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The Far-Enough Window
or The Reclaiming of Fairyland

an extract from the novel

by John Grant

with illustrations by Ron Tiner

Once upon a time, what happened did happen, and if it had not happened this story would never have been told.
     -- Andrew Lang, 'Stan Bolovan', 1904

'I'm rather out of practice,' said he; 'but that's the way my part ought to be played.'
     -- Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill, 1906

Everything is true in the truest of all possible
worlds.


Chapter 1

Joanna's Diary

All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, 'Oh, why can't you remain like this forever!' This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up.
      -- J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan, 1911

On the second day of the new year Joanna woke to find bright sunlight pouring into the room. Its whiteness, The Far-Enough Window by John Grantdraping over the dressing-table and the bookshelves and making the mirror seem incandescent, matched her waking mood. She felt as if, during the night, a cold draught of air had blown through her mind, tumbling away cobwebs from all the corners and polishing all the surfaces until they gleamed.

She sat upright in bed and put her arms around her knees, looking at the daylight. A glance at her watch told her it was half past nine -- Mrs Ruggeley had let her oversleep again. No wonder she felt so completely rested ... and hungry, though the slight ache of hunger was something to be enjoyed: it seemed somehow apposite alongside her sensation of clear-headedness. She let her eyes run across the carpeted floor to the upright chair over whose back she had put her dress, neatly folded, the night before. It would do another day -- certainly Mrs Ruggeley thought so, or she would have tiptoed in during the night and put a fresh one in its place.

Joanna sat there a few moments longer, enjoying the warmth and the brightness and her own feeling of well-being until her bladder insisted she get up. Leaving Knolly Mutton artwork by Ron Tinerpropped up against the pillows, his little teddy-bear arms jutting out towards the ceiling, she padded through into the bathroom and used the loo, then looked at herself in the mirror.

Her hair was still tousled from sleep, its long strands making impossible shapes that she quickly combed away with her fingers. The peppering of freckles across the top of her nose and her cheekbones was in fine fettle today, reminding her of a cluster of russet wallflowers. She rubbed the heel of her hand against her eye, smiling at herself, then stretched her two arms towards the corners of the bathroom ceiling, head thrown back, standing up on her toes as if she were trying to fly.

She would go down to breakfast in her dressing-gown and slippers. Mrs Ruggeley wouldn't mind, and there was no one else in the house today. There hardly ever was.

That brought a frown to her reflected face as her body relaxed. It was nice to be able to wander around the house half-dressed, but it would have been even nicer if Daddy had been here for Christmas and New Year as he had promised her the last time she'd seen him, in summer. Christmas dinner had been a matter of merely herself and Mrs Ruggeley, plus Mudgett the gardener -- there to make up the numbers but obviously resentful that he'd been forced to enter the dining-room, which he normally considered out of bounds -- sitting around a turkey that was too large, wearing paper hats and frantically pretending to be merry. Afterwards there had been presents -- a big pile for Joanna, a few for Mrs Ruggeley and just a couple (one each from Joanna and Mrs Ruggeley) for Mudgett, who had at least had the grace to look delighted with his new tobacco pouch and pipe-knife, paid for by Joanna out of her own allowance although, obviously, actually purchased on her behalf by Mrs Ruggeley. Joanna's own presents had been mainly the usual: perfumes to add to the unopened collection on the bathroom shelf, clothes that might or might not ever be worn, books -- plenty of books, which were always welcome -- and videos, bits and pieces of cosmetic equipment whose purposes Joanna could only guess at ... and, from Mrs Ruggeley, a leather-bound diary.

Coming back into the bedroom, Joanna saw the diary lying on her dressing-table, and smiled again. She'd never had a diary before. The moment she'd unwrapped it and realized what it was she'd flown to the old housekeeper and hugged her roundly, kissing her on both wrinkled cheeks. Mrs Ruggeley had hugged her right back, her eyes moist -- although it seemed she was also faintly surprised, as if she hadn't known how wanted her present would be.

For Joanna's main gift Daddy had given her an electronic keyboard. It was something she'd vitally desired during the summer. Now it lay in the music-room and she religiously went in there every day for a quarter of an hour to practise on it, wishing it were the piano's keyboard under her fingers but not wanting to seem disloyal. It was fun for a while to play Bach's two-part inventions on bells or jazz saxophone, but...

The diary, on the other hand, was hers. She ran her palm across the textured leather cover, tooled gaudily in something like gold, and pressed her thumb against the elaborate brassy lock; the little key was on a thin chain around her neck, where she'd worn it ever since Christmas Day.

She scrabbled under the bed for her slippers, which were black and stiff and embroidered in turquoise and daffodil-yellow. Last night, after coming up to her room, she'd kept herself awake for an extra half-hour to cover the creamy page headed January 1: Monday with her best writing, recounting not so much the events of the day -- because as usual nothing much had happened -- but the thoughts and ideas that had come into her head during it: her reflections on life, and on her allotted place in it. She had been very tired when she'd finished, and worried that she might clumsily blot the paper, so she'd held the shaft of her Osmiroid fountain-pen extremely tightly, until her fingers hurt. Standing in her dressing-gown and slippers in the morning light, she flexed her right hand to banish the memory of last night's stiffness.

