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The World in the Well MAG
I used to dream about the world in the well by my aunt's house, that pile of rocks and wood that looked so small from the window. My cousins Frederick and Benedict loved it too, and we'd march in our pinching Sunday school shoes down the grassy slope to play around it. My cousin Elizabeth was far too proper for well-watching; she spent her days in the front parlor with her dolls pretending to have tea as Queen Victoria, whom we were studying in school.
“You should play with Elizabeth more often. She's such a sweet girl,” Mother would insist staunchly as she scrubbed grass stains from my white socks, but I was never one for playing a loyal subject. I hated sitting in that room, listening to the brush grinding away under white pearly hands. I preferred the wild green hills and the mysterious well. I barely even missed London, and I was glad Papa and Mother and Uncle Roger had decided the countryside was safer for a while.
When the skies were cloudy and the air raid sirens were quiet, Frederick and Benedict would throw rocks and buttons they'd plucked off their new, itchy coats down into the well and we'd listen to the clicking sounds come back to us as notes of a haunting tune, concluded always by the plunk of objects hitting the mirror below, shattering it into a million pieces. We'd stand mystified until Frederick, the eldest, would send me off to collect more items to throw in.
There was an old piece of rope that hung over the gaping mouth, and the boys would dare each other to climb onto it and hang for a minute. It was a constant source of taunting because neither Frederick nor Benedict was brave enough to do it.
I went to the well alone, too, when January came around and the boys had new Christmas toys to play with that seemed more exciting than a well. I'd pretend I was Joan of Arc defending her castle, or Merlin mixing a terrible potion in the cavernous stone. I liked to watch the ripples that bounced in on themselves when I dropped leaves down its throat.
When the wind picked up, I'd shiver, biting my purple lips to bring blood to them, and listen to the sound of the gale as it blew over the top of the well in an ancient, deep, and gentle voice, the way a mother's should be. My favorite part was looking down into the well when the sun was just right and seeing a girl just like me who waved back when I waved to her. Through the glassy water, I thought, was a place for girls who liked wells, not dolls; battles, not tea parties; and stories of adventures, not princesses. I'd lean over the emptiness as far as I could, feeling the rough rocks through my starched, pink dress gripping my knees, and I'd watch the girl and hear her secrets bounce up to me, same as mine.
I thought about the well constantly, dreamt about it, ate meals quickly so I could visit it before bedtime, when the stars would glisten in the dark reflection as if reaching toward me, guiding me like they had guided Magellan and Columbus and Sir Francis Drake. I would take Elizabeth's tea party tablecloth and Papa's old atlas and a flashlight and sit by the well under the stars, trying to find where Papa might be on the map and where I might go one day. The name the girl in the well and I shared sounded regal, like those of the explorers when she said it. “Brigid” was now a hero's name. Every day, I'd lean closer, hoping she'd invite me into her world, where I belonged.
Then Mother got the telegram and I saw her cry. I'd never seen her cry, and I couldn't wait anymore. The girl needed to know I was ready, that I needed to come now, that I needed that soft mother's voice and adventures and smiles.
I reached out with eight-year-old hands and grabbed the rope, slimy and stiff from years of waiting for me, being battered by water, wind, and sunlight. I pushed off the wall with my feet, Sunday school shoes sparkling, and clung to the rope with knees of iron forged in fear. I looked down and saw that the little girl had climbed onto her rope, too, and I started to cry out. We couldn't miss each other! What if she was coming to get me? She'd have no idea where I was! Then I saw the fear in her eyes and my heart stopped, but it was too late. I was plunging into the black hole as my hands slipped and the cannonball of realization settled in my stomach.
I watched the gray sky get smaller and smaller until I slammed into the water, the icy cold fingering each vertebrae. There was no girl, no well-world, just me at the bottom of a well covered with rocks and buttons and one of Elizabeth's dolls and leaves. They were all there with me, but I missed them. Missed what they were before they were sad and abandoned and waterlogged, before they looked like they didn't belong. I screamed. I could feel the things pulling me toward them, where all lost things go. I couldn't, I wouldn't. I didn't want the well.
Fred found me, the allure of his new chess set having worn off. I was almost too weak to stay at the surface by then, but he got help, and the next thing I knew somebody was being lowered down into the well, lights shining down in bursts as my head bobbed in the water. And so I lived.
The well was filled in and abandoned along with its abandoned things. I cried when Mother told me the news as she sat on the edge of my bed in a lavender silk dress, her gloved hands folded. My face was red and puffy, my whole body covered in purple bruises, my fingers raw and nails jagged from scraping the stone sides of the pit, and there she was, just like one of Elizabeth's dolls.
I could only cry harder then. Because there was no well-world. There was no girl there who would watch the stars until her papa came home. There was just me, sitting in the hospital with an atlas that couldn't show me where Papa was or where my adventures were or where I was supposed to be.
Then my mother reached out and put her gloved hand on my foot that was poking up from under the covers, and I stopped crying, and the bruises throbbed less, and the grass grew over the mound of dirt, and the green went on and on and so did I.