She would have the memory of him, but the truth is that a memory is hardly ever good enough to console a heart.
But she longed for him to be happy, to be hers: so she would not open the prison of her heart to let him go. “I love you,” she told him, and this was true, and she knew that he believed her; but when she said it she saw the chain around his ankle, a length of links that let him wander, but not far. She did not see the chain around her own ankle, because love is blind.
Since the day by the pond Feather was always saying pretty things that were like bubbles of air, things she doubted and brushed away. His face darkened, however, and he said, “I should not have stayed. When I first met you, you had no cares. You shone with all the fabulous things you had seen, your world was wide and full of colours. Now there are shadows under your eyes, and you live in a lonely forest.”
“But I wanted you to stay.” She was willing to take the blame. “I trapped you into being with me, and threw away the key.”
Feather shook his fair head. “That’s silly, Maddy. There never was a trap, there never was a key. I stayed because I wanted to. How else could I have shown you that I loved you?”
Matilda sat back, tapping her heel. “I didn’t know much in those days,” she said. “I was just a girl. I’d always imagined that love was something which couldn’t be destroyed. I thought that, once conjured, love was towering and eternal. But wandering around the cottage alone, I began to suspect I was wrong. Maybe love was really a feeble, spineless thing, which easily forgets the thing it once adored. If that was true of ordinary love, then my love was different. My love was something colossal, my love was great. I wanted to stop loving Feather, but I simply could not. He had hurt me, he had deserted me, he had never tried – and he’d never wanted the fay. If Feather had ever loved me, it was only with that faulty, insipid love. And yet, despite all this, I missed him, and I longed for him to return. I was shackled with love, I was blighted by it; I was its victim, plagued to despair. But Feather, I imagined, was carefree somewhere, never giving me a thought. He’d got everything he wished for, and nothing he didn’t want. Me, though – I had nothing! A broken heart, that was all! And it wasn’t fair – it made me angry – eventually, it made me kick and punch and smash my way out of that awful white box.”
The islands used to float about, following the summer, until somebody realized that the islands should stand still. Because that’s what endless fulfilment is, isn’t it? That’s what forgetfulness is. Just stopping still. So the islands stopped floating, and now, on an Island of Stillness, everything is still.”
“How awful that sounds,” mused Maddy.
Zephyrus shrugged breezily. “You’d be surprised. Some people like things that way.”
Maddy drew a breath, rehearsed the words in her head, and asked, “How can you know love, and lose it, and go on living without it, and not feel the loss forever?”
“You can’t,” Feather answered. “You feel the loss forever. But you put it in a safe corner of yourself, and bit by bit some of your sorrow changes into joy. And that’s how you go on living.”
In the beginning, the blind ex-soldiers were reluctant to be treated by her. There was still something barbarous and odd about Maddy; and she was youthful, and not stern, and she wasn’t a man – in short, she was nothing a doctor should be.