After breakfast she would read what she'd written to see if it were worthy of the leather cover and the soft, fusty-smelling paper.

She was at the bedroom door, just about to open it, when she thought for the first time to look out of the window. The sight drew her across the room to press her hands against the cold glass.

Snow had fallen during the night to lie in a smooth, deep carpet across the gardens and the drive and the stables and the distant wall. Everything she could see had been turned into the decorations on top of a birthday cake, simplified models carved out of icing. Mrs Ruggeley had left the car in the drive overnight, and it had become a white toy, so that Joanna half-expected Knolly Mutton to wind down the window and wave to her. The stables were sugar-coated gingerbread, looking as if they were very warm inside -- which they probably were, because the witch living there would already have the oven lit in case any little children called by. The telephone wire was a thin strand of treacle toffee, splashed here and there with little dollops of icing.

The glass in front of her eyes steamed up and she turned away. Later she would build a snowman, and maybe Mrs Ruggeley could be persuaded to help her -- or Mudgett might start a snowball fight, which would of course see Mrs Ruggeley retreating to the door at high speed to stand there shouting dire threats and warnings at Joanna and Mudgett and Mr Dogg romping in the snow. Afterwards Joanna and Mr Dogg would have to sit steaming in the kitchen, she in her underthings and he in his wet fur, until Mrs Ruggeley was satisfied that neither of them was likely to die of pneumonia.

As she wound slowly down the stairs, feeling the open space of the hall coming towards her, Mr Dogg came lolloping up to greet her, shaking his head and his tail in counterpoint, his tongue flapping out of his great toothy mouth. She paused to make a fuss of him, fumbling his head in her hands and tickling behind his ears, then carried on down the stairs more rapidly, with him boisterously jostling along beside her.

The kitchen was warmer than the rest of the house, although the same chilly light poured in through its window. Mrs Ruggeley had been making something with nutmeg in it.

'It's all right for some,' said the housekeeper, turning round from the cooker. 'Half the day's been and gone while you've been lying up there snoring.'

There was no sting in the words, and Mrs Ruggeley's arms were open to embrace her. Mr Dogg rubbed himself against their legs, then trotted off to the corner of the kitchen to see if Fortune had thought to place anything interesting in his bowl. Joanna allowed herself to be smothered in Mrs Ruggeley's ample softness. The housekeeper was past middle-age and had perhaps once upon a time been slender, but not now. Her bosom was a pneumatic cushion loosely covered in flannel: Joanna had never been able to visualize it as two separate breasts, although presumably it must be. Bushy grey hair -- the one part of Mrs Ruggeley that wasn't always trimly presented -- struggled, not wholly unsuccessfully, against the pins that crimped it into a bun. Complicated networks of wrinkles spread out from under her eyes across the tops of her red cheeks.

'It's not yet ten o'clock,' said Joanna, laughing. 'The cock forgot to crow. The alarm didn't go off. Your watch is wrong.'

Mrs Ruggeley gave an exaggerated sniff. 'Excuses,' she said primly.

'Besides,' said Joanna, 'I was up late last night. Writing in my diary. The diary you gave me. I'm a chronicler now, thanks to you, Mrs Ruggeley.'

'Samuella Pepys,' said the housekeeper, letting her go.

'Joanna Evelyn, I thought,' said Joanna, puffing out her chest. 'When the spring comes I shall spend all my time in the garden, redesigning it completely until it looks like Sayes Court, and writing about it every night so that future generations can wonder at my artistry, and...'

'You'd better have breakfast first,' observed Mrs Ruggeley. 'You can't go off and be of historical significance without anything in your tummy.'

Joanna giggled and pulled a stool out from beneath the kitchen table. Mrs Ruggeley's habits in the kitchen took after her hair rather than the rest of her, and Joanna had to push aside a couple of goo-smeared bowls and a leaking bag of flour to make a space in front of herself.

'That animal needs a bath,' said Mrs Ruggeley, opening the fridge door. 'And I'm not giving it to him.'

'This evening,' said Joanna. 'I'll do it then. It'll be something to do. But I want to take him out in the snow as soon as I'm dressed.'

'Here's the milk,' said Mrs Ruggeley, putting the jug down in front of her. 'There's plenty of porridge in the pot.'

Joanna helped herself at the cooker. The smell of the oats made her suddenly hungrier, and she added a second ladleful to her bowl before taking it back to the table.

'So that's the plan for the day, is it?' said Mrs Ruggeley, sitting down opposite her. 'Making a fool of yourself in the snow with that animal until you're both wet through and filthy. If your father were here he'd soon put a stop to--'

The woman stopped, realizing she'd said the wrong thing. Her face crumpled as Joanna bent to concentrate on her porridge.

