This is why she stays. Mist in the garden, mist on the gravestones, evening light asking the rose to make its bow. As the chill descends she can see the pink of the sunset and the crimson of the roses vanish together. It is too dark to read, but it is comforting to hold a book on her knee as her thoughts drift to spider-webs, dew, night air, and far away the call of opera.

Her mother, perhaps, upstairs before returning to the kitchen. She liked to leave it on so the rooms were full of life and drama. Susan her sister, perhaps, working out mathematical exercises in her clear hand, and leaving the radio on for her, expecting she would be in again soon.

There were softly curtained lights in several of the upper windows, if she turned back to look at where she lived; would live, would if she chose to stay. Invisible from here but lucent from the street was the focal gold she had known every winter of her life: home, homecoming, warmth and multitudes. Since she had been eighteen she had sat openly amongst them, glowing in drink, flirting, coming to learn and love. If she went she could visit it: if she stayed, if she stayed, she had it about her and below her every night.

Jenny dusted her bottom off, glanced fondly into the silvered darkness of the pond soft with algae, and brushed between delphiniums, under the wisteria arch: looked back, wondered what otherworldly air kept them so fresh this near to winter: and went through the back door, oaken and ancient.

Where the stairs to her room began was by a corner of the bar, and here she saw the three most regular, who had been in the pub all day and greeted them on arrival. There was Marina still on duty, awaiting the evening shift. They already knew each other from visits, for the Green Dragon was until today the domain of their Grandmother Grey. She was retiring, and the Tylers were coming into their inheritance, after apprenticeships running ordinary pubs, with no graves in their back gardens, no crystalline caverns accessible from the cellars, no tunnels to any neighbouring ruined castle. This was why she stayed.

And the prints on the walls, and the encyclopaedia in the bookshelves by the fire, the picture that Dr Johnson had signed when he drank here, and the dragon's head. The fountain in the garden, the parlour where their grandmother kept their ancestral portraits and made a fire of roses. The snow, the tumulus, the armour, the corridors where none should be and the cats amid the lichen, marmalade and silver.

Tales of the Green Dragon | Later >