I remember the legend as my grandfather had told me. The mysterious girl from the Elvenchild family, always with her mother's name. Always says that it's the custom to take her mother's name, where she is from. No one here has ever heard of a place like that, but they always insist on its truth. She shows up, a beautiful girl of eighteen, and courts around, sometimes for as little as a month, sometimes she is around as long as three years, as if she is looking for someone in particular. Then, without warning, she and the man she ends up with leave forever. No one hears from them again. Then, eighteen or twenty years later, the cycle starts again, with the girl claiming to be the last one's daughter. They are always incredibly beautiful, and always incredibly mysterious. Some say that they're not really people at all, and that it's actually a spirit. And that even makes sense, as the women all had pale skin, but beautifully so, not sickly so, and white-blond hair, and clear blue eyes, and they always dress in beautiful colors, all the colors of the rainbow, yet all so light that from a distance it looks as though they're dressed all in white. And always in flowing dresses, made in such a way that they are revealing without seeming deliberately so.
I remembered all of this as I saw her walk by. There was no mistaking; it had to be the latest of the Elvenchild clan. I found it impossible to remove my gaze from her beauty. All of a sudden, I had to have her. There was no question. I tried to persuade my legs to get up and walk over to her, but I was frozen where I was. All I could think of was her beauty. And that Joy of joys! she was walking toward me.
I blinked when she approached. I couldn't believe what was happening. I wanted desperately to get up and introduce myself to her, to get up and walk away, to get up and offer her my seat, I wanted all these things at once, and my legs replied by refusing to budge. My heart fluttered as she sat down next to me. She was beautiful! Just as Grandfather had said, from the white-blond hair to the porcelain skin to the clear blue eyes to the beautiful filminess of her dress. She was simply beautiful. I willed my mouth to speak, but it was glued shut and my tongue was limp. I was helpless.
That was when she spoke. It was only four words, but when I heard them, my heart did somersaults, and her voice sounded like the sweetest music, a harp to my ears, and it was then that I caught a whiff of her sent, her essence, and she smelled as sweet as honeysuckle. Everything about this woman was beautiful, and she had spoken to me! Those four words were music to my ears: "How do you do?"
My brain commanded my mouth to speak, and I managed to stammer a response. I don't remember what it was, only that it was stammered. And she laughed! The laugh was a tinkling of bells in a light breeze. It wasn't as though she was laughing at me, it was as if we had a private joke between us, and that I had just made a reference to it. And that made me want to have a joke with her. I wanted her more than anything. I made my mouth ask her for her name.
"The name is Arethusa Elvenchild." And I knew then that I had been right. There was no question about it anymore. "My mother was Commelina Elvenchild. Where I come from, we take on our mother's name, and not our father's. May I ask your name?" I stammered my name, at least I could remember it, and hadn't forgotten it, as I had forgotten my address and phone number. Then she laughed again, and winked at me, and said, "And now I suppose you want to ask me to dinner?" And I nodded, because that's exactly what I had intended. "Well, it all depends on where we go. I'm a vegetarian, you know. I never eat anything that was ever a part of an animal." I told her of course, for I was a vegetarian too, but she shook her head, and smiled, and winked at me again, and said, "No you're not. I know you're not. You were just saying that to get on my good side. I don't care much for people who pretend to be something they're not, but I'll make an exception for you because I can tell that your brain is on vacation and your mouth is on autopilot."
I thanked her, and asked for her phone number, so that I could call her in case there was a change of plans. She apologized, and said that she didn't have a phone, and that there was no way to contact her other than meeting her somewhere. So she suggested a restaurant, and a time, and I agreed to meet her there, because she said she had some things to do that day and wouldn't be at home for me to pick her up, and then my bus came, and we said our good-byes, waved, and I was off.
I hadn't seen anything odd at all about this at first, since I had been so overwhelmed by her beauty, her presence, but when I got on the bus, I had time to think without my brain on vacation and my mouth on autopilot. I found it odd that someone wouldn't have a phone in this day and age. The not picking her up made sense, as it was the first date and there are some real weirdoes out on the street. But no having a phone was strange. Well, Grandfather had said that the Elvenchild women were mysterious. I guess Grandfather was right. There was something else that seemed odd about her, now that I was thinking about it, but I couldn't quite place what it was. I dismissed it as my imagination, and if it wasn't, then I knew I would come up with it a lot easier if I wasn't actively thinking about it.
We met that Friday night at the restaurant as planned, and everything went well. We had dinner, then went for a walk down the street. We talked, and I found out that she had been in town for about 2 months, and wondered why I hadn't seen her before. She laughed, and said that it was probably because I hadn't been in the right place or frame of mind for it before, and I wondered what that meant. She explained that the brain only sees what it wants to, and that it can easily be fooled when one expects to see something, or doesn't expect to see something. She went on to say that the only reason it saw her when it did was that she was deliberately walking toward me and made herself impossible for my brain to ignore. I looked at her, and then silently decided that my brain was a moron for wanting to not see her before.
We walked to the local ice cream parlor and had sherbet, first checking that it had absolutely no milk. We sat across from each other at a little table and laughed and told jokes. Then she said that it was time for her to be getting home, and she turned town my offer to drive her, explaining that if I went with her to her house, she'd be tempted to invite me in, and that she lived alone, and she didn't want anything to happen, because she was saving herself for her husband. I thought that was respectable, asked if it was far, I could at least drive her part way, and she said no, it wasn't too far, and she could use the walk after that sherbet. I told her that she had no need to worry about her figure, and she laughed and said that it wasn't that, it's just good to get some exercise. I couldn't argue with that, so I gave her a kiss on her cheek, and said good-bye, and maybe we could get together again sometime? She smiled, and said of course we could. And then she was gone.