'Do you think Daddy deliberately avoids us here?'

Joanna had asked the question a thousand times, sometimes in different words, sometimes screamed at the top of her voice, other times, like now, in a low voice, barely above a mumble. What she really meant to ask was 'Do you think Daddy doesn't love me, that really he can't stand me?' but she'd never been able to say that, even to think it, in case the words made doubts crystallize into reality.

Mrs Ruggeley became suddenly effusive, standing up and coming round the table to rest her arm around Joanna's shoulders.

'Don't you be so silly, my lass. Your father adores you -- anyone looking at the two of you together when he's here could see that. You remember him being here in the summer, don't you? You're the bright light in the sky that makes the day dawn, as far as he's concerned. It's just that ... he's a very busy man. A very important man. When people are as important as he is they're hardly ever allowed to do what they want. If he had his way, he'd be here with us all the year round, or he'd be taking you with him wherev-- He'd have you by his side the whole time. So stop being mawkish, girl, or the wind may change and you'll be stuck with a face like a prune forever.'

Joanna knew that most of what Mrs Ruggeley was saying was true. She let the continuing flow of words wash over her, ignoring their individual meanings but hearing their general sense. Like her question, the reply changed in its details but had been spoken countless times before. The truth of the matter was not that her father didn't love her -- even though that was the misgiving which frequently nagged her -- but that he loved her too much. After what Mummy had done to him ... and to her...

She couldn't remember her mother's face or anything else about her except the way it had felt to know that she was there -- either right there in the room or somewhere nearby, ready to come if Joanna called. Then, one day, all that had changed. Joanna, aged two (or so Mrs Ruggeley had told her), lay in bed listening as Daddy and Mummy shouted at each other, slamming doors and breaking things, and when she woke up in the morning it was to be told that Mummy was leaving, that Mummy was packing up her things at this very moment and would kiss her goodbye before she went. And then there was the knowledge that the house had suddenly got so very much bigger, with one person less in it.

Daddy had sat on the end of Joanna's bed that night and explained everything to her, except that he'd used words she didn't understand. Every time she'd asked him the one really important question -- when would Mummy be coming back -- he'd just looked upset and said, 'Darling, you haven't been listening...', and started all over saying strings of words that didn't mean anything.

Mummy never had come back. She sent birthday presents -- usually money -- and something special and silly for Christmas, but even this had stopped after a few years, round about the same time that Joanna had begun to wonder if Mummy had ever really existed or if she were just something out of a favourite story book which Mrs Ruggeley had often read to her when she was too young to read it for herself. By then, even if Mummy had returned, Joanna would hardly have welcomed her: she and Mrs Ruggeley had become the very firmest of friends, and the only person who could, occasionally, make Joanna look outside the glow of that friendship was Daddy.

Except that he wasn't home very often. He never had been there much -- Mrs Ruggeley had once enigmatically told Joanna that this was the real reason why Mummy had had to go away -- but now his business seemed to keep him away for weeks and then months at a time, leaving her with Mrs Ruggeley and Mudgett and a succession of female tutors who came for a few months at a time and then, for one reason or another, left again.

She ate a few more spoonfuls of porridge, then pushed the bowl aside.

'We could go into the village,' she said sourly. 'We could put on our warm things and get into the car and go down to the village and look in the shops and maybe buy something or have a cup of tea and a rather unpleasant cake somewhere, and then we could come home again and talk about all the things we'd done and at night, before I got into bed, I'd have something to write about in my diary.'

Mrs Ruggeley, stopped in mid-flow by this sudden announcement, looked down at Joanna's upturned face.

'No, lass, you know we can't do that,' she said quietly. 'If it were up to me we could go to London or beyond every day of the week -- perhaps even to Paris once in a while -- but I gave my word to your father, and I can't break it. He wants you to stay here, and me with you; and I said that's what I'd do. It was a promise, dear heart, and you know promises should never be broken.'

'Oh,' said Joanna in a little disappointed voice. Of course she'd known what Mrs Ruggeley would say, but it still felt like a disillusionment to hear it spoken. 'Oh.'

Mrs Ruggeley hugged her again, pressing Joanna's face into her midriff.

'It's because your father loves you so much that he wants us to take such good care of you.'

'I wish,' said Joanna, feeling tears come at last, 'I wish my father loved me less.'

