I'll let y'all in on a little secret, if you promise to be good and not freak out on me. I've been in quite a bit of pain lately, and of course, am worried that my little respite from cancer is at an end, and that we are about to launch into Round Two. It's been going on for a couple of weeks, and I've been trying to ignore it and explain it away. But it was pretty bad the other day, so I made the appointment to get it checked for Wednesday. So this, amongst other things, was what was keeping me up the other night, and has been interrupting my important Art Thoughts. (Work never gets interrupted by anything, since I tend to just tune out the rest of the universe when I'm on Working Hours.)
But before you all have sets of conniptions, I'm really not thinking that it's The Worst. I've been reading and have found that pain of this kind after (h-word) is not at all unusual, and is really just my body adjusting to the new situation. The doctors were all so very confident that things are going to be fine, that I'm still not very worried.
What was worrying me was the state of my soul. I know all about my sins, and I know what is always bubbling away under the surface, and it is - how shall I say this - cause for concern. Yes, yes, I know, Divine Grace and the sacraments and all that... yes. But still...
So I lay down and slept, and when I woke up, realised I had been told something quite specific in the following dream:
I was in a group of young women, a kind of school, being led by an older lady whose work was to teach us the feminine skills. We lived in a house by the side of a large lake and often swam and went on a boat out on the lake. We sewed and looked after the garden and learned to make lace. It was quite peaceful. But I soon learned that she was a woman of secrets. In her garden was a derelict and crumbling treehouse, that had obviously been built ingeniously for a loved child to play in. Living in the little treehouse, which you could see from the kitchen window, was a kind of creature, like a dwarf who was not a child but sometimes acted like one, and sometimes came into the house to steal things. The treehouse also had all kinds of wonderful other creatures living in it, both beautiful and fearsome: some kind of variety of praying mantis, black and covered in leaf-like camouflage; a furry predator, not like a cat but more like a mongoose, only larger with grey and white striped markings like a badger; a little white furred creature like a marmoset, with long fingers and huge eyes.That’s it. And I’m really not making up one word of this. I woke up and lay in bed a long time thinking about it. I knew it was about Purgatory (well, durrrrr) and that I had gone to bed last night terribly worried about things, and felt a great deal better about it all today. I wanted to write it all down before it faded.
One day, the lady took us on a trip to visit her old home. It turned out that she had been married and had left her home when her husband died, exactly as it was with all their furniture and pictures and mementoes just abandoned. The house was almost impossible to live in. I went outside and discovered the reason. It was built on stilts or pylons in the middle of the lake, but it was terribly unstable, and swayed and rocked constantly with the waves, so it was impossible to walk around in and all the furnishings and china was in danger of smashing on the floor. We were politely going about the place and she was telling us about all her things and her life with her husband, but it was very difficult, and I couldn’t wait to leave the place. I was terribly frightened that the whole thing was about to crash into the water and sink to the bottom of the lake.
At one point, I wandered off by myself to look about, and opened a door to what had been the boathouse, though it was now very deteriorated. Suddenly, I felt a great lurch under my feet, and the boathouse sped off away from the rest of the house. I realised that it had been stolen and the thief didn’t know I was inside. I shouted and waved but the powerboat she was using to tow the boathouse was too loud and she didn’t hear me. I held on while we sped off across the lake. When we reached the other side, something had gone wrong with the thief’s plans and the boathouse crashed into the pier and kept going, racing along a road, and finally coming to a stop in the centre of a small town.
The old lady’s boathouse was in pieces, and I was surrounded by curious people, but unhurt. The little town was very beautiful, like an idealised New England village, and I knew somehow that all the people who lived here were artists. I wanted to stay but I knew I had to get back. I immediately asked the way back to the other side of the lake so I could rejoin my group. Someone offered to take me there, but when I got into his boat, he instead took me to this very strange place and dropped me off.
After this, the dream became very surreal. I was in a great palace built on the shore of this lake, and the people in it were all at war. They were nearly all ambassadors from the various kingdoms that surrounded the lake. They had all come to make petitions to the one great king who ruled the whole thing, and who was very difficult to get to see. You had to be very obsequious to the king’s servants, and even then they were pretty capricious and might take your flattery and your bribes and then betray you. I didn’t have any money and wasn’t an ambassador, and all I wanted was directions home, so I started wandering around the place looking for someone who might be able to direct me.
