NOT THE PROMPT!
Dhwani Jain's Challenge
"Write a story with a curtain as the MC/important character or item."
The Fourth Wall
Even when I stand on my tip-toes, the peephole in the heavy blue curtains is too high for me to see through. A murmuring reaches my ears: the audience. I remember coming here when I was younger, seeing these same curtains ripple and sway between scenes. I was just another watcher then, glimpsing the hidden world, leaving once the performance was over.
Now I am on the inside, a part of the magic, an actor among many, no longer a watcher, alone.
Others are crowding to peer through the peephole, others who are tall enough to see through it, so I move away. Turning my back to the curtains, I examine the set.
A large window occupies the back of center stage. Flanking it are white-painted wooden panels, with a pattern of blue and yellow stars near the top. This play is Peter Pan, and this is the Darlings’ nursery, so Wendy’s, John’s, and Michael’s beds are on stage as well.
The performance will be starting soon. One of the adults comes, scolding the other kids not to pull on the curtains, then sending them backstage to look for Peter, Tinker Bell, and the three young Darlings.
As I leave the stage, I take one last look at the swaying curtains, recalling again the times I saw them from the outside. They don’t look that different on the inside, really.
The Legend of Saint Agnes
Feast Day January 21
Agnes is one of the best-loved Saints of the Catholic Church, with many churches bearing her name. She is also one of the six women named in the Eucharistic Prayer One. Saint Jerome penned, “By the writings and the tongues of all nations, particularly in the churches, hath St. Agnes been praised, who overcame both the tenderness of her age and the cruelty of the tyrant and sanctified the honor of her chastity with the glory of martyrdom.”
According to tradition, Agnes was born of wealthy Roman patricians, nobles of high rank, on January 28, 291. Many accounts say that they were Christians, though some say they were pagans. However, the story concerning Saint Emerentiana and her mother makes it more likely that Saint Agnes’ parents were Christians.
Emerentiana’s mother was a slave belonging to Saint Agnes’ parents, who tasked her with being Agnes’ wet nurse and nanny. Inspired by the example of virtue in her masters, the slave-woman’s daughter Emerentiana began receiving instruction in the Christian faith from her milk-sister Agnes.
Agnes was a lovely girl to behold, and when she reached the age of 12, the customary age at which wealthy Roman girls married, many suitors asked for her hand. Since she had already vowed perpetual virginity and pledged herself to Christ as his spiritual spouse, she informed the young men that she was already engaged.
One young man, Procopius, son of Symphronius, governor of Rome, sent her a rich gift, evidence of his ardent desire for their espousal. When she gave him her usual answer of being already pledged to another, he doggedly continued in his advances. Agnes finally told him: “Begone from me, thou food for death! I am already engaged to another and a far better spouse. He is the King of Heaven, to whom I have consecrated my entire being.” Puzzled by her response, angry at her refusal, and suspecting her of being an adherent to the forbidden religion of Christianity, Procopius asked his father to speak with Agnes, hoping that his status as governor of Rome would influence a change of mind.
When Agnes entered the governor’s presence, he asked her why she would turn down so advantageous a match. She told him that she had a divine spouse, far better than his son. Now Symphronius was puzzled, too. One of his aides, hearing Agnes’ words, told the governor that Agnes was a Christian, and the “divine spouse” she was speaking about was the God of the Christians.
Upon hearing this, Symphronius urged Agnes to leave her faith and accept marriage to his son, or face torture and death, for to be a Christian was unlawful. He then offered her twenty-four hours to consider her answer. Agnes replied that she needed no time for consideration, for she had already resolved to have no other spouse than Jesus Christ, and fearing neither pain nor death, was most anxious to lay down her life for him.
Symphronius threatened to send her to a brothel, but Agnes said, “My confidence is placed in Jesus Christ, my spouse, who is omnipotent - he will defend me from all outrage.” The irate governor ordered her to be bound with chains, dragged before idols, and ordered to offer incense to test whether or not she was truly a Christian. Agnes fearlessly made the sign of the cross, professing that only her Crucified Spouse should be adored. Now having proved beyond doubt that she was a Christian, she was stripped of her clothing and imprisoned in a brothel. Miraculously, her hair immediately grew longer, until there was enough to completely cover the young girl’s body, thus protecting her modesty.
Several young men approached Agnes, intending to violate her virginity, but were all miraculously struck blind. Finally, Procopius himself appeared, determined to have his way with the young girl by whom he had been jilted. He, too, was struck blind, and fell down as if dead, whereupon his companions begged Agnes to pray to her God for her would-be attacker. Upon her doing so, Procopius instantly revived, and his sight was restored.
Symphronius now wanted to release the young girl, but several pagan priests cried out against this, claiming the miraculous happenings were due to witchcraft, and stirred up the crowds to demand her death. The governor, fearing a riot if he did not comply, yet not willing to put the young girl to death, handed the case over to his lieutenant Aspasius.
Aspasius suffered no such qualms, and sentenced Agnes to be burned to death. When the flames were kindled, they would not touch Agnes, miraculously parting around her and instead killing those who had lit the fire. The pagan priests and the crowds with them continued to call for the young virgin’s death, insisting she was a witch. Accordingly, Aspasius ordered that she be beheaded. The trembling executioner, abhorring his grisly task, was reluctant to touch her, but Agnes encouraged him, saying “Haste thee to destroy this my body, which could give pleasure to others, to the offending of my divine Spouse. Fear not to give me that death which shall be to me the commencement of eternal life.” Then raising her eyes to heaven and beseeching Jesus Christ to receive her soul, she died. The day was January 21, 304, on which day we now celebrate her feast day.
One night as Agnes’ parents were visiting her grave, they beheld a vision of their daughter accompanied by many other virgins. She told them, “Father and Mother, weep not for me as though I were dead; for now these virgins and I live together in Him whose love was my whole life upon earth.”
De Liguori, Alphonsus, “Victories of the Martyrs”
Ruffin, C. Bernard, “The Days of the Martyrs”