In the beginning rope for her meant a way out. It was long and made of small hairs that fall off the backs of black and white cows so that when all of the hairs were hand knit together they made a checkerboard of light and dark diamonds. The rope was exceedingly strong, the knitting done by tiny hands too small to do anything else and the owners of such hands, to stay useful and secure their jobs, did the knitting with such precision and earnest desires that their ropes were made like no others. She liked to look at the rope, she did, but she really hadn’t the need of one, not then, not when she had no desire to leave a place where she was content.
After a while, and because the rope was left out where it could be admired, attached as it was to a ring in a high wall in case she changed her mind and needed a way out – after a while the rope began to be eaten by small hair-eating bugs who preferred the black hairs to the white. This left her with a rope that looked as if it had been made of white lace! A dainty rope! A beautiful rope! But not a rope for escape. So what? She thought very little about leaving. Things were not so bad. And she had the lace rope to admire. She couldn’t complain.
When a complaint appeared one day in her throat, like a frog in the throat of a nervous speaker, the appearance of lace the rope had once had – had vanished. What remained looked like dirty string – common dirty string. She let the complaint stay lodged in her throat, not even a whisper emerged. After awhile, she forgot how to make sound. Even song had begun to sound like complaint to the ears of those who could hear; and they weren’t very big on complaint of any kind. The safest thing, with only a string of what once was a rope, was quiet.
She lived in quiet for a very long time. The string rotted away, disappeared into nothing, just as her voice had done. And her eyes, which, from time to time, had seemed somehow accusatory to her keepers, her eyes she had taken to keeping closed for long periods of time, until, when she opened them now, they were all the same color of white. When irises are unneeded, they take offense and go. Just so with hers. They’d left half an eon ago. But her ears were still the same. Well, not exactly the same. With age they’d grown bigger, longer, wider. And her hearing, because there was only that one sense (other than feeling, oh, well, and smelling), had grown keener over the passing years.
Thus it was that she heard the root of a distant tree. Ear pressed to one stone in the wall of her keep, she heard pebbles move. True, they moved at a very slow pace, but move they did. After a time, the root broke a stone from the upper wall, not far from the ancient ring where the black and white diamond-patterned rope once hung in all its meticulous glory.
Daily the root grew. She could not see it with her white eyes, and she could not feel it, it was far too high up yet to touch, but she could hear it. And she could smell it, earthy like a potato, but not. She would make a sound in celebration of such a rescue as that the root would provide, but she could not, even if she remembered how, her lips had grown together in such a way that no sound could escape. When, after a very long time, the root reached the floor of the keep, it waited there offering a barely perceptible dangle. How sad for her that at the very moment the root came within reach she found her bones all knit together! She could not move, in any direction. Slowly, her ears filled with dust and webs and spiders. Eventually, the root, tired of waiting, took off again with a growth spurt, feeling its way around the circular well where she had lived for such a long time that she had been forgotten. The root grew through her then, never even realizing.
In the spring, the blossoms on the tree, the one that seems always to be reaching for a sky it can’t quite reach, are all the same color of white.
[after W.S. Merwin, Hope for Her, The Book of Fables]