There was room for a guest, and occasionally someone would join her, but mostly she carried ghosts. This little boat had room for lots of ghosts.
Every day at noon she would board the boat, no matter the weather, and paddle once around the lake…always in the same direction, always at the same pace, always thinking about what could have been. As she slid along the water, each regret took form, an inky passenger gained shape, and joined those who had come before. When she reached the spot where she had started, she would disembark, tie the dory to its post, and go about the rest of the day’s business with the ghosts trailing behind her in an ever-growing smoky queue. A friend once told her that if she had a tattoo it would read: A place for everything, and everything in its place. But she thought maybe it should say: If only… Being decisive was not her strong suit.
One day, after many long years, she had a strange urge to do something different. She did not go out for her paddle at noon, but instead waited until midnight when she would normally be sound asleep in her big, billowy bed. She threw a blanket over her shoulders, poured a thermos of hot tea, and walked down the path under a cloudless sky turned translucent by the full moon. As she reached the dory, she could see it shudder in anticipation of this unusual trip.
“You can all just settle down,” she whispered to the ghosts, “we’ll be on our way soon enough.”
When she boarded the boat, she noticed something different; the balance seemed off, the hull lolling too deep in the water. She knew she couldn’t have packed on that much weight in a day, even though she had snuck a pain au chocolat that morning. She looked up at the moon’s pock-marked face and the thought flickered through her mind that the boat was carrying too much ghost-cargo for its little frame.
As she continued to gaze at the moon, a mouth formed among the craters and spoke to her. “It is time.”
She glanced around her, wondering if someone was playing a trick.
“I’m up here,” said Moon.
She looked up slowly and began to nod her head involuntarily. “Okay.” She couldn’t think of what else to say.
Moon raised an area that would have been an eyebrow, if he had one. “Well, are you going to start paddling or are we waiting for Sun to join us?”
She grabbed the oars and began to paddle wildly.
“There you go,” Moon said with a grin, “and Sun wouldn’t have been much help anyway, she’s too impatient. Now, I do have one observation to share with you - you seem to be heading in the wrong direction.”
She flinched. “Is there a wrong direction?”
“You tell me. Day after week after month after year, you paddle around this puddle counterclockwise. I just assumed…” he trailed off.
“Seems the right way to go tonight, “she said as her movements became steadier despite the load.
“Good. Then you’re ready.”
“Ready?” she repeated.
“Yes,” Moon said firmly, but with some warmth. “Tonight the transformation will begin.”
Although she didn’t know what he was referring to, she nodded again. “Okay.”
Moon seemed to swell and grow brighter as he spoke, “Listen closely. Tonight you will make as many tours around this lake as it takes to complete the task. With each lap, you will jettison ghosts. If you send them away with love and gratitude, they will return to you with the gifts you need. But if you dump them with mournful strands still attached, you will never be rid of them and someday they will pull you into the cold depths where you will linger for all of eternity.”
Her eyes grew large. “Will you help me?”
Moon smiled kindly, “That’s what I’m here for, toots.”
“Where do I begin?”
“How about we start with a small one. Remember Veronica Sweetbottom?”
She winced at the memory. “Yes.”
“Let’s toss her first. Schoolyard bullies are always a fun way to start lightening the load.”
She stopped paddling and stared into the mass of hazy apparitions. A smudge in the shape of Veronica rose from the center and hovered in front of her with its head cocked snidely.
She looked up at Moon for some direction.
“You need to forgive her and send her on her way,” Moon said quietly.
She took a deep breath and let the words come. “I forgive you. Now I ask that you leave this boat forever and be at peace wherever you go.”
And with that, the smudge that was Veronica straightened its head, bowed slightly, and slid into the water.
She looked up at Moon and smiled, “That wasn’t so bad!”
“But that’s not all…” he looked at the water where Veronica smudge had vanished.
She followed his gaze and saw a dim silvery glow form far beneath the surface. It slowly rose and emerged as a golden naiad hovering just above the water. It held its cupped hands out to her and smiled as it unfurled its sparkling fingers. A burst of golden light engulfed the entire lake and with it came a feeling of courage that lasted beyond the fading explosion. The naiad slipped beneath the swell, waving and laughing as she disappeared.
