(For Peter Dickinson, inimitable inspirer, and other world seer.)
Welcome. Ladies, make yourselves at home. Gentlemen, please remove your hats. Soon we will embark on an unforgettable journey. Once the curtains part, you will find yourselves in a land where fairytales come true, and everything is possible. If you are sitting behind a desk, staring at a computer screen, take several deep breaths and relax. If you are on your couch at home, boil some hot tea and enjoy it as the ride begins. If you are following this on one of those things called a cell phone, put it away, and we will journey together later. Minds must be open in order to enter this place, and bodies must be free. That means that tight corsets are discouraged, and cozy pajamas with footsies are a plus. Are we all ready? Okay… Close your eyes…
Bumpy, bumpy, bumpy. You are jostling along a dim road at twilight, and the interior of the buggy you are riding in is replete with lush satin padding and lacy white curtains. You peer out, but rain slashes the windows. Inside, it is warm, and the soft mink muff in your lap keeps your hands toasty. Up ahead, you can hear the driver whipping the horses- Climb, climb, climb!! The buggy is inching upwards, crawling through the night, and the incline seems to get steeper with each passing moment. You have the sense that you are spiraling slowly up, up, up and away, although you have no evidence to justify such a feeling. To your left is a friendly man in a top hat who has guided you here, but who doesn’t say much. On the seat opposite you is a kindly older woman, who also warms her hands in a muff and smiles at you in the dark.
Despite the bumping carriage, and despite the angry rain, you slip off into soft, warm dreams. When you awake, everything has changed. For one thing, the interior of the carriage is much lighter now. The lace curtains flutter, and soft morning light streams through. The woman is still smiling at you from across the seat, her cheeks plump and creased. The man is looking out his window, pulling back the curtains with one long, bony finger. The driver has eased up on the horses, and they trot on at a leisurely pace, the bumpy road having give way to a smooth, easy passage. You pull back your curtain, and behold! You are in the most magical place you have ever seen.
The streets of this place are wide and flat, and lined on each side by giant lilac trees. Tiny, fragrant petals rain down, creating a living portrait of Heaven. Couples stroll arm in arm, pink-cheeked and laughing. Some of the men have long black mustaches that curl up at the corners, and others walk with silver-tipped canes. The ladies wear their hair in long ringlets of blonde or red, black or shiny brown. They wear flouncing layers of petticoats and skirts, and their skin is soft and white. Many are dimpled, and some seem to float just barely off the ground, though try as you might, you cannot seem to locate their wings.
You sit back in your seat, so excited you can hardly hold still. “Just wait,” says the man in the top hat, holding his finger to his lips. He leans out and says something to the driver, and moments later the carriage comes to a halt. When it starts again, the top has come down, and you are now riding in the full glory of morning, the lavender-tinted light filling the carriage, spilling into crevices and scenting the day with perfume. Everyone’s faces look bright and white in this morning light, and you get the sense that everything is very soft and clean. Your eyes are wide with wonder, and so are the eyes of your riding companions, the kindly woman and the mysterious man. Even the horse seems to trot a bit more haughtily now, his head held high in the air.
The carriage turns right down an avenue of gently floating petals, and men on unicycles. The men’s lips are painted a smiling red, and they lift hats off their heads in salute. Stately mansions line the road, and huge trees reach up and over, meeting at the top and forming a floating, magical tunnel. The smell of lilacs is everywhere, in your hair, on your skin, in the air. You cup your hands and petals fall into them, soft, intoxicating petals. You inhale the fragrance deep into your lungs, dizzy with the ticklish aroma. In moments, your hands are full of petals, and you throw them into the air, joyous! They cascade down leisurely, decorating your head, your lap, the plush seats of the carriage. The men on unicycles honk small horns, smiling and waving as you pass. They hold top hats full of gold, and offer you pieces in exchange for lilac petals. You trade happily, filling your pockets with gold, and flinging handfuls of petals over your shoulder as the buggy carries on. The sound of honking horns dances behind your back as the carriage turns another corner.
On this street, children play with balloons, and fluffy white dogs leap and bark. The children stop to look at you as you pass, and from behind their backs they pull out huge lollipops, lavender with white swirls! They offer them to you, and you take as many as you can, filling the back seat until it is stuffed, the sugar crystals sparkling in the sun. You throw handfuls of lilac petals to the children, and they laugh and clap in joy, dancing and twirling under the trees. The dogs leap in the air, and you see that their hair has been braided, curled, swept into side parts. They are glorious dogs, puffy dogs, dogs so soft you want to put your face in their fur and fall asleep forever. The carriage makes another turn.
Now you have reached the peak of town. The avenue is filled with streaming people, many of whom peer curiously into your buggy and then offer huge, generous smiles. Little boys stand in pedal-pushers and suspenders, releasing balloons into the sky. Little girls ride on their Daddy’s shoulders, eyes wide in wonder, eyelashes thick and black. People wave from the sidewalks and bow at the waist, and you wave back like royalty on a float. The carriage has been climbing steadily for hours now, days, months, maybe even years, and as the horse trots along, his hooves clipping the sidewalk, you finally see how far you’ve come. At the edges of the petal-strewn boulevard, spindly iron fences have been planted, painted white and linked like friendly arms. Beyond them is outer space, stretching out around you on every side. It is black, twinkling with stars, and studded with spots of color that can only be distant, spinning planets. Suddenly you realize you are on the very tip-top of the world.
As you realize this, everything falls into place. This gorgeous town is a spiral that climbs around a central point, an imaginary, buried, earthly pole. Or perhaps you’re not on Earth anymore. It doesn’t matter. Everything here is quite lovely. Lavender lilac trees sprout out into space, freeing their petals to the universe. The petals float away with centrifugal force, decorating the silent atmosphere. You chip off a piece of lollipop, and throw it with all of your might. It sails through the air, but once it crosses the barrier of the white fences, it slows down and spins, leisurely, unburdened, free. You watch a little girl pull away from her father on the sidewalk, and approach the green grass at the boundary. Her pigtails bounce, and her knees are chubby. Her father quickly rushes to her side and takes her hand, pulling her back to the safety of the sidewalk. No little girl of his is going to float off into outer space!
And then you look down, down the boulevard of floating petals, past the jolly men on unicycles, squinting your eyes to see through the shadows of the arc-forming trees. You realize now that the magical road dips down on either side of where your carriage sits parked, and that you are as high as you could ever be. No point is higher than this, unless you are willing to relinquish gravity and float away. But who’s to say that that would be up, anyway? So you pause, and you giggle, and you break off a piece of lollipop and put it in your mouth, letting the sugar dissolve on your tongue. Eventually you will have to go down, down the road that came from The Bottom of Nowhere. Where exactly is The Bottom of Nowhere? Well, it’s down there, in a distant swirl of brown, and grey, and rain. But for now, you are on top of the world, and everything is fragrant and light, and people smile and wave, and sugar melts on your tongue. You move your head in slow motion as petals rain down around you, buggies bounce down the road, and outer space reaches out in every direction, black, silent, and full of twinkling stars.
Now the lavender curtains whoosh silently closed, although a faint fragrance of lilac remains. You are sitting in your chairs, or on your couches, or perhaps have sprawled out on the floor. Take your time. Have a stretch if you need one. Your coats and hats are in the lobby, and the temperature outside is lovely. Just perfect. Thank you for coming this evening, and please be sure to tuck your children in with a wish and a prayer. They may be journeying to Lavender Land tonight, though chances are they will be going somewhere new and shiny, but just as magical. Get home safely, and best wishes to you all. I bid you a sweet adieu…