My Family and other Animals

by Gerald Durrell

He led me down the corridor, opened a door, and, to my complete surprise, ushered me into a large shadowy bedroom. The room was a forest of flowers; vases, bowls, and pots were perched everywhere, and each contained a mass of beautiful blooms that shone in the gloom, like walls of jewels in a green-shadowed cave. At one end of the room was an enormous bed, and in it, propped up on a heap of pillows, lay a tiny figure not much bigger than a child. She must have been very old, I decided as we drew nearer, for her fine, delicate features were covered with a network of wrinkles that grooved a skin as soft and velvety-looking as a baby mushroom’s. But the astonishing thing about her was her hair. It fell over her shoulders in a thick cascade, and then spread half way down the bed. It was the richest and most beautiful auburn colour imaginable, glinting and shining as though on fire, making me think of autumn leaves and the brilliant winter coat of a fox.
“Mother dear,” Kralefsky called softly, bobbing across the room and seating himself on a chair by the bed, “Mother dear, here’s Gerry come to see you.”
The minute figure on the bed lifted thin, pale lids and looked at me with great tawny eyes that were as bright and intelligent as a bird’s. She lifted a slender, beautifully shaped hand, weighed down with rings, from the depths of the auburn tresses and held it out to me, smiling mischievously.
“I am so very flattered that you asked to see me,” she said in a soft, husky voice. “So many people nowadays consider a person of my age a bore”.
Embarrassed, I muttered something, and the bright eyes looked at me, twinkling, and she gave a fluting blackbird laugh, and patted the bed with her hand. “Do sit down,” she invited; “do sit down and talk for a minute”.
Gingerly I picked up the mass of auburn hair and moved it to one side so that I could sit on the bed. The hair was soft, silky, and heavy, like a flame-coloured wave swishing through my fingers.
Mrs. Kralefsky smiled at me, and lifted a strand of it in her fingers, twisting it gently so that it sparkled. “My one remaining vanity,” she said; “all that is left of my beauty”.
She gazed down at the flood of hair as though it were a pet, or some other creature that had nothing to do with her, and patted her affectionately.
“It’s strange,” she said, “very strange. I have a theory you know, that some beautiful things fall in love with themselves, as Narcissus did. When they do that, they need no help in order to live; they become so absorbed in their own beauty that they live for that alone, feeding on themselves, as it were. Thus, the more beautiful they become, the stronger they become; they live in a circle. That’s what my hair has done. It is self-sufficient, it grows only for itself, and the fact that my old body has fallen to ruin does not affect it a bit. When I die they will be able to pack my coffin deep with it, and it will probably go on growing after my body is dust”.