There was once a wise woman by the well. There is still a wise woman by the well. There will be a wise woman by the well for as long as any one of you are alive to hear of her.
Nobody knows which came first, whether she brought magic with her or found her gift of sight in the waters themselves, just as the waters have given many gifts through the years. What is known is that she walks every day from her nearby hut to the well by the road and stays until the sun goes down. She hears things from the travelers who stop to drink, and she remembers all of them, the words and faces, the worries and joys caught in the lines around their eyes.
When there are no travelers, and no people come to seek advice, she sits and stares for hours into the deep blackness of her well. She sees the inexorable dances of faraway stars, or, perhaps, a rabbit hiding in its den from a waiting fox, or a farmer cutting bread for his family’s supper — glimpses of the small stories of people and things, of the larger story that is formed from the tapestry of them all.
She does not leave her little hut or her little place by the well. She has seen many terrible and terrifying things in the inky blackness, but the one that scares her the most is this: sometimes, on rare moments when the world is absolutely quiet, she will peer, trembling, over the edge and see herself. Her reflection is older, she can see from the eyes, though she cannot tell by how much, and it stands atop a mountain the woman does not recognize. All around her, as far as she can see, are flames. They rage with merciless speed in every direction, enough hurrying, hungry fire to consume a continent.
She knows in her bones what these few and fearsome glimpses foretell, though it is the one thing she tries her best to forget. One day, she will see something that she cannot ignore. She will leave her little hut and well with its black waters and set out to make things right. She will bring to bear all the might of her sight and her stories. She will face impossible odds, and she will succeed. That’s what frightens her the most, that this image is one of triumph. The flames will cover the earth, and she will be the one who starts it all.
She shies away at this reflection of her future, reminds herself that she is a long way yet from becoming the woman she sees in the water. She talks to travelers, gives them her advice, but when she glimpses their pain and death and heartache, she does nothing to intervene. She stays by the edge of the well, looking down into the fates of stars and spiders and universes, an observer to thousands of stories she cannot, will not, let herself be part of.
When it gets to be too much for her to hold, she starts sealing the stories into jars, carefully distilling the images: a moon colliding with a solitary planet; a city crumbling into the sea; a sister left alone with a child in her arms and a heart she never asked for.
“Andgiet (Jar 9)” is an excerpt from Echoes in Glass, an original theatrical cycle of stories, poems and songs that follows two spirits and an archivist as they delve through a collection of story-jars in an attempt to untangle and understand the past. The full piece was staged through the Program in Theater at Princeton University in early December 2019.