“Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Thro’ the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.”
– The Lady of Shalott, Lord Alfred Tennyson
Veiled she stood, watching through the lace thin curtains of her bedroom. Like a waking silence, all was still except for the woman’s lip-drawn breath upon the panes. I had been watching her for some time now, the lady of the mansion.
The house itself was a grand Victorian, penetrating, regal against the wild, untamed landscape. It had rounded carvings, angular and ivory like bones upon its outset. Its weather-beaten paint was a pale yellow and it looked first like freckles, second like tears over the withering wood.
When I had first seen the house I was bewitched by its spell and it drew me in close like a calling apparition. But its hold upon me soon faded when I glanced upon its guest. For none held the charm, none the intrigue of the lady of the mansion.
She was looking out towards the azaleas, neatly trimmed rows eagerly waiting to bloom. And although her view was fixed upon them, her sight was elsewhere. On her fading dream perhaps, her passing regret, on the secret that she held? What was in her past? What truth lay behind that deep outstretching gaze? She was a sphinx, mesmerising as the dawn and the youth within my heart could not but long to tame her mystery.
I stood from afar, seeking for that which was unreachable but I knew it was all in vain. For the clouds were clearing and the wattles now painting a gentle yellow under the warming tide. They were the heralds from the hills passing their sentence and I knew it would not be long. For my weeks of watching had drawn closely by. Her time in this mansion was coming to an end.
The lady stepped back, passing out of sight and appeared once again from the far right window. No curtain passed over her, no linen hung itself to shield the sun. It was just glass and nothingness that separated us now and her details were laid before me. I could see the intricate shadings of her dark flowing hair, even the snowflake patterns of her dress. Glistening lace, it wove like dolphins caught in time, casting crescents of thread. It danced upon her elegant frame slow and unpredictable. Her skin was like porcelain under the glint of the hiding sun, a trickle of melancholy arising from the subtle imperfections of her face. But in those imperfections, in those untamed tracings of her countenance, was held the vastness of beauty untouched. And her eyes. Her hazel eyes, they lingered softly on the waking light of dawn. I could see sorrow and peace, longing and remorse. Guilt, apathy, tragedy and ambivalence. But how? How could eyes bear all that within them? How could that woman hold the weight of a thousand memories in one unmoving portrait?
Again and again these questions haunted me while the morning sun overtook. And then, as if all my past interpretations were like fleeting whispers in the wind, she shifted. With faint rhythmic steps she walked to the balcony and propped her elbow on the balustrade. In one harmonic motion she leant down with her back, casting her chin upon slender fingers. Her lips parted and she exhaled a sigh. A sigh both simple and complex.
There was something in her now. Something lonely in her gaze. As if she stood by herself at the edge of the world, having seen all that she had wished to see, having heard all that she had wished to hear, and feeling absolutely alone. She was like me. I could feel her semblance reverberating through my inner being. Two of one kind. Like a duet of silent apparitions, fading away into the ocean’s chorus.
And then I understood. My heart had seen it wrong. She was like me but not the same. She too felt the things I did but the truth laid bare, it burned me. Anguish and despair, they ate within and my heart was rended asunder. The secret that she held was now the curse that I must bear. For in her eyes lay the drawn out longing for another. One whom she also had not touched. One who remained impossible to reach.
Then I cursed the sun that bore me, the sun who made me wake. Why did I have to watch her, why did I have to wait? She who looked ever forward, the one who never saw me. The lady of the mansion, her gaze now understood.
I bargained up above to the one who left me here. “Let her see me,” I cried out. “Do not hide me from her view.” I found my hands wet with sadness, my isolation manifest. I was down upon the ground now with my palms upon the mud. Painful longing was now my own but this could not be the end. The fear of regret stood monolithic, coaxing me into action. Then the whisper of my ghost called deep from dark within. Perhaps it had been ever calling, perhaps I had not heard. But this chance now before me, I would not let it escape so I began the search within myself for my own particular secret. For if we were alike, the lady and myself, then maybe unknown to me I contained my own glittering enigma.
Sifting through the river stones, I traversed my faded memories. I remembered the dancing monarch butterflies with their hypnotic, orange gowns, free as new lovers in the morning wind. I heard the calls of all the birds as they sung to their newborn chicks. The whistle of the fairywren, the kookaburra laughing and the chasmic song of the warbling magpie. But as more and more images and recollections came to light, my isolation still prevailed. For all those memories had been from a far off, solemn distance.
I wondered at the sun. Why was I restricted so? I panned and squinted searching and within that stream of loneliness I found it, the treasure of my own.
A coil of gold, the truth unravelled bearing my forgotten name. And I laughed at the fatal truth, the secret within the secret. For now I knew that I myself would also be watched when the time came. When the mansion opened its doors to me.
Alone I sit on the north-west room, quill and finished letter within my hand. Three months have passed, the flowers have bloomed and I know my time has come. I open up the envelope and seal the fold in wax, reflecting on all that the letter dictates. It writes of passion and tranquility, desires and regret. Of solitude, nostalgia, weakness and acceptance. For all such of these have I now known. I take one last look out the window to where I’d stood and as always my view is skirted for the ruling mansion forbids me. Its curse of looking forward, of never looking back.
But I have long since decided and I refuse to accept its scheme. So I write with my quill upon the envelope in bold resounding ink.
To the one who comes after