Wherein I Say Farewell and Seek the Edge
Why, Book, that’s a mighty exciting beginning, don’t you think? Yessir, I do believe I am off to a fine start already!
So, I should tell you that I sit here writing as I pause on my journey out of this most cherished Forest forevermore. I shall herein begin this chronicle by recounting the astonishing events that began yesterday morning.
Now, there are two reasons why I must so very accurately record said events. For one thing, they are the premiere moments of the next chapter of my whole entire life, and, as such, they will never come again. For another thing, since I have no idea whether or not I will recall anything at all of my life here after I leave the Forest of Forgetfullness, a memorandum is most distinctly in order. Though I will not take the time to record anything that transpired before yesterday morning, as in truth, my life in the Forest has been perfectly blissful and almost entirely without incident.
Alright, so here it is, Book . . .
Yesterday morning, I woke up from a dream so glorious, a dream nigh on effervescing with lilacs – yes, an endless sea of lilacs. And the smell of them wafted right across the border of the dream, and I woke up still smelling them lilacs! Though I didn’t remember any more of the dream until I cracked my head on the beam getting out of bed.
So, wait now, let me close my eyes and recall . . .
Yes, there was a very miraculous sort of a person who seemed to be made entirely of light, and she were shining through this sea of lilacs. Then she handed me something very colorful – though I don’t remember what. And she said something to me, something very meaningful that rhymed – though I don’t remember that either. Oh, but when she said it, she were so very certain of it and so delighted to tell me about it that I felt mightily inspired – though I can’t quite say why.
So o’ course I race out of the cottage to tell Mad Aunt Harriet all about this most inspiring dream, and don’t you know – even though she’s right in the middle of painting a fine miniature of a squirrel – she drops her paintbrush, pulls my head close, and sniffs the air all around me. Then she makes a most extraordinary declaration:
“Oh, yes, Little Girl, you most distinctly smell of Destiny!”
Well, upon hearing such a thing, I am about to bust clean out of my skin.
“I do?” says I. “Well, what do I do about it? Mad Aunt Harriet . . . ?”
But she had already gone back to her painting. Yes, when Mad Aunt Harriet is in the middle of a miniature, well, best leave her be has been my experience. So, off I go, feeling all make and manner of marvelous, quite taken with the idea that maybe Destiny, at long last, has taken an interest in me. And as I am having a nice, rock-balancing walk through the brook, I am also having me quite a thrilling think, and I find myself recalling all that I have ever read about Destiny . . .
Amongst the ever-burgeoning miscellany that falls through the Skyhole out back come a few books now and again. And in some of them books, folks get to talking about all sorts of various and interesting feelings they have about Destiny. Which makes me wonder what likewise variational feelings Destiny has about the folks that wrote those books and, more precisely to the point, about me.
Anyhow, after having a nice slosh around in the brook in my bare feet, I am all stretched out, a-laying there along the bank, leaning up against a nice round boulder that’s all warm and toasty in the sun, just listening to the melody of the water as it flows on along beside me. And I am getting all dozy and heading towards a nice nap, whilst still cogitating upon the natural question of whether lilacs smell like Destiny or Destiny smells like lilacs. And just as I am about to slide on into sleep, why, I hear the warm, round boulder I am leaning on speak to me in a most polite manner:
“Follow me, if you please.”
And then, why, if that boulder don’t get up and slowly walk right out from under me! At which time I notice that it ain’t a boulder at all, but none other than a massive ol’ Tortoise! Well, I were so completely taken aback by his sudden appearance and so entirely smitten by the vastness of his size, the patterns on his shell, the economy of his wrinkly neck and arms and legs, why, how could I not stare after him in mute wonder, I ask you? I’d only seen little green turtles before, never someone even nearly the likes of him!
So I jumps to my feet, pulling on my socks and boots as fast as I can. And just as that ol’ Tortoise is about to put his wide, stubby foot into the grass alongside the banks, he stretches out his wrinkly ol’ neck, looks back around at me, blinks his wise, black eyes, and I hear his voice say:
“No need to rush. Too nice a day.”
