As though carved in ivory, she stood ankle deep in the pool, peering into the murky pond. She tipped her head gracefully, the back of her long neck pale and white beneath the afternoon sun.
He stared, entranced by her beauty. He came often to the park to rest in the shade beneath the trees, to bask in the sun or visit with friends, but, never had he seen such a lovely creature as he beheld that late autumn day. Afraid to move for fear she might disappear, he stood, immobile, his gaze roaming across her soft, supple body. He gasped, realizing that he had ceased to breathe.
Each day for a week, he returned to the pond, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Each time, his heart surged when he found her standing motionless and lovely, ankle deep in the pool. She filled his thoughts by day and his dreams at night.
Compelled to declare his love to anyone who would listen, he spoke often of her to his friends and to his mother. She tried to dissuade him from his purpose. “Forget this foolishness, my dear son. Such a union between you is not possible. The differences are too great.”
He turned a deaf ear to her wisdom, believing that one day his love might conquer their differences and that she might return his love.
Winter turned to spring. Cherry blossoms bloomed pink and white. Children laughed and robins sang. Little boys ran through the grass. The red and green triangles of kites filled the pale blue sky.
Each day he paced beside the pond, watching his beloved, but never finding the courage to speak. He felt unworthy. What had he to offer?
He sat on the grassy shore, adoring her from a distance, fearing any declaration of love might frighten her away. The afternoon sun warmed his back and its rays reflected off her snow-white head as she gazed into the pond, seemingly intent only on the unimagined thing she sought beneath the water. What so held her attention and captivated her mind?
Each day, he tried to gather his courage, determined to speak to her. Each day, he tried to tell her how much he loved her–how beautiful she was. But each day, he returned home, having never spoken a word.
Spring became summer and for a time when he came to the park, he would wait in vain. His heart would nearly burst with concern. Was she ill? Had she found another love? Where had she gone?
One late afternoon as he waited, she limped toward the pond. She was hurt! What happened? Why had he not declared his love sooner? Perhaps he could have protected her.
She paused at the water’s edge. Each beat of his heart pounded in his head. He stepped forward. He must speak! The words seized in his throat.
She moved into the pond.
At last, with a gasp, he found the courage. “Wait! My love! I must tell you what is in my heart.” She stepped further into the water, as though she could hear or understand his message.
Didn’t she care even a little? She must have noticed him, day after day, hovering on the bank, even though he was unable to speak. Couldn’t she see how he felt? Was her heart so hardened that–?
He turned at the sound of laughter on the shore. Two boys threw stones that struck the water with a plop, each one coming nearer to the place his darling waded.
As she stepped deeper into the pool, a stone struck the back of her head. She stumbled.
How dare they strike his beloved? He rose up in a rage and flew at the boys. Again and again he struck their heads, their shoulders, and their legs. They fled screaming toward their nannies, sitting nattering in the sun beside their prams parked in neat rows beside the painted benches.
He stepped into the pond. The chilled water covered his feet.
His precious stumbled toward the shore, a step, and then two, and collapsed on the grass. He rushed to her side and stood helplessly as she lay slumped on the slippery embankment. Slowly, she arose. Not a word did she speak. Not a glance in his direction.
Perhaps she was blind. Perhaps she couldn’t see how much he wanted to help her.
Then, she stumbled a few steps… and lifted gracefully into the darkening sky, and disappeared into a cloud…
He knew she would never return. Her beautiful pale body would never again stand beside the pond; never again wade into the pool and lean gracefully into the water. He lowered his head and tears trickled from his tiny black eyes.
Children ceased to laugh. The robins ceased to sing and as if the sun had followed his beloved behind the gathering clouds, a shadow passed across the grass.
Again, his mother’s words echoed through his head. “Do not return to the pond, my son. Such a union is not possible. The difference between you is too great.”
He heard a sound and looked up. She was coming back? Perhaps she loved him after all.
She swooped down, down and circled in a graceful arch over his head. Then she spread her wings, turned and flew into the setting sun.
In his heart he heard her say. “It’s not as if I didn’t care. I knew you were always there, loving me, and helping me. But, can’t you see, my dear? We can never be together. Even though our hearts are one, I am an egret and you are a crow.”