I creep on tiptoe down the hall, returning from the linen closet with a fresh towel for my evening bath. Passing Thalia’s room I hear her piping voice. From its cadence I know she is reading aloud, obviously to Teddy.
If I am not mistaken, she reads The Old Woman in the Wood. I haven’t thought of that tale for a long time, and listen with my ear to the door to recall how it goes.
A poor serving girl travels with her masters into the depths of a large forest, where they are set upon by robbers. Jumping from the carriage, she saves herself while all the others are murdered. Friendless and helpless, she sits under a tree and awaits her fate.
A white dove appears with a golden key in its beak, telling her to open the lock on a certain tree. More keys and other trees provide the girl with all her needs.
The girl lives a contented and quiet life, until the bird makes a request. The girl is to go into the hut of the Woman of the Wood. The old woman will address her, but the girl is not to answer, but rather go into the next room where there is a table piled with ornate rings. She is to find a plain band and return with it.
She does as the bird instructs, and the old woman is powerless to stop her, but the girl cannot find a plain band among all the elaborate rings on the table. Catching the old woman creeping from the room carrying a bird cage, the girl gives chase, snatching away the cage. In it is a bird with a plain band in its beak.
With the band, she returns to her forest bower where one of the trees wraps it limbs around her and transforms into a handsome prince. Other trees turn into the prince’s entourage. The prince explains the witch turned him and his men into trees, but that he could also be a dove. They all go off to his kingdom where the girl and the prince will be married.
“I like the golden keys that open the tree trunks,” I hear Thalia say. “What about you?”
A little voice answers, “I like the table of rings.”
That can’t be Teddy, can it?
On my knees, I peek through the keyhole. Framed by the aperture, there is Thalia and, in front of her, the fairy.
“Oh,” Thalia claps her hands. “When the tree hugs her, I like that too.”
The fairy turns her head, her black hair floating about, and peers directly at me, her eyebrow raised. Seeing myself through her eyes, I am embarrassed. Peeking through a keyhole upon two innocents—whatever am I doing?
In the bath, I put aside my shame, and let the story images return to me.
What of the golden keys to the locks in the trees?
Why does not speaking to the old woman deny her power over the girl?
What of the table covered with rings?
What is the significance of the birds?
I may need to visit Augustus.