By Jack Moore
An elderly man sits on his front porch, overlooking an old garden filled with azaleas. They have just passed their prime and are going to wilt soon. These will be the last azaleas he will see in the garden. His wife, who planted and cultivated them, passed this April after they had bloomed. They were truly beautiful to him, but he is no gardener. He’s afraid to even water them. The memory of his wife and her flowers will have to do.
As he sits on the porch, he thinks of his two daughters and son, all with families of their own. They are all happy and bright, and that brings him unimaginable pride. He walked down the aisle with two as their escort, and congratulated a third at the reception. To see them grow, even if it was away from him, is his greatest pleasure in life.
He smiles softly. The sun sets, and night falls. The elderly man stands on his porch and takes one last look at the azaleas. After a moment, he goes back inside and heads to bed. Unable to sleep, he lies awake thinking of what is left for him to do. He is old in body but young in spirit. As a child, he adored legends of the past, and when he slips into slumber, one of those legends comes to mind: an oasis on an island lost in the sea. He decides he will go find that island.
The man awakens and travels to the coast. Hours of travel pass in an instant to him, but now he is at a standstill. The sea is roaring, unable to be traversed by boat or plane; however, he believes that there is another way and scours the coast. In no time, he stumbles upon a cave leading deep underground. It is dark, and he has nothing to light his way. Still, the man carries on into the depths.
The light at his back is hardly visible, but the darkness is not complete. He is under the sea now, and he watches the currents of the deep flowing swiftly in all directions above him. They are illuminated by orbs floating in the darkness, moving in every direction.
The farther the man walks the path, the more these lights draw him forward. They look so warm in the cold of the cave. They are his only light in the darkness. Even so, he turns his head away from them. The more numerous they grow, the more his neck becomes immovable, the more his hands become still. He does not succumb to the temptation that would doom him to the waters within his reach.
After some time, he cannot remember how long he has walked in the darkness. The lights are overwhelming, but he does not venture off the path, and at last he sees real light at the end of the cave. He has not turned, nor has he faltered. The man has passed through the cave and finds himself on a barren island in the middle of a stormy sea.
In the distance, he sees his true desire: another island, surrounded by calm waters and sun. Each tree bears fruit ripe for harvest. But, between him and that island is the roaring sea, impassible. There is no cave, no boat, no plane, no way of crossing. He is stuck on the barren island with no way forward.
A voice speaks to him. You have made it far, but go no farther, lest the waters take you below. The elder searches for the owner of the voice, but he finds no one else on the tiny island. He looks to the sea and spies a large creature of gray scales lurking in the waters. Once the man notices it, the creature shows its face.
It is an immense serpent, towering over his small island, reaching the underside of the storm clouds above. The man cowers as the beast gazes at him with piercing gold eyes. It is the serpent who speaks to him.
“That island is a lie, old sir,” the serpent hisses. “You cannot reach it. Turn back and live as the man who made it farther than anyone. Be proud of your own accomplishments, but travel no farther, lest the waters consume you.”
The elder quakes in fear, his resolve beginning to crumble. Nevertheless, he regains his composure and stands before the serpent. The feeling of a hand graces his back, and a Voice, far more calming than the last, speaks to him.
Go forward. Do not fear.
With newfound courage, the elder gazes back into the eyes of the serpent, raising an open hand to the sky. As the serpent moves to strike, the man chops his hand down, and everything in front of it, save only the oasis, splits. The sky, the sea and the serpent are all quieted by the man’s movement. A path in the waters is now open, and the man passes through unharmed.
On the distant island, he is surrounded by life. The grass is luscious, bushes and trees bear beautiful fruit and small animals dance around without fear. He goes to the center of the island and discovers a small pond. A figure stands on the bank. The man approaches the pond and drinks from it. As the feeling of new life moves through his body, he turns to the figure. “Thank you,” he says. Suddenly, the figure is gone, and the pond melts away into a field of azaleas. An older woman crouches over the flowers.
The woman turns and smiles at the man. Tears flow freely from his eyes. Though it has been gone for months, the beauty of his wife will never be lost to him. She comes to him and wipes away his tears, touching his forehead to hers as if to say, everything will be alright.
Then the old man wakes up from his slumber. The sun has risen; his search is over. He readies himself and ventures out to his porch. The azaleas are still in bloom, and he smiles as he goes to water them. He will plant another batch next year, and the year after that. He will plant new ones with each passing year, until he enjoys them with her again.