BEYOND

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Sarah had woken up and found herself in a long corridor. She wondered if she was still in a dream, but she could feel her arm when she pinched it and she could smell the musty perfume of the old carpet. No, this was real enough. The hallway seemed to stretch out to the edge of doom. She decided to walk right along it to the end. The corridor was lined with mirrors, and each of them was slightly distorting. One made her taller, one made her shorter, one made her fatter, one made her thinner. The mirrors made her scowl and grimace and grin by turns, without her volition. The corridor was a gurning machine.

But what was at the end of the corridor? Was there anything beyond it? There was a door, and she trudged towards it. Her feet stirred up little clouds of dust. The door itself was very solid indeed, mahogany or oak probably. It seemed stuck in the jamb. Sarah was short and not particularly strong, but she threw herself against the door and felt it give a little. Another couple of shoves and it swung open. She tumbled through the doorway into the garden beyond.

What she saw took her breath away. Mindful of Alice in Wonderland, Sarah had expected a garden of talking flowers at the very least: lilies and roses that had powerful views of their own, which they were not afraid to express. But this garden was not like that at all. There were flowers, and animals too, that she never knew existed: Baobabs with little mouths at the top, massive cacti with breasts, palm trees with penises hanging down instead of dates. The seemed to be talking among themselves in a language she did not understand: sometimes shrill, sometimes gutteral. And the animals! An elephant the size of a cat, a mouse that was 50 foot high, a creature that was half-wolf and half-tiger, a dove whose wings were so huge that they blotted out the sky. If the flora and fauna were so unusual and unexpected, what would the people be like?

She didn’t have to wait long to find out. She heard a clip-clopping and a whinnying sound, and a creature galloped up to her. She hoped it was a Shetland pony, since she had always been very fond of those. But it was a centaur, who proceeded to interrogate her as to whether she was in season or not. Worse was to follow. A very fat person appeared, who wanted to talk about the new cookery books and the best way to make a risotto, but he had a curly tail poking out from the back of his trousers, and large floppy pink ears hidden by his deerstalker hat. Was everyone going to be so importunate? Everyone seemed to be a hybrid of sorts. She liked the brindle people: brown humans with grey shading, white humans striped black like zebras. When she became attentive to people’s gender, she noticed that it was pretty indeterminate too. They were all hermaphrodites, and very comfortable with that. She was the one who did not know how to behave.

At the far end of the garden was another door, roundish, with a brass handle. It looked rather like a Hobbit door. She took the smooth handle in her hand and turned it. The door gave easily this time, and swung open. Sarah stepped through and the door slammed behind her. Here, everything was normal. The flowers and trees were orderly, and behaved according to their genus: a sigh, a rasping of bark against bark, was all she heard. The animals were modest and kept themselves to themselves, each tribe with its own tribe. And the people were predictable. Men were men, and women were women. It was beards versus frills, sternness versus deference. Sarah began to feel sorry and bored. These hard boundaries made life easy, to be sure. But they did not surprise you, or feed your spirit. She turned back to the door and tried to get in to the “garden beyond” a second time. But the door seemed to be locked, and her knocking and rattling and calling was answered by no-one. No-one at all.