The Wood Nymph of Central Park: Part Two

"I'm the wood nymph of Central Park." The nymph's grey eyes regarded Eliza with a keen curiosity she had not seen before.

"No, you're not." The story of the wood nymphs was Eliza's favourite, and Abby had read it to her so many times, that Eliza would not be fooled. "Those only live in forests."

The wood nymph shook her head. "My dear girl, what things are there in forests?"

Eliza hesitated. "Trees."

"And what do you see around you?" A small smile appeared on the cracked lips of the wood nymph.

"... Trees."

"Therefore," the wood nymph declared, "I am a wood nymph."

Eliza hadn't been able to argue with this logic, and, ever since that day, she would pass the playground and run to the tree, where the wood nymph would be waiting for her. The wood nymph told her many stories, of a glamorous life on a different continent, of handsome earls, splendid balls, and sparkling champagne. Eliza had never dared to imagine that these things from her story books truly existed, but the words of the wood nymph floated around her head, creating the images in Eliza's mind as her ears received them.

The last day Eliza ever saw the wood nymph, a cold afternoon in January, she handed Eliza a pinkish bead that looked so much like a pearl from one of her mother's necklaces that Eliza looked around hopefully, to see if her mother was in the park.

The wood nymph smiled and closed Eliza's hand over the bead. "This is a very special treasure, Eliza," she said, in her voice that sounded like a crackling fire. "When a man gave it to me, my mother told me it would be the greatest gift I would ever receive, since it would turn me into a wife, and keep me safe forever. When that happens to you, make a better decision than I did." Eliza did not understand, but it was all the wood nymph would tell her.

When Eliza came back the next day, pink puffy coat a bright flash of cotton candy amidst the snow, the nymph didn't respond to anything Eliza said. She just sat there, arms folded around her knees, head tilted back against the tree, and when Eliza touched her cheek, it was as cold as the snow that covered the ground.

Eliza heard footsteps behind her and turned to see a young man running towards her. He, too, was dressed in many layers of dirty clothes, but he had a shaved head, and a large, tattered backpack instead of two shopping bags.

When the man saw the nymph, he yelled to two other men walking a few steps behind him: "Fucking hell, the snow finally took old Maggie!" Eliza glared at him, and he said: "Apologies, miss. I meant 'holy cow'."

Eliza sighed. "She's a wood nymph," she explained impatiently. "She's just asleep, she'll wake up when spring arrives."

The man huffed. "Sure, and I'll transform into a butterfly and fly all the way to Africa."

Eliza was about to say that that obviously wasn't possible, when she heard Abby calling her: it was time to go home. Eliza left, certain that she would see the wood nymph again once the snow had melted away. She never did.

Years later, Eliza tells this story at the balls and dinners she attends, as her mother did before her. Sharing cookies with a homeless woman was her first act of charity, but definitely not her last, she jokes. Whilst she sips from the champagne that costs more than the wood nymph of Central Park had ever owned in her entire life.

At night, Eliza goes home, and peeks into her daughter's bedroom. The girl is five, or maybe six now- it's so hard to keep track- and sound asleep. Eliza doesn't see her often but that's okay, because Rose is there, to feed her and cuddle her and love her, as Abby once did for Eliza. Eliza strokes a blonde curl out of the girl's face, the pinkish pearl in her ring glittering in the soft light streaming from the lamp on the bedside table, placed there to keep the monsters away, since Eliza is never there to do it for her.