Recently I read an anthology of short stories “What is Not Yours is Not Yours” written by Helen Oyeyemi. Ms Oyeyemi writes a form of magical realism in which she morphs well known fairy and folk stories into her own modern day renditions. I found the technique fascinating especially as magical realism doesn’t generally appeal to me. The following is my attempt at something similar. As an experiment I’ve written the mythical part of the story in the present tense. I invite comments.
The sleepy Cotswold village of Kidlington woke up one spring day in 2016 to an unexpected visit of three busloads of Asian tourists. The residents had had their village recorded as the largest Cotswold village; but, apart from this classification, they knew of no particular aspects of their community, which could, or indeed should, attract tourists. Due to an impenetrable language barrier, the villagers are unable to question their visitors and so local speculation ran the gambit. Their story spread quickly even as additional coaches arrived. The unexplained events became local if not national news resulting in impromptu coverage by a number of press teams. These individuals took photographs and interviewed residents but were also unable to discover the motivation behind the visits. Their interviews included Rosy, the elderly lady who explained that a tourist had requested permission, in sign language, to use her bathroom and, upon emerging had her companion photograph her standing in front of the porch under a profusion of fragrant pink rose blooms. They interviewed another gentleman who said that his front garden had been photographed repeatedly. The camera shot which covered this interview showed a typical English garden with mounds of flowering rose bushes.
If we backpedal almost 65 years to that same village of Kidlington and step outside the original village boundary we come upon to the grounds of a rich industrialist who built a secluded home for his young wife. He filled his garden with of roses and among the roses is a decorative fishpond. We see his wife sun bathing and dozing beside the pond. She dreams, or is she awake for she talks to a frog? She tells the frog, “Ah, if only we had a child!” to which the frog replies “Your wish shall be fulfilled; before a year has gone by you shall have a daughter.”
Now she sits and gazes into the pond to admire wriggling black tadpoles. She regards them as confirming symbols of fertility. Quickly, she stands, her skirt swirling around her ankles, and runs into her home. She dismisses the servants, and prepares a meal for her husband. When he arrives home, she greets him with a kiss, and they dine over champagne. They retire to their bedchamber to make ardent love throughout the night. In the morning, she tells him that she knows that their joint wish is fulfilled, and that she is carrying their daughter.
Of course she is right and in due course, the industrialist’s wife gives birth to a girl who is so pretty that the industrialist decides to throw a celebratory feast at her baptism. He draws up a list of guests and includes their ten closest female relatives. His wife hesitating points out that there is another, eleventh relative who lives in the Outer Hebrides. She is a bad-tempered reclusive old maid who always has a mean word on her lips. The happy new parents rationalize that as she lives so far away she would never come to their celebration. They decide that even an invitation would be wasted on her. Besides, says the practical wife and mother, “We only have twelve Royal Crown Derby dinner services for the high table.”
The baptism goes smoothly with Rosamund, the baby, dressed in a ridiculously long hand-smocked white dress. The ensuing feast is a great success, and when the baptismal cake is cut and speeches made each of the ten female relatives bestows a special gift. The first gives an engraved bible to symbolize virtue. The second gives an heirloom set of carved ivory brushes and combs for her boudoir to symbolize her beauty. The third gives a shining pearl necklace to symbolize riches. The fifth an engraved silver mug to symbolize sobriety, and so on around the table. Just before the tenth stands to make her gift, the guests hear the sound of brakes squealing, a door slamming and in walks the Hebrides aunt. Her hair is disheveled, her clothing black, and her face screwed into an angry scowl. She strides up to the crèche in which Rosamund sleeps and tosses in a diamond and agate broach. She turns to the parents and, before they can apologize, yells “Your daughter shall, on her sixteenth birthday prick her finger causing her to fall and hit her head and,” she pauses before lowering her angry voice into a throaty snarl, “and die.” She turns and makes a whirlwind exit. The astonished guests hear her car speeding down the drive and away.