And then he just keeps a-goin’ on along, expecting (rightly, it turns out) that I would continue to follow him. ’Twere odd, Book, but I went right along after him without question. For one thing, because he were so purely fascinating, but also because he were on such a definite course, and his very momentum was undeniable.
Finally, though, my curiosity gets the better of me:
“Excuse me,” says I, “but where are we going?”
He stops, and he turns his head all the way back to look a-way up at me. And again I hear his kind voice:
“The Well has something to tell you.”
“The Well? What Well?”
“Why, the Well in the Belly of the Forest.”
“Aha!” says I. I suppose because I’d never heard of such a thing and “Aha!” is the only thing I can think of to say.
And before I can ask another question, the Tortoise is on his way again. And again I follow along behind him. Then he takes a sharp turn into dense, dark green grasses. And as I take the same sharp turn, I look down and notice that he is leading us along a skinny little trail – a trail I’d never noticed before, though I’d gone by that very spot a trillion and two times. And as this skinny trail begins to curve, these dark green grasses get denser and higher and the trees grow closer, and I can feel us going around and around, spiraling in smaller and smaller circles, until, at last, we come into a small, shaded clearing, which has a very strange, hushed feeling about it.
In the center of this clearing stands a most odd structure, with kind of a cone-shaped wooden roof. The base of it is perfectly round and made of rocks piled and balanced on top of one another – all different shapes and sizes and kinds of rocks, and yet somehow they all fit so snugly and solidly together, why, it feels as if they have been there forever and will stay there just as long.
And, Book, I suddenly feel a little frightened by the silence and the mystery of the place, as it is the very quietest place I’ve ever been to in the whole of the Forest. I hear no birds, no insects, no rustling of any kind, only the slightest breath of a breeze through the trees.
I whisper to the Tortoise:
“What do you think the Well wants with the likes of me?”
“The Well will tell.”
And he just keeps on a-looking at me, and so I know there is nothing for it but for me to approach the Well, and so I do. Slowly, I steps up to it – whereupon I note the bucket and the crank and the rope to one side. Then, putting my hands upon the rocks, I look over and down into the circle of cool blackness, and I say:
“Well, hello there, Well!”
I figured I oughta be friendly, at least. But, in response, I hear only silence. So I bend further over into the darkness and call down:
“Hello, Well, it’s me!”
And it echoes back, “It’s me! It’s me! It’s me!”
And after that, why, I don’t know how to proceed. So I look to the Tortoise, who proceeds to instruct me:
“Let the bucket down. Get the bucket up. Set the bucket down. Watch the water.”
So I do like he says. But as I let that bucket down into the Well, why, it slips right out of my grasp, and it goes falling and falling – far, so far – as if it is dropping down into the very middle of the Whirld! Then, finally, in the deep, deep distance, I hear a kerslosh!
And then, when I see the rope go taut, I begin to pull and pull and pull that heavy bucketful of water up and up, pulling until my arms are trembling and my hands are raw. Finally, I haul that bucket up and out, and I set it on the ground, trying not to spill any of it.
And then I watch the water. And I wait . . .
Well, all of sudden that bucket of Well water flattens out like a pane of glass. And then, bubbles begin to come – very small at first, then bigger and bigger and more and more plentiful. Ohhh, there come so many bubbles bubbling up from the bottom of this bucket! Then I gasp, as I start to see flashes of gold in the water. And these golden flashings come faster and faster, and then – oh, my! – they reveal themselves to be gleaming golden letters!
And as these letters pop up out of the water and bob and float around on the surface, all of a sudden a shaft of sunlight shines through the dense leaves above and sets these golden letters to sparkling. And then, why, the letters do a sort of dance around each other, until, at last, they arrange themselves into these words:
LEAVE THE FOREST
Well. You can imagine my agitation, Book.
“What do you mean Leave the Forest?” I demand of the bucket. “What do you mean Go Home? Why, the Forest is my Home!”