The anticipated snowball fight never materialized, but that afternoon she and Mrs Ruggeley built a large fat snowman with an old naval cap on his head and a carrot for his nose, and he looked very fine until Mr Dogg came along and piddled on his side. Then, after Joanna had called in to the stables to see that Rapscallion was well and that Mudgett had fed him, they dug the old sledge out of the garage and took turns pulling each other on it across the main lawn to the Willow Copse, beyond which there was a long steep slope just perfect for sledging down. Mrs Ruggeley chose not to 'risk breaking my legs, like some damn' fool of a girl' but stood at the top of the slope yelling steaming encouragement in the chilly air as Joanna went whooping down the hill and plodding back up it again, time after time. She tried to persuade Mr Dogg that he'd like to be tied to the sledge to drag it to the top of the hill, but the old mongrel was too wily to be having any of that, instead whoofing off through chest-high snow to investigate the mysteries of the copse. Twice she fell off, landing face-first in a drift; the second time she was laughing so much that she didn't notice her ski hat had filled up with snow until she crammed it back on her head, and that made both of them laugh all the harder.

It was nearly dusk, and snow had started lightly falling again -- the flakes dancing in the grey air like the sparks above a bonfire -- by the time they trudged back to the house, Mr Dogg walking ahead of them with his head down, tired after his important explorations.

As they came into the house Joanna suddenly realized that she'd forgotten to read her diary, as she'd promised herself she'd do that morning.

'You're not going upstairs like that,' said Mrs Ruggeley firmly. 'I'm not having slush and muck trailed all over my carpets, thank you very much, my miss.'

Joanna followed her into the kitchen and obediently stripped off her coat and her boots and her woollies and her dress and her thick knitted tights, and sat on a wooden chair in front of the Aga, rubbing her hair with a big pink towel. Mrs Ruggeley tugged off her own boots, grunting, and put them beside Joanna's on an old newspaper to dry out.

'Hot soup,' said the housekeeper, opening one of the cupboards and peering at a shelf. 'We have oxtail or cream of mushroom or mulligatawny or ... oh, dogfood, how did this get up here?'

'Mulligatawny,' said Joanna. It was what she always chose -- less because she liked the soup than because of the name. When she was smaller she'd thought it must be made from Irish tigers.

A few minutes later, sitting with the mug steaming in her hands, the soup still too hot to drink, she asked Mrs Ruggeley: 'Why did Mudgett go into town?'

'He didn't.'

'I thought you said...'

'He was going to, but as soon as he looked at the way the snow was heaped up around the gates he decided to leave it 'til tomorrow. No sense getting the car stranded miles away from home. He walked into the village instead to get his tobacco -- the other things can wait.'

'What other things?'

Mrs Ruggeley looked vague. 'Oh ... just things.' Joanna could see she wasn't being mysterious -- the woman didn't know and wasn't much interested. 'I think he said something about needing some oil for his machines.'

'Why doesn't anyone ever come to visit us?'

The housekeeper looked startled at the sudden change of direction. 'My, you're a one for questions today, aren't you, Joanna.'

'But why?'

'Your father doesn't like it.'

'But he's not here. He's hardly ever here.'

Mrs Ruggeley sat down at the kitchen table, resting her mug of soup on a dirty plate in front of her. 'That doesn't make any difference: it's his household, and I'm his housekeeper, and you're his daughter, so we do things the way he wants us to do them.'

'But why doesn't he want us to have visitors? All the people in my books go visiting each other the whole time -- they seem to spend most of their lives doing that. So why don't some of them, just sometimes, come to visit us?'

'Because your father doesn't want them to,' said Mrs Ruggeley wearily.

'But why not? I get so lonely, and ... oh, it's not that you aren't the best friend everyone ever had, Mrs Ruggeley, and it's not as if I didn't love you with all my heart -- you know that I do, dear, dear Mrs Ruggeley -- it's just that...' Joanna knew she was beginning to flounder, and she took a gulp of her soup to give her an excuse to start the sentence again. 'It's just that, in a way, it would be nice to see people around who I didn't like quite so much, just as a contrast, if you know what I mean...'

'You'd like a bit of a change from just me all of the time, is what you mean,' said Mrs Ruggeley. 'Don't worry, dear heart: you're not hurting my feelings. It's only natural you should want to see other people -- maybe someone your own age, for once.'

Joanna was startled. She knew in a theoretical way that not everyone was older than her, like Mrs Ruggeley and Mudgett and her tutors and Daddy, but the knowledge wasn't something that ever felt very true. That hadn't been what she'd been thinking of at all.

'I don't mean--' she began.

Mrs Ruggeley held up a hand. 'Whether you meant it or not, it's true: you should be having friends who're more the same age as yourself. I wish I ... But your father won't allow it. I said to him when he was here in August, I said ... Maybe when he's next here -- I'd expected him to come for Christmas, and I was going to raise the subject with him again, but...'

Joanna took some more soup. The hot spiciness of it made the rest of her feel warm. The side of her shift closest to the front of the Aga was getting uncomfortably hot, and she turned around on her chair.

Mrs Ruggeley seemed to take Joanna's thoughtful silence as a continuation of the question, because she suddenly began to speak again.