“Wow!” She was at a loss for words.
“Cool, isn’t it?” Moon beamed.
She nodded and turned back to the ghosts. She clearly spoke the next name that came to her: “Giuseppe Lasagna.”
A dark cloud of vapor struggled free from the group and slowly sharpened around the edges. A tall, handsome young man came into view and looked at her with a tear in his eye.
She began to quiver and her voice cracked as she spoke. “I forgive us both for our bad timing, youthful arrogance, and taking time for granted. I will always hold the spark of what we had for those short weeks in my heart and let it warm me. I release you from this boat and wish you comfort and peace.”
The Giuseppe vapor lifted its hands to its lips, moved them to its heart, then extended them to her before sliding noiselessly into the inky water. After a few moments, the next golden naiad emerged and released a gilded burst of unconditional love.
“Tough one, huh?” Moon asked as she turned her glassy eyes to him.
“You’re doing great. Keep going.” Moon encouraged her. “Who’s next?”
And with that she moved through the water and through her history, friends and enemies alike, users and abusers, the damaged and the wanderers, lost loves and close calls. Some were more difficult than others, but all eventually moved on and left her with a radiant lesson of compassion, strength, patience, and love.
Hours passed, and although she thought she was finished, one large amorphous blob lingered on the floor of the dory.
“What’s that?” she asked Moon.
“That’s you,” Moon said.
“The Big One,” Moon sounded empathetic.
“Yeah,” she admitted, and took a few half-hearted swipes with her paddle.
“Start slow, but be honest.”
She turned her face toward the sooty plum blob and took a deep breath. “We’ve been together a long time, you and me. But it’s time for me to move on. I need to grow, to trust, to laugh, to live. I can’t be mired in self-doubt, fear, regret, heartache, and sadness forever. I refuse to.” The blob began to spin slowly, but she didn’t let it distract her. “So it’s time for you to move on, as well. Leave this boat and go to the place where you can exist unfettered. You belong elsewhere. I belong here.”
The blob spun faster and faster as she spoke, and when she stopped, it began to smolder.
She looked at Moon for some guidance. He winked, so she turned back to the whirling charcoal mist. It began to break out in what looked like an electrified rash – tiny pricks of violet, indigo, and rose lights infected its entire being. She looked at in it awe, and as soon as she let a smile soften her pursed lips, it sighed a great eruption of glitter and dove off the side of the boat. More naiads than she could count surfaced in its wake and exploded, filling the night sky with a blinding fireworks show that pulsed with pure joy.
She threw her arms into the air and embraced as much of the joy as she could hold, which turned out to be a whole lot. She stuffed it in her pockets, pressed it against her skin, and filled her open mouth with it so she would only speak words tinged with bliss.
Moon let her bask until she exhausted herself, then he cleared his throat to get her attention. “How’s it going down there?”
She sighed and smiled up at him. “Thank you.”
“No problem, kiddo. But remember, you need to keep working. Don’t become complacent or some of those buggers will start hopping back in the boat. Or worse, you could pick up some new ones.”
“Okay.” His comment didn’t scare her. She felt positive, but practical, like the wisdom of all those who had come before her was circling her head and imparting her with reason.
“And if any of them do creep back in, we’ll just have another little session, right?”
“That sounds good,” she said.
“Atta girl. Now it’s time to go back up to that big ‘ole house and get some shut eye. Just know that I’m here whenever you need me.”
She smiled, “And I’m here whenever you need me.”
Moon laughed a big bone-rattling guffaw. “It worked better than I thought!”
She paddled her boat easily back to shore, cutting straight across the lake and marveling at the glistening embers that were still floating on the air all around her. Her bed was warm and inviting as she crawled beneath the covers, and she fell into a sweet slumber. The next time she felt like taking a paddle, which was a week later, she zig-zagged, rowed backwards, and even dove in for a swim. And the naiads laughed.
Copyright 2013 by Mona Dunn