But in answer, them golden letters only part and dissolve back into the water. I guess they didn’t much like being reprimanded. So I rushes over to that Well and I shouts down into it:
“What do you mean Leave the Forest?”
But it only echoes back, “Leave the Forest! Leave the Forest!”
“What do you mean Go Home?”
But it only echoes back, “Go Home! Go Home!”
So I turn to the Tortoise to ask his opinion.
“Well, how do ya like that?” I say.
But he is gone.
So, sure, I go a-tearing out of that clearing and back through the Forest, and I come charging into the cottage to find Mad Aunt Harriet knitting her eternal scarf and muttering to herself. I breathlessly report to her that this big ol’ Tortoise took me to see a most exasperating Well. To which she replies, as if I have just remarked that the sky was blue:
“Ahhh . . . And what did the Well have to tell, dear?”
Yes, Book, I were amazed, though not in the least surprised, that clearly Mad Aunt Harriet had herself some acquaintance with this here Well, yet she had never said so much as a single word about it. (Likely, she forgot. She’s always got so much on her mind.)
Well, when I tell her what this Well told me, she just goes right on a-knitting. But, oh, I will have a discussion with her, what with the lilac dream and the whole day unfolding so extraordinarily! So I hammer on at her as she clicks and clacks them knitting needles.
“Now, Mad Aunt Harriet, I put to you what I suspect is a mighty important question: Why in the Whirld would the Well tell me to ‘Go Home' when I already am Home?”
“Hmmm, now let me think, dear . . . Of course, the Well talks in the most confounding riddles and I – oh!”
And she stops, still as a statue, knitting needles poised mid-air. And her eyes stare straight ahead, growing rounder and rounder and more and more alarmed. Then she slowly turns to look at me.
“Oh, my, Little Girl. Oh, my, my, my . . . ”
And she throws her knitting to the floor and right then and there insists that we must put our hands on every last memorandum of hers this very instant. Now, as Mad Aunt Harriet’s memorandums have all been written on pieces of cloth and canvas, in the margins of books, and on the backs and sides and corners of endless miscellany – well, fear not, Book, I shall not take either of us through that exhaustive search, but only directly to the result of it, which was this:
At long last, she found and read aloud the following memorandum, whereby a most foundational truth dropped upon us like an anvil.
This has been an altogether remarkable evening! A Human Girlchild was delivered here. At first, I thought she was much too muddy to bring in, besides being dead. But she has turned out to be not in the least bit dead, and is possibly quite marvelous in some way. I have found on her person as follows:
Item 1. A large wet lump of purple felt, which looks to be a hat.
Item 2. A silvery contraption, with tiny jewels and delicate filigree. Palm size.
Item 3. The remaining quarter of an egg salad sandwich, which was delicious.
I have almost decided to keep her, as I believe that if I concentrate, I might manage to make room for her in my schedule.
And with those few sentences, it were made plain to us both that the Forest of Forgetfullness, my most cherished Home, was never my true Home at all.
Somehow, Book, I knew that I had always known it. In that moment of truth, I felt as if my restlessness, which had always been there, beneath, like an underground stream, had just broken through into the wide open air and was rushing out to seek some great river. Yes, as profoundly happy as I have been here, in truth, my spirit has always silently yearned to travel and to seek out new horizons. Though I must say, when I first heard tell of it, my heart was anything but fond of the idea.
“You see, that’s why a name never stuck to you, Little Girl! You don’t belong here! And did I not say that you simply reeked of Destiny this morning? Oh, there’s so much to be done . . . ”
And Mad Aunt Harriet suddenly leaps up and starts searching for things, while I chase after her, trying to continue the conversation.
“Hang on now, o’ course I belong here! I love it here, and I feel at Home here and – awww, what does an ol’ Well know, anyway . . . ”
“Well, the Well knows everything – everything there is to know, that’s all!” And she whirls around and looks up at me and declares, “And you, Little Girl, will be leaving here first thing in the morning!”
