“Lamentations I heard on every side
but I saw no one who might be crying out
so that, confused, I stopped.”
(Hollander’s translation of Dante’s Inferno, Canto XIII: 21-24)
Ashley cannot sleep.
Before her bed moonlight shines too brightly through her window
(or at least it is the moonlight that she remembers).
In her white little room, the world is so still she could not tell which hour it is.
In a silence she sits up and peers through the window.
She imagines breeze coming through the silt.
It seems that her time alone is frozen in the stream of life,
and that there is nothing in the world that will beseech her in the little room where she stays.
In this eternal silence the door slowly creaked open behind her.
Ashley jumped, beaming into a smile as she heard the familiar voice of the kind gentleman.
You are here!
She burst out into the laughter of a summer bird.
Of course I am; we made a promise.
The tall figure walked into the little room, and sat down beside her bed;
he touched her forehead. Ashley thought his hand was rather cold.
You don't have a fever today.
But of course I don't, I behaved well.
Good. Did you do your assignments?
And out of his brown suitcase he pulled out some scrambled papers--
Ashley heard the rustling sound of the paper and sat up straighter
which made the gentleman smile. He covered his lips
so that he does not laugh, and then cleared his throat
to change into a stern serious look.
And she narrated the story in such manner as if each word is inscribed in her memory.
It is how one reads, she has always thought.
Learning by heart is the only way for her to connect to the outside world.
The world she had never understood.
Why did Virgil ask Dante to break the branches?
This is actually a good question. Do you have your Aeneid?
You find Virgil mean.
But what was Dante’s reaction when the branch is torn?
What was Dante’s reaction towards Virgil? And the souls?
Do you think Virgil should react otherwise?
He walked to turn on some lamplights as Ashley straightened her back.
I think I heard something.
Nothing is there, Ashley.
But certainly, something is there—
Come back here.
She sank back into her bed, crouching on her pillow, she held the rose between her thumbs.
Good. Can you answer my questions now?
She replied patiently, though she had no idea what the question was.
She ended up murmuring with a little whisper:
Sorry... I lost track.
The Lamb smiled as he noticed her guilt, and spoke again in a kind manner:
Would you tell me where Dante and Virgil are in this passage?
Excuse me, who?
She responded the stillness outside the window.
Ashley— there is noth—
Ashley, if you cannot concentrate on your courses I will be leaving now—
Ashley turned back immediately.
Ashley does not need me anymore, she has all her Dante in her mind.
I must pack up my stories back in my suitcase and—
The gentleman stopped. The small figure had blocked his way.
Ashley's tearful face was buried in his suitcase.
He placed his hand on her shoulder.
I am sorry, child.
Please do not leave.
I am sorry— I am not going anywhere. Come.
He sat beside her, looking into the grey-washed wall that cracked open in a shape of a rose’s throne.
What is it that you heard Ashley?
I don't know. I thought I ought to answer... perhaps it is the wind.
Do you want me to check for you?
Once upon a time, there was a little girl whose name was Ashley.
Ashley had long black hair that touched her knees,
and a pair of big grey eyes that sought the lights of the sun.
She lived in a little room where there was a little window.
Beside the window there was a little bed, where she lay alone.
Beside the little bed, there was a little table where
a book lay open on its warm white surface.
Everything around her was white expect a little rose beside her white little table,
which was beside her white little bed.
It was a red little rose wrapped with a black little ribbon,
which smelt like the fresh meadows in early spring.
Sometimes, the Lamb would enter her white little room,
and they would journey a bit together in Dante’s Inferno.
Revised from 2018 short story "Story of a Lamb."