Tale #77: The Wolf And The Girl

The wolf watched as the girl came near
And the wolf waited as the girl roamed far
And the wolf pounced when her parents came looking

The wolf ate, the girl ate
And away they went together
Blood red lips, teeth as sharp as lies

__________

Notes:

1. Written on November 3rd, 2016

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Tale #76: Of Wolves And Women

I heard the following tale from both my aunts when I was a child, a year or so apart.

I’m not sure if you’re supposed to think of your aunts this way, but I always did, when I was young – one of them was from within the family (my mother’s sister), the other from without (my dad’s brother’s wife). That one of them was a real aunt, the other merely playing one.

Nowadays, I’m not sure what to think.

Anyway, they both told this story slightly differently – different setting, different details, different phrases, different folksy claims of authenticity – but beyond that, they were the same tale, in all the ways that mattered.

The same body clothed in different clothes.

The story went like this.

A long time ago in a land far away (or, in the other telling, in the town where I grew up), there lived a princess (or a girl, just like you or me) in a castle (or a house). She had no brothers (nor any sisters) and her parents were too busy with the affairs of state (or, quite simply, too dead) to pay her any mind. So the girl/princess would wander the halls of her castle (or the streets of her town) all on her own, searching, always, for something, some sign, some proof that she was loved (or had been loved).

One day a woman came to see the princess at court (or, more simply, knocked on her front door) and said, “I’m your aunt, and I love you as if you were my one and only child.” And the woman stayed with her for the rest of the year, accompanying her on her walks, reading her stories before bed, helping her get dressed in the morning, and always, always, treating the lonely girl with love and tenderness and the utmost care.

On the princess’s 8th birthday (or the girl’s 9th), the aunt said, “I must return to the land where I live. Come with me, little girl, and leave this sadness (and loneliness) behind. Be free of your neglect, and stay by my side.”

And it was here that the tales diverged.

The tales ended very differently, and these were differences that were genuine rather than merely cosmetic. Not different hats so much as entirely different faces. A wolf revealed beneath the mirrored kindnesses of my aunts’ smiles.

In the first, the princess goes with her aunt. But when she arrives in the distant land her aunt called home, the aunt’s demeanour changed. “Obey me, now-child-of-mine, and do as I say. Serve me as a servant and a slave, from dawn until dusk, else I’ll eat you up for my dinner and that will be that.”

So the girl lived in fear, for the rest of her days. And no-one came to save her, for none knew where she had gone.

The moral of this tale as I perceived it then, whether or not that was what was intended: quit your whining, accept your place, for there’s a world out there worse than whatever you hate about home.

The second telling, the one I preferred, the orphan girl again goes with her aunt. She leaves behind her empty house, her lonely town, and walks with her aunt across the country.

Each time the girl feels discomfort, her aunt moves to help. The sun shines too brightly, so she gives the girl her wide-brimmed hat. At night it is too cold, so she gives the girl her coat. To stop the girl being pricked by thorns as they make their way through the woods, she gives the girl her gloves. When the girl loses her shoes in the mud of the brook, she gives the girl her boots.

Finally, the girl can walk no more and collapses to the ground. The aunt removes her clothes, takes off her mask, gets down on all fours, and leans over the girl, her jaw wide, her teeth sharp, her tongue as red as blood. And in her lupine voice, she says, “I’m not your aunt, I never was. I came to you because you were alone and unprotected.”

The mouth gets closer, opens wider. The girl waits for the snap of the jaw, the rasp of the tongue, the bite of the teeth, the pain that will surely come as she’s gobbled up and eaten whole.

But instead, the wolf says, ”I will carry you the rest of the way, my child.”

And with a deft flick of her head she flips the girl into the air and onto her back, and together they travel over the hills, into the woods, far, far away, living happily together ever after.

It was a fairy tale, after all.

The moral of this one: there is kindness in strangers, there is love out there if you will let yourself look.

After I heard this second telling, I wondered which of my aunts was the woman, which the wolf. Always, from then on, I’d be looking, checking, staring, hoping to see some slip of the mask, whether real or metaphorical, to catch the truth of the smile, see a glimpse of the real teeth beneath the false.

To see if their kindness masked cruelty, or if it hid an even deeper kindness, hid love without want, without need, without end.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in June 2018
2. There was a documentary about Angela Carter on BBC Two with the same title as this
3. Which was first shown in August 2018
4. My use of the same title is purely coincidental
5. But nicely serendipitous

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Tale #74: The Woman In The Woods

There was a woman who lived in the woods, in a tower as white as bone and as bright as teeth. The people of the town considered her a witch, and set the forest on fire in the hope of driving her away. But although the trees burnt to ash, her tower did not burn at all, for it was built of stone, and she survived unscathed.

In fear of her retribution the townsfolk fled.

Eventually the woods grew back around her tower, and in time, too, over the town. And the town passed into myth and beyond memory and was soon forgotten by all.

The woman who lived in the woods went on with her life, and was thankful to be forgot.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. A man came to her house and said, “You are a witch,” and to this she did not reply. For she thought it was not to for her to defend herself from baseless accusations of witchery, for was not witchery itself a projection upon her from another, and therefore a manifestation from without rather than within, and not within her capabilities to control.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. The people of the town considered her a witch, and warned their children never to go near her.

One day, when she was washing her clothes in the river, a group of concerned men captured her and brought her back to face the judgement and justice of the good folk of the town.

“Why do you torture me? the woman asked. “Could you not let me speak for myself?”

“The utterances of a witch cannot be trusted,” replied the inquisitors, and went on with their work.

It was only upon her death that any definite conclusion could be reached as to her nature, but alas by then it was too late for justice.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was known by all to be a witch, and was therefore shunned, pilloried, despised.

