It always begins in the cinders. The last sparks, hot black in anthills of ash. She expects nothing, stooped over the fire, her fist moulded over the poker like melted wax. For the likes of her drabness is the requisite mantle. And a mantle is what they wore – what all the women wore, the black headpiece with which they covered their head in the church. They bent their knees there as she does now in front of hot coals, but the coals there roared with the lascivious threat of the hellflame, consuming them from the inside if they dared to look into the heat and like it.
It is all but quenched now. She has the impression of a bishop in plain garb striding to smite her with his mitre. Disapproval was a dagger that was slid in quick, removed and wiped clean. She shakes her head. Shakes off the past.
‘This is the me I would be if I were old’ thinks Freya.
She is bent into the fire, she heaves and grunts.
Time running out. She runs in her beautiful skirts. But it is midnight and too late. The world is disappearing. Her car, the music, the house, disappearing. It doesn’t go on forever and her feet are so cold. Glass slipper.
The lake is frozen, it’s never frozen, not in this part of the world. But she is a metereologist, she knows what is possible. In some parts of the world the sea freezes. In some parts of the world the ice of ages is melting. She walks onto the lake. The trees are trapped within it, their hand branches reaching up.
Yes Atlantis and also Melcha reaching up out of the lake when her love turned cold and she wished for escape. But she is trapped under the ice, banging and shouting. ‘A glass ceiling’ Freya laughs.
She was slave to her emotions for the man. He made her a prisoner of his passion.
Nothing lasts. That is not to say that nothing changes. That is not to say that what went before is best and that present and future are the fading light of dusk, that the past is all aglow. Not always. But an old lady feels the cold in her joints, she knows the end is coming and that when winter hints there is not much time left. This is in the normal way of things, when life unfolds at its present accepted pattern, our expectations now extended with the unfurling of our life-span. Once 30 was the age of ending. Now we live thrice that. What does that mean in memory, all that folding and folding over, overlaying the sharp elements of what we call fact, chiseling them down so there is no scalpel for truth. There is no veracity. There is no eye witness testimony that makes any sense.
‘When I was a young woman’ say this old lady ‘there was a movement for truth, for values for wholesomeness. People wanted an end to flailing, scaling heights, finding themselves at the end, ladderless, vulnerable and alone, most of all alone. The old people are the ones with the stories. By the firesides, the seanchai, the storyteller with his spun tales as the old ladies spun the sheeps wool in the corner into thread. They told all those stories, like Melcha and the O’ Donoghue, Finn Mc Chuail who leapt mountains. Diarmuid and Grainne’s betrayal. All those stories, stories of everthing. Every story that needs to be told. Nothing new. Nothing new evermore needed.
Those stories were told in the folds of clothes as the congregation of folk leaned into the fire. The turf smoke and tobacco held the resonance of words, the lyrics to their songs of life. They sang too of course, those sean nos singers took to the floor, their eyes closed. The song was inside them. The hum of it was the tune of their blood, they had to get at it and they tapped out the beat with their feet.
The neighbour would take his hand as he sang to offer comfort. The heart becomes so sore in the exploration of age old emotion. Like drinking fire.
‘How do you know these things?’ Freya.
‘They are in me.’ she answers. ‘Our great great grandfathers bring us back 200 years and it is the blink of an eye and the altering of everything. Those tiny changes bit by bit.’
‘Butterflies’ says Freya. ‘The butterfly wing causing a storm a thousand miles away.
‘A lover’s scorn causing a war’ says the old woman.
‘Butterflies’ she says, ‘a sign of dead souls, a creature so fleeting, it’s destiny to become a beautiful thing winged, hinged on both sides by beauty.’
At night it is moths by the icy lake. Her feet turning cold, her extremities, the fingers that are tough to the bone.
‘Did the prince ever come looking?’ wonders Freya.
‘There are princes everywhere, always looking’ says the woman. ‘Isn’t that life, my likeness, isn’t that love, that ridiculous thing. We stray from our mother’s breast, that touch, that companionship, that tenderness as she holds our faces between her hands. She pours love, oh if we are lucky to have such a mother, she pours love into us, so that we see ourselves loved and loveable. We take that in through our bodies, through the tips of our fingers, through the hair on our heads, through our cheeks, our round limbs. We soak it all in, it coats the malleable brain, like a marinade. And if we are not loved, then, there is instead a poison. I say we stray from our mother’s breast, her touch, her tenderness. Later we look, wishing to retrieve, not our mother, but that loveness back into our selves again. This mirror mapping of the cells, what we call soul, back again through another. So comes that burst of recognition. When you love it’s as if you already knew, it is not new, it is love anew. Synapses spark. Sparks fly.
So the prince takes the glass slipper and searches and if the truth be told the girl in cinders takes a mental brogue and goes out into the world to see if the shoe fits. Longing, looking.
‘But the brogue is made of leather and the slipper is made of glass?’ Says Freya. ‘What can endure?’
‘Love endures until the glass breaks, until the ice melts.’
‘Until somebody eats the shoe’ says Freya.