'Your father blames the world for what your mother did to him,' she said rapidly, talking to the far corner of the kitchen rather than to Joanna direct. 'He couldn't believe that the woman he'd wooed and married could have done any such thing -- that something must have possessed her, turned her into a different person from the one she'd been. And, since your father isn't so silly as to believe in evil spirits or demons or ghosts, he concluded that it was the world itself, the society in which the two of them moved, that had ousted her own mind and replaced it with itself. Mixing in the world, being corrupted by its ways, learning to think the way it thought, letting herself be dissolved by it until there was nothing really of herself left; that's what your father thought -- thinks -- altered your mother.'

Mrs Ruggeley put her face in her hands -- not weeping, but as if she didn't want to be here listening to herself. 'After your mother went, he mourned her as if she'd died -- because that was what truly, in his heart of hearts, he believed had happened: that she'd died some while before, only no one had noticed because this stranger who looked like her and talked like her but wasn't her had taken her place.

'And then he saw you, lying in your cot and waving your arms and gurgling at him, and he said to me, "Harriet," he said, "I couldn't bear for that little girl to be lost to me the way her mother's been -- I couldn't stand for the world to destroy her the way it's destroyed her mother, crushing her real self out of existence. That would be more than mortal man could bear, Tettie," he said -- sometimes he calls me Tettie, you know -- "more than mortal man could bear."

'So now you know,' said Mrs Ruggeley, raising her head.

'But I don't know,' said Joanna, wrinkling her forehead. 'You haven't told me anything at all! What was it Mummy did to Daddy? What do you mean, the world ousted her real self?' She looked out of the kitchen window, half-expecting to see the snow-shrouded bushes of the garden creeping towards the house, ready to leap through the glass when she wasn't expecting them so that they could destroy her soul.

'Maybe it was just his way of speaking,' said Mrs Ruggeley reluctantly. 'Maybe all he was trying to say was that there hadn't been any evil in her heart until other people came along and put it there. And he knew there wasn't any wickedness in you, either -- but that you might not stay that way if you listened to what other people would tell you. He loved -- loves -- you far too much to ever run the risk of that happening. So he decided you should be kept away from the rest of the world until ... until ... whenever.'

A silence hung between them. Joanna took a mouthful of lukewarm mulligatawny soup, not realizing she was doing so until she heard the slurp.

'Is it very unusual--?' she began hesitantly, then started again in a louder voice: 'Is it very unusual for people to live the way we do?' None of the people she read about lived away from the world -- unless they were hermits, and different -- but she'd always thought it was just that no one ever wrote books about people like herself because nothing ever happened to them.

Mrs Ruggeley looked as if she'd rather the question hadn't been asked. 'There isn't really any such thing as "unusual" when you're talking about the way folk live their lives,' she said, obviously prevaricating. 'Everybody's different, and does different things -- which is just the way it should be.'

'Have you ever heard of anyone else living like us?' said Joanna firmly, leaning forward. She didn't like to see her friend squirming this way, but she sensed the answer to her question was important.

'No,' said Mrs Ruggeley after a long pause. She stared at the back of her hands as if examining them for symmetry with each other. 'No, love, I can't say as I have. Now, your soup must be cold by now, so I'll--'

'Stop!' said Joanna. 'Stop dodging away from telling me things I need to know. It's like you were stealing bits of me when you keep avoiding my questions. Please, dearest Mrs Ruggeley...'

The housekeeper stood looking down at the kitchen floor. For a moment Joanna had the illusion that their rôles had been reversed, so that she was now the adult and Mrs Ruggeley the child. 'Please,' she repeated softly.

'You're right,' said Mrs Ruggeley. She took a deep breath. 'You're seventeen now, and that's old enough -- far too old -- to be told everything. Oh' -- she wrung her hands together -- 'how I wish your father were here!'

'I spend most of my life wishing Daddy were here.'

'Touché,' said Mrs Ruggeley with a sigh. Looking distracted, she walked across to the stove and turned on one of the rings. 'It's too late now, and I'm too upset, and Mudgett'll be here in a minute wanting his supper -- heavens!, but you'd better be running and getting some proper clothes on before he appears! -- so I'm not going to talk about this any more tonight. But in the morning, I promise you -- in the morning I'll sit down with you and tell you everything I know. You'll just have to wait until then -- not one more word out of me you'll get tonight, my best-loved one.'

'But--'

'Clothes!'

Neither Joanna nor Mrs Ruggeley could think of much to say over supper -- lamb chops fried in cider and herbs, with boiled potatoes and tinned peas -- and Mudgett never spoke a lot at the best of times, so the meal passed in a succession of stifling pauses broken by blurted inconsequentials or the sound of Mr Dogg snuffling in his basket. Afterwards Joanna volunteered to wash up, but Mrs Ruggeley would have none of it, saying she wanted the kitchen to herself for a couple of hours so she could get things sorted for once. Mudgett sloped off towards wherever Mudgett generally sloped off towards. The housekeeper hugged Joanna tightly for a few seconds, then told her to go upstairs to the television room and watch one of her Christmas videos; Mrs Ruggeley would bring her some cocoa later.