The proclamation is followed by a horrified uproar, when everyone speaks at once. She waits a few minutes and then the tenth female relative stands. She gently taps her glass with a fork to get attention for she is mild mannered and soft spoken. “My gift is this ancient woven silk shawl which was to symbolize longevity but now symbolizes that it shall not be death, but a deep sleep of a hundred years, into which Rosamund shall fall.” Her words cause as much disbelief and chatter as those of the Hebrides aunt. The party quickly disperses as all ponder on the improbability of death caused by pricked fingers and the nonsensical concept of a hundred year sleep.
Time passes and the gifts of the women are plenteously fulfilled. Rosamund grows into a beautiful woman. She is modest, good natured and wise and is loved by all. Her parents are solicitously protective and shield her from all sharp objects. Her sixteenth year comes and goes. The family settles into their collective silent belief that the Hebrides curse was the unkind words of an unhappy old woman. Life goes on; Rosamund gets married and has a daughter who is baptized Rosa to distinguish her from her mother. In time Rosa grows up and has a daughter. Rosa’s daughter’s beauty outshines that of both mother and grandmother and so she becomes known as Rosamund-the Beauty.
When grandmother Rosamund approaches sixty-four years she plans a special birthday celebration to be held the weekend after her birthday in the house of her childhood in Kidlington. Her daughter whose birthday is around the same time is now thirty-six and so they decide to celebrate with a joint birthday cake frosted with the words “Happy Birthday, 100 Years” and decorated with garlands of pink sugar roses. Rosamund-the-Beauty who is now sixteen accompanies her mother and grandmother.
On the day of her birthday Rosamund pricks her finger as she puts on her diamond and agate broach. The prick is so sharp and such a surprise that she falls, and hits her head on the floor. She sustains a mild concussion, an ambulance is called. Hours later the Emergency Room sends grandmother Rosamund home to be carefully watched by loving daughter and grand-daughter.
The following afternoon an intern resident doctor makes a house call. Although it is March 1st the weather is unusually warm for England. He drives an open white convertible MG. He passes through the small gate house which is almost obscured by climbing roses. He drives up to the house. Everything is sleepily quiet; the only sound is that of his car engine and his wheels making a scrunching noise on the gravel drive. He shuts off his engine and stares up at the house which looks as though it is about to be smothered by the rose vines creeping across its façade. He steps out of his car and walks to the front door. The air is heavy with silence. He knocks; the sound seems to be sucked up by the silent air. He knocks again and then, receiving no response enters calling as he does so “Anyone home?” he has the uncanny impression that the house sleeps; He speculates that the excitement of the previous day may have taken its toll for even the dog doesn’t stir. The silence becomes more enveloping; it makes him yawn. He fights the desire to sleep and thinks about his mission even questioning whether his patient might still be alive. He vaults up the stairs taking them two at a time. Grandmother Rosamund’s bedroom door stands open. He enters. This room is the epicenter of the house’s entranced sleep. Rosamund lies sleeping on her bed softly covered by a rose embroidered comforter. He reaches and takes her hand in his. He checks her pulse; it is normal. He is about to wake her when he sees the Sleeping Beauty. Rosamund-the-Beauty sleeps in a lounge chair beside the window. Her long hair curls down over her chest which gently moves up and down in her slumber. He can’t resist her loveliness, he has to touch her. He glances around the room once more and deduces that he is not observed. He walks over to her and stands beside her wrap in admiration. The he leans over and gives her a discrete kiss. She and her grandmother awake and, instead of consternation, greet him as though he were Prince Charming himself. They invite their Prince Charming to join their celebration the following day. This is when he sees the 100 year cake and discovers that since grandmother Rosamund’s birthday is February 29th this is her sixteen birthday celebration.
Some people in Kidlington believe that their strange visitors are readers of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale of “Sleeping Beauty” and that a poor translation made Kidlington into King’s Town. They come to admire the rose hedges and thickets which, the Brothers Grimm tell us, surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s home.