GRANDMOTHER ELLIE’S ATTIC
The Crimson Gown
Beatrice stopped in mid-air, holding the costume up to the light. She softly let out her breath as the theater beacon that had magically appeared a few moments before illuminated its contours and sheen.
"It's beautiful!" she exclaimed in a voice full of wonder. "It's as if it were alive! Look at the layers of silk, how it shimmers against the lace trim. Her fingers reverently traced the intricate pattern the lace created from the light shining through onto the flounces of silk. The pattern danced and shifted as she laid the gown in her lap. "And feel this velvet ribbon, how soft and luscious it is!"
Sidney beamed with appreciation at the magnificence before him. "The red accented your mother's blond hair superbly!" At her glance of surprise he retorted, "I've developed a vocabulary that can match any scholar's; even yours, Miss Belligerence."
"Well, that may be so, but I must inform you that this gown is crimson! A mere red just will not do! It is as if you call a butterfly a moth, or a general a soldier. This dress is crimson, and exquisite." Beatrice stroked the silk across her cheek, and sighed with delight.
"You are quite right, the GOWN is exquisite! Sidney emphasized, then erupted a turban-tilting guffaw.
Beatrice hopped to her feet in dismissal of the inane frivolity, anxious to start this adventure. "Is it time to put this on?" She raised the gown over her head.
"Hold on, one more moment." Sidney cried. "First we must make some preparations." He jumped onto the stool that stood next to the trunk. "You must close the trunk and lock it before you begin each adventure, otherwise we could lose all the costumes and never get them back. The magic that was the essence of your mother's love for the theater is in every costume she wore. If the trunk were left open all the costumes would be attracted to the same place this gown will be attracted to. We'd have only one adventure, and a very confused one at that."
"I already feel confused," said Beatrice.
"You see, there'd be all those costumes floating around remembering the roles they played, trying to act them out again, all at the same time. Can you imagine? There could be this gown trying to pan for gold, and an Indian Chief headdress adorning a pirate on the open sea. It could be a real mess!"
Beatrice giggled behind her hands at the vision. "I see what you mean, I think." She turned the key in the lock and handed it to Sidney. She smiled a huge smile, "I trust you completely! Let's get started.”
Sidney touched the exquisite, crimson gown of silk and lace and velvet with the tips of his fingers, and gave a great leap, which sent him high into the shadows trailing a stream of gold dust from his feet. The gown floated up with him, then settled as a thousand butterflies over Beatrice's waiting arms, fitting itself over her shoulders, and caressing the slim lines of her body.
"Are you ready?" Sidney cried from above.
"Oh yes!" she replied eagerly. "I'm ready!"
Sidney made a giant swoop and landed on her head. They were instantly transported out of Grandmother Ellie's attic in a cloud of gold and silver smoke.
Everyone in the audience rose to their feet and clapped and whistled. Beatrice looked around her, then down at the soft folds of crimson that ended at the slippers that shone with the same bright color as the gown. She could still hear the last beats of the melody that had sent her whirling and gliding across the stage in the graceful dance that finalized the evening's performance.
But how did I know that? How can I still hear the music I never heard? I just got here; or did I? She peered out at all the familiar faces, ones she'd danced for night after night. But how can this be? She started to panic.
Then she heard Sidney's reassuring voice in her head, "Remember the magic; remember the moment. Know that this moment right now is the only moment we ever have. And no matter what we do with the moment, we do live it to the fullest. We can never be confused or disappointed over what we do, as long as we remember that."
Beatrice smiled and felt his comforting presence. She relaxed, and as she did she began to remember. The audience chanted, "Jane Astoria, Jane Astoria, Jane Astoria!" She heard someone cry, "Take a bow, Jane!" Then someone handed her crimson roses, to match her gown. They were interlaced with clouds of babies' breath.
She remembered the moment, and realized she knew she was Jane and Beatrice at the same time. She began to falter and be confused, then the voice reminded her, "Remember, the moment is all there is. Be fully who you know yourself to be right this moment."
But how can I be two people at the same time?
Her thought was answered, "Why can't you be, if you feel that you are?"
But I was only Beatrice before I put on this dress. She curtsied and the audience cheered.
