Sabrina Orah Mark’s column, Happily, focuses on fairy tales and motherhood.
I am halfway through writing an essay about “Sleeping Beauty” when I get a text from my mother: “It’s lymphoma.” My sister. She is twenty. Three lumps on her neck. I erase the entire essay. And then I vomit.
Ever since we went into our homes and shut the door, I have been comforted by images of nature reclaiming deserted places. I search the web and watch snow fall on a dead escalator in an abandoned mall. I find a tree growing out of a rotting piano. The pedals have disappeared into the earth, and on its brown wooden torso someone has carved the initials “C+S” inside a heart. For hours, I search the web for more. Goats walk through city streets as if remembering the woods that once grew there. White mushrooms push up through the floor of a cathedral. I trace each mushroom with my thumb. It makes me want to pray.
“I don’t believe in anything anymore,” says my mother. “Don’t say that,” I say. “Please don’t say that.” But she can’t hear me. She’s already somewhere far, far away.
Before the text, I had been writing about Charles Perrault’s “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood,” because I wanted to write about the bramble. I wanted to write about the hedge of briars that grows around the castle when Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger on a spindle and falls asleep for one hundred years. I wanted to write about the fairy who touches the governesses, ladies-in-waiting, gentlemen, stewards, cooks, scullions, errand boys, guards, porters, pages, footmen, and the princess’s little dog, Puff, so that they all fall asleep, too. I wanted to write about the kindness of the fairy who makes sure when Beauty wakes up she doesn’t wake up alone. I wanted to write about the wind dying down, and the sleeping doves on the roof. I had an idea that the bramble was good. That what we’ve needed all along is for us to hold still and allow nature to grow wild around us. I had this idea that when we all woke up together, the bramble would teach us something. I imagined we’d all rub our eyes and a new civilization would hobble toward the bramble and learn to read its script. I imagined the bramble clasped together like hands filled with cures and spells. I imagined we’d learn a lesson that could save us.