the guest house is open

vacancy signToday there was a morass of feelings in my solar plexus. All the familiar questions struggled against each other: ‘Why are you doing THAT again?’ ‘What on earth is going on here?’ ‘Where’s peace?’ So, I took the medicine I recommend to others, and opened up my guest house.

‘OK, the guest house is open, who’s visiting today and what do you want?’ That sounds more impatient than welcoming but I know that as soon as I switch on the ‘Vacancy’ sign, someone will turn up. Today, there were several visitors, all eager to come in. Four tiny white-haired old ladies, who looked as though they would be better satisfied at Miss Marple’s tea rooms, stood outside my door. They looked both sad, and very hungry.

‘We’re hungry!’ they told me, in case I hadn’t worked that out already.

‘What do you mean?’

‘We’re extremely hungry. We looking for something very filling.’

‘Come in,’ I opened the door even wider.

They stood at the entrance, shook their white heads and looked at each other doubtfully. ‘Should we go in?’ they muttered.

‘Yes, please do,’ I tried my most welcoming smile. ‘Please come in.’

When they had shuffled inside, I invited them to take a seat in the lounge room.

Should I make them some sandwiches or even better, put on a roast? That should keep a bunch of hungry old ladies happy. I had a small leg of lamb in the fridge and lots of vegetables. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly a dab hand at scones.

I told them about the lamb. ‘If I roast lamb with some vegetables, would that satisfy you?’ I asked.

‘No.’ They seemed quite sure about that.

I shrugged. ‘Well, what precisely do you fancy? What is it you’d like?’

‘We’re hungry for you!’ they chorused.

‘What do you mean?”

‘We want you. Just you. All of you,’ they said. ‘Not the pretend you, the real you, the one who knows what she wants, discerns what she should do, understands what she needs to work on. We want you.’

I looked at them. At first, they all looked the same, the generic little old women from central casting. But as I watched, they changed, each one took on more of her own characteristics. They also grew taller and younger. Before long four women stood before me and I could recognise each of them—there was strength, courage, truth. They bowed before me.

‘See,’ they said, ‘you’re you and we’re you. We’re your servants, if you like, and we’re hungry to serve you.’

‘So what do I need to do?’ I asked strength.

She put a pearl on my desk. ‘Just try checking in with the essence of yourself,’ she told me, ‘it will be strong enough.’

I turned to the next woman, ‘And from you,’ I asked, ‘what do I need to learn?’

The second woman came forward with a gift in a small box. She held it out to me. Inside the box was a pen exactly like one I already own.

‘This,’ she said ‘is your sword.’

I smiled a little indulgently, ‘A sword? This is my sword?’

‘You need more courage to use it than to parry any sword,’ she said quietly, ‘Write your stories; let your truths be told.’

I turned to the third of my guests. She had brown eyes and curly hair, and if I’m not mistaken, looked quite a lot like me. She gave me a small mirror.

‘Look in this often,’ she suggested. ‘See the truth of yourself and let that out. See the truth too, of your own soul, and notice the bits that need attention. Attend to those elements with care.’ She stopped speaking, but she looked as though she had something more to say.

‘Anything else?’ I tried to sound casual; that seemed like quite a lot already.

‘Catch yourself whenever you’re tempted to pretend,’ she said. Her eyes were dark but clear.

‘And what then?’

‘Try not to,’ she smiled, and shrugged, ‘At first you’ll fail regularly, but with practice, you’ll get it right.’ She looked at me quite calmly.

The three women bowed. Where was the fourth?

She stepped forward, she must have been hidden behind the others, but how could I have missed her? She was clad in silk, a robe that fell from neck to toe, belted at the waist. She smiled, she was radiant, light spilled towards all of us.

‘Who are you?’ I asked.

‘Grace,’ she said. ‘I’m grace.’ She sank into a deep curtsey.

I felt quite humbled, so I bowed almost as deeply.

When we both rose, I could look her straight in the eyes. Her gaze was welcoming. ‘Thanks for dropping by,’ I told her.

‘I’ll always come,’ she told me. ‘Whenever you call on any of my sisters, I’ll make sure I come along as well.’

The four women stood in my living room, filling my house with a gentle kind of  power. I turned back to the kitchen and thought, maybe sandwiches, or a bowl of nuts, some dip and rice crackers perhaps. I definitely needed to find something for them to eat, or at least put on the kettle in case they wanted a drink.

I went back to check what kind of tea they would prefer, but the room was empty. My visitors had gone.

My pen was on my desk, one of my pearl earrings must have fallen from my ear and rested beside it. The small mirror from my handbag lay nearby.

I made myself a cup of tea and took it back to my desk. I replaced my earring and picked up my pen. I snatched a quick glance in the mirror and then looked more carefully. There I was. Here I am.

Clare Coburn

Photo of vacancy sign Lynn Friedman

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