Once upon a time there was a woman who sold dreams for children. Do not mistake me here. She did not sell dreams to children – children, after all, do not usually have much money to spare – but she sold them for the children. She sold them to the parents.
‘Your daughter could be great,’ she would say. That one, she gave away for free.
‘Your daughter could be the greatest.’ And, to do her justice, it was true. She did not bother with those who had not the matter within themselves to make a return on their parents’ investment.
She rarely said much more than that. Not at first, anyway. She had no need. Everyone knew that, of all the dreams of all the sellers of dreams, hers were by far the most likely to come true.
‘There will be a cost,’ she said, each time.
‘We will pay,’ the parents would say.
She would name the price, and again the parents would say, ‘We will pay.’ Most of them said so, at any rate. As for the others – well, their children are not our concern, and whether that was good for them or whether it was ill is not my concern. My business is to tell you how it went with those who pursued the purchase of a dream. After all, you aren’t interested in the others, are you?
And I realise now that I have barely told you the substance of the dreams that this woman sold. They were common enough, in that many wanted them. They were rare indeed, in that few could fulfil them. They looked different – to some they seemed like fame, to others, skill, to others, victory, to still others, beauty, and so forth; to one the dream would seem a golden crown to be placed upon her head; to another, a wreath of laurel leaves – but what I mean to say is that all were the same dream, for this was the only dream the woman sold, and all who came to her knew what they were buying. That was why they were happy to pay what she asked.
‘There will be a cost,’ she said, each time.
‘We will pay,’ the parents said.
‘There will be a cost to your child, too.’
They would all look at the child, and see her wide-eyed and dazzled by the golden dream they hung before her. ‘She will pay.’
Perhaps the parents should have asked what that cost would be. Perhaps then they would have heard: her youth. Or, her health. Or, her freedom. Her happiness. Her future. Or her soul. Perhaps some of them did ask. Perhaps some of them thought it better not to know. I can’t say. At any rate, many of them bought that dream.
And many of them were satisfied with the bargain. The dream they had bought for their daughter was golden indeed; given time, it was very clear that she would be great, that she could be the greatest. I heard once that there were some who paid the price and regretted it, but if you were to ask the woman about them you would find that she did not recognise their names, and nor would you recognise their names, and so we must conclude that they are of no concern to us.
Where were we? Ah, yes. The child whose parents bought a dream for her, a golden, gleaming dream; a dream for which they paid with money and for which she paid with her health and her youth, her future and her freedom and her happiness. And, perhaps, her soul. A golden, gleaming dream, a circlet that rested heavily on her head, with the weightiness of skill and beauty, victory and fame. A dream of greatness.
And it was hers. Do not mistake me. It belonged to her, truly, for – this is a fairy tale, so shall we say, a year and a day? Very well. For a year and a day, she was the greatest, and in her golden dream-crown she ruled over all, and all praised her skill and her artistry, her beauty and her fame. And then –
And then? Nobody wants to know what happened next. Are you sure? Well, if you must. When a year and a day had passed, she woke, and she found that her golden circlet had changed into a wreath of dead brown leaves that crumbled into dust when she touched them, and her limbs were racked with pain, and her bones were the bones of an old woman, and no one remembered her name.
And with agony coursing through her with every step, she went to the city that she had ruled and she saw that another girl was the greatest, another girl wore her crown, another girl had bought and had claimed the dream.
Her parents were furious. ‘The woman tricked us!’ they yelled, and they stamped off to complain, their daughter limping behind them. She would have wept, but she had learned that there was no use in weeping.
She did not weep, but the woman smiled. ‘Why are you surprised?’ she asked. ‘Surely you know that a dream only lasts as long as you sleep.’
The parents ranted and fumed. But the woman turned away. She had no time for them. She had another dream to sell.
More on the question of sport, and whether it’s worth it all? Try A Spoke In The Wheel:
The first thing I saw was the wheelchair.
The first thing she saw was the doper.