Joanna did as she was told -- it hardly occurred to her to do otherwise -- and picked listlessly through the heap of brand-new videotapes with their brightly coloured sleeves. Daddy never remembered exactly what he'd given her -- she suspected, anyway, that he sent one of his secretaries out to buy the presents he gave her -- so as usual a few of the tapes could be immediately discarded as duplicates of ones she'd watched dozens of times before. One of them was The Sound of Music -- most Christmases and birthdays he gave her The Sound of Music, as if it were the one, unique movie that a girl of seventeen could be relied upon to enjoy. She put the new copy tidily on the shelf beside the others. Even their sleeves were identical. The Aristocats -- another repeat.

She picked up one of the unfamiliar tapes and desultorily read the back. The Red Balloon was 'charming' and a 'classic for all time' which could 'hardly fail to capture the imagination of any viewer from 8 to 80!' She wrinkled her nose: at least The Red Balloon was short, which gave it her vote.

But, as she watched it, she discovered that for once the sleeve's hyperbole was right. She lost herself entirely in the simple tale, becoming the little boy as he was chased through Paris's alleyways by the gang of urchins who wanted to burst his friend, the magical red balloon. And at the end, as all the balloons of Paris rallied to the place of the murder to raise the boy aloft, she felt his sudden surge to freedom.

When the movie was over she sat in silence for some minutes, blankly watching the empty tape as it spooled towards the end of the reel. Then she grabbed up the remote control from the floor beside her overstuffed armchair, rewound, and ran The Red Balloon for a second time, unconcerned about the tears that wet her cheeks. Mr Dogg came whuffling in and jumped up beside her, settling himself half on her, but she hardly noticed.

This time, when the word Fin had come and gone on the screen, she switched off the monitor at once. Leaving the tape rewinding, she shoved the mongrel off herself and went downstairs.

'I'm going to bed,' she said, leaning against the frame of the kitchen door. 'It's been a long day.' She smiled ruefully. 'No need for cocoa.'

'But it's only nine o'clock. Are you sure you're all right?' said Mrs Ruggeley, screwing up her eyes. 'You've been crying, haven't you? What's the matter?'

'Nothing. Just a soppy movie, that's all. And I'm tired because of being out in the snow this afternoon. I need to sleep -- though not before I've written up today in my diary,' she added. 'I still haven't got round to reading what I said about yesterday.' Her smile became a grin. 'I do hope it's not the most awful garbage.'

'Poor love. It's been quite a day for you, hasn't it?' said Mrs Ruggeley. 'I don't mean just the sledging, I mean--'

'I know what you mean,' said Joanna. 'It's been quite a day, as you say. All the more to write about.'

She kissed the housekeeper and went upstairs.

Joanna forced herself to undress before opening her diary. The restraint wasn't difficult, for she wasn't certain she was calm enough yet to write anything. Mrs Ruggeley's 'quite a day' had been the understatement of the year: not only had there been the discovery that no one else in the world lived like this, unless they had been locked away because they were terribly evil or had offended someone terribly evil, like the Man in the Iron Mask, but then there had come to her, at the end of The Red Balloon, the sudden discovery that things needn't and shouldn't be like this. She wasn't a prisoner, the way she understood that word: she was somebody free who happened to have been thrown into a cage. That the bars of the cage were made of love rather than steel didn't alter the principle: she was a bird who floated high and unconstrained on the breezes of the sky, except for the fact that she wasn't doing that right now. Or had ever done it.

She sat on the edge of her bed in her clean flannel nightie, the blue-and-brown-and-white-checked gingham dress she had put on before supper now folded carefully over the back of the chair. She put her hands under her bottom and rocked backwards and forwards on the bony pivot. The Man in the Iron Mask was released from his bondage because he had friends outside the prison who determined that this injustice should be rectified. The Prisoner of Zenda -- much the same. In every other story she could think of where innocent people had been imprisoned, they had escaped because of someone from outside coming to help them. Like Charles Darnay in The Tale of Two Cities -- except that nobody had come to release Sydney Carton, and she remembered only too clearly what had happened to him.

She didn't know anyone in the outside world apart from Daddy, and he was her gaoler.

Picking up Knolly Mutton by one paw, Joanna went across to sit in front of the dressing-table. She reached up to click on the striplight over the mirror, then fished out the diary's brass key from where it hung on its chain between her breasts. The lock and the key were very tiny, and she fumbled a few times before finally the clasp popped open.

She had managed to fill a whole page yesterday, but it had been difficult. She wondered if a page would be enough for today.

Tucking her hair back behind her ears, out of the way, she leaned forward and began to read.

Today is the first day of a new year, and I have promised myself (and Mrs Ruggeley, who kindly gave me this diary) that I shall keep a true record, each day and every day, of the events of my life. But first, dear reader (although I suspect there never shall be a dear reader), let me introduce myself to you. My name is...

