As my vision grew accustomed to the murky light, I couldn’t help thinking, and not for the first time, that our pagan ancestors had little choice but to deify the moon. They no doubt thought it alive, with its changing phases and odd markings. A helpful god indeed for superstitious heathens, especially during a midnight trek.
I suspect that even without the moon, I’d have found my way over the fields. I knew them well, as did you, Tom. We were children of the countryside, you sneaking into the neighbors’ orchards, I seeking wild herbs and lambs gone astray.
Yes, I stumbled more than once that night, but my step was steadier on my dimly lit home turf than on any sunny cobblestone in Boston. Ever aware of the moon’s position, I trekked southwest. Insects chirped in the grass, and from time to time, a squeal or a hoot from the nocturnal birds that hunted them pierced the gloom. Nothing unusual. Nothing to fear.
Clouds streamed in and covered the moon. The light diminished, though enough remained to guide me on my way. When at last the clouds blew off, my courage nearly failed me, for the moonlight’s swift reappearance spotlit the fairy tree. It seemed to materialize willfully, as if it had come from the Otherworld to warn me off.
I’ve never seen a fairy, Tom. They might exist. They might not. As a child, I watched my father set out rows of stones the night before he plowed a new field or constructed an outbuilding. He claimed that the fairies would move the stones if the location he’d chosen displeased them. The stones never moved, and I always thought he’d done it to entertain us, but that night, seeing the hawthorn tree in the moonlight, uncertainty beset me.
I hadn’t noticed the lichen spots on the boulders when I’d found the place that morning. The sun must have washed them out. Now, in the moonlight, they glowed like little white ghosts. So did the fluttering moths and the quartz stones marking the graves. I pulled my shawl tighter and inched toward the spot I’d chosen.
No howling banshees accosted me. No troop of punitive fairies waited to steal me away, nor did the bones of the dead arise to do whatever it is they do.
I listened again, this time for blackbirds. Yes, Tom, I know they’re only out during the day. Still, I listened. I heard no cawing crows. No ravens’ croaks.
The air was cool beneath the moon and the somber stars. I opened the sack and set to work. The digging kept me warm, and when at last I placed the box of ashes in the earth, I sprinkled it with holy water and said the Lord’s Prayer, beseeching our heavenly Father to deliver the child from evil.
Since I had no quartz, I found a stone nearby and twisted it into the top of the new-made grave. I prayed that I’d never see it again. As things turned out, I did.