(Essay 3) Baba Part III: The Smile (A tale of Vasilisa) by Jillian Parker
Vasilisa reached for a long, flat black lacquer box from its hiding place atop a roughly-hewn shelf. She slid open the box and let her hand rest on its contents for the briefest sigh of a moment. It was a shirt, sewn by her hands, crafted from the finest cloth she had ever woven. If she were to remove it from its hiding spot, she knew she would be able to thread it effortlessly through the small filigree ring on her finger. Within the folds of the shirt lurked a faded piece of parchment. She slid the box shut. “Thank you, dearest friend, for teaching me to weave,” she whispered.
For one last time, or so she thought, she walked out the door. A pair of clouds was hovering near a crescent moon. She closed her eyes, and it was as if the moon kissed her brows and became a boat there, swaying back and forth. Absent-mindedly, she plucked a white aster growing near her door, and held it close while shuffling over to her bed.
Images from Vasilisa’s memory crowded into her mind’s eye, and prevented her from falling asleep. Once, she had been sent on a journey with that very black lacquer box, to the far-off capital. There, she had witnessed surging armies, sieges, clashes, and blood spilled upon the dark earth. Vasilisa remembered how she had reached the castle wall, bruised, and with her clothing torn to shreds, so that when she appealed to the guards standing at attention with their pikes crossed, they did not believe she had any business in that place, and had turned her brusquely away. The most haunting of all of her reflections were those of silvery silhouettes of Ivan Tsarevich, pacing back and forth in his garden, or perhaps looking out to sea from a grey tower.
Vasilisa began to dream that the boat on her brow was her own self floating on the ocean of consciousness. She passed a blinding light, and cried out in her sleep. Then she encountered a horrific storm. The waves of the sea curled around her and spoke in unison. Her senses nearly exploded from noise and terror. “Zarya! Help me! My bright Day!” she cried out. The dream was full of torment and anguish, until she heard a voice, “You are a soul. You are White Aster.” “But what does this mean?” she argued and begged, over and over with the storm. Yet the conflict would not cease.
A voice came to her. “I am. You are, White Aster.” She still did not understand, although she could feel warmth seeping into her freezing limbs. “What is happening?” In the darkness, her struggle continued, until somehow she remembered the flower lying on her breast. Although afraid at first, she tipped the boat till it careened dangerously, then she directed it lower, until it was pointed straight at the flower; that is, in the direction of her heart. A light appeared inside its petals, and the pulsing flower expanded, until she was floating inside it.
All of the raucous memories, the rioting waves, even a stray Leviathan which had been curled around her boat, as if ready to crush it, began to burn away in the curious white light within the aster, which was cool, yet warming at the same time; and then the sea was becalmed.
Vasilisa woke with a start. She remembered the crescent moon, and the pair of clouds above it, and ran for the door. Her boat began rocking again. But there they were: the two clouds, as if hiding a pair of mysterious eyes, above a silver smile. Vasilisa smiled in response. The two sides of the sea were once again still and smooth. She made another attempt at a smile. Each time she smiled, while settled in this space, it was as if a hanging bridge had appeared, uniting the two surging sides of her soul-self. Slipping into this smile made her feel that she had just donned the finest kokoshnik, and a diaphanous, fairy-made royal gown.
Finally, Vasilisa walked over and glanced at Vera on her cot. She pulled Vera’s coverlet down over her bare feet, and then returned to her own bed, and, with a smile lingering on her lips, sank into a fathomless dream.