Henrietta’s Dream Author: Lucy Palmer I could feel his disappointment.

It was a bitter lemon that no amount of goodwill would ever sweeten. Frankly, I’d have given up this pointless struggle years earlier. But I gritted my teeth and redoubled my efforts. ‘Gently, Hetty,’ he said. ‘You don’t need to attack it.’ I endeavoured to loosen up and let the music flow, as he’d told me practically every day since I was a little girl and the minstrel harp came up to my shoulder. But, as usual, the more I tried to relax, the more the knots tightened in my belly. My fingers tripped over each other, producing a sound so jarring that even my own insensitive ears were offended. I avoided looking at his face; I knew the pained expression I would find there. ‘Father,’ I said. ‘This is a waste of time. I have no skill.’ I looked at him, then. His forehead creased into a frown, and I saw a flicker of doubt in his eyes. But then his usual, maddening assurance returned. ‘I feel the music is strong in you, as it was in your mother,’ he said. ‘Her voice was rich and full like the call of the nightingale. Yours hides the same quality, like a jewel encased in stone. Only practice can free it.’ I cringed. As I always cringed when he talked like that. ‘I’m sorry,’ I murmured. ‘I know I’m a failure.’ ‘Never say that, Hetty. Never say that.’ Suddenly he looked old. I saw the lines that etched their way down the sides of his nose and around his mouth. ‘If I didn’t feel the music in you,’ he said, ‘I’d be more than happy to let it be.’ Then he added, more softly, ‘There is more to life than music, after all.’ I wasn’t sure that he really believed it. He took the harp from me and started to play, his long fingers almost blurring as they danced on the strings. A note caught at my heart. Fleetingly, a door opened, and I glimpsed the tidal wave that waited to engulf me – had been waiting, behind that door, from as far back as I could remember. I slammed the door shut and forced my mind to analyse the harmony. I noted the key and tempo. Allegro in C major, gradually drifting along until it reached a climax and intensified into a presto, affrettando into an unexpected E flat minor key. He was improvising, this man who had once played for kings. Now he only played for me. And for his apprentice, Lyndon, who was more of a son to him than I was a daughter. Lyndon, who would soon be my father’s son even in the eyes of the law.

He was a handsome man. It was only a dream. too colourless. at least. It did not touch the heart. But it wasn’t real. no doubt about it. in a daze. Then came the part of my daily lessons that I hated the most. I studied him while I pretended to straighten the tablecloth. that day. It was still dark when I opened my window. It came down to his shoulders. to the rhythm of otherworldly tunes. was something I was good at: writing down the tunes that sprang from my father’s fingers. They were still deep in conversation when I bid them goodnight. I lit a candle and lay back on my bed. wondering why I felt so extraordinarily elated. when my voice failed to crack and swerve off key. I retired early to bed. maybe. I imagined running my fingers through his hair. but even so. A pair of enigmatic blue eyes. The aria was a simple one. My father began to strum a light cantata and it was time for me to sing. I fell asleep wondering if my life would change very much once I was a married woman.I dipped my pen in the inkwell and began to sketch the notes on a sheet of parchment. I could not hold the pitch. I sailed through my music lesson without the usual agony. I knew very little about what passed between a man and his wife. I listened while Lyndon and my father discussed wedding arrangements. We danced until the . I thought I loved him. I said nothing. A lopsided grin. I did not know the meaning of love. I wasn’t a talkative kind of girl. A disturbing dream. black and fine as silk. The music was hypnotic. my dream stranger. to think. I went about my tasks. This. I told myself. My throat tightened painfully as I struggled with a voice that was too feeble. we had danced the night away. I listened to myself with disgust as I fell from sharp to flat. The music sparkled into a coda and found its resolution in a lively finale. The next morning. This time. there were others in the dimly lit forest – shadowy people who sang and played instruments I had never seen or even heard of before. Without a mother to advise me. truth told. I noticed my father’s surprised pleasure when my fingers forgot to stumble on the harp strings. That night. wanting to spend some time alone. I had danced with this stranger. My stomach relaxed as I became absorbed in my task. Lyndon arrived. but it spun my head in circles. Then I remembered my dream. yet. A frizzy halo of flaxen hair. or other girls to talk to. and I went downstairs to cook dinner. Finally. so they were used to my silences. I finished scribbling and replaced the pen in its stand. I woke up with the strangest kind of feeling. In a moonlit forest clearing. the ordeal was over. But I fell asleep and there he was. cheerful as ever.

