The Porcelain Urn
by Visalakshi Viswanathan
“I now pronounce you man and wife,” the words we had been waiting to hear all year. The congregation cheered wildly as I threw my bouquet up into the air and my husband, Tony, swept me off my feet into the bridal coupe waiting for us outside. It was the happiest day of our lives.
Of course, after the ceremony, we had to come down to reality, making sure the arrangements for the reception were all taken care of so we could both make our appearance together in effortless grace, and wow them with our first dance as Mr. and Mrs.
“I will never leave you,” he whispered in my ear, swirling me around as we waltzed.
“Nor I you,” I replied, bursting with love, barely able to breathe. We held each other close as we danced the night away, oblivious to the world around us. And that was how our lives would be from here on in.
After the most enchanted wedding day and night came the honeymoon. Our bags had been packed and ready to leave, as were we. The journey itself was a simple one: a drive to the south coast, a couple of hours away from home, but one that would take us far from the madding crowd, to celebrate our love in a world of our own.
It was a stunningly beautiful spring day. The gods had blessed us with clear blue skies, and the universe smiled on our first day of life as though this was pre-ordained, as though we were meant to be.
There was hardly any traffic on the roads; we were sure to reach our destination earlier than we had thought. Soon we were driving across the beautiful, pristine Illawarra rainforest, inhaling the mountain dew, the freshness of giant ferns filling our lungs with renewed youth and zest. I loved this drive. I could never get enough of it. It would not be long before we caught a glimpse of the sea.
We drove on, stopping from time to time to take in the view, snatch a moment, a caress, a kiss. The journey seemed to be getting longer than I ever remembered. But then it had been a long, exciting night. I closed my eyes for a kip, confident that I would soon awake to sounds and scent of surf and sea.
I opened my eyes and Tony was still driving. The scenery had changed, everything seemed utterly strange. Tony looked helplessly confused.
“Where are we going?” I asked sleepily.
“I don’t know,” he said, trying hard to sound calm. “I’ve been driving on the same road, the same route, but it looks different.”
“It hasn’t been that long since we were here,” I mused. Creasing my brow I tried to recollect when we had last driven to the coast. It had been a while.
My musings were interrupted by a sharp hairpin bend that came up suddenly before us. Tony, an expert driver, had no trouble with it, though. I heaved a sigh of relief.
I considered calling roadside assistance, but there was no satellite signal. Darn. There was nothing we could do but drive along the narrow, winding road that seemed to be taking us uphill when we should have been going down to sea level.
There was only one road, and we were on it. As we got higher, the turns got sharper and narrower. We were thrown into a vortex from which there was no escape. My head was spinning, and I resisted every urge to throw up.
How he did it, I’ll never know. After spinning around what seemed to be a typhoon of a highway, we were sucked into an abyss, a cave of sorts. It was to Tony’s credit that the car was still intact and we were both alive.
We got out of the car, after eons of whirling around, finally getting a feel of our trembling hands and legs. Tony looked exhausted and pulled out a can of chilled beer from the esky we had carefully packed in the boot.
I looked around the cave. It was beautiful. Perhaps this was a new addition to the tourist drive. Whatever it was, I felt a flurry of excitement. Wow! The dark cave was lit by the most magnificent array of fireflies I had ever seen. They glowed in every single colour, like solar bulbs attached to the cave walls. Their iridescence was surpassed only by the luminous hues of the most extraordinary flowering plants emerging from the ground around a nearby spring. A hint of jasmine and lavender filled the air. The aura was sublime.
The faint trickle of flowing spring water reminded me that my throat was parched; I was desperate for a drink. My head was still reeling and the nausea was again overwhelming. I’d better stay off the booze. The spring water should definitely make me better.
As if in a daze, I made my way across the tiny cave, almost floating across the three yards to the seeping waterfall. I was quickly overcome with an almost orgasmic serenity as I opened out my palms to fill them with the crystal-clear, mildly perfumed liquid and sipped the most exotic drink I had ever tasted.
This was water, yes, yet it was something more, much more. Cold as ice, it warmed me when I swallowed, reviving and revitalizing me like a shot of adrenalin. It was magical. I called to Tony. He was absorbed in his beer, learning to breathe. I thought I’d let him rest while I wandered along, full of vigour and vim.
I felt a cool draught on my shoulder and turned, walking in the direction of the breeze. As I walked, the fragrance grew stronger, headier and more tantalizing. In a trance I glided along a narrow, almost invisible corridor.
