I remember we were at a friend’s house. I must have been about four. They had white blinds hanging in long strips at the windows, and I spent a long time pulling (‘Gently please, Jojo!”) at the plastic, beaded cord, twisting the strips open and closed. Letting the sunlight into the room in bright stripes across the beige carpet.
Then the TV came on. A children’s programme for us little ones to watch. We planted ourselves, cross-legged, on the carpet. The grown-ups were chatting, their existence stripped to knees and feet, hands holding steaming mugs of tea and reaching for biscuits. Faceless. Just background noise.
But on the screen… on the screen was a woman clothed in a dress of cream and gold that came out from her narrow hips and took over the whole corridor of a sumptuous palace. She was like a doll, with white hair piled up high and unmoving on the top of her head, red lips and a black spot painted on her lip. This, the narrator told us, was ‘Marry Ann-twan-ett’
The grown-ups talked and laughed, in their own grown-up world. I didn’t hear them. I didn’t see the other kids any more. I only had eyes for Marie Antoinette. I watched her move and pout and flutter her eyelashes to admiring glances. She looked like nobody I had ever seen before.
But things quickly changed. Soon the screen was full of angry people, and they seemed to be angry with her. They marched her from the sumptuous palace and threw her into a dark grey room. The cream and gold dress was replaced with a plain one. She lost the big hair, the beauty spot and the red lips and looked more like the angry people and less like herself.
She was loaded onto a cart and taken to an open square with, what looked like, a tall wooden window set up on a central stage. The narrator used big words like ‘execution’ and ‘decapitation’ which I’d never heard before. And so I, aged four, had no clue what was about to happen.
They made her lie down at the bottom of the window, face down with her arms behind her back. Alarm bells began to ring. She didn’t look comfortable. I wished they would bring her a pillow. I tore my eyes from the screen to glance at the grown-ups, but they were still chatting. Maybe it would be alright, then. I was worrying for nothing.
Someone placed a curved plank of wood over her neck. The camera panned up the long window. Slowly. And still I didn’t figure it out, because I didn’t know people did things like this to each other. No idea it was even possible.
The sight of the sharp, triangular blade right at the top changed everything for me. I understood so much as the metal flashed momentarily in the sunlight and suddenly began to plummet down the casing. I understood that Marie Antoinette was about to lose her head in a most horrific way. I understood how terrified this perfect doll must have been, lying there below the blade. And I also understood that the world was not the way I thought it was.
The grown-ups chattered on. Someone went to make more tea. Nobody noticed that the little four year old girl in the room had just experienced a life-changing moment she would be writing about in a blog many, many years later.
To this day, that same girl cannot sleep unless the blankets are pulled up to safely cover her neck!
(To be continued…)