A Child In a Bubble
It is a beautiful evening. Sun is glinting off the swimming pool in your backyard, and dragonflies dance in the trees. The lawn is lush and green, and you have a fresh gin and tonic in hand, the sides of the glass slippery-wet with condensation. Sit back in the lawn chair and kick up your feet.
A bubble is floating by. A large bubble, almost invisible for the sunlight pouring through it from behind. It seems to be a gift from the sun, placed on his palm and blown directly to you.
Here! Have a look!
It expands and contracts as it floats, this heavy, wobbling bubble. A breeze blows it off course for a moment and it wavers, but its delicate walls remain intact. It lifts and dances on the air, and then catches a small, invisible current and slides your way again. Now it is inches away. Tiny rainbows roll on its surface, and you see that it is everywhere alive. You sit up, mesmerized, your dripping glass forgotten at your side. You lean closer, your nose nearly touching the bubble. Where has it come from? Why aren’t there others? You refocus your eyes, refining them to see other things, smaller things, and through the rolling rainbows, another world comes into focus.
A royal blue Rolls Royce is chugging up a steep avenue. Trolley-cars with waving, stripe-capped conductors roll up and down on silver rails, and in the distance far below, a glittering gem of sapphire suggests the Pacific. Tall, evenly-spaced flats line the road, and the smell of oranges and camellia is on the breeze. Eucalyptus sways, and pink-cheeked people are merry as they push strollers and lick ice cream cones.
A house. It is at the top of this stately hill, set apart by its spaciousness and individuality. It has a circular driveway and pillars on the front porch. An ‘Open House’ sign swings in the breeze. The Rolls Royce summits the hill, begins to wind south, nearly disappearing from sight, and then… red brake lights appear. A quick, almost-imperceptible turn of a small, cropped head in the front seat, and the car begins reversing. It parks in front of the house, on the street. A small family tumbles out. A father, quite proper in his pin-striped pants and ivory-tipped walking stick. A mother, lovely in a swirling skirt, and a small girl clutching at her swishing, skirted legs. No dog.
They begin to walk up to the house. The ‘Open House’ sign creaks gently on its hinges, a testament to the refreshing bay breeze. The small family winds through a latched (now unlatched) iron gate, and up through the garden towards the house. They pass yellow roses and red roses, pathway-hugging garden-beds full of roses. Expensive roses. Exclusive roses. Fragrant, bursting, intoxicating roses. At the front door, a perfunctory rapping (administered by the ivory-tipped-walking-stick-carrying Father), and a pause. The door swings open.
A lovely old woman with fairy-white hair swept back in a bun stands in the grand foyer. Hello! she calls, happy to see them. Come in, do come in! They enter the house. Up a winding, carpeted staircase (no sound when their feet fall), down a dark but cheerful hall (light shining in through open bedroom windows). Yes, she is chattering. My husband died this past November, and I simply can’t maintain the house on my own. Her skirts swish as she walks, and old ancestors peer down from their frames to examine the small girl who trails behind her Mummy, curls bobbing, manner curious but unafraid. I hate to sell it, but it’s really more of an albatross than a pleasure now, non? Come now, she says, leading the family into a huge, open room that overlooks the sweeping bay. Isn’t the view lovely? And it is.
As the adults chatter, the bouncy-haired child releases her mother’s skirts, and slips out into the hall. She presses her hands against the wall. Looks left, looks right. The ancestors smile down on her, happy, indulgent. It’s so nice to have a child in the house again, isn’t it?! She darts across to the nearest bedroom, a relatively small one, considering. The door is open, and it is emitting a soft, tinkling sound. Crystal. Alluring. Mummy and Daddy chat happily in the front room- Ah, Charles, isn’t this wonderful? Couldn’t you sit for hours and just look at the view? -Yes, dear, it is quite exquisite. I imagine the sunsets are stunning…
The sound of adults fades out behind her as the little girl merges with the room. It welcomes her heartily, with peach and white striped wallpaper arms, and a soft, steady breath that smells of old, crinkling paper. Come in! She sidles over to the mahogany desk by the window. It draws her. It is very neat, recently dusted, and gleaming with polish. Looked after. Loved. A heavy silver paperweight in the shape of a curved mermaid restrains some unruly papers, their edges curled and yellow. A breeze flutters in through the window.
