Sunday afternoon and it is raining, again. The clouds are heavy, purple, hanging low. Deep blue like the last few hours of the weekend that seem to get everyone down. The last winds and chills of March are howling their loudest through the thin cracks of the attic roof; a few more weeks to go until Spring, true, but Spring seems far away just now.
Bernard Jean Corneille Pothast, Two Sisters Playing
On the oak floorboards, centuries old, two sisters are on their knees, elbows deep in an old trunk overflowing with silk, tulle, velvet, satin, lace. No better way to fight the cold and dusk seeping into the room, and fill those echowy Sunday evening hours than by playing dress up.
Know first who you are, then adorn yourself accordingly, said Epictetus millennia ago. But the two sisters are only six and three, both their lives barely a decade old. They know their names and how to spell them, almost; how to count on their fingers, somewhat. They have yet to discover Epictetus, life, and the persons they will, could be.
In the meantime, they have a Sunday evening and a trunk full of old clothes.
Life is beautiful. Living is difficult. The girls do not know either fact yet, but they do know the stage fright that precedes Monday mornings, the anticipation of the unknown. Those uncomfortable hours when shadows grow longer and lightning looks much closer than it is. But being six and three is a world of its own to which adults forget they once belonged; one in which the unbridled luxury of possibility holds primacy over reality.
Fur the color of warm luscious caramel, almost but not quite burnt. The little one wraps it around her shoulders and declares: I want to be a lioness!
A lioness, but why? Only an adult would ask.
So I can run fast to the line where the sun sets and rainbows touch the earth. Roar as loud as I want with no one to shush me, and let my hair get tangled and loose.
It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting, Paolo Coelho wrote. The eldest does not know him either and is too enthralled with this game to care. Her eyes light up: whom and what would she want to be? She rummages through the old grandfather trunk and pulls out the lace and beads.
The necklace flies through the air. She leaps to intercept its fall with the fabric stretched like a net. I want to be a pearl fisher!
A pearl fisher?
so I can go to Japan. Spend my days in the sea, swimming, diving, collecting oysters, and when I am tired, lie under the sun, on the sand.
You could learn to speak to dolphins! chimes the little one. They may let you ride on their backs! And if I came to visit, do you think they would let me?
The pearl fisher promises to put a good word in for the visiting lioness. Then a sparkle in the trunk catches both girls’ eyes: a pair of flimsy, round glasses with gold rims. Glasses! They could be scientists!
What sort of scientists, though?
A doctor, says the eldest, who has been sick all week. She tries the pair on for size. With glasses such as these, I would discover the cure to all diseases, especially the flu.
Not all diseases, protests the little one wisely. We would still need a few for school days.
She reaches for the glasses and tries them on herself. She would be an astronomer, an engineer. I would build a rocket to the moon.
That already exists, remarks the eldest softly.
Fine, then, to the stars.
A navy blue blazer and deep burgundy tie. A pilot! A businesswoman! The captain of a sailboat. The owner of a picture book shop, where animal crackers and hot chocolate are served and adults read the difficult words out loud.
A long, black evening gown, studded with sequins. A princess. A sorceress. A jazz singer, like Billie Holiday. A harpist, violinist, pianist. A dancer, like mother with father on some nights by the gramophone in the living room.
Layers and layers of pink tulle on a skirt. A ballerina, of course. Or a choreographer, writer, composer, chef, painter, sculptor, photographer. An architect.
Green khakis: an adventurer? No, an archeologist. A gardener, botanist, spy. They do not have to decide. They have lifetimes and hours of play time ahead of them; they will try them all on for size.
There are no rules to playing dress up. There should be none to life. A girl should only be two things, said Chanel: Who and what she wants. Sunday evening will wear off, play time will end. Mother will call for dinner and bed. Tomorrow, the girls will wake up and find that who and what they want to be will change. But the trunk will wait on the oak floorboards in the attic until the next rainy Sunday dress up game, and possibility will last as long as they let it; they could be anyone, anything, everything.