I’ve been walking with Catherine and her Destiny lately, and I’m well into my WonderLit journey with this marvelous Italian fairy tale. Catherine is the daughter of an uber-wealthy merchant, and I imagine her living in a palatial white stucco mansion surrounded by gardens and a high wall.
One day, when Catherine is sitting in her room, the Goddess Destiny flies in through the door and gives the young woman a choice. “Do you want to be happy in youth, or happy in old age?” Catherine chooses to be happy in old age, because then she’ll have something to look forward to. The Goddess, who is holding a tiny wheel, spins the wheel and disappears. Shortly after, Catherine’s father ships go down at sea and he loses all his fortune. He dies of disappointment, and Catherine is left to fend for herself in the world without a penny to her name.
She goes into the city, and a noble woman takes her in. Catherine organizes her house, does all her mending and sewing, and puts everything in order. Just as soon as sits down to rest, Destiny flies in saying, “You didn’t think I was going to make it that easy for you, did you?” She pulls everything out of the closets and cupboards–all the pressed and the folded linens, all the finely mended clothes–and tears them to pieces. Catherine runs out of the house in terror and humiliation, and never returns. She goes to another city and gets hired. Works. Organizes. Presses. Mends. Sews. Then Destiny comes in and tears everything to pieces, and again, she goes looking for work.
Small comfort that she can look forward to happiness in old age! After seven years, Catherine’s not even sure she wants to live to old age. She’s exhausted. Her efforts are futile. She feels completely ineffectual and worthless.
When I first came to the story, I landed here. With Catherine, in her despondency. She had come to a new city on the flanks of a mountain. I imagined her sitting on the side of the road, on a stone bench, watching the travelers come and go, and looking up at the mountain. It’s no ordinary mountain, but a mountain dedicated to the Goddess Herself. Destiny.
Here Catherine finds work with another mistress, but this time, she’s given an extra job. In addition to her usual housework, she has the daily task of taking a basket of bread up the mountain and offering it to the Goddess. Her secular work has been given and spiritual dimension, and, slowly, as the story unfolds, Catherine’s relationship with her Destiny changes and she is led to find real happiness and self-worth.
At the moment, in my journey with the story, I’ve just crossed the threshold with Catherine. We’ve gone out of the house on our first journey up the mountain with the basket of bread. It’s a beautiful day. The sky is as blue as the Mediterranean, and the blinding white houses are scoured by light. In this city, everything on the outside is as clean as Catherine makes everything inside.
While she treks up the mountain, I wonder what her Destiny will look like. I’ve been wondering that all along. When Destiny makes her first appearance in the story, I turned my head. I didn’t want to see Her. What could I see with my puny human imagination, anyway? We’re talking Goddesses here. I found that I was no more able or willing to meet Destiny than Catherine was.
Last night I wondered if I could rectify that. Would there be a way to approach Catherine’s Destiny (or mine, for that matter?)
I imagined being a cocktail party. That was safe. The cocktail party is always a safe place for me to go, imaginatively speaking. You can see people up close but at a comfortable distance. I scanned the glittering crowd for Catherine’s Destiny. She was easy to spot.
She stands at least a foot above everybody else. Her wavy red-gold hair falls to her shoulders and she wears a red-gold dress. She’s got golden wings and she’s wearing some sort of helmet made of hammered silver and gold.
She’s not the sort of character you’d invite over for tea. Her blue eyes bore to the heart of her subjects, and they soon nail me. As I am pulled in her direction, I realize that she would be entirely unapproachable were it not for the tiny wheel she holds. It is as delicate as the frame of a little bird. She cups it tenderly, and when I look at the wheel, which is my own life, I am glad that my Destiny is such a fierce and intelligent mother bird.
I won’t go into the conversation we had. It was the first of many, I’m sure. I am trying to get over my impulse to expect better things from my Destiny. I mean, with all this wealth and technology, can we not get better control over our destinies? Maybe not. I do feel, however, that we can meet them, and who knows who we will become when we do. Happy, I suspect.
The picture is from the tomb of Nakht. Nakht’s wife Tawi holds a small bird. Nakht was a scribe whol held the title, “Astronomer of Amun” at the Kamak temple during the 18th dynasty. His job was to study the location of stars, the sun and moon in order to schedule rituals for the temple. Tawi was a musician of Amun.