Today my friend and I walked near her home, up a hill I hadn’t climbed in many years. After we’d descended, I remembered a second, narrower path up the side, so we climbed the hill again We were talking about fairy tales. I’ve been reading them again lately, and had guessed, with certainty, that my friend had been raised on them as I was. It turns out that just a month ago, she had realized that her moral centre came from reading fairy tales: to help; to set off; to be brave, modestly; to meet others with an entire heart (and deke around the opportunistic ones); to expect good to prevail.
We met over twenty years ago, when our daughters were very young. A long time ago, I considered her a sister, which makes friendship easier—that blood bond. Fairy tales are told in a way that academics are never able to describe. Without earnestness, and only the most salient details.
It’s called Cairn Hill, but we didn’t even look at the cairn once we’d reached the top. We’re more the cauldron types. We’d never think to claim territory, or to try to leave an unmovable mark—we’d laugh at the silliness of it.
Your eye travels far at the top of that hill. The entire city lay at our feet. We found a friend’s house across the bay, and stared a long time at the new bascule bridge that divides the inner harbour and upper harbour, memorising what it looks like when it’s raised. I’m sure we both noticed the man lying on his back on the moss at the top, and that we individually determined what parts of our conversation we could trust him with, and accordingly lowered our voices or set subjects aside for later. A silver spoon lay among the rocks, only its bowl visible, bright as the setting of a brooch. Later when I mentioned it, my friend nodded that she’d seen it too.
Some months ago, she and I walked in an ancient forest for hours. It was the middle of summer, and a pandemic had kept everyone in their houses since the end of winter. We’d never been apart for so long, but we still didn’t embrace on seeing each other again. Still, we felt confident enough that the virus was not aware of us, so we set off together without too many worries. That forest would normally have been moderately busy with people and children and dogs, but it was just us. Everyone was in their houses, keeping safe. What we did see were thousands of small birds, high and low, unafraid of us. Berries were plenty. We were in awe at constellations of tiny white flowers in the thick moss, or how one tree sheltered another, or by three trees that had stood in a kind of circle, within six feet of each other, for at least 400 years. We felt strangely welcome, we said to each other, as if the forest knew we were there. We sat on a rocky knoll in the sun for a small feast of cheese, crackers, and olives, that my friend had brought, because she is smart about these things. I shared half a package of peanuts. My friend told me about the song she was writing, in Roma. She is a musician with a passion for Balkan music. I asked her to sing it to me. As she sang, a young hawk landed on the only tree near to us. When the song finished, it flew away.
Months have passed since that walk in the thick woods, and the pandemic remains. We did not hug today when we said hello, nor when we said goodbye. But I’d brought her a bottle of olive oil and she gave me three dark tomatoes to have with my lunch. And if anything is sure in the world, we will meet again.
With love, for Pam.