Lilia and the Dragonfly: A Short Story
Lilia stood in her new bedroom in the little cottage on the coast of Kilmeny, observing the emptiness with satisfaction. It was a spacious, green-walled room, with unfilled shelves and a blank bulletin board. She had frames on the walls, but they had no pictures inside.
Daddy noticed, of course. The first time he saw the empty room, he asked, “Where is the dragonfly picture?”
Lilia didn’t say a word. He knew perfectly well the picture Mommy once drew was still in its cardboard box, packed away with her colored pencils and her photograph and the bluebird figurine.
“Maybe you could put the dragonfly on your bulletin board,” suggested Daddy.
“I want a completely clean room in this house,” said Lilia firmly.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” said Lilia, even more firmly.
They had not lived in Kilmeny for long before Lilia took notice of the house next door. It was a grand black-and-white Tudor with an enormous garden enclosed by a stone wall. She became aware of an ache in her heart as she admired the garden one night. True, she couldn’t see much of the garden from her bedroom window, but she saw enough to remind her of the old one. She wondered if they had lovely gardens in heaven.
“Good-night, Lilia,” said Daddy, smiling from the doorway.
“Nighty-night,” said Lilia. “What would you like to…” Her voice trailed off. Somehow Daddy’s face didn’t look quite right tonight. It was a little sad, as usual, but it was concerned, too. “Are you worried, Daddy?”
“No, sweetheart, although there is something on my mind. Do you remember how much I liked that book we read together?”
Did Lilia remember! “I have it right here in my nightstand.” Pulling open the drawer, she withdrew a softcover book with a white origami crane on the cover. “The Paper Crane.”
“Odd book.” Daddy paused, as if he was puzzling over something. He rested his chin in his hands. “Depth and characters appealing to adults—warmth and humor perfect for children—a story compelling for both.”
Lilia didn’t quite understand what Daddy meant, although she thought she did. “I think she wrote it for everybody.”
“Who?” he asked, still distracted by his own thoughts.
“Gracelyn Woodfield. That’s the lady who wrote it,” Lilia explained, pointing to the name on the cover.
Daddy grinned, sort of. The ghost of a concern still lingered on his face. “I know. I’ve been trying to get in touch with her for weeks, but her publicist hasn’t been able to get a hold of her, either. Strange as it sounds, Ms. Woodfield seems to have disappeared.”
“Do you want to make a movie out of The Paper Crane?”
“Yes, and of course Ms. Woodfield holds the copyright, and securing the movie rights is impossible without her permission.”
“Where do you suppose she went?”
“Timbuktu, maybe. The Nile. Mars. Zimbabwe.”
“A lagoon in a rainforest,” giggled Lilia. “Maybe she’s been abducted by Martians. Or she’s a hermit.”
That made Daddy laugh. “I’m fairly sure that’s not the case. Ms. Woodfield is a world-renowned author. The Paper Crane has sold millions of copies, and I must get in touch with her as soon as I can.”
“She’ll let you make the movie,” said Lilia with the typical self-assurance of a child. “I know she will. She seems like a real person, like anyone you’d meet in the grocery store.”
“And typically authors are not real people,” said Daddy with a chuckle.
Lilia lay back on her luscious white pillows. “I hope you find her soon. I’d like to see The Paper Crane movie—if it was as good as the book.”
“So would I, darling. Sleep sweet!”
“Don’t let the bed bugs eat!” Lilia finished, giggling.
In the fading darkness, Joel stood on the balcony, his gaze fixated on the rolling seas of Kilmeny. But he wasn’t watching the waves, and he wasn’t watching the sunset as it drifted and merged in a kaleidoscope of fading color. He was looking at the dead garden below. He’d bought this property for a song; it had been a foreclosure and the details were now sketchy in his mind, since he’d been so engrossed in acquiring the rights for The Paper Crane when he made the purchase. All that time, he had been wondering how anyone could have written a book like that. A book with feelings. Real feelings alive on the pages, as real as life itself. Sharing that book with Lilia had become a syrupy medicine to soothe the ache that wouldn’t vanish.
