Tennyson’s Prophecy

It is hard to understand the way I chose to die, unless you understand the way I lived. It is easy to write about forbidden love—in fact, isn’t that the very essence of every great story? Behind the wars, the valor and shame, behind the politics stand two people drowning in love. It certainly gets old, reading over and over about the passions of others; passions that all too often fade once the cover is closed and the reader moves on to fresher material. If Romeo wouldn’t have killed himself in a fit of angst, would he have stayed true to Juliet forever? Or would she come home from a visit with her mother to find him in bed with Rosaline? We’re happy they die. They can remain together in perfection while we observe something beautiful, preserved.

Still, when that choice is before you, you don’t think about what the storybooks will say about you. Call it loveblind, call it hormones, call it fate. We are all swept away on strong currents, and although we can attempt to steer a little, ultimately we can only follow the path set before us. Even when you’re living in a storybook tale, even when you’re acting out a destiny long since determined, the choice that leads to your fall is just as simply made. I did not choose him, really; I do not choose to breathe or blink or smile. I used to view the world through ancient magic. The threads of the tapestry I wove guided my fingers, and they formed a vision of what passed below. I knew to turn was death. Sometimes, living out your destiny is worth dying for.

Times have changed. In a world that buys blankets made by machines and small underfed children in faraway places, my weaving was replaced with something my watchers deem more practical. There was a time I viewed the world outside my tower window with an enchanted mirror, painting swirls of color and passing faces that caught my breath with their beauty. But now, in this world of technology, I watch the world through the glare of a computer screen. The irony is not lost on me. I, a forgotten relic of a past now reduced to children’s cartoons and a handful of performers, remain alone in my tower surrounded with the glories of the modern age. The magic of my tapestry may be gone, but wisps of uncanny power still linger in the corners. Enough to keep my tower provisioned. Enough to keep me secret. Enough to keep me cursed.

Still, I was not without entertainment. Although I could not turn to watch life unfold before me, I could watch the reflection as I manipulate pixels to create beauty. Some days I envied them, able to chart their own course. But although they could choose where they traveled, they coasted through their lives. It seemed as if they would lose beauty altogether, the way they lost magic and wonder. When I saw his reflection through the screen, I finally understood. The story they’d told of me, for centuries, became prophesy. I was too afraid, before, to sacrifice myself. They told those tales anyway, concealing the cowardice that kept me bound. But eons later, in the moment when I saw him again and finally knew what I’d been waiting for, I lost my fear in a wave of love. It was not a love for the storybooks. It was not the blazing passion of two Italian lovers. It was the love of a mother for her child, of a queen for her country, of a goddess for her people. I understood, in that moment, sacrifice. And as I turned and sealed my fate, the million images I’d made, the stories I told myself in my mind to retain my grasp on reality, began to drift away. Those dim, dusty images paled in comparison to the vividness of the life I experienced.

I brushed away cobwebs as I made my way down the long unused staircase. The stones were steep and I could feel their chill through the soles of my slippers. When I reached the bottom, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to leave, after so many centuries of concealment; but the doors sighed open for me, satisfied. I stared over the doorstep into the world, my hand on the edge of the door frame. I could feel the magic humming beneath my hand, an almost tangible presence. I could feel the yearning for release, the need to complete its task at last, and knew that at last the tale was drawing to a close. It faded from view as I stepped out, and I heard the rumble of collapsing stones behind me, like distant thunder.

I settled into the boat, feeling the familiar grooves as if I’d rested here forever. I savored the scents that washed over me and watched the world float by in colors so bright they made my eyes ache. I saw flowers the color of his lips, grass the brilliant green of his eyes, heady wheat the color of his hair. I died amidst the splendor of an opulent summer day, and I was at peace.

It was the view of after that I did not expect. I remained, a hovering spirit lacking a corporal presence, and watched my body in the frail wooden boat wending its way down the river. When I turned my gaze ahead, I saw him again. He stood by the water, eyes following the approaching craft. Falling now into the pattern long set before me, I watched the boat make its way to the shore.

I heard his exclamation, the shock and curiosity of his friends. I did not expect the surprised admiration sounding in their voices. I did not expect him to wonder aloud at my beauty, to offer a prayer for heaven’s grace. I did not expect to be mourned, like this, by strangers. I did not expect to be the one to remind these wayward people of beauty; but I did, and the satisfaction of fulfilling my purpose released me, at last, from this world.