Her handwriting was small and neat and, even though the ruled lines on the page were close together, she had no difficulty reading what she had written. At the end of the first long paragraph she sighed, patting the slightly furry-feeling page. Not a word out of place, no crossings out, and not a spelling mistake that she could notice. At the same time, it was hardly Charles Greville -- although perhaps he too had started off this way, giving all sorts of boring details about his age and his height and his weight, but years later had crossed this stuff out and left only the juicy bits for other people to read. That was what she would do, once she was free of the house and had become famous in the outside world.

She started to read the second paragraph, and almost at once her mouth dropped open. This was nothing at all like she remembered -- she couldn't recall having written the words, and it certainly wasn't a true record of what had happened to her yesterday. She wasn't sure, twenty-four hours later, exactly what had happened yesterday, because it had been just a day like so many others before it, but she knew that it had never been like this.

She turned over the diary to look at the cover, as if in some way she might have picked up the wrong one. Then, perplexed, she held the page up to the striplight, examining the handwriting closely. If someone were playing a trick on her, it was a very nasty trick -- it was an invasion of her most personal self. But the forgery of her handwriting -- if it was a forgery -- had been meticulously executed, and the style of the writing seemed to be very much her own. It was as impossible to believe that she had not written this as to believe that she had. But who could have performed the counterfeit? Who would have wanted to? She stared accusingly at her Osmiroid fountain-pen, lying still capped beside her hairbrush, as if it might have waited until she was out playing in the snow and then unpicked the diary's lock to falsify the page.

She read on.

...and I climbed all the way to the attic in the Lampeter Wing, where I'd never been before. It was full of old junk. I tried on a hat made of straw with a broken feather sticking out of it, but as I pushed it down on my head the crown disintagrated, so I threw it away and had a lot of trouble getting the bits out of my hair. But most important than that...

She tutted at 'most important than that'. It was the sort of mistake she was always making, and always it was so obviously a mistake to her afterwards.

...was that there is a little window in the end wall made of thick glass that has glooped down towards the bottom so it is a bit like a lense. The window is circular with a cross of lead holding it all together. You can look through the window out over the whole of the front garden. (I think it is going to snow tomorrow, because some of the clouds looked very heavy, they are probably full of snow.) I saw several cars drive by on the other side of the wall, then one of them slowed down at the gate and it was Mrs Ruggeley coming home from doing the shopping.
The lense bit at the bottom is interesting, if you look through it at the correct angle it makes the front garden go different colours and shapes. I made Mrs Ruggeley go different colours and shapes as well when she was climbing out of the car and bringing the shopping into the house, it looked very heavy and I felt a bit guilty being up there just watching when I should have been down with her helping.
But I still haven't got to the most important part of all, which is what he told me about the window, which is called the Far-Enough Window because of the things that it does. Tomorrow I will go back up to the attic to see him again, and the window, and to see if the window can really do the things he says it can, because if it really can, then it really will have earned it's name of the Far-Enough Window, like he said. But tonight I am tired and I am getting to the bottom of the page so I will stop now, dear reader, and tell you more tomorrow when I hope there is more to tell.

She put the diary down, open at its single written page, and stared at it. The Lampeter Wing hadn't been used since the times when Mummy and Daddy had thrown big parties; she could still bring back into her mind the noise and commotion and loud, pounding music. Nowadays, though it wasn't locked up or anything, no one ever went there -- or, at least, she didn't, and she would be surprised if Mrs Ruggeley or Mudgett did either. She didn't know if the rooms there were still furnished, or if they'd been cleared out after Mummy had gone. If there really was an attic at the top of it, in the little turreted tower at the northwest corner of the house, it would undoubtedly be every bit as dusty as the writer -- as she -- had said it was.

But her mind was wandering away from the central riddle. She could swear that she hadn't written anything last night about the Lampeter Wing -- but somebody had, and the only person whom that somebody could be was herself, Joanna. Oh, wait: there was the person she'd mentioned as 'he'. Infuriating! Nothing more than that: just 'he'. Obviously when she'd been writing about him she'd known exactly who 'he' was, and it had never occurred to her that she might forget. Or was it possible that 'he' could have written the diary entry, mimicking her handwriting -- maybe even borrowing her body? She remembered what Mrs Ruggeley had said about the world coming into and possessing Mummy's body, like an evil spirit, and she shivered despite the central heating. Maybe 'he' was an evil spirit?

She didn't want to write in her diary tonight -- she was frightened even of touching it. She thought about going back downstairs and asking Mrs Ruggeley about what was going on, and for a moment the prospect of the warm kitchen and Mrs Ruggeley's soft, comforting bosom seemed very attractive; but then she realized that Mrs Ruggeley couldn't know anything more about this than she did, and would simply make a huge fuss and not solve anything. (She tried not to think about an even worse possibility: that Mrs Ruggeley, her one dear friend, might in fact know everything about this.)