She liked weaving, stargazing, and the reading of poetry (although she had no time for the writing of it). She claimed the friendship of wolves in lieu of human contact. She spoke the language of crows.

She prospered.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. No one had ever seen her, or if they had, they had not spoken to her. But it was true that their fathers had seen her, or at least so their fathers said.

She was exactly as evil and beautiful and as wise and treacherous as she was, and there was nothing that could be done about her.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was the woman who lived in the woods.

***

There was a woman in the woods. She sat beneath a tree and watched the rain fall all around. When it stopped, she stood up and continued on her way.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods, far away from any other people. This was exactly how she liked it, and she lived quite happily to a ripe old age.

***

There was a woman who was sent to live in the woods. For the first few years of her exile she was sustained purely by the strength of her anger and the constancy of her defiance, and so she did not perish.

But anger can never be eternal, no matter how righteous the rage, and eventually she fell into a wellspring of despair, which, fed by her heartbreak and her betrayal, and shaped by means of its flow within and around her heart, built up a complex structure of misplaced guilt which shifted the blame for her situation from those that deserved it onto herself, who did not.

Just as anger can not last forever, even despair has its time, and eventually she drifted through many years in a haze of deadness and nothingness, and slowly she forgot there had ever been more than this, that there ever could be, ever would be.

Whatever help she needed was denied her, and where she went from there who can say.

***

There was a woman in the woods. They left her there to rot. But she would not rot. She would live her life. Hers and hers alone.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods
and spent her days painting pictures
of sheep
and cows
and other things
that she never saw in the woods
anymore

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods
She wrote herself a poem
on the bark of a tree
that said
we make stories of ourselves
we make stories of others
we make stories of our children
and they of their mothers

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods
She sat beneath the trees
and stared at the leaves
and dreamed
they were clouds

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods
She went out every morning
and sat by the stream
and recorded every word it said
onto cd

***

There was a woman in the woods
walking around
christ knows where

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. They said she could follow you around for a mile or more, and you’d never know she was there.

But she was there

the woman

who lived in the woods

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told no-one her story, and after she died, no-one told it for her.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told others her story, but everyone ignored her.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She told no-one her story, and after she died, others told it for her, as if it were there own.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She grew up, married a man, had a child, and then another. Eventually her children grew up, and went on their way.

One morning, at breakfast, she looked across the table at her husband and thought, “It has been so long since we were alone together. An emptiness has opened up between us and there is nothing now to fill it.”

She had know idea what to do, what to say, where to go. She would slip out during the night and scream her frustrations into the hollows of trees, whisper her desires to the crows in the branches, weep to no-one but herself in the shadows, and finally steady herself beneath the moon before going back inside for another day, and another, and another.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. When she got in from work she was always too tired to cook. She would make herself some sandwiches and eat them where she stood.

She dreamed some nights of a world wider than she could see.

She dreamed some nights of something unseen above, its shadow wider than the world, and widening evermore.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. One day a travelling merchant came to her house and showed her many things. She bought as much from him as she could afford, for she was lonely and hoped to keep him there as long as possible.

Eventually he left with her money, and she never received the goods that he promised.

***

There was a woman in the woods. The bass pulsed through her body, louder and louder, heavier and heavier. She closed her eyes, let it consume her.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She drank too much and she ate too much and she wasted what money she had on frivolities and indulgences and she dressed badly she never brushed her hair she was coarse and vile and rude and often unpleasant she was awful she was a disgrace she was shameful a wastrel did she have no respect did she have no self-respect did she have no idea of responsibility she should get a job she should learn how to behave she should learn how to dress she should get herself a man she should settle down and do as she was told she should do as she’s told she should have herself a baby and do as she’s told

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. The woods were the world, the world the woods. She tried to escape but there was nowhere else to go.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She dreamed of the city, she dreamed of the sea. She dreamed of the plains and she dreamed she was free.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods.

She wandered into town once. Went to the library. Looked at all the books. Counted them. Imagined reading one a day, for the rest of her life. Never even getting through a quarter of them.

She imagined all the other libraries. All the books, in all the languages. All the films. All the plays. All the episodes of all the tv shows.

She imagined the seven billion people alive. Imagined meeting every one. One person a second, 31 million a year. No sleep, no stopping. 200 years to meet them all, assuming death was abolished. Death, and also birth.

Outside she looked up, saw for once the whole of the sky. She saw the stars. Saw the milky way. Imagined everything from which it was made. A 100 stars for every person.

She dreamt of all the galaxies. A 100 galaxies for every star in our own. A thousand maybe. A million. A trillion.

An infinitillion.

She began to weep. A single tear for every one. Every galaxy. Every star. Every person. Every word. Every thing she would never see, every thing she could never know, every thought she would never have.

That was why there was a woman in the woods.

***

There were four billion women who lived in four million woods and every one of them was different and every one was the same and every one of them deserved more than they had and more than they got and more than they were given and more than they could give.

And every one of them lived and every one of them died, and every one of them was remembered and every one of them was forgotten and the forgetting lasted longer than the remembering and that was the way of the world and that was all there was and all there every would be.

A moment of not-being. A moment then of being. A moment more as echo. And after, silence.

***

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She was born. She lived. She died. Now there was no woman who lived in the woods.

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Notes:

1. Written in August 2014
2. Except for a few bits
3. Written here and there
4. Between then and now

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Tale #73: (fragment)

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She gathered up the dead things that lay on the forest floor and brought them to her home. She gave names to these nameless creatures, whispered words of love and kindness as she placed them in freshly dug graves. And at night they would come out and walk with her, beneath the stars, beneath the moon, the shadows wrapped around them like robes.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in June 2018

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