Ritual – page 25

 

It is a bitter January. The forest is dense, a black frost in the hills, but I have committed to keeping a midnight vigil. Matruska’s acknowledgment of my husband has awakened a longing in me and a knowing that I can reach his spirit. She has given me instructions, and a gift of the falcon’s feather in its ornate box.

My spot is just ahead, a small circle of stones in a clearing. A lone hazelnut tree at the crest of the hill marks the location, its frozen branches shining like jewels to light my way.

Snow begins to fall as I approach, a few flakes at first, then wind-driven eddies swirling around my boots. The air is bright and cold as I raise my chin to a black sky, allowing each flake to fall softly and gently against my face, like heavenly kisses.

“Hello, me dear,” I say aloud. “I am back.”

I have made this pilgrimage every night since November and will continue to make it until spring.

I kneel, reaching into my bag for brushwood, matches and an oil cloth to sit on, my open fingered gloves allowing freedom.  The wind blows against my hand as I shelter a match, bringing brushwood to life, then lift the latch on the wooden box. The falcon feather and plant dyes have allowed me to pen correspondence to my husband, careful calligraphied words, which seem to waltz across the page of their own accord. They are to be read and burned at midnight, when the portal between worlds is most open.

 My stockings are thick and warm but can not repel the icy draft. I shake from cold, moving closer to the fire, as I bring the feather to my lips, then slide it through an opening in my coat and beneath my bodice to rest against my heart. My movements are patterned, each learned act an offering of desire. I position myself, arms extended to the sky, ready to begin.

 “Spirit of the Falcon, take the words of my heart, born of your winged body, to the heart of my husband, that he may know that I live and seek him. Deliver my message each night as he sleeps, renewing our love and instilling hope in his dreams.

My letter is tucked beneath a square of wool at the bottom of the box, the paper fragile against the night. I kneel to retrieve it, ready to offer my words to the fire, when a noise pulls my attention – a rustling of bushes, followed by the icy sounds of crunched undergrowth. Something is near, coming closer. I am immobile, waiting, as a stag steps from the woods, his velvet antlers raised. We are both still, looking at one another through falling snow, his breath making snorts of fog near his nose. I close my eyes and when I open them again, everything seems bigger and cleaner, as if I can suddenly see with more clarity. My body begins to tremble, as a familiar dizziness blurs my vision, and the land swirls disturbingly around me.

When I look again, the face of the stag transforms into that of a strong intelligent man, the pelt of the deer becoming chestnut hair. In a flash he steps toward me, fully human in tweed jacket, a disoriented, lost gaze in his eyes. I see into his world for just a moment and he into mine. He stands alone on a bitter night, nursing grief and twisting a diamond wedding ring in his hand. He calls a name I can not hear, as the image fades.

 Snow falls on silence. “John,” I say aloud. “Jonathon?”