The little girl sighs in sheer pleasure, turning this way and that. She presses her white skirt down with small, damp palms, and offers a curtsy. She twirls on one toe, and almost completes a full circle. She whispers something to the desk. Then she moves closer to the window, and sees the room’s real treasure. A lamp. On a polished table of cherry wood. The lamp has a silver stem, and a matching silver cord which releases its gorgeous (no doubt warm and yellow) light. At the bottom of the cord, a slowly-twirling, rainbow-dappled crystal. The maker of tinkling sounds. The lurer of small children into mysterious rooms. She sighs again, daring to reach out and touch it. The crystal winks back at her and spins a little faster, blaming its sudden dance on the wind. The curtains flutter. The little girl gasps and giggles.
The lampshade is as mesmerizing as the crystal. It is soft, white, and lacy. It is like a wedding dress, wrapped round the slim waist of a blushing bride. Its cutouts are shaped like teardrops and clovers. The little girl reaches out and traces her finger along its curving lines. She doesn’t have to ask. Already, she and the lampshade are easy, comfortable friends. They have an unspoken agreement. The lampshade sighs in pleasure as its contours are stroked, and the little girls giggles in delight. Samantha, her mum calls from across the hallway. Are you alright in there? Yes, Mum, she calls back, pressing a warning finger to her lips and hushing her new, inanimate (seeming) friends. I’m fine!
Another breeze tinkles the crystal, and the bottom of the fringed lampshade does a little dance. Samantha watches in wonder, wishing her skirt could flutter so prettily. She tries. She moves her feet and does a twirl, inspecting her skirt as she moves. It opens and lifts, a fluid bell, and then settles down round her ankles. She is satisfied. She returns to the lamp. Its fringes are still fluttering, smiling at her, and now they point outside. Look, they say. Admire the croquet gardens!
Samantha looks, and her hand flies to her mouth in reverence. Down, down, down below (oh, how far you would fall!), are the rolling green hills of a perfectly manicured lawn. Imaginary men in small black caps and shin-guards stride across it, swinging colorful wooden clubs. They swing, hit, and ahhhh… a white ball goes sailing through the air. The hedges are shaped like geometry and animals, and a wisp of lemonade floats through the air. It curls, somersaults, and climbs like a sea-snake, sliding over the windowpane and puddling at Samantha’s feet. She is suddenly very thirsty. Again, the breeze flutters, and the sheer white curtains dance in compliance. Samantha lifts one filmy, silken piece, and holds it to her eyes. She gazes out at the garden again, a child in disguise.
Now the lawn has rearranged itself, and no one plays on its grass. The roses dip and bend in the breeze, occasionally looking up to wink and wave. Samantha wonders if this is the Queen of Hearts’ garden now, the one Alice saw through the keyhole. It rolls and unfolds forever, as far as her eye can see, and then just as quickly, it is hemmed in by trees. Tall, dark spruce trees. Birds falling out of tree-top nests and gliding on the breeze. She giggles and presses the gauzy curtain closer to her eyes. It smells like antique perfume and dried roses. The garden appears to be layered with a film of white. She imagines giant bunny rabbits hopping over the hedges, kangaroo babies in their (rabbit?) pouches. Hybrid hoppers. Kangaroos with bunny ears. Bunnies with long brown tails.
Samantha, it’s almost time to go, dear, Mummy calls. Then, more quietly, And may I inquire as to how much you are asking? Samantha returns her gaze to the window, a miniature genie with her head swathed in silk. She sighs and communes with the garden, wishing Mummy and Daddy didn’t always make her leave. Just when the fun has started. She does an impatient little dance, a swaddled ballerina, and then lets the silk curtain fall from her eyes, her shoulders. She stands at the desk, and puts a consoling hand upon it. Yes, I have to go soon. She pinches the silver cord between her fingers, gives it a small shake, and delights in the crystal’s brief music. She looks at the garden, green again, not white, and blows it a kiss. I wonder if that’s Heaven, she thinks. It seems very possible. Likely, in fact. Shape-shifting marsupials, and suddenly snow-covered hedges. Imaginary men in black and white striped pants. Friendly, lemonade-scented air. Curled at her feet and snoozing.
She sighs, a melodramatic-child sigh, and waves goodbye to everyone. Then she skips out of the room.
The bubble has paused, and momentarily alighted on the tip of your little finger. You examine it in awe, lost in a tiny world. Through sliding rainbows, you watch the Rolls Royce roar to life and curve out of sight. The Pacific twinkles in the setting sun. Happy trees sway, holding hands. In the backseats of cars, seat-belted children clap and bounce. The ‘Open House’ sign swings and creaks, and the soft-haired old woman gently closes the front door.
In your own backyard world, a breeze ruffles the pool and lifts your hair. The bubble shivers, once, twice, and then…
Pops! Gone. You are left with a watered-down gin and tonic, and a spray of soapy film-flecks on your face. Au revoir.