More and more, the memories of his life as a powerful prince of a distant land are vanishing in the mists of time. But he will never forget the day when the wise woman of the forest (or was it a witch?) condemned him to a life of incarceration within the green vase. And, this time, no true love from a woman would save him as in Beauty and the Beast. To be fair, he didn’t deserve it. He had been incapable of love, playing around with those who fell for him and abruptly leaving them without as much as a word, cruelly breaking their hearts. So, the wise woman said the spell would only cease if, one day, the vase was broken into pieces, but she warned him she would make the vase so beautiful everyone around it would take the utmost care never to break it. That would be his punishment and his curse.
The vase on the chest of drawers
When he came to his senses, he was green all over. He could see himself, a 30 cm tall, 14 cm wide glass vase, in light emerald-green; the glass was thick and translucent, depicting two tall, lithe, graceful figures who looked like they belonged to a fairy tale themselves. The young man, almost a boy, extends his hand to the girl, as if trying to give her a shell, waif-like carvings on the glass depicting serenity, a fantasy world. Apart from the figures a few stars sprinkle the glass, and the whole is so perfect that you just want to go on looking at the vase… and dreaming.
Inevitably, everyone who saw it fell in love with the vase. It was on top of a cold marble stone that covered a Louis XIV chest of drawers, whose intricate and rich woodwork made visitors stop by and appreciate it. Then they would inevitably look at the vase, that the blonde lady of the house invariably filled with the fragrant roses of her garden that she tended herself, in whites, yellows, light and bright pinks and deep reds. He was never happier than when he got those adoring looks, but at the same time they were cruel reminders of his previous life and his fate.
By his side on the marble stone, he had two Spanish glass dancers in whites, reds, and blacks. They were dancing the flamenco, he knew, and the graceful poise of the woman dancer’s hands confirmed so; there was a white porcelain bust of a perfectly proportionate girl with a tiara holding her hair and there was a pair of porcelain parakeets too, one blue and one yellow, and he heard someone said they perfectly matched those of the bird aviary the lady of the house kept in the garden.
The chest of drawers being in the huge living room of the mansion, many people stopped to admire him; the head of the family, a noticeably powerful yet very simple and agreeable man; his wife, the beautiful, blonde, poised woman who brought in the roses; and many others, but most of all the girl with the cinnamon-coloured skin, long dark brown hair, and slim legs that seemed never to end. She would sit on a chair and just stare at the chest of drawers and all the objects on top of it. So much that the blonde lady once said: “It’s decided; when I die this piece of furniture and all that’s on top of it will belong to you, my dear”. And from that day on he knew he knew his fate was sealed.
Now that he thought of it, those were happy times – he could see the light coming from the wide windows on his left; they were mostly open, and he could hear the children’s cries of joy while they were running or splashing in the swimming pool. There were always many visitors, apart from relatives; it was an open house, and its inhabitants were happy. And, appreciated as he was, he felt contented, accepting his fate.
One day it all changed. From heartfelt laughter and joyful reunions silence became the norm. No more laughs coming in from the open windows. Doors were shut in the early evenings and people spoke in whispers. From a few words he heard he understood a revolution had come to turn that family’s life upside down. Then he saw them packing to leave and one day it was his turn to be carefully wrapped in innumerable sheets of paper and put into a box. The lady of the house took care of it herself, and it was the last he saw of the girl, her worried eyes when she asked: “Is it going to be all right? I mean, will it get to Lisbon in one piece?”, and the answer was a curt “Hopefully so.” And then all was dark, and he heard something about going to be put in a crate with the rest of the furniture. They were going to be sent someplace else.
In the dark he felt the motion of the sea, so he knew he was on a ship. He couldn’t tell how long the trip lasted for, as he fell into a deep slumber and forgot about everything – his past as a prince, the curse of the wise lady, even his glass and porcelain companions. But he dreamed of the girl, her adoring brown eyes and how in those last times much of the joy seemed to have gone out of them.
New home, new life
He felt himself being unwrapped. After all those months in the dark light invaded him. He would have felt lost if not for a loved voice almost shrieking with excitement: “Look, the green vase! It’s come out whole! Thank God! I’d forgotten how beautiful it was!” And there she was, his girl, now so different, the same eyes but different hair, now shoulder length, taller, no longer a child but a teenager. And she was touching him reverently and putting him on the cold marble on top of the chest of drawers and all his companions had arrived safely and there he was, on a much less grander living room, no longer in a large mansion but in an apartment, but he was happy to be there in the light, with this family, and above all with the girl who had haunted his dreams.
Years went by. In the living room the life of the family unfolded before his eyes like a movie. As his girl – as he now thought of her –got older she became bolder, more argumentative. She wanted the freedom that was denied her by her grandparents (the powerful man who was not so powerful anymore and the beautiful blonde lady who no longer had a garden of roses to tend to, but still never forgot to fill him with fragrant flowers). He saw her with friends, then saw it in her eyes when she was in love and read pain in disappointment when her heart was broken. How he wished he could have talked to her then, extend a friendly hand and hold her close to his heart. But he couldn’t. It was then that he finally understood that, even though he was a glass vase, with no arms to hold someone close, somehow, he had a heart, so much more of a heart than he used to have as a prince, because now he could feel an emotion that he had been unaware of then – he felt love. He knew this girl had found a way to his heart, and she would stay there forever.
