Daphne Story: “To Live in Paradise Alone”
Elizabeth Hopkinson’s story is an honorable mention for The Daphne Contest!
“To Live in Paradise Alone” is a bittersweet vignette that focuses on a portrait of the character Daphne herself after she’s already a laurel tree. Yet despite the fact that it’s a “slice of life” story, Elizabeth also conveys a sense of what happened to make Daphne this way, so we get a sense of a beginning, middle, and end. Daphne’s inner conflict is lovely here—she is both repulsed by the god and drawn to him as she struggles to accept her state of being, yet yearns for something more.
To Live in Paradise Alone
The Poet thinks he has discovered paradise. “Adam’s first estate,” he writes in his journal. “Fair, green innocence.” When he is older, this will become a marvellous poem, although he is unsure what to do with it now. I call him the Poet, partly because I glimpse his future. It is one of your love gifts that, strangely, I have kept. The one, perhaps, you did not intend. I also glimpse your spirit in his eyes, and by this I know what he does not yet know himself. I always see your face in the face of poets. Especially in the young.
“I am forever youthful,” you told me once. “And you are forever mine.”
I did not realise then how true that would be. I did not know how long forever was.
The Poet is in ecstasy now. He sees leaves above him, green leaves on his lips and over his heart. He reaches out to caress me and, yet again, I will myself not to recoil.
“Daphne,” he murmurs. “Daphne.”
Of all the eyes through which I view the world, I have taken lately to opening those that see this garden. I could choose others. There are so many now, most of them far away, years away from the grove where you pursued me. Propagation: it was the last thing I expected. When my father begged me for a grandchild, I’m sure he never thought to see so many as I have become. But there is no second generation. With each new sapling, I simply find myself returned to the beginning. Daphne. Daphne. Daphne. I thought I had escaped you once. But now I cannot run when, each spring, the pollen falls on me, light and soft as immortal kisses.
You have followed me through the years. Poets. Painters. Musicians. I have rested against their hair and under their fingers, closer than a mistress, and yet I have shuddered at every touch. I wonder when xylem first began to fill my veins? I think I caught sight of my fingers turning to twigs long before you chased me through the woods of Thessaly. There was always something of the bough about the decorum of my carriage. Sometimes I try to remember a time when I might have danced and laughed with the abandon of a bacchanal. But I don’t know whether it’s memory or just imagination, and it feels too untrue to hold onto for long.
I am tired now. Tired of the endless rebirth. Tired of holding my arms ceaselessly to the sky. The breezes play lightly through my leaves, and I recall your breath on my neck, your archer’s fingers touching my hair. Had I turned then, would it have been so terrible? I hear your forlorn voice in the sighing grass.
“You’ll hurt yourself, sweetheart. Don’t be afraid of me.”
Did I truly mean to be afraid? That boyish face – the face I see in him – those eyes, those golden curls, the kiss forever waiting on the lips: did I really see in all that the countenance of a hunter? You have never come to me in an archer’s guise since. And you were right. It does hurt, more deeply than you’ll ever know. Or maybe you do. You are the Healer, after all.
I could run like the wind then. Like the fallow doe. So proud of my virgin athleticism, so convinced of my intactness. You were calling behind me:
“Slow down, Daphne, and I promise I will too. I’ll take my time, I swear it.”
You kept your word. You’ve taken your time and mine, more time than I knew existed. I am your wounded quarry, with nowhere to run but back into your arms. And still I cannot take that final step. I am trapped in my own self-protection. Trapped in paradise. I find myself longing for the very gift I repulsed, still uncertain that I would not refuse you again, given the chance. Yet, what is love but uncertainty?
The Poet is sleeping now, his cheek against the lawn in the warm sun. Death’s counterfeit, I’m sure he would say, had he the consciousness. Paradise is for the dead, after all. To live here in eternal solitude is far from bliss. He will be the happier, for all his short life. I know this. I have seen it.
You will be back tomorrow. And the day after that. And the place after that. Gardens and groves, temples and towns. You will never cease to follow me, as I have never ceased to flee. As you have never ceased to love, to worship. I think I knew all along that you never meant to harm me, only to touch me with your hands and whisper songs of love for my purity and gentleness. You are forever devoted. And I am forever yours.
“The mind creates its own worlds,” the Poet has written. “Green dreams in green spaces.”
In my mind there is a world where the body does not become bark at the touch of a lover’s hand, a wood where the god of healing finally takes me in his arms and I do not cry out for escape. Perhaps one day I will open my eyes and find myself there. And you will be waiting for me. Our green dream. Our garden. Anywhere but paradise.
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