Soyez comme l’oiseau, posé pour un instant
Sur des rameaux trop frêles,
Qui sent ployer la branche et qui chante pourtant,
Sachant qu’il a des ailes!
(Be like the bird who / pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight / feels them give way beneath her /and yet sings / knowing she hath wings)–Victor Hugo
When I was a young girl, I spent many summers abroad in France, my grandmother’s country. I remember how exciting it was to count down the days until the trip every year. I would wish for time to speed up, even through Christmas, just to get there! Each summer, we would spend a few weeks in Paris, then Is-en-Bassigny, and then finally, Roquebrune-sur-Argens, which was my favorite. Built into the mountainside just off of the French Riviera, Roquebrune offered beautiful views of the Provence from its great heights.
My most favorite part about the townhome we owned in Roquebrune was my bedroom window. Situated at one of the higher points in town, I could see for miles out of that window, and I spent untold hours in the evenings sitting on its thick ledge of the 300 year old house. This was a nightly occurrence for me, because I loved to greet the starlings as they danced their murmuration across the sky in the evenings. Appearing over the horizon like a great, black ribbon, they would dive and turn, undulating through the twilight to an erratic dance of birdsong as the sunset burned orange and ember behind them. Eventually they would come closer overhead and completely dominate the sky with the moon rising behind them. Then as gracefully as they came, they flew beyond our town and out of sight. I was entranced each time, as if every night was completely new to behold.
It has been 16 years since I last sat in that window and watched the birds dance their nightfall ballet. I think back to those memories often though, despite the time. Some people imagine a pristine beach as their happy place, and I imagine the starlings at my window, and I can seem the just as vividly as they looked so long ago. It’s no surprise that I should then dream of them, from time to time…
And so it was a couple of months ago that I found myself sitting on the window ledge of my little room, looking out over the quiet town of Roquebrune. The sky was various shades of blues, purples, and pinks that would ultimately give way to the reds and oranges of the sun’s departure. And just as always, slowly over the horizon came that great black ribbon of birds. I thought of how much like a Chinese dragon they seemed as they flew across the sky in a perfectly unbroken wave. Closer and closer the ribbon twirled and pirouetted, with the setting sun and rising moon as the backdrop to their wild ballet.
But something changed, as I watched them this time in the dream. This time, as they came overhead, instead of disappearing out of sight, they came to me on the ledge. Thousands of starlings swirled around me, the rush of air from their beating wings stealing my breath away. Around and around, they surrounded me in such a complete avian vortex that I could no longer see, though I could feel that I was being lifted by them. My hands came up to my face, covering my eyes; partly for protection, and part out of fear. It felt like absolute rapture and I felt certain I would die, swallowed by feathers.
But quite suddenly, the beating of wings and rush of air was gone, and I was standing on my own two feet again, not a bird in sight.
The starlings had taken me to a new place, one I have never been before, and yet I think I may have as well. Familiar and unfamiliar. I stood at the top of a spiral staircase of stone that led underground. Stone sphinxes flanked me on either side and I felt compelled to stare at them a moment before I hear whispering from the foot of the stairs. It called to me, and in that fearless way that only dreams can provide, I followed it.
Down, down, down the spiral stairs I went after the whisper.
At the bottom, I expected to find someone, the owner of the whisper, and yet, there was no one. The only thing that greeted me was a golden door. It was stunningly gorgeous, and it gleamed bright despite the lack of light, as if it had an energy to it. This golden door was like a wrought iron bank door in that you could see through grating, and it was composed of fine, intricate filigree details reminiscent of the art deco era. And in the very center was a keyhole, ornately framed with more filigree so that it became the focus that drew the eye.
I stepped up to the keyhole, closing one eye to see if I could catch a glimpse to the other side, but only darkness greeted me beyond.
Then, the whisper came again, seemingly from all sides, androgynous in tone. “Do you know what lies beyond?”
I thought of the sphinxes above and answered, voice unsure, “the mysteries?”
“Yes. So, will you open the door?”
“I… I don’t think I have the key?” My gaze shifted down to the key that hung above my heart. It was small and plain, simple brass, but that was what I loved about it. Such a small key that meant so much more than what it lent to the eye. But even as wonderful as that key is, I knew it wouldn’t work in that lock. Even so, my fingers grasped at it for comfort, as if it could protect me with a touch.
“Are you sure?”
I felt a sudden change in the metal beneath my fingers. As I looked down again, my key was different now. It was a larger skeleton key, with fine filigree features that matched the door.
“How…? Why did you? Turn it back!”
“Don’t ask questions, only seek knowledge” replied the whisper.
I rolled my eyes a bit at the philosophy there, then put my key into the lock, hoping that after this was over it would turn back into my little key.
A series of large clicks reverberated from the door as the lock mechanisms turned and pulled at the bolts.
A jolt of electricity hit me then, out of nowhere and sharp enough to send a shock of pain from head to toe. I recovered and frantically tried to pull the key from the lock, but it was held fast. Another jolt shot through me again as I pulled my head back in an attempt to free myself from the necklace that bound me to the key. The chain held fast, trapping me as another jolt zapped through me and blinded me with pain.
“Hurry now, hurry now, your time is running out. It’s waiting.”
Another electric pulse shot out from the door, through the key and into me, and it was lights out. I woke up in my bed, muscles sore as if I had clenched my entire body through the dream. I grabbed at the key at my neck and sighed with relief to find it was unchanged.
I’m not quire sure where I was in this dream, though I have been to a few similar places with sphinxes. I certainly hope I get another chance to open the door, and to see what lies beyond its threshold, and what is waiting there. Perhaps that’s another dream for another night. For now, I’ll be thinking of my starling nights and hoping I can share them with those dear to me one day soon.