"See!" said Sidney, the audience knows you're Jane, and you know you're Beatrice and Jane. The audience can't see Beatrice because in this moment she's inside of you, in your knowing of who you are."
Okay, so what do I do now?
"What do you remember; what feels natural to do?"
She found herself blowing kisses to the audience, feeling tremendous love for them. Then the curtain was lowered and she felt herself walking off the stage excitedly greeting Jane's husband and two children. She flew into their arms as they showered her with kisses and hugs. She felt extremely happy because she knew, without them having to tell her, that it had been the best performance of her life.
Suddenly she felt very sad. Tears escaped from her eyes and landed on the roses she still held to her bosom. Her husband tenderly touched his linen handkerchief to her face and kissed her delicate lips. She realized she was forgetting Beatrice and remembering more of Jane. She didn't want that to happen. I don't want to forget me; I like being me, She exclaimed silently.
"You won't lose yourself." Sidney smiled. "You'll always be you. Nothing and nobody who ever is created can be lost. You will always exist.
But I am ten years old; Jane is an adult with children of her own, Beatrice protested.
"You can be any age you choose," he said. "Even more than one age at a time. It is only make believe, after all."
"Make believe? But it feels real!" she answered.
"Your feelings are real. All the rest is make believe, that which you make yourself believe. You can make your reality anything you feel like. You are feeling confused, therefore that is what it is for you. However, your family is happy and very clear on the joy they feel over your performance. So you see, here we have two different realities over the same thing, which is your performance."
"But I don't know them as my family," Beatrice interrupted.
"Examine your feelings about them," Sidney suggested.
She was still for a few moments, then an indisputable, warm feeling washed over her. "Why, I love them, how could I not love them, they're part of me!" She wondered how she could have thought she didn't know them. Tears squished from her eyes as she prayed in gratitude for the wonderful gift God had given her in this family.
"Come on Mommy, I want to go and have cake and punch!" Jane's daughter Amy tugged at her sleeve. Her son Teddy, in an attempt to be less enthusiastic said, "Oh Amy, you're always thinking of your stomach. Why don't you be a lady once in a while."
"Now children," their father said as he led them and Jane toward her dressing room. "This is your mother's big night, the finale of the season, so please don't argue."
The room was already swarming with well-wishers when they whisked through the door. Music meandered among the partiers as if it were one of the guests, "Which," Sidney surmised, "I guess it is."
"How can music be a guest?" Beatrice asked, puzzled that she knew what he was thinking.
"Music has sound, which is vibration. A person is also a vibration, a different vibration from music. A person can also have a vibration of music, when he sings, like you were doing earlier."
"But I can't see the music, as I can the guests." She argued.
"But you can feel the music, and you feel the presence of the guests. For instance," the familiar voice pointed out, "Notice Helen over there. You know that she doesn't like parties, but she wears a smile, as if she is enjoying herself. What you know to be true is not what you see. And you know it to be true because you feel she's not being who she really is."
"How did you know what I was feeling?
"The more we develop our ability to tune in to another's energy the more we can feel their feelings. That is where the real truth is. We are connected to everyone through that energy; it is like a field of grass and flowers. There are many different appearing things, but all are part of the whole field."
As soon as he mentioned the field she could see the beauty his description created. The flowers had little faces, all of them smiling; the grasses bent and swayed in the gentle breeze. Suddenly the scene was transformed to millions of points of light, each connected by radiant threads that formed a web of pulsing energy. The scene seemed to have many dimensions, sort of like ghosts in a fog, but alive and glowing.
"Is that why I can tell how Jane is feeling?" Beatrice asked. "All those tiny lines of light carry the feelings from one person to another?"
"See how much easier it is getting to understand?" Sidney exclaimed. "Once you are able to comprehend the magic, the more real it becomes." He faded from her sight, and then reappeared.
"I suppose that is another magic trick you'll say I can do!" she exclaimed, wondering if she'll ever get used to his antics.
"What, fade in and fade out? Of course you can!" Sidney declared. "It's kindergarten stuff!"
