Towards Happiness: Miranda Dickinson

Once upon a time, a little girl sat on her Daddy’s lap, listening intently with eyes wide, as her father read tales from an old storybook.As they sat together, the little girl snuggled closer to her Daddy. This was her favourite time of the day – all warm and pink after her bath, dressed in her pyjamas with her toy rabbit tucked into the crook of her arm, listening to her Daddy’s deep, velvety voice as he spoke. Unbeknownst to her, this was also the time her Daddy looked forward to the most; the thing that made him endure endless hours queuing in the rain for the privilege of standing wedged between commuters on the packed train that slunk laboriously out of the City every evening. Seeing his little girl made it all worthwhile – reminding him that he was more than just ‘Claims Clerk 34’ in the faceless grey offices of Collett & Co. Insurers.

Though it was late and they had read many stories already, the little girl begged her Daddy for just one more.

“It’s nearly eight-thirty, Princess,” her Daddy replied, a conspiratorial glint in his eye. “And Mummy won’t be happy with me if I keep you up too late.”

Struggling to keep sleep at bay, the little girl gazed up into her Daddy’s sky-blue eyes. “Just one more story and then I’ll go straight to bed, I promise!”

To her delight, her Daddy agreed, turning to a new story as both of them revelled in the decadent luxury of an extra tale. The little girl gazed wistfully at the beautiful princesses, imagining herself wearing an opulent gown like theirs. She booed the wicked witches and scary monsters and cheered the handsome prince as he defeated his enemies to claim the heroine’s love with a gentle kiss.
In the corner of her bedroom, the little girl and her Daddy rocked gently in the whitewashed rocking chair, lost in the make-believe world of the old storybook. All around them, painted fairies danced across the wallpaper and smiled out from the curtains gently draping at the bedroom window, looking out to the fields and the starry night sky outside. A dolls house fashioned like a fairy castle sat proudly atop a white painted wooden chest of drawers against one wall and fairy princess dolls lay on against the pink pillows on the bed.

Feeling safe and loved, leaning against her Daddy’s chest, the little girl knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that one day she too would have a happy ending, just like all the princesses in her storybook.
* * * *

Happy endings do happen. They have to happen. Otherwise, why would they happen in fairy tales?
* * * *

Alone, in the dark cold house, she stands. Now no longer a little girl in a fairy-filled bedroom, she catches sight of her reflection in the dusky mirror and sees the woman she has become. Hugging her arms to her body, she tries to subdue the shaking in her frame – a painful combination of intense anger and bitter cold.

 How did it come to this?

The memory of her father makes her throat tight and she swallows hard to keep the tears at bay. Despite her effort, the tears come, her sobs strong and violent as the longing cuts like a knife through to her very soul.

How did it come to this?  The question repeats itself slowly in her mind, rolling over and over like distant thunder.

Her intentions had been the best: she had promised to love; to keep on loving, no matter what. But the man whom she so desperately wanted to be her happy ending had lied to her. He had woven his colourful dreams around her until she was caught up in his promises, unable to escape when the truth of his hate and betrayal was revealed, devouring her soul from the inside out. Too committed to walk away and too scared to leave, she watched impotently as the man she loved – and would have gone to the ends of the earth for – slowly retreated, leaving her cold and rejected, alone in a world she no longer recognised.

With any last vestige of trust extinguished, silence has become her only companion in this house. In silence, she has borne every snub, every offence and every blow. In silence she has wept motionlessly beside him every night for the past six years. With no other hope remaining, believing the blame to be hers alone, she has maintained her painful silence.

Until today. Until this very moment, to be precise – when she found the storybook.

It lay hidden beneath piles of papers she had brought with her when she entered this house, ten long years ago, a different person altogether – a hopeful optimist, caught up in the irresistible promise of his love.

“Clear your rubbish from the attic,” he had commanded that morning, flinging the front door open so hard that it banged against the wall. “I don’t want your trash in my space anymore.”

Obediently, she had climbed the rusting ladder to the attic, black bin bags in hand, trying hard to combat the sick fear of falling that gripped her stomach with every ascending step. For three hours, she wrestled dusty boxes open, choking in the thick, musty air around her. And then, her old storybook appeared. It was waiting patiently for her amidst the dross of her former life, half-hidden under the university papers, dog-eared photographs, bulging notebooks and paperback books with yellowing pages.

My book. My storybook!

Holding the precious volume in her hands, she quickly clambers down from the attic, her quickened heartbeat removing any concern for the sturdiness of the ladder’s rungs.

The following hours pass in a blur of activity as her purpose becomes clear. All her years of crippling powerlessness are crumbling away, usurped by the empowering fires of hope ignited by the old book.
Finally, standing in the living room, she gazes down through misty eyes at the worn leather cover in her hands and carefully opens it again. The old, fading pages seem to light up her face, filling the room with a warmth it has not witnessed for years. Old friends smile up at her – beautiful faces and handsome eyes, pink castles and magical lands. They are willing strength into her aching, bruised limbs and soothing her scarred brow. She leans closer, almost as if hearing their tiny, whispered voices. As the idea begins to burn brighter inside her weary consciousness, her eyes widen like those of the little girl on her Daddy’s lap, all those years ago.

With trembling hands, she rifles through the scant belongings in her handbag to find her mobile phone, checking around her as she does so, half-fearing that he may be watching from the shadows. But she is alone, save for her old friends with their urgent smiles. She quickly dials a number and waits for what feels like an eternity. With each ring, she feels her courage building, the hope of long ago reigniting her heart.

Happy endings can happen, she assures herself. They can happen for me. They will happen for me.

“Hello?” The call connects and a deep, familiar voice on the end of the line sends a shock of panic and adrenalin through her heart.

“Daddy?” She struggles against the emotion choking at her voice. “Daddy it’s me.”

There is a pause at the other end of the line. She can hear his breathing, shaky and uneven. Slowly, the voice returns: “Princess? Is that really you?”

“Yes, it’s me,” she sobs, rubbing frantically at the tears flooding her eyes.

“It’s been so long since we’ve heard… We didn’t know where you were… Where are you?”

“It doesn’t matter where I am. I want to come home. Can I come home, Daddy?”

Her father’s voice shakes with his reply, “Yes, baby. Come home now. I’ll be waiting for you. Everything is going to be OK.”

Grabbing the book, she picks up the small suitcase at her feet and flings open the door, running out into the starry night, leaving the nightmare far behind her. Moving faster than she has travelled for so many years, she runs towards her happy ending.

Copyright Miranda Dickinson 2008



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