The palace was rather a horrible place. It was like a 1960s Le Cobusier or Arthur Erikson version of a fairytale palace. Huge, cold and empty, bare walls and very tall ceilings with very short doors one had to stoop to go through. Everyone there seemed miserable and angry and everyone was conspiring against everyone else. I started to want to go home very badly. Everyone was dressed in strange, cheap looking costumes, as if they were all cast in one of those Sinbad or Jason and the Argonaut movies from the 1960s. I was still in my school girl uniform.
The one thing I understood about it was that it had been for this place that I and the other girls were studying to come. We were being trained to be ladies-in-waiting to the court ladies here, which news seemed quite disappointing.
At one point, I met someone who said he would introduce me to the king. We went into a big hall that was sparsely populated with milling, badly dressed people. The king was a little middle aged man sitting on a folding chair instead of a throne, and quite short. He didn’t look directly at me when he talked. I bowed (no curtsey) and he asked me what I wanted. I said I needed to get back to my lessons and wanted to go home but was lost, and could he please direct me back to the other side of the lake.
Then someone in the room shouted that I was a spy and a harlot. I said I wasn’t a spy and would leave and just find my own way home. But the king became angry and ordered me clapped in irons and thown into a dungeon. So the clapping-in-irons courtier came along with a big wooden box on wheels, like a gardening box, and brought along some thin chains and put them on me, and took me over to a card table near the wall where another official took my name and gave me a paper number, like in a shop. He told me to go over there and someone would be along shortly to tell me what to do.
A young man came along with a large wooden case. In it was a huge pile of little trinkets, like the sort of thing you see on a girl’s charm bracelet (I’ve always disliked them). He told me to choose which one best represented my “burden”. I didn’t really know what he meant and said I didn’t have any burdens just then except wanting to go home (I begin to sound like Dorothy in Oz at this point). He said to look anyway because I had to have one. So I rummaged around and found a little seashell that was partly covered in silver.
Then he led me over to a line of people in front of a large set of double doors and left me. When I got to the doors, a man took my name and gave me a key to the chains and I went through carrying the shell. There was no one else around and the doors led to a rather bleak-looking very long hallway. I took off the chains and stared walking down the hall, that had a row of windows along the right side. Out the windows was a large city, looking very grey and industrial and lifeless, though the sun was shining very strongly. The hallway looked like the back corridors of the Gemelli, very stark and somewhat crumbling.
The hallway ended in a kind of foyer, painted institutional green, and a young blonde woman dressed very plainly in a pair of jeans and a plain top, sat at a table with a lot of papers. She looked up as I came in and asked me for my burden. I handed her the shell and she told me to follow her. She went over to a complicated looking board where I saw my name written. It was a huge bulletin board all covered in lists of names and places, maps of different islands on the lake, set out in hundreds of different kinds of coloured construction paper. She shifted some things around and wrote some things down in some kind of very complicated filing system, and then wrote on a clipboard and handed me the papers, all different colours and covered in a kind of pictogram writing that I couldn’t read.
She told me not to worry, that I was going to be just fine. She pushed a button somewhere and the next door opened. I went through and everything was quite different. The door closed behind me and I turned around and saw that there was no way to open it on this side. The room was like a changing room in a posh dress shop, all upholstered furniture and gold and pink wall paper, light fixtures had gilded curlicues and there was a large closet with hooks to hang things from. A voice told me to take off my school uniform, and hang it up neatly and put on the clothes I found. They were very simple, a black sleeveless t-shirt and loose black trousers. It looked vaguely like a servant’s uniform.
