But not right away. First of all, Minnarose fell into a deep, dark warm sleep that lasted for several hours. It was deeper than any sleep she had slept for a very long time: far longer than her few years in this world.
When she awoke into dreaming, she found herself in a place not unlike the house in Cavalry Square, only the corridor was longer and there seemed to be lots and lots of rooms that she had never seen into. She walked and walked to the end of a long hallway, and at the end was a glass door. Through the glass door she saw a doll lying floppily on the bottom step of a staircase. The doll looked just like her blonde mother.
She tried to go to the Mamala-doll, but the glass door wouldn’t open, and Minnarose knew that was because Mamala was in her dream and Minnarose was in hers, and mostly people can’t get from their own dreams to those of others.
But Minnarose wanted to go to her mommy. She banged on the glass door, but her banging did not even make a sound and Mamala just lay there on the stair, looking like a stuffed doll that has lost most of its stuffing.
Minnarose started to cry, but no sound came out. She felt strange and frightened, locked away in her own dream. But then she remembered the key. And when she remembered it, she felt it—right there in her closed hand, where it had been when it lost itself.
She looked at the shiny silver key, and then she looked at the glass door, and sure enough the door had a keyhole that looked just about the right size. She put the key into the lock and cautiously turned it. Suddenly there was sound. The lock clicked and clanked and the door swung open.
Minnarose ran over to her blonde mother lying on the stair. “Mamala, Mamala – wake up, it’s me!”
“Rayati, darling. I am awake. I am just lying here.”
“Rayati, mommy, do get up.”
“I can’t, darling. I have lost my stuffing.”
“Where is it? I’ll fetch it for you.”
“It’s gone, darling. It went when your ’Nettie went.”
But Minnarose felt sure it must be around there somewhere. She looked around the room and saw a tall doll in a long glass cabinet. She looked just like Auntie Phelyan. Maybe she could help. There was a keyhole in the door of the cabinet and Minnarose just knew her key would fit it.
She turned the silver key in the lock and opened the cabinet. The tall doll was definitely Auntie Phelyan, but she stayed completely still as if she were only a doll.
“Auntie Phelyan,” said Minnarose. But there was no reply.
“Auntie Phelyan, Mamala has lost her stuffing. You have to help.”
Auntie Phelyan spoke without moving at all. Not even her lips moved. Her voice sounded even more hollow and gloomy than it did in waking.
“I shall never leave this cabinet and your mother will never find her stuffing. I learned long ago that once a doll loses her stuffing it can never be replaced.”
“That’s just nonsense,” said Minnarose, addressing her aunt with the impatience she had often felt in waking life but never dared to express. “As long as you are alive, you can make things better.”
“You are young and foolish,” said the slow, slow, gloomy voice. “You still hope. But you have come to the place where hope is dead.”
“No, ma’am, no,” said Minnarose, “this is my dream, and you have come to the place where hope is alive.” Minnarose was surprised to hear herself say that, but that is what she said. She heard it quite distinctly.
She ran back to her blonde mother. “Mamala, Mamala, you must not lie at the foot of the stairway. We must climb up.”
“I am sorry, honey. I am sorry to let you down. I can’t climb.”
“Yes, you can, Mamala, yes you can.” And Minnarose started to climb the stairs, and her blonde mother came with her, and several steps behind came Auntie Phelyan, looking like a puppet whose strings had been cut, but who still somehow managed to move.
“I won’t go near that stairway,” declared Auntie Phelyan.
“But you are already climbing it, dear,” said Mamala.
“This is foolishness,” said Auntie Phelyan. “Folly and idleness. Why would I be climbing the stairway?”
“I think Minnarose is dreaming us.”
“Nonsense, nonsense, my dreams are mine.” But Mamala and Minnarose kept climbing the stairs, and Auntie Phelyan kept following them, a few treads behind.
“It is only a dream,” she muttered gloomily. “And it is my dream. I am dreaming that I am climbing the stairs, though Dea alone knows why.”
Up and up they climbed. This was not like the stairway in the house. It went on and on and up and up. High into the clouds it went. And as they looked upwards there seemed to be no end—the stairway stretched on and on, and up and up, until it vanished into the distance.
“How much longer do we have to keep up this foolishness?” asked Auntie Phelyan, forgetting that she had said it was her dream.
“Until we get there, I think,” said Minnarose—and suddenly smiled to herself as she thought that was the sort of answer grown-ups give to children.
“There isn’t any ‘there’,” said Auntie Phelyan grumpily. “Look for yourself. It goes on up and up. It never ends.”
“Everything ends,” said Minnarose. It sounded wise, and again she was surprised to hear herself say it. But of course it was only sense—everything must end.
“She is your child, Silla-cheri,” said Auntie Phelyan. “Can’t you teach her some sense?”
“I don’t know what is sense and what isn’t,” said Mamala.
And so they climbed, on and on and up and up, until they came to an island in the sky, all covered in snow. It was not the end of the stairway—the stairway still went on and up, but Minnarose said, “I think we may be there now,” and stepped off the stairway onto the crisp, crunchy snow.
“This is getting more foolish by the minute,” declared Auntie Phelyan. “Now instead of climbing a stairway to nowhere we are wandering in the snow with no idea where we are or where we are going. Like as not we’ll die of exposure.”