and the wedding coming up and all. Go and have a rest. lest I should start to cry and never stop. ‘Hetty? Are you all right?’ ‘Yes. slammed it tight. father. Little did he know I was betraying him in my dreams. I took my shopping basket and went into town.’ I heard myself say. I’m fine. overpoweringly.’ he said. if he knew his betrothed was spending her nights with another man? . I couldn’t quite tell the boundary between true memory and the portrait of her face that hung above the mantelpiece.’ I took the road into town. yet it kindled a fire inside my belly. I heard him sing. I touched my lips. I felt it was the cause of too many unusual feelings and.’ I said. Then I woke up.. ‘Soon you’ll be singing like your mother. Not that I could remember her voice. you know I’ll never have a voice like hers.. ‘Hetty?’ my father was saying. I felt guilty.. But mine was closed. For it felt so real. however. ‘Father. In the morning. For I had another purpose in mind. My father beamed throughout my music lesson. On the third night. How would Lyndon feel. even though it was just a dream. And I felt guilty because of Lyndon. I had decided it was time to stop the dreaming. Not one word. What if he told me she’d never used lavender? Then. but at least I sang in key and did not stumble on the strings.moonlight paled with the coming of the dawn. It was only a light touching of the lips. remembering the stranger’s kiss. I associated her with the scent of lavender.’ ‘You looked as though you were going to faint. which was more real? The dream or the waking? That morning. from as far back as I remembered. my dear. Lyndon gave me a bunch of roses. a tenor voice that touched a listener’s heart. had being spoken between the two of us. ‘For the prettiest girl in town. but I never mentioned this to my father. even that memory would be shattered. So. So I put on a smiling face and did my best to look cheerful.’ I felt embarrassed and awkward. I still was very far from being a first-class musician. I opened my window and watched the sunrise. my body ached with the memory of the kiss. Like she was— I slammed the door closed. ‘I think a walk is all I need. cheerful as ever. I dared not open that door because of the tidal wave that was waiting to engulf me – had been waiting. but he kissed me.. ‘A bit of fresh air will do me good. behind that door. He kissed me deeply. the stranger did more than just brush my lips.’ he said. I’ve been pushing you too hard. and I wondered. He never said a word. Later. besides.

I had to speak now. This gown would have cost him most of his savings. I would tell him the truth. I realised that I was still dreaming. So I said nothing.’ he said. But it was already far. He knelt before me and wanted to fasten it around my wrist. perched on his stool. before it was too late. but I had to stop the wedding. I wanted to try it on immediately.’ He pointed to a chair. beaming. Lyndon. I wouldn’t have any dreams. That afternoon. lost in doubts and nameless fears. Then I realised. Nevertheless. The truth is. Lyndon came to me with another gift. it was all wrong. I was enraptured. Henrietta. The stranger was still there. . how much this marriage meant to my father. It would break his heart if I told him I didn’t want to marry Lyndon. Lyndon. ‘It’s beautiful. I withdrew further into myself. Yet I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting him. I had to tell my father. the less I looked forward to it. On it was draped a wedding gown fit for a queen.’ ‘Shadows are the fruit of our imagination. however crazy it might sound. my dear. On the sixth morning. I reasoned. I remained listless and confused. ‘Hetty. ‘Henrietta. The next few days. Whatever happened. ‘is everything all right?’ I wanted to say no. I was breathless. studded with twelve oval-faceted rubies. ‘Rubies for love and devotion. Everything’s fine. It was a silver bracelet.’ I wanted to tell him that I didn’t love him any more. I had never really loved him. with a pang. ‘Of course it is. If I slept soundly enough. they are insubstantial. So I said nothing. I woke up late. far too late. one way or another. it was only the memory that was fading when I awakened. I found him. over in one corner of the room. But instead I smiled and replied. like dreams.’ I flinched slightly as he clicked the clasp shut. I have a present for you. He almost certainly would not understand. Thank you for this lovely bracelet. I must not marry Lyndon.’ he asked.So I made my way to the apothecary and bought a sleeping potion. I went to my music lesson with the firm resolve that I would tell my father everything. Then I came to a decision. Why shouldn’t everything be all right?’ ‘I feel there’s a shadow between us. I was startled to notice that he didn’t look at all cheerful. feeling torpid from what seemed to be a dreamless sleep. The more I thought of marrying Lyndon.

” “Very well.” “Well. then. I took a change of clothing. a packet of dry biscuits. like the tresses of a primeval goddess. There.” “You haven’t asked me my name. That sounds good. too. toiletries. casting milky beams through the trees. really! You must know who you are. I would ask the stranger to stop haunting my dreams. “Who are you?” I asked. Henrietta. and a few trinkets – including the ruby bracelet that Lyndon had given me. at any rate. I had no idea what I would need. These were the first words I ever spoke to him. Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?” “Oh. if I must know who I am.” “Tell you what. I put them on. What’s your name?” “Henrietta. I packed my bag. The moon was full and round like a swollen udder. you can call me Fernando. I would like you to ask. sitting on the front step of my father’s house. and I found myself walking from the town into the forest. following the path through the forest that I remembered from my dream. I would tell him to leave me alone. I followed the panpipes along a winding path that ended on the banks of a fast-running brook. I fell asleep.” “Would you like me to?” “Yes. I guess I must be a shepherd.And there I was.” The dream faded and I was back in my bed. by this waterfall. come and meet me. not knowing if I would ever see it again. Something had to give! That night I resolved not to take the sleeping potion. drawn by a panpipe tune.” “Do you have a name?” “I suppose you think I must also have a name. to let me live my life the way it had to be. the music intermingled with the sounds of rushing water. When you wake up from this dream. I felt numb and light-headed as I slipped away in the misty dawn. Very well then. It gushed over a ledge high up on the cliff face and tumbled down. He stopped playing his panpipes and looked at me. one eyebrow raised. I would. The stranger stood there. . his back resting against the cliff. “Who am I? Hum. That sounds good. I walked along the stream until I found a great waterfall. In the predawn dark. a bottle of water. I’ll wait for you here. even more torn and confused than before. that’s a good question. I tiptoed out of the house carrying my walking shoes.