Then I was distracted by a bright light, and I turned around and saw to the right was a large window, a French door, really, and through the window was a beautiful sight. A garden, all hung with greenery and blooming with huge roses, with lovely marble statues. It was an Italian style garden, with a fountain in the centre, surrounded by a high wall, with tall trees hung with garlands of winding plants all blossoming. There were brightly coloured birds, like hummingbirds but larger, and butterflies. The light came down in golden streaks, and at the centre behind the fountain was a gigantic rose tree in full bloom ten times the height of a man, that was obviously magical. It nearly glowed with a light of its own. I was mesmerised by this perfect sight and I forgot all about trying to get back to school, and instantly knew that I would rather be in that garden and touch those roses than do anything else, ever.
As I looked, I saw a man dressed in some kind of livery, walk past the window, and I wanted to ask him where I was. I went towards the windows, and he appeared again, and stood in the way. He didn’t say anything, but he had a stern look, and he pointed to another door, opposite the one by which I had come in. I was terribly disappointed at this, because now I wanted so badly to get into the garden, but there didn’t seem any way to get past him, so I went through this last door.
On the other side, it was clear that I was in a large and beautiful Italian Baroque palazzo, in a covered open space with a lot of corridors of tall columns, all painted that lovely shade of Roman pinky-orange, leading off in different directions. I knew the garden was around here somewhere. There was no sign of the liveried servant. Then a nice looking young fellow, about 17 or 18, wearing the same sort of outfit I was in, came up to me and said I had to be fitted. He asked to see my papers, and I handed him the whole sheaf. He read them for a moment and gestured to a little alcove where there was a kind of sewing shop set up. He very quickly made me a kind of fancy dress out of yards of tulle covered in little rhinestones, some shiny silk and gold fabric draped around and bunches of silk flowers. He arranged all of these over my black outfit. He did my hair up in a huge bunch and put a lot of the flowers in it and a few little clips with pearls on. He stood back and said I looked fine and was ready.
I looked in the mirror, and saw that I was dressed up in a kind of little girl’s idea of a fairytale princess costume, the kind I would have loved when I was five. It was terribly impractical though, and I felt a bit silly, since he had put it together mostly with safety pins, it looked as if it was all about to fall apart at any moment.
He said I should go and have a nice time, and someone would be along soon to tell me what to do next. I didn’t know quite what to make of this, so I thought I would just explore and see what could be seen. I found the palace was enormous, and was a complex of huge airy rooms covered in baroque frescoes with scenes of people dancing and feasting and playing instruments, and all the windows looked out onto little gardens, none of which were so grand as the first one. There seemed to be no “outside” to this place that looked as if it would go on forever. There were a few broad marble staircases that went up to other levels, but I had an idea that I was not allowed to go up there.
I came finally to the end of a corridor that ended in another wide marble stair. This led down into a grassy valley where there were a lot of other people dressed similarly to me, dancing. I wanted to go join them because by this time I was completely lost and couldn’t find my way back to the main garden. But just at that moment, another girl came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I said I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me what to do, and that I wanted to get into the main garden but couldn’t find that either. She said she was also looking for it, and not to bother going and talking to the dancing people because they were as lost as I was and had given up looking.
We decided to go back to see if we could find the young man. We retraced our steps and found him at last, fitting someone else out the same way, doing quite a lazy job of it. At this point, the first liveried servant came along, and scolded the boy for being so bad at his job. He replied that he had never wanted to be a dress designer, but wanted to go work in the palace’s garage as a car mechanic instead. Then the head servant turned to me and asked if I could sew, and if I could did I want the job. The boy looked so hopeful that I thought I couldn’t let him down, since he had been so nice to me. I said I could actually sew pretty well, and had been trained for it. But that I might need some help, and asked if the girl I’d met could do it too. The servant agreed, and we started work.
Every few hours, another bewildered-looking person would come through the door, dressed in black, and it was our job to fit them out with proper clothes for serving in the palace. I knew that we were very close to the garden and knew somehow that if I just was patient and concentrated on my work, the owner of the palace, a great queen, would come home and take us into it.
Sometimes the person who came through the door was dressed in red instead of black, and we were not allowed to dress these people. They took their sheaf of papers, which looked like gold leaf instead of multicoloured paper, and went off instead with the liveried servant to some other part of the palace and we didn’t see them again.
Soon all the other people whom the boy had dressed so badly came to us to have their clothes redone, and we had quite a happy time, though there was a lot of work to do.