Alis Volat Propriis

She was old. Very old. Some might even say ancient... and she would have no hesitation in agreeing with them. She had been alive far longer than anyone should be expected to exist. Lately, the mere aroma of food made her nauseous and it hurt too much to swallow anything other than the most watery of beef broth. Every brittle bone in her frail body ached unbearably and she was often overcome by uncontrollable tremors which left her physically and mentally exhausted.

Far worse than any of that, however, was the knowledge that she could no longer perform the most basic of human functions without the aid of others. It was degrading, humiliating, and offended her sense of dignity and propriety. When absolutely nothing about life brought joy, there didn't appear to be much point in struggling to continue. Such was her opinion anyway and she was obstinate about it, despite the pleas and protests put forward by her great-great-grandchildren.

The mere fact she had lived to see those generations of her babies' babies grow to adulthood was proof enough that she had endured beyond her time. Not that she didn't love them, of course. She had always been totally devoted to her family, but so many had already gone on ahead.

A tear trickled down her wrinkled, papery-thin cheek. No mother should be forced to bear the heavy burden of outliving all her children, to say nothing of her grandchildren. It was never meant to be like that. Something about such a situation just didn't sit right.

"When will enough be enough?" she asked every morning when she awoke to the hazy London sunlight filtering through the filmy lace curtains. She was ready...more than ready. Surely the wait would be over soon.

Turning toward the nightstand, she studied the endless rows of photographs which crowded the tabletop. Some small and some not so small. Some of chubby infants in the flounced and formal fashions of almost a century past and some of infants equally as chubby, but whose more modern-day mothers had dressed them in comfortable denim overalls and cheerfully-checkered shirts manufactured by a company called "Osh Kosh." She had always considered that to be an extremely droll name.

Her feverish eyes rested on the silver-framed picture of herself with her two brothers. The three faces beamed at her brightly. She recalled the occasion vividly. They hadn't seen each other for years when John and Michael had arrived to stand at her wedding. What a grand celebration that had been!

They were both dead now. John, who had never been a strong swimmer, drowned in the undertow of the River Tweed while rescuing a small girl. She sighed painfully. They had never recovered his body. And then there was Michael...dear little Michael who had become a fine doctor and compassionate man... stricken down by malaria, contracted while attempting to stem the tide of the disease in South Africa. He had been so young.

They had chatted and reminisced for hours that day, until her beloved Arthur had swept her away to an enchanted honeymoon in the Black Forest, declaring with a mock show of petulance that she preferred the company of her brothers to that of her new husband. How she had adored the impetuous Arthur with his boyish charm and reckless character. He reminded her very much of... But that had been only a girlish Midsummer night dream.

A fragment of her heart had died with Arthur. He had lingered for several agonizing months, suffering from a malignant tumor on the brain. It was a terrible thing, cruelly robbing him of what he valued most in life... his memories. She thanked God that, at the end, his lucidity had returned sufficiently for her to note the recognition in his eyes as he took a last loving look into her face.

Weakly, she brushed away another tear and noticed a shadow creep across the smooth satin of the eiderdown covering her delicate frame. A tiny frown creased her forehead. She knew well the handiwork that had gone into those stitches. She had always been proud of her prowess with a needle...but could the seam really have held up in such a sturdy manner? Apparently so!

She gave a shuddering sigh. Then it hadn't simply been the fanciful imagination of a romantic young girl. Then again, perhaps she'd been aware of that all along.

"Do you remember the way, as the crow flies, of course?" he asked, his eagerness and enthusiasm as contagious as ever.

She tossed her pretty head. "I most certainly do! Second star on the right and straight on 'til morning."

He leapt up on the window ledge. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's go!" He grinned his cheeky grin. "All it takes is faith and trust. Don't tell me you've forgotten that!"

She hesitated. "But...but...what about the thing that's a positive must?"

Fists clenched and fixed firmly on his hips, he threw back his head and roared with laughter. "Still the little worry-wart, aren't we?"

Embarrassed, she blushed and turned away.

"Think of the presents that you've bought," he whispered, twinkling with excitement.

She looked at him wonderingly. "Any merry little thought?" she ventured.

He nodded. Holding out his hand, he hoisted her onto the sill. "It's alright," he comforted. "No pixie dust needed this time. I promise. Cross my heart!"

Still she hesitated.

"Arthur's there," he told her gently. "John and Michael too! What a jolly time they do have with the boys, but they miss you tremendously. We all miss you! Even..." he chuckled. "Well, you-know-who. She doesn't say anything but...." He shrugged. "I can tell!"

She hoped he was telling the truth about the magical dust, although it didn't really matter. She had nothing to lose.

"At least it's worth a try," she murmured optimistically, spreading her arms wide as though she were testing newly-acquired wings.

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