Why had he bought a house with a garden? It would only remind Lilia of…
But they would both forget, he told himself.
It was one of those brilliant mornings, with the sun playing catch with the daffodils, a song on the lips of every bird, spider webs laced with dew, and a cloudless sky. A perfect day for exploring.
Lilia opened her hands and spread her palms wide, hoping a butterfly would flit delicately toward her and land upon them. Not the blue ones, but the yellow swallowtails. However, the butterflies were busy that morning—a few raggedy cosmos flowers were growing at the edge of the old matted garden, and the butterflies were intent on draining them dry of nectar.
Well, I won’t water the flowers, thought Lilia. I just won’t.
Then a strange thing happened. A folded piece of paper—an oddly-shaped piece of paper—floated on a whisper of wind, right into Lilia’s welcoming hands. She turned it upside down and realized this was no ordinary paper. This was a paper crane—it was unfinished. One wing was still incomplete and lifeless.
For Lilia, this incident was far too similar to the first scene in Ms. Woodfield’s novel. “Perhaps I’m in somebody’s story,” Lilia thought uncomfortably. “Perhaps I’ll start doing bookish things that I’d never do in real life.” But then where did the novel end and where did real life begin again?
A harmonious sound met Lilia’s ears: the tingling of tiny bells; tittering like the gossip of birds. Could those sounds be coming from the Tudor next door?
“This didn’t happen in The Paper Crane,” she thought delightedly, and she felt bold enough to open the promising white gate. It swung on creaking hinges.
Lilia found herself standing in a garden—not a dead one like she’d just left behind, but a thoroughly alive sanctuary of blooming lilacs, apple trees, irises, and orchids. Hundreds of chimes were fastened to tree branches and they waved in the breeze—wooden chimes, producing hollow sounds; metallic ones with the bell-like notes. Thousands of crystal pendulums hung on the lilac bushes, glowing and revolving, reflecting endless snippets of rainbows. Dozens of origami cranes, in every color imaginable, perched amidst trellises of ancient English roses. And in the center of the garden was a woman in a wheelchair, folding paper.
She was one of those people who was probably close to thirty but looked no older than fifteen. She stopped her handiwork when she saw Lilia open the gate.
Lilia held up the paper crane, with its unfinished wing. “I found this,” she announced. “Is it yours?”
“Yes,” said the woman, smiling. Her mouth looked as if smiling was its favorite hobby. “Thank you for bringing him home. Cranes have a habit of flying away, and the wind encouraged this one to leave the nest before it was ready.”
Lilia placed the crane on a table beside the lady’s wheelchair. It was covered in squares of multicolored paper and cups of lemonade. “Is origami hard to do?”
“At first. Then it becomes second nature, if you practice enough.”
“My daddy and I read a book about origami. There was this girl who made paper cranes, just like you.” Lilia selected a piece of blue paper—then chose orange instead. “I think that’s what they call a cow-in-cidence.”
The woman’s flying fingers came to a halt. “Oh, do you mean the book called The Paper Crane?”
“Yes. Have you read it?” Lilia asked eagerly.
“Well, yes,” the lady admitted. “I also wrote it.”
Lilia was enchanted. “You’re Gracelyn Woodfield?”
“I am, and that actually is my real name, not a pseudonym,” Gracelyn laughed. Somehow her laugh sounded just like her chimes. “What’s your name?”
“Lilia Bradbury. My daddy’s been looking for you everywhere! His name is Joel, and his very famous studio wants to make a movie out of The Paper Crane.” The remembrance of this dilemma made Lilia frown. “Why didn’t you answer his letters or calls?”
“I’ll tell you a secret,” said Gracelyn, lowering her voice to a confidential whisper. “When I come here for the summer, I don’t answer the phone.”
