Prologue: I wrote this goofy story a while ago. This past Sunday, I decided to read a version of it at the Napa Valley Writers’ Open Mic. On Monday, 8-year old Brooklyn asked me what story I read. I paraphrased the tale for her.
She listened attentively and laughed in all the right places. Then she asked me, “What’s the moral of the story, Grandma?”
What do you think I said to her?
It was a matter of time before Lysl stopped crying.
“Oh, Mama, what have I done?”
“Hush, now. Your Papa is resting with the ancestors. He did what he had to do.”
Resting in her gold-spun hammock, Lysl sipped warm lemonade. Her eyes gazed on 16 spring rainbow butterflies, their 6-inch wingspans fluttering over honeysuckle. Thirty-two red eyes glared at her, their tiny mouths flapping.
“It’s your fault he’s dead. It’s your fault he’s dead.”
The lemonade glass flew across the lawn.
It was dark when she woke with a start. She crawled from the hammock, crying out and tottering onto her 16 deathly still companions in the sand.
She walked in circles for a long time, her hand gripping a flaming torchlight, until she rested it against the oak table, lying down to rest on the cool white tile.
Unable to sleep herself, Sarah was praying at her husband’s grave when she saw the flames. Rushing too late to her daughter, she arrived to find a world awash in black and gray, air dry as lint. A single yellow butterfly floated over the spot Lysl had been laying.
Four days later, on a Tuesday, a stranger rode into town on a large black steed, a guitar lashed over his shoulder. He yelled out in a voice so powerful the earth shook beneath the villagers’ feet.
“My name is Gabriel Peyton Garcia, the third. I wish to talk with Sarah!”
A strong wind blew over the street’s hard dirt as one woman stepped forward.
“Are you Sarah, wife of Steven, mother of my brother’s only child Lysl, born eleven years before she died?”
“Yes. I am.”
“Sarah looked up at the familiar unfamiliar man. “We can speak in the hotel parlor.”
They sat opposite each other at the large window overlooking the street.
The stranger poured himself a glass of whiskey and tore apart a piece of bread. He slathered peach jam over it before swallowing it all in one motion.
“Is it true my brother died at the hands of a swordsman in the company of five others wearing hats of straw?”
“Yes. They taunted Lysl and left her for dead. Steven rode after them.”
“Sarah, I have lived my life in a secret society. Steven knew nothing of me. I am here now to help you.”
Evening approached. The villagers were surprised by the strum of a guitar, quietly at first, in a slow tempo that easily crawled into a crescendo of strings, as if guitars playing themselves covered their town. They wandered toward St. Florentines Church where the stranger waited.
“I am Gabriel Peyton Garcia the Third. I know of the wickedness that killed my brother Steven and took his little girl in her sadness.”
“My friends, there is an evil crawling through our lands that can only be stopped by you. I can help.
“First, I give you magic to build many guitars that you will play at will.
“Secondly, we must create flags of all colors to hum in the air.”
The crowd murmured, puzzled faces turning to each other.
“Thirdly, most important. It will take all of us together to do this. We must banish all attention to fear. Return here at dawn. Go. You have much to do.”
The crowd gathered the next morning, sporting dozens of shimmering hand-made guitars, waving flags of all colors.
Garcia gazed at the cheerful throng.
“Buenos Dias. Congratulations. I see the miracles I expected have come to you because of your willing hearts.”
Minutes later, swarming black bumblebees as big as birds swooped down on the villagers with a deafening buzz.
“Now!” the stranger boomed, “Pick up your guitars. Begin to play your golden instruments and sing. Now!”
The song on their lips rose in pitch, the hum of the guitars swelled until every giant bee disappeared.
The villagers rejoiced. For a moment.
They looked to the horizon to see a looming blanket of dark horses with tall foreign riders, five swordsmen in hats of straw. A dark roar bellowed.
Martha Cynthia, a wee little girl, climbed the tall steps to Gabriel Peyton Garcia the Third. She commenced to croon the song of their ancestors. The villagers sang in unison, guitars playing harmony.
“I see trees of green, red roses too.
I see them bloom, for me and you.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
The horses and riders were vanished.
Fear emptied from the villagers’ hearts as if a white handkerchief had wiped them clean. Sweet aromas blew through on a breeze of marigolds. Flags sailed and guitars played themselves.
A huge feast was held that evening. The villagers partied below a rising full moon. Candles burned in red glass. They ate well and drank plenty, singing and laughing with a mixture of the relief of merriment and a loving sadness for little Lysl and her father.
Dawn approached. The villagers noted a yellow glow appearing in the west, not the east, where the sun should have been rising. Sarah, her friends, and Peyton Garcia the third, turned wide-eyed, to see Lysl and her father descending from the mountain.
Laughing and skipping, Lysl waved an armful of psychedelic flags in every shade of the rainbow. Steven walked beside her, a radiant guitar slung over his shoulder with a strap of gold and silver.
He strummed that ancestral tune with such enthusiasm that all sleeping butterflies in the honeysuckle awoke and took flight. Everyone on the playa was soon covered with a fragrance of honeysuckle that tasted like honey from the bees.
The reunion began in earnest.
And that’s the way it was.
Post Script: My answer to Brooklyn. The moral of the story is that no matter what happens in your family, or your village, if you all stick together with hope and faith, you can accomplish anything.
* *What a Wonderful World, by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele.