At the edge of the meadow, there is a stable. Rose, the wisest, has found that by setting a bale of hay on fire, she can find a hidden needle. The flames draw a silkworm who threads it in the hand of Olivine, the bravest. And, with the aid of other woodland creatures, the silkworm transforms the ladies’ nightdresses into incandescent gowns.
Violet, the kindest, whistles to summon twelve magnificent swans. The ladies ride them away from the meadow, up over the silver lake and toward the second moon. Lily, the second-oldest, counts the stars. The twelfth to the right of the moon is not a star at all, but the seat of the Silver Kingdom and the castle of twelve princes.
It is there, every night, that the twelve ladies revel and whirl. Opal, the most patient, hands them each a delicate mask she’s tatted from fine black thread. For hours they dance, in lace masks and spellbound gowns and bedroom slippers. In the arms of princes, they are spinning and laughing and drinking champagne. Birdie, the most spry, can balance twelve glasses at once. Ida, the quietest at home, can sing like a lark. Vera, the second-youngest, is the most graceful among them, though they all dance very well.
It is never less magical, never grows tiresome, never could compare to any dance far back home.
They dance until the ballroom candles melt into pools of wax. And Ruby, the best canasta player, is the one who watches for the flame to flicker and signals to the ladies when it’s time to leave. There are entreaties and kisses and promises to dance again the next night. Violet summons the swans. Myrtle, three times widowed, cries a little each time, fearing that each goodbye could somehow be the last.
They fly to the meadow. There, Beryl, the youngest, calls the stable mice to nibble at the silken threads of their gowns until the fabric unfurls into modest nightdresses again. The ladies walk together. Their bodies soften and wrinkle like apricots, their complexions pale, and golden tresses fade to silver-grey.
They slowly ascend their separate staircases and, as they fall into simultaneous slumber, kick off the slippers that are tattered and worn. Mabel, the most practical, will coordinate more slipper orders over lunch. Until then, they sleep a deep and dreamless sleep.
And while they are dozing, the other residents of Green Gardens are breakfasting and gossiping, playing shuffleboard and puzzling over crosswords. At the same time, twelve silver-haired gentlemen are emerging from their own separate rooms in a row.
For while the twelve ladies could not dream for more than dancing through the soles of their slippers each night, the twelve princes could not dream for more than the serenity of old age. Each morning, the men ascend twelve stairways in the castle keep to arrive in twelve other rooms in the retirement home. With each step away from the Silver Kingdom’s starlight, the princes become more wrinkled, pale and grey.
They live for hot coffee and Sunday papers, for pinochle and peanut brittle, for the soft hands of kind old ladies as they deal out the cards.