This is the twelfth and final installment of Duessa, a 12,000-word allegory. The rest can be found here. Thank you for reading and happy New Year!
This woman on the other side of the glass must be the one he had thought she was, the one whose body she had taken.
Thinking of him, she thought, What would he think of you, moron, ready to ruin even his life, and lay down the partial globe to reach into the mirror. The other, his Beloved, crossed and kissed her hands and said, “Can you read my face? No? Let me open it to you.”
Then before her stood a tall black man, then a waterfall, then a dove, then her own husband, a hundred different men and women, crows and snakes and worms and fish, each itself, each lovelier than the last.
She stood, enthralled, uncomprehending, and sometimes revolted. Then she, remembering, lifted the partial globe, and set it with the fragments. They merged, she felt her memories come near. The Beloved looked like some unwieldy beast, unique on earth, then like a lady twice her age, tottering–ashamed, she offered the Beloved an arm, but the Beloved refused, becoming tall and strong.
In her other hand, she lifted the globe, now whole. “I guess I give you this, and you take it home to him,” she said.
“He would much prefer you bring it to him yourself,” said the Beloved.
“Like this?” she asked, knowing how she looked and felt.
“Come bathe,” said the Beloved, a woman now of unremarkable but lovely face.
She followed the Beloved up two flights of stairs and down dark, twisting hallways until they reached another room lit by lamplight. The floor of this one was white tile, except for the walls and floor of a large pool of steaming water, which were clear or decorated with floral patterns. The Beloved took a bar of soap and a thick white towel from a cupboard and said, “Come out when you are ready.”
She slipped into the water gratefully. Muscles relaxed, itches and scrapes burned, then quieted. For the first time in what seemed ages, she wasn’t cold. The steam felt good on her face and shaped itself into harmless, fanciful images as she watched it. She did not want to leave the pool, but after not nearly as much luxuriating as she would have liked, she left, dried herself, and donned the simple cotton shift under the towels.
The Beloved then led her into a room that smelled deliciously of flowers and spices. The shelves were laden with perfumes and ointments. “This is the balm you sought in the pictures,” the Beloved said, handing her a copper jar. “It will heal whatever ails you.”
Within minutes, her scrapes were only the vaguest of scars, and the Beloved led her on.
So she climbed, and, following, did not number the steps she took, until the Beloved, there a marvelous chimpanzee to whom no human lover could prefer the paragon of humankind slipped through the door, and the door was light except for the shape of the Beloved.
“Come,” said the Beloved, who, now as at first, wore the face of countless billions — all in one but each unique and perfect with its own perfection, “The Lover waits.”
“He waits for you,” she corrected (the Light shone out with everything beautiful, lovable and desirable, and was at once none of those things — it beckoned her, but she could not go, nor even wish to, any more than she could fly; again tears flowed).
“Come in,” said the Beloved, holding out her hands.
“Do come,” the Lover called.
“I can’t, just let me leave,” she said, all shame at wet dun hair, a shapeless form, the marks of age, all shame that she scarcely knew the first of love or beauty, patience or courage, self or selflessness. “Let me leave,” she said, “and take your bride. She deserves you, I don’t. It’s too much, too–too–”
“Take my hand,” said the Beloved, laughingly aping her envious fear, a princess gold of hair, blue of eye, “There is no envy here.”
“And what’s your name?” she asked.
“Any,” the Beloved said. “Yours.”
She took the hand and, taking it, felt it dissolve, felt all of the Beloved melt to mist till only one woman–she–stood before the bed.
That light, his gaze as he sat up in bed, was still warm and clear, and though she wanted to hide the scars, the wounds, the blemishes, his eyes knew them all, and he said, “Come, my love. It is still night.”
“I have the globe,” she said in tender trepidation. “It was broken through the hall of mirrors and here it is, for you. ”
“For me,” he said, “for you.”
Countless faces the Beloved wore — her Love wore just one, but one that lacked not the least beauty of the billions, trillions, of hers, a face that held the pattern, the perfection of them all and transcended that perfection so immensely that if she were to gaze ten centuries she would not know it.
“The globe goes in the wardrobe,” he said, “until dawn breaks, until you are healed and we are joined. Until then, we sleep and dream.”
The wardrobe she opened wide and found it full of galaxies in the night sky. She cast the globe into its depths. Then he drew her down, his touch bliss, and they sank into dream.
In her dream, they stood holding hands before a curtain like the curtains around the bed, but clearer and constantly moving. It was like a movie screen, like mosaic, a different story on every piece, and like a map, laid out through time and space in a system she grasped but could never explain. Their eyes skipped from picture to picture until one drew her eye, one with a cold and empty bed, a sumptuous gold dress, a little girl crying.
She had no business looking at it–she and her Love went wherever they were needed most–he was pulling her toward another image–but she reached out to it all the same. As she reached, the tapestry dissolved into cloth, his face into empty beauty, and she descended into darkness.
Thanks for reading! The Beloved is everyone, and her Love is the light. Duessa has become herself and she is still the Beloved