All the animals and I most vociferously protest this proclamation. But Mad Aunt Harriet was having none of it, no way, no how.
“She will be leaving first thing in the morning, and I shall brook no disagreement whatsoever!”
“But, Mad Aunt Harriet, I – ”
And she turns on me with such a fierceness, Book, and I can see in her eyes, it is born of no small amount of heartache.
“Don’t be a fool, child! Destiny is calling, and by gum you shall answer with head high, shoes shined, and bells on, if I have anything to say about it!”
“But can’t it wait a little? Until I’m used to the idea, and – ”
“Why, I’ve never heard of anything so reckless! Trifle with Destiny, Little Girl, and you’ll have no end of trouble. Oh, you’ll have mountains and avalanches of trouble if you go around being so hubristic! Shame on you, now – shoo! I’ve got to prepare, I’ve got to – oh, where did I put that . . . ”
And she was already heading off, searching for this, hunting for that, in the grip of her own voyage and well beyond stopping.
So, alas, there was nothing for it but to go climb a tree. And a-way high up in the branches, I nestle in. And, sure, I takes out my Music Box. I hold it up so the sunlight can flash and play off the little jewels and the pretty, silver filigree.
Then I lift its delicate lid, and I sigh into it . . .
And when it begins to play its lovely, lilting song, I begin to breathe easier. And as I hum along, I am reminded of how something at the soul of this song has so often caused this very ache in me to go and travel the Whirld. And the music begins to soothe me some.
That is, until them birds show up and completely ruin my peace of mind. Oh, first they came to harmonize, o’ course, but when I tell them about the Tortoise and the Well and Mad Aunt Harriet and my imminent leave-taking, well, they proceed to alert and inform me, all in a wild, chattering bunch, that I absolutely cannot leave the Forest under any circumstances because the Forest of Forgetfullness is a capricious forest – it comes and goes, hither and yon, all over the Whirld, and sometimes beyond, and, as such, I will never find it again.
Meaning, Book: I can never, ever come back. I can never see Mad Aunt Harriet or the animals or this whole beloved place ever again. Yet another truth landing upon me with a dark and terrible thud.
But, oh, how them birds do go on! And, why, they begin to recount overlapping tales of the many horrible and disastrous fates which will surely befall me once I leave. So, as I make my way back to the cottage, I resolve to make a powerful case to Mad Aunt Harriet for postponing my departure so as to devise an organized plan before I set out.
And then I realize that my entire line of reasoning is pointless. Knowing her, she’ll forget about the whole thing by morning anyhow.
But it was not to be. It was to be a morning like no other.
At the very first drop of dawn, Mad Aunt Harriet is poking me to wake up. She thereupon presents me with three gifts that she spent all night creating. They are enthralling, Book, and right then and there these three gifts almost completely and entirely change my inclination about leaving.
Here they are, and here be their particular uses:
First, a Peerless Pocketknife, which not only folds out into a nice sharp knife, but also a fork, a spoon, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, a master key that unlocks all locks, and other such-like handy implements.
Second, a multicolored Pouch of Infinite Coinage that I have only just to reach into and I shall draw forth endless monies wheresoever I go in the Whole Wyde Whirld.
Third, an utterly sumptuous Scarlet Velvet Traveling Cape that moves and swishes in the most elegant way. Book, this Cape is a transformational wonder! It can turn into a hammock, a bedroll, a traveling sack, and it has the most convenient quality of dressing me in the perfect ensemble for any occasion. We tested it, and it put me in the most beautiful of ball gowns – a silvery number in which I wanted to stay forever, but Mad Aunt Harriet informed me that I certainly couldn’t go traipsing through the forest in a ball gown.
So, you see, on the one hand, these magnificent and astonishing gifts made me feel so all-fired ready to meet Destiny I could fly! But, on the other hand, the moment to depart was all too fast upon me.