I seemed to be going down a slippery slope, crouching as I progressed across the shrinking passage. I followed a scented mist towards a bright fluorescent light at the end of the tunnel. Crawling, I reached an opening, barely wide enough for me to squeeze through.
My eyes were greeted by a sight more astounding than before, shimmering dewdrops dripping from the ceiling of a chamber that was at least fifteen feet high. The walls of the sunless cave shone brightly with a million diamonds glistening through the haze.
From the luminescence emerged a princely figure in a red silken robe, tall, dark and majestic, wearing a silver gem-studded crown, carrying a silver sceptre in his right hand and a silver bowl in his left. I greeted him without hesitation, as though I had been expecting him. He smiled, stretching out his left hand, offering me the silver bowl filled, as I could now see, with sparkling gemstones.
I hesitated, knowing that if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t. I stood my ground. True, I was completely taken in by the ambience of the cave, but I still had all my marbles. I politely refused, and he vanished.
Heck, I thought to myself, What kind of fool am I to refuse an offer of a lifetime? Mentally, I kicked myself in the shin a dozen times before I moved along.
The fragrance propelled me towards an archway lined with gold. Entering a darkened chamber, my nostrils were tickled by a waft of fresh sandalwood. I turned to my right. There, in the corner, stood an ape-like human wearing only a white loin cloth and a golden crown, carrying a golden mace in his left hand and in his right, what seemed to be a mountain of aromatic shrubs. Silently he beckoned me.
I heard his thoughts! He spoke to me soundlessly, without moving his lips, but I heard him loud and clear, My herbs will give you eternal youth.
I looked at him, incredulous. How had he done it?
Telepathy, he replied in my mind. I reached out, and then held back, as a voice in my head said, No, stop! This time, it was not the voice of the ape-man. It was my own voice, the voice of fear. Look at him. What do you think he has there? He’s probably a drug peddler, a con-man, trying to get you hooked.
The man smiled as if he’d heard me and vanished into the darkness, mace, mountain and all.
I stood aghast. I was pretty sure I’d done the right thing and saved myself from a lifetime of grief. But still, was it another wasted opportunity? What if I was wrong? It was too late. He’d gone without a trace.
I lingered for a while, engulfed in doubt and remorse. I kept questioning my actions. Was I insane? What a distrusting person I was, how depraved did I think the human race was? During the time I remained in the semi-dark golden sandalwood chamber, I had convinced myself I had the most suspicious, hostile mind. I would change, if only I had another chance.
So far, I had been offered wealth of unknown proportions and the promise of eternal youth. What had I done? I had refused. Fear and misgiving had got the better of me. Why? Please, please give me another chance, I prayed. I would dive right in, if only I could.
Almost immediately, my prayer was answered. There, in the far corner of the chamber, a bright blue butterfly fluttered, its dazzling wings echoing the quivering of my own heart. As I skipped towards it, a door slid open ahead. I was in a garden with the dark prince, now standing by the side of an apparition, a raven-haired goddess with almond-shaped eyes, clothed in a resplendent white toga. In her right hand she held an urn of gleaming white porcelain.
Somehow I knew that this was my last chance. I would not ruin it this time.
They smiled as they saw me approach. I greeted them confidently, like an old friend.
“Come,” said the goddess in a mellifluous voice, “drink from my urn and you will have eternal life.” Before I knew it, something inside me snapped. I grabbed the urn and drank, like an alcoholic desperate for more.
While I drank, the goddess vanished and, in her place, stood a tiny young lady with short hair and glasses.
She looked familiar.
She looked like me.
In my hand I still held the urn. The ground seemed to move further away from my eyes. I found myself growing, growing... Now I was about a foot above the ground. I looked at my suddenly bare arm. I was clothed in a resplendent white toga and my short boyish hair transformed into thick long tresses that swept the ground.
When I finally spoke, the voice was not mine. It was smooth and soft like honey. “What have you done to me?” I asked calmly with authority, my tone revealing none of the fear or confusion that was beginning to swell up within me. I was her and she was me.
She squealed in delight, jumped for joy and waved her hands saying, “Yay, I’m free. After fifty years I can finally go back to the world. Good luck, have fun with your immortality. As long as you hold the urn, you’re stuck here for eternity. The only way you can get rid of it is if somebody volunteers to take it from you, like you just did.”
