The child, waking suddenly and finding herself alone, sat up anxiously amongst the makeshift bed of cushions and rugs. She could hear her mother’s voice, echoing oddly – now loud, now quiet – a murmuring duet with a deeper voice, flaring and dying so queerly that she scrambled to her feet and went out into the passage. Small, tousled, without her shoes, she hurried along until she emerged into a Looking Glass world where painted gardens ascended into cavernous shadowy places, a flight of stairs revolved gently away, and walls drifted silently apart. A cluster of lights, perched aloft, lit up an interior as neat and bright as a dolls’-house room, with cardboard books on painted shelves and shiny plaster food set upon the small table; almost she expected Hunca Munca to appear.
Standing quite still, just beyond the circle of light, a draught shivering round her legs, she watched her mother, who talked and smiled and stretched her hands to someone whose arm and shoulder, clad in severe dark cloth, could just be glimpsed; but, before she was able run to her, a sudden surging roar pinned her in the dark corner. As it beat up, swelling then receding dizzily about her head, she squared her mouth to cry out in fear, and then there were people all about her, lifting her, soothing her, carrying the small struggling figure away from the woman who remained on stage as the curtain rose and fell, again and again. She yelled aloud in panic as she was borne off – ‘Angel!’ she shouted – but her voice was lost in the backstage bustle and she cried out again.
No sound came and she wakened – properly now – to the present, her head at an uncomfortable angle against the arm of the chair, her mouth dry. The fear was still with her, a sense of terrible loss clinging with the fragments of the dream, so that she passed her hands over her face as if to wipe away both the dream and the panic together.
‘Sleeping in the afternoon,’ she told herself disparagingly. ‘What do you expect?’ and glanced hopefully at her watch. Twenty-eight minutes past five. Once, not so long ago, this would have been a time of preparation, of nervous tension; swallowing black coffee, forcing down some bread and butter, before going to the theatre.