So, his heart laughed with her when she was happy, and ached when he saw tears in her eyes. For him it was enough just to see her every day. He now realised that he had hurt all those girls who had loved him in the past and silently asked for their forgiveness. He now understood how love could make you the happiest but also the most miserable of beings.
He was used to the family going on a long summer holiday every year, but they always came back. One day he heard something about a wedding, and he understood his girl was going away – for good. She had found the one she thought was the love of her life and she was going to begin a life with him. The day before the wedding she went through the house, as if saying goodbye to all the objects that had been there throughout her life, and he would swear he heard a whisper “I will come and see you often.” And she did, of course, she came to visit her family; and after a few years she brought her children and she showed them the vase and told them it had come from her homeland far away, and that one day it would come live with them – in a long time, she hoped.
But time goes by so quickly, even to a silent, still green glass vase sitting on the icy marble top of a chest of drawers. His owners grew old, very old, and passed away, and one day the girl, her mother and brother come to the house to sort all the furniture, paintings, and objects. And there was no discussion – from the beginning the chest of drawers and all it contained belonged to his girl, now a woman, and the vase moved house again, happy to be al last reunited with his new owner, the one he wanted to be with.
Time, inexorable as always, has passed. He has seen her divorce, fall in love again, be a dedicated mother to her beloved children, pursue her career; he has seen her contagious smile, her frown at times, her tears at others. He has seen her live life to the full, and each day he has loved her, but never more than when he sees her eyes bright with tears and her arms limp, waiting for someone to embrace her – someone who will not come. He has seen terrible disappointment and has heard her say she does not believe in love anymore. Oh, to find the old wise woman again and tell her he has learned the lesson, he has paid for his sins, most of all that he has learned to love and how with love come ecstasy and pain; how he would beg her to take him out of his green, beautiful, cold prison and let him be a man again, so that he could love this woman, console her, be the love she has always longed for and never found; but the wise woman has long since disappeared and he knows his only way out is to be broken in a thousand pieces, but how can he, when she so lovingly tends to him. In every move she was the one to wrap him, she carried him herself with all the care in the world, and she’s always warning everyone in the house to be careful with the green vase because if they break him, she will be devastated.
Ah, thinks the green vase. I wish I could move myself just a little each day, so that I could reach the edge and throw myself onto the floor; or if I could just whisper into someone’s mind and ask them to break me; but not even her boys would dare. They know I’m too special, they stay away from me, so no disaster happens.
And so, this absurd life will go on. He watches her, lonelier every day, her once beautiful eyes now sad and lifeless; day by day she goes on with her life, following a routine, without enthusiasm. Love has gone out of her life, and she knows it will not return. And there’s absolutely nothing he can do, but hope. Hope that the day of deliverance, of redemption, will come. The day when someone inadvertently hits him and makes him break. The day when he may become a man again and tell her how he has loved all these years, all her life, and that he will take care of her forever. That he will never let her go; that she will never have to cry of loneliness again, for he will be there. That she has taught him what love is.
A million pieces
Years later, her children, now mature men, are going through their mother’s things. As much as they knew she loved her furniture and all her objects, they cannot keep them, they have nothing to do with the style of their homes – so they decide on an appraisal of everything, so they can later sell them, because they know there must be valuable pieces – after all most of them had belonged to their great grandfather, the powerful man who had lost almost all.
They move the vase to the edge of the chest of drawers to find space for several other objects they are sorting out. After some time, they feel depressed and tired – they miss their mother, a mother who has loved them more than anything else in her life. They decide to go out for some fresh air and leave the windows open. As they close the front door a gust of strong wind invades the hall and a pot of flowers loses balance and pushes the green vase off the edge and it falls onto the ground, exploding into a million pieces, and the prince, the man, slowly gets up and stretches himself, after a life inside his glass prison. But this moment he had so fervently prayed and asked the universe for, has come too late, for his heart has already been broken in a million pieces the day he learned his beloved girl, this woman he loved, had ceased to exist. For him, there was no point in becoming a man, now, for it had arrived too late.
Having learned his lesson the hard way, the prince who had finally gained a heart, only to lose it again, silently opened the door and went down the stairs. On his way out he crossed the two men, her sons, who were coming back. He wondered what they would think of the shattered pieces of the green vase. Nothing much, he expected. They would probably say “Thank God Mom never saw this happen.” Little do they know, he thought, that had their mother seen it happen before, she might have found her beautiful smile again, and this crazy fairy tale might have had a happy ending after all.
But it was not to be, he thought, as he disappeared around the corner, never to be seen again.