“Are you cold, dear?” asked Mamala. “I am not cold at all.”
“Hmm, not cold exactly,” admitted Auntie Phelyan. “I suppose I am tucked up in bed really.”
“Then there is no need to worry, is there, dear?”
“Being led around by a child who has no idea what she is doing. Yes, I think there is every reason to worry.”
Minnarose only heard the gentle mutter of grown-up conversation behind her. She knew she was in the right place. She just had to keep going. They walked on in silence for a way, and it almost seemed as if Auntie Phelyan’s skepticism might be justified. The snow stretched on and on. There were forests too, but they seemed wild and uninhabited.
Then suddenly, they all heard the thunder of hoofs and the jingling of harness.
“What is that?” cried Mamala.
“Demons, no doubt,” said Auntie Phelyan. “‘The demon ever waits’,” she quoted the old saying. “But it didn’t have to wait for us. The child led us right to it.”
The thunder of hoofs became louder, and most remarkably, it came not from the ground, but from the sky. The sky itself became brighter and suddenly they could all see a great chariot, shining like a mighty star, drawn by huge white horses. Auntie Phelyan looked terrified, and to tell the truth Minnarose was a little scared too. She believed this was the Star Fairy and her Silver Chariot, but somehow it all looked bigger and brighter and more awe-inspiring than the merry little Star Fairies she had seen in books and Nativity lights.
“Star-fairies,” said Auntie Phelyan scornfully. “This is the only place you’ll ever find star-fairies. In dreams.”
The mighty chariot swooped down like a comet and came to rest in front of the little party as gently as a snowflake. The Star Fairy was standing, holding her silver reins. She was taller than a mortal maid and had about her an atmosphere of majesty and sanctity such as Minnarose had only felt in the most solemn moments at a Temple service.
Each of the three made deep reverence.
“Had you something to say to me, honored Phelyan?” asked the Star Fairy.
“No, ma’am, nothing,” said Auntie Phelyan. For suddenly everything she had thought and felt seemed as nothing before this majestic figure. All the cynical and unhappy thoughts that had obsessed her these recent years seemed cheap and meaningless as she now looked at something that lay much closer to the heart of Being, something that belonged to the great swelling depths of existence, rather than to the trivial ripples of its surface.
“That is good. For I have something to say to you. To all of you. Nativity is a time of giving and receiving. It is a time of the greatest gift of all, that is reflected in all the little gifts. And every little gift has all the wonder of the Great Gift wrapped in it. But you three wanderers come to me in a time not of fullness but of loss.
“Honored Silla, you have lost your dear brunette and your heart feels empty, does it not?”
“Yes, ma’am, it does,” breathed Mamala very humbly.
“And honored Minnarose, you have lost your Brunette Mother,”
Minnarose just nodded. She dared not say anything lest she burst into tears.
“And honored Phelyan, you lost your dear blonde three years ago, and now have lost your beloved sister, and all the world seems dark to you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Auntie Phelyan in a voice so small and quiet that it came to one more as a thought than as a sound.
“But your loved ones have lived good lives and await you in the Jeweled Garden. Pray do not disturb their joy with your unhappiness, but rejoice with them. It is hard, I know, for those who are left behind, and hard to know why those are called who are called, and yet all things are ordained as they should be.”
Each of the three had heard such talk before, but suddenly these things that all maids know took on a depth that they had scarcely known, and their hearts became light with a sense of quiet contentment.
“The ways have been stopped to you,” continued the great being of light with a voice as gentle as that of a mother, “because your hearts have been stopped. Time is now to let all things flow again. Pray join me in my silver chariot.”
Silently, as if in a dream, the three souls stepped into the great chariot, which seemed to be made of pure light. Instantly the silence was broken by the sound of hoofs, the neigh of horses, and a high cry from the chariot’s mistress of “Away!”
The chariot rose above the snow and then swooped down, down through dizzying space until it landed, gently as a snowflake, in the whitened Cavalry Square.
The Star Fairy turned from her reins to face her passengers, who each seemed no more than a child before the great being of light.
“You enjoyed the ride, little ones?” she asked. And the three nodded enthusiastically. And Minnarose noted that in a curious way her Mother and her Aunt were children—but in the nicest way—and again they were not children, they were themselves. And there was nothing confusing about it at all.
“And now for your presents,” said the Star Fairy. “Still a little early for presents, I know, but you need these ones early.” And she gave each of them what seemed at first like a little cloud, each into her outstretched little hands.
And the cloud cleared as if the present was being unwrapped. And each of them was holding a golden key.
“Thank you for unlocking your hearts for me,” said the Star Fairy. “Now all the rest will open.”
And without being told or even quite willing it, they stepped out of the chariot. “Rayati, dear hearts,” said the Star Fairy.
“Rayati,” said the three in unison.
“Away!” shouted the Star Fairy, and in a flurry of hoofbeats and of neighing and a shower of countless tiny star-like lights that made a shining trail, the great silver chariot rose into the air like a returning comet.
They looked at each other. They looked at the golden keys in their hands. And Minnarose looked at the ceiling of her bedroom in the first rosy rays of the rising sun.