Lilia giggled. “I thought all grown-ups loved answering phones!”
“I don’t. But you can tell your daddy that I would love to discuss the movie rights,” Gracelyn told her. “Meantime, why don’t you take a sip of lemonade?”
The lemonade was cool and delicious. “This is good,” said Lilia. “It tastes like spring. Is your garden this beautiful in the summer?”
“Of course! The garden is just getting started.”
Lilia thought of Mommy’s garden and pushed the thought away.
Gracelyn finished another crane, a purple one, and set it aside. “The garden wasn’t always this glorious, though. When I first came here, it was run-down and neglected.” She paused and sipped her own lemonade in a tall glass. “I was a traveler once, Lilia.”
“Is that because you’re an author? I heard that all authors have to travel to get ideas,” said Lilia. “If they stay in one place too long, their brains go dry.”
Gracelyn shook her head. “This was before I became a writer. I traveled all over the world, seeing beautiful things. Sunsets in foreign countries. Endangered animals in rare habitats. Flora and fauna that few have heard of. When I saw those things, I was filled with such—awe, and joy, and contentment.”
Lilia didn’t see the point of this story. “And you were never home to take care of the garden?”
Gracelyn’s exquisite smile returned. “I didn’t own this garden yet. You see, I traveled all over the world for many years, until I had a bad accident. And I couldn’t walk anymore. And when I realized that I would never be able to travel like I used to…and that I would never again see those sights I loved…well, I stopped searching for beautiful things. I hid from them. I didn’t want to be reminded of them.”
Lilia stopped fiddling with the orange paper. It didn’t look much like a crane anyway. She glanced at the blue paper. “Then what happened?”
“Well, one day when I was feeling especially sorry for myself, I caught a random glimpse of a rainbow on my wall.” Gracelyn gestured to the prisms of light that decorated her garden. “I was so overcome by its beauty and its simplicity—and I realized I didn’t need to go places to find beauty and happiness. And then I decided to create gorgeous things. Books. Origami. Rainbows. Music. Gardens full of flowers. And do you know what, Lilia? Once I began to celebrate the beauty, those memories of my travels weren’t painful to recollect anymore. And do you know, since that day I’ve been an infinitely happier woman.”
Lilia finished her lemonade. After a few minutes, she picked up a blue crane. “May I have this?” she asked slowly.
“Of course,” Gracelyn beamed. “I’m pleased that you should want it.”
That night Lilia put the crane on her bedroom shelf. It was pretty, but it seemed lonesome. She found Mommy’s picture and the bluebird figurine and placed them beside the crane. She found the dragonfly picture and pinned it up behind them.
When Daddy came home, she told him all about Gracelyn Woodfield and The Paper Crane and the accident and the memories and the beauty. And she told him about the garden.
“It used to be ugly, Daddy. Nobody took care of it. She brought the garden back to life.” Lilia knelt on her bed and stared out the window at the tangle of weeds below. “We could fix our new garden. We could plant flowers and make it beautiful.”
“Are you sure you want to, darling?” asked Daddy, very softly.
Lilia thought of the raggedy cosmos. Somebody needed to take care of them.
“Yes, Daddy. That’s what I want.”
And so on Saturday they tackled the yard. They yanked weeds and dug holes and planted seeds and listened to the chimes from Gracelyn’s garden. As the sun began to set, Lilia sprinkled blue forget-me-not seeds into the ground.
“Did you talk to Ms. Woodfield, Daddy?” she asked.
“I certainly did, Lilia! She really likes my vision of translating the book to film.”
All because of the paper crane that fluttered into the garden, Lilia thought. It might have been one of those coincidences. But then it might have been a miracle.
“It doesn’t look really impressive yet,” said Daddy, observing their work with a critical eye. “But it will. Just wait till those seeds sprout and grow.”
“Just wait,” Lilia echoed.
And as they stood in the last gleams of sunset, a dragonfly began to circle around them on glistening silver wings.