By the time Super Bowl Sunday finally rolled around, I was pretty much resigned to missing it. The odds makers loved the Broncos, who had thoroughly thrashed New England in the AFC Championship. Peyton Manning was at the top of his game, and not even the biggest homers among the sportswriters gave the Falcons much of a chance. Particularly considering how we’d sort of backed into getting there. Good thing I didn’t have a TV, I’d have thrown a book through the screen for sure.
I’d calculated the time down to the minute. I even made a test run on Thursday night, starting in the Peckwoods’ parking lot and making it to the beach on Avalon in 87 minutes. Kickoff was around 5:20, so if I left at the end of the first quarter and the forecast for good weather held, I should be on the hilltop no later than 8:00.
Yes, it was a bad compromise. I might miss something critical on the island, and would almost certainly miss everything worth seeing as far as the game went. But it was the best I could come up with.
Nothing definitive from Sabrina, just a post card addressed to “The Charleston Yankee, c/o Rick Whittaker,” with a hand-drawn Falcon’s logo and the two words, “Love, Sabrina.” But I took solace in that she’d written the L word right out there where the ladies at the post office could see it, knowing full well that everybody in town would hear and be gossiping about it. And possibly JD as well, so I kept my Taser handy.
Happily, the quarter that I got to see wasn’t bad at all. Manning, uncharacteristically looking like he’d never been there before, threw a timely (for us, anyway) interception, causing much raucous celebration. Ellie popped the cork on the first of what she loudly proclaimed would be many bottles of champagne and tried without success to get the crowd to do the wave. When the quarter ended, the score was tied at 7 and the Falcons had the ball almost within field-goal range. I started to stay for the end of the drive but stuck to the plan.
At least until I walked out the door and right into Sabrina.
“Leaving already? I was listening on the radio on the way here and it doesn’t seem so bad.”
“God, Sabrina. I can’t believe how horrible our timing is. I have to go to the island. Tonight. Right now. It’s the Feast of Imbolc, a fire sabbat, and I have to be there. Even if it means missing the Falcons win the Super Bowl.”
Sabrina put her hand on my arm and was quiet for a minute before asking, “Can I come?”
I’d considered inviting Chai; fortunately, as things were turning out, I’d thought better of it. But nothing in my wildest plans included taking Sabrina, and I had no idea how I felt about it.
“Um, sure, Sabrina.” When in doubt, take the path of least resistance. I had no logical reason prepared to explain why she shouldn’t go, and saying no seemed inexcusable. Not to mention damaging to whatever future we might have. “But you’re going to need a lot more clothes than you have here. How quick can you change?”
“My suitcase is in my car. Give me two minutes.”
She didn’t even go inside Peckerwoods’, just fiddled around in her trunk before disappearing into her car. She was back out, bundled up and ready to sail, almost within the time estimate.
The only thing she said in the short drive to the ramp was, “Here’s the best part. The way fate works, the Falcons are sure to win if two of their biggest fans aren’t there to watch.”
If I’d thought of that before, it would have made my decision a whole lot easier to stomach.
Sabrina sat right beside me on the boat seat, close enough that our sides were touching. But that was our only communication, verbal or non-verbal. Gave me plenty of time to think, which I guess might have been the point. My emotions were in a total uproar, but once I sorted through all that, I discovered I was glad she was along.
As we rounded the island that blocked direct sight of Avalon, the fire was already blazing away on the distant hilltop. I pointed it out without slowing it down, yelling over the motor, “They’ve already lit the bonfire.” Sabrina responded by gripping my arm with both hands, holding on for the rest of the ride in.
After I’d beached the boat and held Sabrina’s hand so she could jump to shore without getting her shoes wet, she turned and whispered, “What are we expecting?” For the first time I realized just what an act of faith her decision to come along had been. Or maybe it was pure impulsiveness.
“I have no idea whatsoever. Halfway between Midwinter, when I could see shapes but nothing else, and Beltane. But since I have no idea what happens at Beltane, it’s halfway between vague shapes and infinity.” I was whispering too, my mouth close to her ear. I couldn’t detect a foreign fragrance of any sort; just the delicious scent of woman.
Sabrina shrugged, let out a deep sigh, and took my hand. “Then let’s go see.”
The moon had risen but it was a tiny sliver of a thing. The path was dark as pitch, and as sacrilegious as turning on a flashlight seemed, it would have been foolhardy not to. So I hooded the lens with my hand best I could as we made our silent way up the hill.
Just before rounding the last corner I stopped, let go of Sabrina’s hand, and stood there with eyes closed, face slightly uplifted toward the heavens. Clearing my mind. Thanking whatever gods there were that I was here to experience this moment, however it turned out. Letting go of any and all expectations, preparing for whatever revelations the universe had in store for me. When I opened my eyes Sabrina had hers closed still, her face lifted up like mine had been. Impossible to resist, even on such a momentous occasion. So I brushed my lips across her cheekbone as feathery as I could, barely touching her at all. And received a smile in exchange.
Taking her hand again, we walked the last few steps to the edge of the clearing.
There were seven robed women around the fire. Three were working over a cauldron, the others watching or talking. All except one who was dancing gently with her eyes closed.
I knew her eyes were closed because I could see that well. No ghostly figures these, but real live women. Well, real women in any case; I wasn’t sure about the live part.
Then one of the women at the cauldron stood up and turned around. It was the golden-haired woman, of course. No matter what else I was expecting, I knew she would be there. In the firelight that set her hair glowing like it too was on fire, she looked exactly like her portraits. Clearly George had not just seen her in his dreams; he had stood face to face, likely at a moment much like this one. And painted her from the image burned into his memory.
Then the woman touched one of the others beside her and pointed at us.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up like the crowd at the Super Bowl after a long touchdown pass. My flight-or-fight response had a quick conference, with flight losing out by a hair. Meanwhile, Sabrina clutched my hand like she was in the ocean and I was a rope.
Then the woman turned to me and held her arms out in a clear gesture of welcome. I shrugged and we walked over to her.