I am old now, but my body carries the years lightly, because I have always been careful. I was only a little girl when my father died, and my mother went crazy with grief. “Keep your heart safe,” she screamed at me one day, “or someone will take it and smash it into little pieces.” I was frightened of her pain, so I took her advice. I needed to keep safe, so I made a resolution then and there that I would not let myself get too involved with anything. If my heart needed solace, I would find it in dreams. Dreams are safe, I can control dreams. As for the rest of life? I shall watch it from a safe distance – through the window.
And so I have lived. I have sufficient to manage comfortably, I have my interests, I have my work, I have my comforts. Books and poetry and music have their place, too, though I have always thought some of the most popular ones were very overrated. So much ill-judged emotion and unnecessary tragedy! So silly! I am quiet, I am dignified, and I keep my own counsel. I have pleasant social exchanges with the tradesmen and the neighbours. I am not inhuman. I go to church when convenient, I give a little to charity, I behave like a responsible citizen. But I have never seen any reason to get embroiled with the messiness of life, tragedy and comedy and ill-disciplined emotions are for fools. I stand back and merely watch – through the window.
Sometimes I have been tempted to break my own rules. Once a little boy was knocked down right outside my house, and his mother knelt beside him in the gutter, soaked with blood and mud, and screamed. I nearly went outside to her it looked so dreadful, and she sounded so pitiful. But what could I have done? And besides, it was raining. So I shut the window and watched through it.
Another time, a long war ended in victory, and the people were dancing in the streets. There was spontaneous singing, and people catching the hands of total strangers and twirling around. Their joy looked so intoxicating I was tempted to join them. But – intoxicating? That was precisely the problem. There were bottles being passed around, and people growing flushed. Who knew where it would end? Besides, I never learned to dance. So, even though the music made my feet itch and twitch, I stayed inside and watched through the window.
Further back, long ago when I was young and my mirror said I was pretty, there was a young man who started to come calling. At first it was all very flattering, and I was quite enjoying his attentions, until I realised he was serious. At that moment something froze inside me. I remembered my mother, and her pain, and I knew that love hurts. Far easier to stay safe. So I told him no, and a grey melancholy settled inside me as I watched through the window as he walked away.
I have been safe. I have been careful. I have kept my hands clean and my heart intact. And I never knew that my soul was dying of starvation – until last night. Can a dream change a person? It must have been a dream, because I was asleep, but it still seems so real it could have happened in this room.
In my dream (for what else can I call it?) a king was riding into town, and the people in the street were shouting and dancing, just like they did at the end of the war. I think it was the end of some kind of war. I was, of course, watching through the window, safe and distant as always. But then he stopped, right outside my window, and in a loud voice he called my name and ordered me to come forth. And, to my own amazement, I wanted to come. Who could refuse that voice? But I couldn’t. I tried to lift the sash, but it held fast, and I hurt myself trying. All the time he sat there, on his horse, looking straight at me, waiting .. So I decided to smash the glass, and get out that way. But the glass had grown thick and hard with the weight of years, and though I threw everything I had at it, nothing would break it. In the end I pounded my bruised fists against it and cried. The King himself was waiting for me and I could not come. In the end, feeble and defeated, not caring how silly I sounded, I cried out to him to help me.
And he did. He threw his whole body at the glass, and it shattered, though, as he did so, he was impaled upon a jagged piece of glass. There was so much blood, all over me, but I never even noticed. All that mattered was the king. But then, in a long moment, strong arms grasped me and lifted me through the window. In his arms I was safe in the unsafe world.
I thought it was a dream. But when I rose this morning the window was flung wide, and the perfume of strange flowers is blowing through the window.