It has come, as I knew it would. My ability to hold firm is wavering. The slithering seductress of temptation leans over my bed and whispers words of apparent comfort in my ears. I know that, if I give in to her honeyed rhetoric, the pain will go away and I will be, in material ways, safe once more. I know that, if I take that shimmering and beautiful green girdle from her hands, and hide it beneath my armour, the axe may nick my exposed neck but it will not sever my head – and droplets of blood upon snowy ground will be minimal.
I am not Sir Gawain. I am Alienora. This is not the lovely Silent Eye ‘Foliate Man’ weekend. It is my life. I am not about to meet The Green Knight at the Green Chapel for the return blow. I am in the closing stages of divorce. But the principal is the same and the urge to defend myself (and others), to keep from harm, is almost unbearably strong today.
The snake sibilants susurrate over the silken bed coverings.
‘Stay where you are,’ they say. ‘You cannot afford to live any other way. You know this. Mathematician, you may not be, but even you can add two and two and make four. The sums do not add up and you are in danger of plunging everyone into serious peril. Desist! Accept this tiny gift, this green symbol of sustenance and hope…’
And, five months to the day from the moment when the chronic endless pain started, I am almost overwhelmed by a longing to call a halt, to allow the chains of severance in a marriage to clatter noisily to the ground, but to keep the super-structure of life-as-I-have-known-it intact.
The Green Girdle, for me, is the dwelling in which I live – or, rather, the absolute childlike terror that, beyond it, lies an excruciating landscape of pain, blood, hardship, loss and ruin.
The Green Girdle is singing a lilting lullaby – but, if you listen carefully (and I do), it uses childhood’s bogeymen, and other beings sequestered under the bed, to warn and cramp and trap, to fear that the slightest step out of the tried-and-tested will bring cataclysm, suffering and death.
‘You will not survive,’ the inanimate green temptress says. ‘The pain will kill you, or the lack of structures will. My way is the only way. You are not deserting your principles, simply accepting a compromise, a way of doing things which would make it easier for everyone The cost of freedom is beyond you. Do not wallow in the toxic lakes of intransigence…’
I feel tears puddling on my pillow. The voice is so loving, so convincing, so sensible – like the ideal mother we all long for. It tells me that, if I leave this castle, I will only be able to find shelter in rude huts, shacks abandoned by shepherds, echoing caves cut into inhospitable hillsides. That I will be potential prey for wild animals and wilder men and women. That walking over the drawbridge and setting off alone will cause untold damage and suffering to those who also inhabit the village-world of castle life.
I rock in my bed. Fingers and wrists, ribs and back, hips and neck all feel swollen with anguish and agony. My hands are not big enough to soothe and contain this amount of pain, nor can they make a cup sufficiently large to catch the river of tears.
I am, to use expressions coined long before I slipped from my mother’s womb, between the devil and the deep blue sea, a rock and a hard place. There is no decision I can make which will not hurt someone. There is no way that this next part of the path is going to be anything but ripping of the soles, a back thrumming with pain and bowed down by responsibility’s heavy baggage and a palsied hand trembling upon a thick carven staff.
I am no longer afraid of the wolves. They are warm and steadfast, loyal and simple in their needs. No. I am afraid that the threadbare and rotting home I dreamed of so often as a little girl is all I will find as shelter in the coming months and years. I am afraid that a flat landscape of unrelenting snow, an endless winter with no hope of spring, summer or autumn, will be the season and colour of my life to come.
The Lady, with her beauty and blandishments, is my mind – though its words and thoughts have been primed by an expert teacher. Her dizzying temptation bites deep into my most insecure places and brings forth the wail of the abandoned child, the night-time horror of a collapsing home and the primeval human fear of a life alone in the Wasteland.
I am sore afraid.