Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.
Our couch is green;
the beams of our house are cedar;
our rafters are pine.”
The Song of Solomon 1 ESV
This little theatre is more alive than any other in my household. I fill it with conversation and characters who come alive for each moment my spotlight descends upon them. Dressed in their finery they are both perfect company and ideal models for when I decide to spend my afternoons sketching faces and figures. They are ultimately so respectful of my space, always showing up in their highest fashion. They acquiesce to my demands and I am never disappointed with the time I spend with them.
Nobody breaks the spell which I cast each afternoon after my midday rest. Sometimes another comes with a flannel and a clay pot bowl of iced water but there are times she opens the door and watches me when she thinks I am sleeping. I play along until the door closes and after I have counted to one hundred and eighty seven, my eyes still thick with sleep, I throw back the covers and attend to my cardboard universe.
In the corner of the room near the front bay window is my desk. Upon it stands a blue globe. I painted over it with the colour of grandfather eyes and stuck golden stars upon its surface. This acts as the heavens to my players when they need to look up or consider portents both good and bad. They are rarely bad. Everyone knows that a good tragedy is as important and necessary as any comedy.
Recently I have been unable to change the script, each scene coming to me from sleep. I must play it out before I can move on to another. An accident in the Tiber, my sleeping beauty is still. I tried to rescue her but as they pulled me out, half-drowned myself, I let her go. Now she is in the studio upon the boards. Even when I surround her with nobility and servants she does not move.
She has become my Magdalena and I am lost in wilds of her everlasting beauty.
My tiny Magdalena seemed so desperate in the river. I saw her fighting to breathe but I wasn’t there. The other tells me she was never there and the Tiber is of another continent but I know what is real. I will not allow them to blind me in my seclusion. I will not give in to their confusion.
Each afternoon, I position her centre stage. I give her a bed upon which to sleep and the finest fabric to adorn her body. She is central to all which I dream which comes in instalments, a tele-series of happenings formed from the heat of this room after lunch. It is always heady after midday. Like a small boy I fight the urge to nap but am rewarded in my dreams of her.
I swear the music drifting through the gaps in the wooden shutters is Sicilian. The workmen’s guitars are unapologetic. I don’t want them to stop but at some point the curtain has to fall. There has to be an end. Today there are conspiracies at court and the Pope has a vested interested in colonisation. His advisors arrive on the scene, come to rouse my flame haired love. Still, my beauty sleeps; like me, perpetually in bed.
I am caught when so involved in the lives of my characters, I don’t hear the other come up to to my room and open the door. As soon as I smell her Coco-Mademoiselle, the spell breaks and my Magdalena’s breath once again becomes shallow. The room quickly becomes overcrowded and as I disperse the gathering I fall back upon my pillows, sweating.
As the other gently wipes away my delirium, I yearn to return to the stage with my noblemen, my courtiers, my jesters, my servants and of course, my beautiful Magdalena. She is my sleeping beauty and I, her creator. Together we have a lifetime of soul swapping and oil painting between us. Together we have danced and loved from graveyards and stables to the richest of tables in this paper world of mine; so precise and so filled with finery and the details of life that many so often omit in haste of the living of it all.
But my eyes are closing. The next scene is getting ready to write itself and I can do nothing other than surrender.
Text: A short story De Merisi by JL Nash
Images: Antique German miniature theatre, 19th century.