The old woman could be seen as a shadow against skeletal trees that scratched at a threatening sky, for she took solace in late night winter storms that would send most people deep under their blankets to pray for morning.
I asked her once why she preferred the quiet season of darkness and introspection over the raucous season of green. She answered, “Can’t you see it? There is beauty in the grays.” She pointed toward an ashen mountain where tumultuous clouds stirred wildly around its peak. “Only sorrow blooms in fair weather,” she said and walked into the forest, muttering to the trees.
I felt sorrow for the frail lady wrapped in a mantle of gray. It was said that many years ago, as spring’s green fire ignited the land and blossoms stretched smiling toward the sun, she had received a note from her lover who had been away at war that read:
Wait for me where we used to sit in the garden under the roses and watch the stars burn the sky. I will be home soon—just in time for the growing season to come. Promise me you will be there—I cannot bear the thought of life without you.
She waited on the garden bench, letter grasped tightly in her hand, as the growing season waxed and waned, until the air was filled with the scent of apple and smoke swirled above chimney tops. As the leaves gently created a bed around her feet, a realization had formed in her lovesick mind that maybe he was not coming back. Her cries, it was said, could be heard throughout the valley and were so desperate and mournful, it brought tears to the hardiest of souls.
And so it was: Year after year, as the light increased and life unfurled itself across the land, the woman went to the garden and sat on the bench waiting for her lover’s return, only to be disappointed when the chill of the dark season tickled the leaves and sent her mumbling and cursing into the forest to spend the winter wandering among the trees.
Madness, or maybe heartache, had touched her, and she could be heard begging the elements of winter to ease her soul, as she was certain that she understood them best of all. “There is beauty in the grays,” she said to woo the spirits of winter. “I see it when others do not. Why will you not grant me my wish?” It seemed the spirits did not hear her call, so season after season, her torment continued.
But one winter evening, the valley was suddenly cloaked in a ghostly fog that hung low along the rooftops and seeped through cracks in windows and under doors. Townsfolk filled keyholes with fennel and prayed to the gods that whatever evil had settled upon them would spare their children. But as morning approached, the fog dissipated, and a sigh could be heard carried on the breeze, followed by a sense of calm that settled throughout the valley.
It was I who first saw the image of the old woman on the bench the day after the eerie fog had lifted. I called out to her, for I was not accustomed to seeing her there during winter’s reign, but she remained silent and unwavering. As I moved closer, I noticed her gray cloak pulled over her face and she seemed to me still as stone. “Dear lady, are you okay?” I asked and placed my hand upon her shoulder. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this perfect form was not of flesh but indeed of stone.
Had someone erected a statue? I wondered. But with a rush of cold that carried the debris of winter’s decay, I heard the voice of the old woman in whispery tones thank the elements for putting her to rest. And among the scattered leaves and broken twigs, a piece of paper, tattered and yellowed, rested at my feet. It read:
Do not wait for me where we used to sit in the garden under the roses and watch the stars burn the sky. I will not be home for the growing season to come. Promise me you will go on without me—I cannot bear the thought of hurting you.
My eyes filled with tears, and I understood her suffering. I folded the letter and placed it on the lap of the cold figure. Her soul was free, and we were left with the stony shell of who she once was—a reminder, I supposed, to not linger in the past but to live for the present and keep hopeful for the future.
The chill breath of winter caressed my cheek and I looked to shadowy trees whose bony branches seemed to touch the endless layers of cloud cover. I pulled tight my cloak just as snowflakes began to fall. “Yes,” I said. “She was right. There is such beauty in the grays.”