It was a week before I saw her again, and then it was at the same bus stop as before. I waved to her, and she waved back. She came over to where I was and sat down next to me. I said hi, and she said hi back, and I asked if she would like to go to a movie that night. She considered, and said that was okay as long as it wasn't a drive-in. I agreed, and said that maybe we could have dinner or dessert first. She considered again, and suggested that why doesn't she meet me at my house at six that night, so we can discuss the details. I agreed, and gave her my address, and asked if she needed directions. "I know where it is," she said. And then my bus came.
That night went even better than the week before, and we both enjoyed the movie. I suggested we make plans for the next time we get together, so that we wouldn't have to depend on a chance meeting to make plans. She said that we've never had a chance meeting, kissed me on the cheek, and once again, she was gone.
I thought about her all the way home. About how her lips felt on my cheek, about how her cheek felt on my lips, about how her hand felt in mine. I thought about her crystal blue eyes, her cornsilk hair, her porcelain skin. I thought about how much we had gotten to know each other through our two dates. And I thought about how much I loved her.
I saw her again in passing the next day. I suggested that we have dinner at my house, and she could meet my parents, and she thought that it was a splendid idea. So I went home and called my parents and invited them over, and she came at five and everyone got along well. Arethusa liked my parents, and they liked her. My dad kept looking at her with a puzzled look on his face, and then at me with a look I couldn't quite decipher, but other than that, the evening went perfectly. My parents left at eight, Mother's an early sleeper, then Arethusa turned to me and said that she should be getting home. Didn't want anything to happen, she said. I stopped her as she was leaving, though, and told her that I love her. She looked me in the eyes, as if searching for something, love, perhaps, and then smiled, and said that she loves me too. I gave her a hug, and she was gone.
I saw her again the next Saturday, and invited her to dinner at the same restaurant where we had eaten before. Dinner went wonderfully, as always, and we had many things to talk about. We enjoyed our dinner together, then went walking again, and had sherbet again, and it was then that I asked her to marry me. She looked up at me, as if searching again, and then said yes, and the gave me a very passionate kiss. I was in Seventh Heaven.
I thought about her all the next day. I didn't see her at all that day. I went to my job, and came home on the bus, same as always. I drove to the store (I only ride the bus to work to save gas), got a few groceries, and went back home. I prepared to watch the Sunday night movie, and had just settled down with some microwave popcorn when the doorbell rang. I got up to answer it, and there she was. Arethusa. She was more beautiful than I had ever seen her before. She looked at me and asked, "Are you ready?"
"Ready for what?" I asked in reply. I had no idea of what she had in mind. I should have known before, I suppose. What, from the legend my grandfather told me, and the complete mystery about her. But at that moment, standing in my doorway, I had no idea of what she was talking about.
She looked at me, and said simply, "You're not dressed. I love you, but you can't go like that. Good thing I came prepared. I didn't think you had the right clothes, anyway." She then proceeded to take a set of clothes, much like her own flowing attire, from the folds of her skirt. "Put these on." I continued to stare at her blankly. When she saw that I wasn't doing anything, she looked hard into my face, and saw complete bewilderment. "You mean to tell me that you don't know what's going on?" I shook my head. "It's our wedding night! We must go! You must get dressed!" It was then that I noticed what had struck me as strange when I had first met her. It was her ears. They were pointed. And then I remembered the legend: "Then, without warning, she and the man she ends up with leave forever. No one hears from them again." She saw this realization in my eyes, or maybe she heard my thoughts, but at any rate, she said then, "That's right. We leave forever. No one hears from us again." And I found that I had no desire other than to leave. So I got dressed in the clothes she had brought, they fit perfectly, and then followed her out the door, TV still on, all the lights on, door wide open. We just left and walked away into the night. I suppose the missing person report looked rather odd when it finally was filed. But for all I know, no one ever missed me. I never saw that town again.
I followed Arethusa to her home. I saw then why she had no phone, nor wished me ever to go there. It was a beautiful home, but it wasn't a house. She lived in a hidden valley, where only someone from there would know the secret of getting there. I myself, after all these years living here, still don't know the way out.
The marriage ceremony was beautiful. It was pure, simple. It was intended for a culture where virginity is a treasure, unlike my own culture, but that is what this culture was. The young couple were married by making love in the presence of friends and family, forever sealing their eternity together. There is but one small problem with this particular mix of cultures. Arethusa is an elf.
Elves, I found out soon enough, live much longer than humans. They remain in their youth, the prime of their life, for most of these long lives. I found out that Arethusa was much older than eighteen. And I found out that I was not her first husband. I had one thing in common with all of her husbands past, however, and that was that I am /human.
Arethusa is gone again. This time she is Tiarella, I think. I'm still young, only 42, but already she is tired of me. I have met her last two husbands. They are getting old, but still alive. For one, my uncle, she was Commelina. For the other, my grandfather's brother, she was Virginica. Eric says that her original name was Dulcamara. Well, her middle name was, anyway. Her first name was Solanum. I didn't know it when he told me, not that it would have helped me then, but Solanum Dulcamara is the scientific name for Nightshade. Beautiful, yet deadly.
But won't she be surprised. I was an only child. I will never have a nephew.