Henrietta?’ Fernando asked me. while a man with the head of a goat and a silver beard recited the wedding ritual and pronounced us man and wife. tureens. I finally found my old town. nothing ever changed in Fernando’s land. They stood under the trees. by the way. hunting horns and oboes – and many other instruments I’d never seen or even heard of before. though I hardly noticed. playing his panpipes. After many false turnings. There were centaurs and dwarves. . Suddenly. I stumbled through the undergrowth. Silver platters. I don’t know how to describe it – except to say that the colours were brighter. We were in a horseshoe valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Hunger gnawed at my belly. because it’s yours. We followed him through the waterfall. unable to speak. containing my old clothes. The years rolled by. giants and nymphs. he turned and walked into the waterfall. and feasting. Thank you so much. I followed him. lakes. The others were there. The wedding party never stopped – nor did the dancing. trenchers.Fernando was still standing there. elves and trolls. singing. Everybody feasted. And so did all the others. sundry items. Fernando played three sharp notes on his panpipes and dozens of white tablecloths appeared.” Fernando said to me. sylphs and ogres. too – the shadowy musicians of the forest. My body felt awkward and heavy. beyond the waterfall. “How would you like to be my bride for… let me see… one thousand years and a day?” I nodded ‘yes’. danced. my mind dulled. the smells spicier. laden with food and drink. It was a bag. a sensation I had not known for a thousand years. Creatures that were half beast and half human played musical instruments of every shape and size: long-necked lutes and ukuleles. The trees had changed. a land of short grasses. and into a different world. one fine morning. and a permanently blue sky. the shapes crispier. and sang. Nobody aged. I could see them more clearly: some were human. looking at Fernando. my sweet. and trinkets – all that remained of a life I had forgotten. And time never stopped either. like a scatter of snowflakes on the grassland. “I’m glad you came. In the light of day. So we were married. flasks. and goblets materialised. The path I had taken centuries earlier no longer existed. and the centuries. but most were not. for being the best of brides for one thousand years and a day—’ The air around me rippled and I was back in the forest. ‘Why do you give me this?’ ‘Well. near the waterfall. ‘Is this yours. wildflowers. castanets and kettle drums. and many other creatures I could not put a name to.

. I found the ruby bracelet that Lyndon had given me. All of a sudden. I became aware that I was thirsty. Memories both sweet and hurtful. more blinding than darkness. I crouched amongst the ruins of my home. made of flattened pebbles embedded in a hard substance. so happy that I started to sing – and broke off. more than a thousand years earlier. A blind terror grabbed hold of me. An incredibly straight road ran through the place that was once upon a time our garden. When I woke up. A sliver of daylight trickled in through my window. I remembered the bottle of water that I had packed in my bag eons ago. I remembered how it turned cold and rigid on top of me. the sound of his voice. I fell into a dreamless sleep. wishing that the time could turn back upon itself. My mother had come running into my room. She had grabbed me and covered me with her body. The tide of my tears engulfed me and carried me away. I found my father’s house – a knee-high wall and a mound of stones covered over with weeds. The town I had grown up in was no more. because I wanted him. I leapt out of bed. I prayed to the Goddess. I felt clear. amazement stopping my breath. I saw an enormous monster on wheels. My surroundings blurred. But I was remembering another time when the earth shuddered. shining on the hem of the wedding dress draped over my chair. I remembered my father. It had been so soft and warm. As I searched for it. It was rough. My voice was rich and full like the call of the nightingale. bewildered. a long black ribbon through the landscape. tears that were more bitter than blood. At last. bone-shattering cold. now. It stretched into the distance. Memories flooded my heart – his cheerful smile. the earth shuddered. I inspected it. when it was too late. like the sky after a storm.There were only a few ruins left. I ran my hand over it. I cried tears that I had never dared to shed. My heart opened like a bleeding wound. I tried another tune. then. when I was a little girl of four and my home fell down around me while I screamed and screamed. spent. I remembered her body. hurtling towards me with a noise like thunder. please make me wake up from this nightmare. Shivering with a deep. I cried. and then another.