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From Beauty Sleeping

 

Prologue

 

2001

  

A tree shivers with winter. No, not a tree. A rosebush. David notices thorns and a single flower. No leaves, though.

A woman lies curled around the stem of the bush as though sheltering its roots and sheltered by its branches in turn. Her fingers interlace with roots as though in prayer. Her hair flows beyond them, down into the ground. Above her head, the branches grow into a crown and a bird has opened its wings to rise. The one rose touches her hair.

            Is she useless or gathering strength? Her lips curve with dreaming. In places it is hard to tell what is hair, what is roots.

            "How wonderful it will be when she wakes up," David says.

Behind him Christine is talking on the phone and doesn't hear him. The woman in the sculpture looks self-contained. What will she do when she wakes up? David wonders. Wouldn't it be nice if a prince were there, to make sure that the rose behaved like a flower?

            Her mouth is open. The sense he gets from the sculpture is the obvious one of rest and harmony, but also a sense of wonder and anticipation. The woman's arms are stretched apart, as though protecting as much of ground and roots and branches as possible, while they in turn circle her like a wreath of protection.

            Christine, the sculptor, still talks on the phone. Despite keeping his eyes on the sculpture, David is acutely aware of every one of her movements and gestures. Now Christine smiles, says goodbye, and extends the phone to David.

            "Your son."

    Christine turns her back to him and busies herself at her wooden work bench by the window to provide him what privacy she can in her small studio space. A four inch green elf sits on the window sill. It looks clumsy and sweet, like a child's work. David sees Christine pick up a small sculpting tool, not unlike an item in a manicure kit, and she moves it over a two foot high figure of a dancing couple in reddish clay. Christine's hands move gently, but with the speed of confidence.

            David's gaze wanders back and forth now between Christine and the sculpture of the magical woman in the center of the studio throughout his conversation with his son. He had expected complications, but nothing like this. It is almost a relief to let his gaze rest on the woman shaping clay at the table, the silver threads in her curly brown hair lit up by morning sun, or on the sleeping shape of the sculpture.

            He returns the phone to its cradle, cautiously, as though it, too, were a precious work of art.

            "I couldn't help hear your end of the conversation," Christine said. "Is he all right?"

            "He is now." David takes a big breath and hopes he doesn't sound quite as dazed as he feels. "It's nothing to do with us, by the way. His aunt nearly overdosed last night. He got to her just in time. She's okay now."

            "Oh my god." Christine wipes her hands on her jeans and rushes to David to take both his hands in hers. "He didn't say anything about that to me."

            "He wouldn't, would he?"

            For a moment they stand in silence. They talk about his son briefly, then revert to silence. David's head is bowed. His eyes are closed. When he opens them, they fall on the sculpture again.

    "She's a goddess, isn't she?" he asks, letting go of Christine's hands.

    "It's only Sleeping Beauty," she says.

    "Only." Once more he steps around the sculpture. The hairs on his arms prickle. He feels Christine's eyes on him. He fears she can read his thoughts. He fears her judgment, fears what it will mean to him.

    "I guess more than 'only.' I've had her in my heart for years. So here she is," Christine says.

            "Gives me goose bumps." Again he turns from the sculpture to Christine and looks straight into her eyes.

    For a while she returns his look in bewildering silence. He feels his lips tingle. Her slate gray eyes are calm, like the sea on a cloudy day. Quite suddenly, her wide mouth spreads even wider into one of her captivating smiles. He sees her head bend back in a familiar surrender to joy. It's how she used to smile twenty-nine years ago, exactly like that.

            Her eyes are gentle, like her hands on the clay. He thinks he can trust them and rest in their gaze. But he also feels uncertainty flutter with invisible wings, and no telling if they are dove or bat or griffin wings. Who have they become? He reaches out to her again, and she places her left hand on his right. The gold of her ring catches the light. He closes his hand over hers. Suddenly she bursts out laughing.

            "You're not so different," he says.

    She raises her right eyebrow. He joins her laughter.