And the next thing I know, there I am standing on the doorstep of the cottage, and there is Mad Aunt Harriet handing me my beautiful new Scarlet Velvet Traveling Sack. And she tugs my hair a little. And she smiles at me. Then, all of a sudden, she gets all alarmed and all a-flutter and points to my Sorrow, still and always glittering so prettily around my neck.
“Oh, your Sorrow . . . Oh, for pity’s sake, Little Girl, whatever you do, don’t lose your Sorrow! And you mustn’t ever give it away, do you understand? It’s yours and only yours, like it or not! Promise me, do you hear?”
“I promise,” I say. “I hear.”
“Oh, my dear, once you’ve swallowed it, it’ll hurt so horribly – why, it’ll quite likely kill you stone dead, right there on the spot! So, don’t even think of taking it until you absolutely have to. But don’t ever think of never taking it, because of course you absolutely must! My . . . it’s such an exquisitely beautiful Sorrow, isn’t it?”
“That it is, Mad Aunt Harriet . . . that it is.”
And then we look at each other. And in that look, we see it all – all that we have ever been and all that we will never be again. That, indeed, after this next moment, we will never see each other again in this here life.
Well, it is too much to bear, Book, what with all the animals sniffling all around us too. So, o’ course, Mad Aunt Harriet and I thereupon sob ourselves about six buckets of tears. And then we stop, because we both know the time is nigh. And she takes me by the shoulders and looks me deep in the eye.
“Now then, Little Girl . . . Goodbye.”
Then she turns on her heel, walks back into the cottage, closes the door, and locks it. And I panic.
“Wait! Mad Aunt Harriet! Which way do I go?”
And she calls out from behind the door:
“Why, any way that suits you, I suppose!”
And so, there were nothing for it but for me to go. And as I stood upon that doorstep solo, it came upon me to turn around real slow, so’s to feel which way would most truly call me. And when I sincerely felt more for one direction than the others, why, I set off taking steps, one in front of the other, until I came upon this here fine, welcoming rock from which I now write.
I cannot yet know if I shall remember anything of Mad Aunt Harriet once I step out of the Forest, but if I do – if I should be so fortune-favored as to remember her – I know that I shall miss her with a great, deep ache as long as I live. Except for her cello playing, Book. That was truly an assault to the senses. And I have the freedom to say that to you now, in confidence.
And, why, it would be out-and-out negligent for me to neglect to record the most auspicious nature of your appearance, Book – and at the very moment of my leave-taking too. Think of it . . . How eloquently Life is speaking to me, all at once!
After having just so freshly chosen my direction, I am heading round the back of the cottage, see, and I pass by the Skyhole with its ever-mounting pile of strange and wonderful things. And just as I leave it behind me, I hear the sound of a new arrival dropping onto the pile. I turn around and, oh, what a sight I see! There you be, in all your beautifully embossed leatherboundness – so perfectly perched on top!
To be entirely truthful, Book, I picked you up expecting that such an artful creation as you must surely be filled with many magnificent words of inspiration. But to instead find within you the complete surprise of your beckoning blankness, fresh page after page after page . . . Why, your arrival as an invitation to make memorandums of my own were so fortuitously timed, it were obvious you must come along with me, no questions asked. And though I most certainly cannot promise you one single inspirational word of wisdom, it appears we are in this together. I should like to hereupon thank you for forbearing to bear the words of one such as I upon yourself. I am most beholden to you.
Now, to make one last note before I depart these most dearly beloved woods altogether . . .
I think it must be, Book, that leaving is something I were always destined to do. Yes . . . though it is true that I were terribly heavyhearted at first, I must report that my heart has felt ever and ever lighter inside of me with each step, with each new patch of bright green velvet moss, with the expressive majesty of each new tree, with – oh, listen to that! New birdsong, even!
Indeed, it is already so intoxicating to have gone further and walked differently. Everything feels so fresh – like this breeze just now ruffling through your pages. Why, it smells like lilacs, don’t it? Yes, just like that dream . . .
Now then, onward! To the Edge of the Forest – and beyond!