Even as she spoke, the dark prince was being transformed into a strapping young man, his skin growing paler, his features morphing gradually until, in his place, stood Tony, my Tony, holding hands with that wench of a woman pretending to be me.
How dare he! I thought to myself, horrified.
He grinned sheepishly at me and said, “In case you’re wondering, your husband is in the first chamber. Yup, he fell for it. Hey, at least you’ll be together all your lives. Heeheehee.”
My fear was soon replaced with fury, the likes of which I had never felt before. The goddess in me stood serene, holding back the faintest flicker of human emotion, and I remained rigid, immobilized, and helpless. If only I could get out of this divine trap that bound me, if only I could be my rebellious self again.
Alas, I could feel a sensation of numbness spreading through my entire being, while the two imposters walked away. I was powerless in my new avatar.
Even my thoughts were fading, as my mind turned into a blanket of bliss. Just then, in the distance, I heard a chuckle and a giggle. I recognized them at once. Somewhere, something in the core of my being winced with pain as if stabbed by a knife. The chuckle I loved so much was unmistakably Tony’s, and the rippling childlike giggle was once mine. That belonged to me, to us, and I wanted it all back.
To hell with divinity, I desperately wanted to be human, I longed to be me. I was wrestling with this being that was fast taking over my body and mind, holding me in her malignant grasp, sedating and suppressing my ‘inferior’ human reflexes, which in turn were rapidly diminishing. I could not move my head or my limbs, such was her might.
Lowering my eyelids, I looked at the despicable urn held in the palm of my right hand. The coolness of the smooth white porcelain felt strangely reassuring, but I knew it was far from it. But there was something else that caught my attention. It was a small speck of green on my upturned wrist, most definitely a leaf of some sort.
I quickly diverted my thoughts before the foe within could hear them. Instead, I brought visions of my wedding, my plans for the future, memories of my poor dying mother falling to cancer, and the overwhelming grief of her loss. I remembered falling apart when I said goodbye, and weeping uncontrollably at her funeral. I remembered the night we had held hands and cried together, for my mother knew she would never see her grandchildren.
I felt a warm, tingling tear fall on my palm, and for a fraction of a second, my hand was alive. Driven by instinct, I seized the moment to raise it to my lips, and swallowed the tiny leaf. I will never understand why.
Flexing my fingers, I dropped the wretched urn. It fell to the ground with a loud clang, shattering into ten thousand fragments of white porcelain, strewn on the stony floor of the cavern, my dungeon. At that same moment I found my voice and let out my fury, my rage and fear in a cry that resounded through the abyss to the heavens, which, in response, exploded into a thunderous applause.
The bright blue sky became ominously grey, bringing showers that fell into the cave and flooding it. I was shrinking, my hair, my form, my clothes were changing, but I was too preoccupied to care. My only concern was for my husband.
I found him in a stupor where I had last seen him, sipping his beer by the car. What is this? I thought frantically, Will I need to get him into rehab? I shoved him in, and, grabbing the wheel, drove off blindly, without a moment to spare. I followed the only road out of the cave and drove on. We were free.
The road ahead was barely visible through the growing storm. Rain turned into hail, but I kept driving like one possessed. That was a scary thought: perhaps I was still possessed. Was I? I don’t know. But one thing was certain. I had to find the two impostors and annihilate them.
The fury continued to grow within me. If I saw them, I would wring their necks, drown them, and set them on fire all at once. I turned to look at my husband, still in a state of suspended animation.
“Stop!” he spoke. It was my turn to be stunned. “Let’s talk about this,” he finally whispered, logical as always.
“We shall NEVER talk about it. EVER!” I yelled. If there was a goddess, I had most certainly buried her.
“We need to stop. Look at us, we’re drenched, and it’s dangerously wet outside.”
Flashing lights interrupted our discussion. We stopped on the side of the road, watching the policeman in a yellow raincoat walk towards us. “You can’t go any further; the road ahead is flooded. Take the next right turn and pull up at the B&B on the left. Well,” he smiled, “it’s the only one in the neighbourhood. They’ll put you up for the night.”
It was almost as if he had heard us. Relieved, we followed his instructions. Before long we were staring, horror-struck, at the entrance of The White Urn. The sign showed a smiling dark man in prince’s clothing and a breathtakingly beautiful raven-haired woman with alabaster skin in a white toga, holding in her right hand a gleaming white porcelain urn.
Copyright © 2015 by Visalakshi Viswanathan