She is looking at the world through a veil grown filmy with time and bordered by dusk. The view is limited, obstructed by memory and dream, and she is not always certain what she sees or when she is seeing it.
Even sitting in the loggia of this country house, open to the world and so easy to observe from her padded bench the activities which mark the offices of the day, she can be uncertain of her place in time. Surely servants have crossed the terrace in front of her in this manner for centuries — there are paths worn in the smooth flags, hard stone taken away speck by speck by a million bare feet. They have been here before; this is nothing new. She is not the first old woman to sit in the sun here and let herself wander.
She remembers wishing, when she arrived at this house in disgrace and first walked through the loggia that the world could be just as distinct and defined as the strong sun pouring through the archways. The supports form black shadows on the white stone tiles, so that they alternate with patches of bright. One step in white sun, the next in black shadow, then white sun, then black shadow, white, black, white, black — until the walker is dizzy with the alternating flashes of light and dark and slinks back quietly in the long band of shade clinging to the house wall. The first day, she had marveled at the effect, and had walked the length of loggia until she was nearly sick with the hope of some change being worked on either herself or the world outside. Black, white, black, white inside, still unlimited shades and nuances without. She had been ground between the nuances, caught in some space between maid and bawd. Poor child, poor child, she thinks now, and she does not know if she refers to herself or her dead cousin.
“A bird flown,” she says aloud in the leaf-dry voice of old age, and the memory of the first day in exile tangles with another older one, still filled with hot sunshine and shade.
Two girls, running beneath wide-limbed trees, through shade cool and dark and scented with leaf mould. One is golden-haired, pollen bright, and the other, several years younger, a sleek starling of a girl. Blue-black, shining, overlooked for the fairer child. They are running, small enough that the walled garden they are running in seems unbounded, without limit, a kingdom without mountains, nor rivers, nor sea to end it. They are half wild with it, hearts gone to bramble and wheeling breezes, when the younger is caught up by a tree root in the path.
Rosa, Rosa! she cries. I am hurt.
“Cousin, sweet cousin,” Rosaline continues her younger cousin’s plea. “Come back to me. I am hurt.”
She had returned, she had raised her cousin up again, and they had run on along the dusty path, pounded smooth by the tamping feet of those who had come before them. As smooth as the terrace Rosaline looks out on now, crossed by as many feet. But ladies, walking sedately within the confines of that walled garden. How many of them had thought the world without limit as they walked those garden paths? Had they seen the walls? As they grew older, had they felt their kingdoms growing smaller, shrinking in on itself?
Her chest is tight, and she draws a careful breath. Dry, hot sun. How she has always needed it, even when it was not there for her.
Juliet had, she thinks now, though she had not thought so at the time. Juliet had seen the borders of her freedom drawing closer, closing in upon her. Instead of forcing away the usurpers and intruders, she had leapt. Leapt free, carried away on the strong wind of rebellious love. Little starling, flinging herself into torturous storms, not knowing the danger looming. Little starling, eyes bright, not caring. Wild girl, wild girl, full of love, little star-crossed bird.
Rosaline, rough with love and sprouting thorns. Bristling with thorns, hiding beneath her blooming face. Surely if there was a person to blame for both their ends, it was Rosaline and her repudiation. If she had not been so cold, if she had allowed a kiss, a touch, an answering stroke of her hand across his face. Something so small as a flash of her slaying eye, and the end would have been not as it had been. Usurper whom Juliet had welcomed with open arms, seeing an escape. Winged girl, rooted girl, the one reckless and the one watchful, the one dark and the one fair.
If she had killed with love, and let that other’s heartsblood nourish her. If she had let some other soul be grafted to hers, sipping dry her own self over the years, drawing and drawing and never done. If she had let herself be stolen from herself, plucked like a lost blossom from the hedgerow, free for the taking. Opened herself in some other heart’s light than that of the bright, strong sun.
If and if and if — they had been piled at her feet like the compliments and graces that had been piled there before, and she had been borne to the loggia on a wave of steps she had never taken and could not defend herself against. Tilting ghosts, battling the wind, breath stolen by no matter more substantial than breath.
Oh, starling, starling. Caught on winds of her own choosing, and plucked by a pale-cheeked boy stung by the thorns of a solitary rose, less knowing than a sky-wheeling bird, who flew closer to the sun than a ground-tethered rose ever did.
Hot sun. Hot sun. She is sitting drenched in hot sun. She is sitting drenched in hot sun, and the many Rosalines — fair Rosaline, false Rosaline, cold Rosaline, Rosa, sweet Rosa, Rosaline of the shining brow and bud mouth, faded rose, hedge canker bearing no fruit — are falling away from her like leaves, like thorns, spinning away into the dry dust. She is setting down roots, she is rooted, salt water running under stone, dry no longer.
Hot sun. She raises her knotted and gnarled fingers to it, pale palms turned up. There is no shadow, no shade, no flapping silk borne by blushing boys, only hot sun. How she has longed all her life for the hot sun. How she has longed to be bleached clean.
Hot sun. It is good. Hot sun.