Saturday, February 13, 2010

she said she had a cottage in the woods. and there was one there, but it was made of soft weathered wood, tumbledown and ovegrown with tangles of creepers and jasmine buckling the tin roof. the windows had been boarded up long before her time, planks of wood hastily thrown against the glassless windows, trapping memories in. if she peered through the time-made cracks in the wood, she could see books lined in soft soldier-rows with creased spines, scrolls of writing spread out on desks, curling a little at the edges, and a glass vase acting as a coffin for the skeletal husk of a flower, a small moment of beauty captured, preserved, wilted. all smelling of trapped sunlight, all covered in a thick blanket of dust. she would wonder, with her cheek pressed against the silky wood, at what made the cottage's last occupant leave so quickly. so urgently, not even allowing enough time to make a gap in the titles on any of the many bookcases lining the walls, leaving half-written letters or stories strewn across the tables, leaving nothing to watch over their possesions but a dying flower. were they planning on coming back? were they running away? were they taken?
she wouldn't go in. it was someone else's house full of someone else's memories and someone else's breath, hidden away where no one was meant to find it.
she lived in the garden.
she slept in the patch of herbs; she had for so long the scents of wild thyme and basil clung to her clothes and hair, rubbed onto by the soft lulling carress on her skin of the wind ruffling the leaves. there was once a dirt track leading past the herb garden to the cottage's rotting front door, but veins of green had spread across it until it was just a messy carpet of grass runners and clover. in the spring the glades of the forest errupted into violent bursts of colour and sweet perfume, lazy in the warm sun with fragrant air thick with the humming of bees and whispers of butterfly wings, but she always liked the old track best. she could always count on only three blooms there, tiny dots of dandylion yellow, snowdrops white, and purple-blue, which were the tiniest, little pinpricks of flowers she didn't know, against the furry pale-green ground.
on hazy summer afternoons she would sit at the edge of the gardens, near the line of trees where the woods started, and pick through the brambles to find the line of strawberries, searching for the juicy, sun-ripened shine of ruby-red fruit. her lips would be stained dark, warm tartness bursting on her tongue as she tucked more away in her pockets for later.
there was a boy, also. he had seen the forest-girl only once; he lived in a city on the edge of the woods, and he liked to walk amongst the whispering trunks until the traffic was a world away. ancient hollows surrounded by moss-covered trunks and knotted roots rang with the softest toll, the slightest tingle of seeds of time beating at clouds, trapped by leaves and twigs and years. he would stand and try to listen, feeling unwelcome but unwilling to leave.
he'd taken a wrong turn when he saw her; instead of sloping down the faint track was flat, until he pushed back some juniper with purple berries shining like jewels and seeing the clearing with the overgrown garden and ramshackle cottage. and the girl, long hair brambling about her face and torso, peering back at him from one corner of the dilapated building, a ghost in a long, trailing dress. they'd met eye to wide eye for a long, still moment, he at once awestruck, she shaken. then in a flicker of cloth she was gone, washed away like the opening of an eyelid does a dream, like a whitewashed wave does a child's drawing in wet sand. there was no trace of her by the time the boy thought to run after her, just hostile forest protecting its tenderest secret. he left, feeling oddly defeated.
but he came back. some days the first rays of sunlight would tap at his eyelids until they opened, and he'd know. he'd rush to the forest and search until the sky turned indigo, but he never found the cottage. never found the girl. and he came to the forest less and less.
at first the thought of the girl in the forest enchanted and enraptured him, took over every thought. but her imprint faded in his thoughts, the magic behind her wilted like the flower in the vase every moment spent fruitlessly searching. he began to doubt what he saw. he focused on reality and wouldn't listen to silence any more. the forest was just a place where his family picnicked sometimes, until one day he visited it for the last time. he tied a bell to a creeper, picked a flower for his fiancee and left, leaving otherwise not a trace that he'd ever been, just like the girl in the back of his mind.
over the years he moved away from the city by the forest, to the coast. it was only sand and salt water, but it made the same sound as ancient forest hollows, if only he'd listen.
but he didn't. and the girl faded in his mind, until he wasn't sure if she was a fairytale or from a story a schoolmate once wrote.
and she became a tattered mix of memory and dream, just like the little cottage in the woods.