"Well pardon me, but I don't go to the same school you do." Beatrice sniffed, tossing her nose in the air. "I always bring home A's in English and history. Kindergarten in the real world was over for me many years ago."
"Here we go with the real world again." Sidney shook his head. "Haven’t you heard anything I've said?"
Beatrice' sharp glance betrayed her hurt feelings.
"I'm sorry, please forgive my insensitivity,” he said tenderly. "I sometimes forget that my students haven't heard all this a thousand times, as I have."
She smiled and accepted his apology. He was so cute when he was being humble!
A woman with gray hair and beady, steel blue eyes hastily stepped back and nearly toppled Beatrice into the table laden with canapés, cookies and punch. "I’m so sorry! Did I ruin your dress?"
"Gown," Sidney corrected under his breath.
Beatrice giggled, unable to contain the private joke.
"Well, I don't see the joke here!" the woman huffed. "I guess it would be no loss, to spill red punch on a red dress!"
This time Beatrice blurted, "Crimson!" as she and Sidney corrected the woman a second time, upon which her giggle exploded into downright belly-shaking laughter.
"Well, I never!" the woman flounced away, her head in the air.
"We weren't very nice to her." Beatrice said, ashamed. "Why would I be so insulting to a stranger?"
"She's not a stranger, not to Jane." Sidney answered. "She's the woman who wanted the part you played. She had her eyes on that red dress; she wanted to end up with it for herself. She was going to rip it in several places, supposedly by accident, on the last performance so that they would give it to her. She's very good with a needle and thread, but she hasn't told anyone that so they won't talk her into sewing any of the costumes."
"How do you know all that?" Beatrice asked, dumbfounded, still not used to thinking in terms of everyday magic.
"Put your thinking cap on, only, see it as a memory cap," he prompted. After a moment her eyes brightened.
"Now do you remember?" He asked.
"Oh yes! Mrs. Hattie Cratchett." She watched across the room, as the woman talked with a lady whose hair was as black as the coal her Grandmother Ellie burned in the big furnace in the basement.
"I remember, she was so mean to me! Tried to make me sick by feeding me spoiled meat. When her dog turned away from a piece I'd accidentally dropped on the floor, I figured I'd better not eat it. I smelled it, it was rotten." Beatrice shook her head disgustedly. "Then she got all insulted when I wouldn't eat it."
She turned to Sidney, "Why is she so mean? That wasn't the only thing she did to try to keep me from getting the part in the play. She made her dog run out and almost knocked me over, and she locked me in a cold room that hardly anyone ever went into; she said she did it accidentally." Beatrice shivered with the memory. "Thank God the housekeeper came in looking for something she'd left in there a week before."
"You know, a person always gets his ‘lickins’ for the dirty deeds he does." Sidney said. "Would you like to know what happened to her?"
Beatrice realized that in her world, where she was ten, Mrs. Cratchett was older than she was here. "Is she still here in town?"
"Close your eyes and look at the time of today, then." Sidney said.
Beatrice closed her eyes and immediately saw an old woman, all bent over in a wheelchair staring vacantly off into space. "Why, I've seen her, in the old folks home where the people go who have no family or friends to take care of them." Tears misted her eyes. "I've always felt sorry for her, like it isn't fair that she end up this way, no matter how mean she'd been." She turned her eyes to Sidney. "I always wondered why I sensed that she had been mean."
"It's because you knew her when you were Jane," he announced. "You have the memory of everything and everyone you ever knew within yourself."
Beatrice couldn't get the image of old, feeble Mrs. Cratchett out of her mind. She thought of the joke she and Sidney had played on her. "Maybe if I hadn't giggled and made fun of her she could have been happier. Maybe if all the others who laughed at her, or argued with her, and thought she was such a mean woman had tried harder to be her friend, just perhaps she might not have ended up alone and in a wheelchair."
Beatrice remembered when she was six and all of the kids made fun of her when she befriended a plain girl with buckteeth who'd just moved into town. The girl was mean to everyone because where she'd lived before everyone made fun of her. Something told Beatrice that underneath the meanness was a nice person. In time she'd been proven right. The girl softened with Beatrice's friendship, and was soon liked by everyone in town. And the interesting thing, she thought, is that she became very pretty, in a magical sort of way. When she smiled people didn't even notice her teeth stuck out.
