I recently went to the Cellar Bards Short Story night in Cardigan and read out a story that was originally devised by Feral Theatre a few years ago. I re-wrote it without looking back over the notes I had from it’s inception. I wanted it to be fresh. We did perform it at a couple of scratch events but I think perhaps it’s happiest home is on the page.
Anyway, here it is:
The day and night were of equal length. Shortly after sunrise a band of travelers rolled out of a dark quiet wood into a land of flat grey fields. The fields were huge and each one they passed seemed the same as the last. Covered in grey ash, last years blackened stubble and the first dull green shoots. The sky was vast and white. At last they saw a small house on a slight rise in the land. A few outbuildings thrown around it like dice. They stopped, shaded their eyes and watched. A girl was pegging out grey-white laundry. Stretching up and stooping down, stretching up and stooping down, on and on down the long taut line. When they were sure of what they had seen the travelers laboriously turned their bright painted wagons around in the narrow road and returned to the wood. The girl reached the end of the line. She looked down to the road and watched the caravan like a bright bead necklace as it retreated towards the dark line of the wood in the distance.
She stood and watched long after they had disappeared. She stood and watched until a harsh cry called her into the house. Her mother eyed her narrowly, disappointment written in the lines on her face. She pointed to the irons on the fire. She had given up talking to her daughter a long time ago. And the girl had never spoken, never uttered a sound. But her body spoke, every movement she made sang with grace and beauty. Her mother watched the hot iron swoop back and forth then went on scouring the kitchen table, the coarse brush banging into the metal bowl of water, banging and scrubbing, banging and scrubbing.
The sun moved slowly across it’s half circle of sky. The girl crept silently through the day as she did every day, not expecting love and doing her best to avoid pain.
The girls mother and father went to bed early. When the sun began to set they lay their heavy bones down on their flat hard beds and slept. The girl lay in the half light, her eyes wide open, waiting for the sounds of breathing in the next room to assume a sleep-like drone. Her next moves were well practiced. For every night since she had been a small child she had crept out of her tiny bedroom window, slid down the lean-to roof and flashed across the yard like a fox. Out in the huge stark fields the early stars gleamed down at her and her big dark eyes drank in their soft glow. The night befriended her, the night showed her love. She followed the animal paths through the fields. Tiny moths blew up around her, hatching grasshoppers pushed themselves out of the dark earth and tumbling weasels brushed against her bare legs. At the edge of the woods where the grasses grew long the hares had their scrapes. The girl stroked their long twitching ears as they slept hunched over their leverets.
Before entering the wood the girl paused. It’s interior was dark, the moon had not yet risen and the air was thick and heavy with the scents of decaying vegetation and night time creatures. The girl allowed her eyes time to adjust. She sensed that tonight the wood was different. The smell of woodsmoke wound through the trees and strange sounds accompanied the hooting owls and churring nightjars. Sounds the girl had never heard before. Parts of it were like the autumn song of the robin or the winter wind as it blew around the farm buildings with a clear lonesome whine. Then there was a Bang! Bang! Bang! Like the threshing machine only less insistent and metallic and then there was a sound like talking or shouting but softer and it meandered and rose and fell like the little streams that ran bubbling through the ditches in late spring. The sounds wove together like convolvulus in the hedges. The was drawn deeper into the wood. She leaned against a tree to listen, fascinated and enchanted, close by a dormouse shredded honeysuckle for its nest, the girl closed her eyes and let the sounds run into her until she thought her heart would burst!
Suddenly she felt that she was being watched, her eyes sprang open, and there, silhouetted against the grey-white of the moonlit fields beyond was a stag. They watched one another. Worms moved through the leaf litter and the stars wheeled above them. Then he moved and with a jolt she realised that his spreading antlers were just the branches above him and instead of four slender legs she saw that there were only two carrying him towards her. She gasped (the first sound she had ever made) and ran straight past him back onto the animal paths through the fields to the house. She left behind a fragment of her night dress on a blackthorn branch which the gypsy boy picked like a night flower and took back to his people.
Before dawn she dressed and crept downstairs to make the porridge. Her mother came down soon afterwards with the ripped night dress in her hands. Upstairs she heard her father nailing her bedroom window shut Bang! Bang! Bang! They sat down to breakfast but she couldn’t eat. She felt full of every sound she had never uttered, and those sounds bubbled and fluttered inside of her making her head spin. Her stomach rumbled ominously. With a convulsion one of those sounds crept up her throat and she opened her mouth and out flew a large furry bodied moth. Her mother and father stared in amazement as the moth flew lazily around the bare kitchen light bulb. The girl opened her mouth again and this time a couple of whirring cockchafer beetles escaped and joined the moth in dizzying circles. Her mother and father, so unused to speech, were unable to intervene. They sat rooted to their chairs as the girl opened her mouth wide and out streamed beetles, bugs, butterflies, every flying insect imaginable, one for every word she had swallowed, one for every word she had never uttered, one for every syllable unsung. The girls head was thrown back, she gripped the table and her body shuddered. In no time at all huge daddy long legs dripped off the walls, ladybirds crawled over every surface, the room became dark, the air was thick with insect life, the vibrations, the buzzing and humming was deafening and still the mother and father could not move or make a sound but sat in silent horror tiny gnats and micro moths sticking in their throats and noses, wasps and hornets crawling into the folds of their clothes.
The rising sun began to shine through the window and the girls body relaxed, the room was filled with a strange glitter of insect wings. The girl closed her mouth, stood and walked slowly out of the house, her movement causing little eddying currents among the flying hordes. In the yard she turned and looked at the humming house. Cracks were appearing in the walls, the windows were splintering, she could hear dishes and furniture falling. Slowly the house crumbled in on itself and a slow-moving cloud of grey dust took its place. She turned and walked through the fields along the animal paths to the dark wood. Where her people were waiting for her.