Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem as well as the beautiful image inspired this
The land of counterpane claimed him. He’d mustered out the leaden soldiers long ago, sending them home to wives and children and lovers, medals presented, pensions granted. His fleets of ships he’d pulled into dry dock, since peace now ruled the seas. He’d wrapped them in tissue paper, soldiers, ships and all, one by one, and nestled them in boxes in the garret, waiting to be called into service for his sons.
His sons that never were.
It has been slow and subtle at first, just a bit of fatigue. Some muscle tremors. Nothing to worry about. Until one winter, the year he was eighteen. That cold dark winter when the snow clutched the earth, refusing to give way before the feeble sunshine that managed to ooze down through the clouds. The clouds that reinforced the snow, sending more and more to cloak his world, daring spring to make an assault.
That winter, things had changed. He was sick, and no denying. The doctors came; the doctors went. Again and again, they clucked over him, making odd faces and strange throat noises. And when the fevers finally broke, they carried his strength and vigor with them.
Or perhaps they lay buried under the eternal snow.
He could barely rise and made his way to the necessary. Thank god he could still do that. But nothing else.
Permanent, the doctors said. Something about weakening his ability to recover, immune this or that.
And so he lived in Counterpane once more. Too old for soldiers, too old for ships. Not too old for his trees and houses, though. He planted cities all about, as he’d used to do. It was enough for a time.
And when it wasn’t, he’d built cities in his head. Some people, when they did that, imagined the future, planned the urban areas, some people built only airy dreamy places for the well-to-do, pretending the rest, the scraping-by rest did not exist. Not in their cities, their little perfect monuments to themselves.
Not him. The tumbledown shacks were there, provided for, and the way he designed his cities made it obvious, even to the ones on the highest of the summits, that without them, the scraping-by, the tumbledowns, it would all collapse, just sticks and stones to break their bones as they cascaded past the ones they depended upon and ignored.
Not in his cities. Those on the highest highs would have to leap from cliffs built of the granite of his ideas, if they wanted to bypass the needed-ones, the dirty ones, the ones that carted refuse and hauled in goods, that cleaned and scrubbed the shiny towers, that walked the treadmill power plants. The riche could not ignore them, not and live in his cities.
It worked. The towers were so beautiful, the amenities such wonders, that people competed for the chance to live in his design. Piled on and on, pressed him for more and more, sinking into his dreams.
It had to happen. No man’s dreaming can last forever, not even dreaming made of granite.
And he the giant great and still
Did sleep upon the pillow hill
Unseeing all the dale and plain
And sinking into Counterpane.