"Yes," Sidney agreed, "Little Nellie has a smile that lights up the whole town!"
"There you go again, reading my mind! Someday I'll read your mind," Beatrice said, "Then we won't have to speak at all, just think to each other."
"Speaking of reading minds, wouldn't you like to relive the time when we insulted Mrs. Cratchett?" Sidney suggested.
"You mean so that maybe we can make a difference in how she is now?" Beatrice's heart leapt at the possibility. Then a frown of doubt overshadowed her smile. "But how can just one incident of kindness change her so completely?"
"Oh, but it can make a difference in how she treats the next person she sees. If she is feeling good instead of angry, she may treat the next person with kindness." Sidney smiled. "One kind word is never wasted. It can cause a good feeling to grow to many kind words and many more good feelings, till all there are, are wonderful feelings and words."
She remembered Nellie, and understood. "I'd like to go back and change the way I was with her. Can you take me back?"
No sooner had she spoken the words, than she was being jostled by Mrs. Cratchett, just as before. "I'm sorry, did I ruin your dress?" Mrs. Cratchett asked.
"Oh, it's only a little spot." Jane answered, smiling. "It'll rinse right out." An idea arose in Beatrice like a fountain of sunshine. "I've seen how you seem to love this dress, Hattie. It won't be used again. Would you like to have it? "I'll bring it to you tomorrow, in time for tea, if you'd like," offered Jane, feeling all warm and wonderful inside.
Mrs. Cratchett gasped, then a smile slowly spread across her face like a golden rainbow. "Why that is very sweet of you!" A tear shimmered at the corner of her eye, as she remembered the awful things she had done to Jane. "But I certainly don't deserve-"
Jane cut her off, "Of course you deserve it, you love it; and everyone should have their heart's desire."
Mrs. Cratchett smiled and whispered. "I have just acquired some new tea from the Orient. I think you would love it, tomorrow at four, then." She bustled away with a spring to her step and a lilt in her voice as she greeted a lady with hair as black as the coal that Grandmother Ellie burned in the big furnace in the basement.
"That was beautiful!" Sidney said, obviously touched by the love in Beatrice's heart. "I think you are ready for the next adventure." He added, after her excitement brought a gleam to her eyes, "Next month, Saturday at midnight. But now, time is almost up. We must return to the attic."
"But what about this dress; how will I get it to Mrs. Cratchett?" Beatrice asked holding the folds of silk as if to curtsy.
"Don't worry, time will take care of that!" Sidney promised. Then with a grand swoop of his arms he asked, "Ready? Look behind you"
Beatrice turned and there was the trunk with the locked lid, just as they had left it. "We're back in Grandmother Ellie's attic! How'd you do that?"
"In time, my dear; in time!" he declared. "But now, look at yourself."
"The dress, it's gone!" Beatrice felt the soft flannel of the nightgown she was wearing when the whole adventure began. "It must be hanging in Mrs. Cratchett's closet." She grinned remembering the smile that lit up Mrs. Cratchett's face. "I have only one regret. I would sure like to have had some of that tea she promised me."
Sidney spun like a cyclone, then with a bow and a flourish set before her on a splendid, Victorian tea table a teapot painted with delicate china roses. With his pinky finger extended as if he was royalty, he poured two dainty cups full of the steaming aromatic brew.
With a squeal of delight, Beatrice chose a tender, flaky cream filled biscuit from the matching plate he offered.
"Never think you have to miss out on anything. All it takes is a lot of love and faith to have what a tender heart desires." Sidney flipped his turban in the air and rolled out another hearty guffaw, then with a sweet kiss on the tip of her nose said, "See you on the next Saturday eve at the stroke of midnight!" Then he disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Beatrice looked around. She was back in the deep feather bed that her Grandfather had stuffed with goose down from all the geese he'd raised over the years. In one hand she held a dainty cup of oriental tea, in the other was the tender, flaky biscuit. She raised it to her waiting taste buds, just as the Grandfather clock in the hall struck one melodic note, prompting a soft giggle from the depths of Beatrice's heart.