Let's take stock. She knew for a certainty that she hadn't gone to the Lampeter Wing yesterday -- and she hadn't done it today, either: today she had woken late, had eaten breakfast, had bathed for ages, had practised for a while on her electronic keyboard, had read and giggled over Macaulay's essay on Robert Montgomery, had eaten lunch with Mrs Ruggeley and then gone out with her to build a snowman and play on the sledge. Afterwards she had sat in the kitchen, drying off, while Mrs Ruggeley had begun to tell her a little about how Mummy and Daddy had stopped living here together and how she had become confined by Daddy's love for her. Then she had quickly changed into her checked dress in time for supper with Mrs Ruggeley and Mudgett. The last thing she had done was to watch The Red Balloon twice in a row before coming up here to get ready for bed and read her diary.

There simply hadn't been time to go to the Lampeter Wing today. As for yesterday? She'd been occupied doing other things all day long: she knew that, although none of the things had been important enough to remember individually. Bathing, reading, music, videos ... If there was an attic in the Lampeter Wing (presumably there must be), and if that attic had a window called the Far-Enough Window and there was somebody there called 'he' who knew about it, then they had spent the day unvisited by her.

She switched off the striplight over the dressing-table mirror. She moved to close the diary, then stopped: she'd leave it open. Bad enough to think that someone might come in here to write in it while she was asleep, without them having to dig in under the bedclothes to find the key. She opened her bedroom door a few inches and gave a low whistle, and a few moments later she heard Mr Dogg lumbering heavily up the stairs: he wasn't really supposed to spend the night in her room, but Mrs Ruggeley usually turned a blind eye to this breach of the rules. The mongrel appeared in the doorway, his eyes bright and eager, and she fisted the top of his head.

Then she climbed into bed and pulled the bedclothes up to cover herself completely, leaving until last one arm, with which she reached out to turn off the bedside lamp.

Mr Dogg waited until she was settled, then hauled himself up onto the bed and slumped on top of her feet.

A short while later they were both fast asleep, ceding the room to the full moon's light.

'Was my mother a "fallen woman"?' asked Joanna the next morning at breakfast. Her mind had been working away at the problem while she dressed.

'Yes,' said Mrs Ruggeley, 'you could put it like that. But not while you're eating a boiled egg.'

'Like Hetty Sorrel?'

'Later.'

Joanna glowered. It seemed that Mrs Ruggeley had, ever since yesterday afternoon, wanted to consign everything to that vague place called 'later'. And her boiled egg was overcooked: Mrs Ruggeley had told her a hundred times that it was unhealthy to have them soft-boiled, because of the risk of salmonella, but that didn't change the fact that Joanna liked them runny, so that they overflowed their broken rim of shell when you stuck your toast soldier into them.

'I may be busy, later,' she said airily.

Mrs Ruggeley snorted.

Back up in her room Joanna stole another look at the page for January 2: Tuesday. She was almost disappointed to discover that it was still blank: when she'd found it that way on waking up this morning she'd somehow assumed the mysterious diarist -- for sleep had brought the conviction that it couldn't have been her who'd written January 1: Monday -- had been wary of disturbing her, and had decided to wait until she was safely ensconced in the kitchen having breakfast.

As she brushed her teeth she wondered what to do with the morning. Mrs Ruggeley had clearly disbelieved her when she'd said she might be busy, so it was important she should be. But she didn't think she'd be able to keep her mind on practising in the music-room, and she wasn't in the mood for books or videos, and going for a walk was out of the question because the air was full of a niggling drizzle and the snow had melted into greasy grey slush.

When she came out of the bathroom she glanced at the open diary once more, and was astounded that the obvious solution hadn't occurred to her before: investigate the Lampeter Wing.

She had a vague feeling that Mrs Ruggeley would forbid the venture if she knew about it, so Joanna quickly plotted out a route to the northwest corner of the house that would keep her well clear of the kitchen and the housekeeper's own apartments. She would stick to the first floor as long as possible, then duck down the back stairs that led to the old gunroom. If she nipped across the broad expanse of the rear hall without being seen she would be safe at the base of the northwest wing -- and after that there was certain to be no one to interfere with her plans.

Except, possibly -- she chewed absently at a fingernail -- 'he'.

Still, standing here worrying about that wouldn't get her anywhere. She pulled on a pullover on top of her dress (still the checked gingham one from yesterday, but she'd really hardly worn it) because the central heating didn't reach that far and so the Lampeter Wing would likely be freezing cold. She stuffed a torch into her pocket. Mr Dogg would make good company, so she whistled for him from the landing. While he was making his wheezing way upstairs she turned on an afterthought back into her bedroom, closed the diary, and checked that it was locked. Then she put it into the bottom drawer of the dressing-table and arranged a scattering of her smalls on top of it.

'Now,' she said to Mr Dogg, 'you and I are going on a very big adventure...'

artwork by Ron Tiner


© John Grant 2003.
The Far-Enough Window by John Grant
The Far-Enough Window is published by BeWrite (October 2002).

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