Once there lived a woman who might have been beautiful or might have not. These determinations always change, depending on who you ask. Certainly though she was quiet and shy. In her heart, she surrounded herself with a lovely garden, and the garden with a high stone wall. In reality, she lived alone in a simple cottage at the edge of a village, and her days were filled with neighbours and shopping and sweeping floors. She helped Old Kate with firewood. She talked politely to the lame tinker when he came to her open gate - buying this or that little thing from him so that he had pennies for food or new shoes. And she made pies for the summer fete every year.
Never did the woman imagine herself as beautiful. But she did imagine roses. She dreamed one day they would grow all over her cottage, wild and gentle, brambled with magic. She dreamed a wall to hide the village. And no more gate. Then the world would become small, fragrant, lovely. It would not matter how she looked, for she would be surrounded by a private beauty. It would not matter that no one helped her with firewood or understood that the noise of the fete was exhausting. And it would not matter that she was alone, because a woman in a secret garden was naturally alone.
What would you do with her story? Would you build a wall and grow a tangle of roses, softness and quiet, because that's what she wants and it sounds so beautiful? Maybe you'd add a few shelves of books, and throw away all mirrors as being irrelevant. Or does it seem to you that she has surrendered to unhappiness, and so you'd have Old Kate, the tinker, the villagers, celebrate her kindness, to make her smile and realise she is not alone after all ... or perhaps send a prince walking through her gate, holding a rose in return for her heart? Would you call her beautiful?
I think perhaps the fulfillment of her story might tell us something about ourselves.
illustration by john william waterhouse