The wood beyond the road is deep and dark as a sleeper’s dream. The leafy canopy blocks the sunlight from the detritus beneath and incubates the odour of mulch and rotting things. The path winds this way and that around the lattice of spiny leaves and jagged ferns hiding chirruping insects that underline the silence. The silence that is deep and dark.
In the woods, in a small clearing unnoticed by the world, a grey stone cottage hunches against the failing light. A thin thread of smoke drifts from the chimney and this, along with the faint glow of a bulb in the lower window, suggests somebody is home.
She is quite alone. Sitting by the low fire, motionless but for the steady rise and fall of her chest she appears cut from marble, cold and white as a midnight statue. A viewer, if there had been one in that barren room, would wish for some spark of life in her eyes, for some reassurance of animation in those limbs; lost in the form of her dress as they are. Her lace sleeves are stiff and cylindrical, two tunnels through which her arms thrust. Hardly real arms at all. But she moves, her breath halts, almost in anticipation, and she rises to her feet. She sways, and steadies, and for the first time her eyelid betrays a flicker. She stands motionless as if indefinitely fixed, as if she would stand all night, wound at last to the end of her mechanism.
She is breathing, though it cannot be heard, the sound has been replaced by another. Usurped by a tiny sound, a tiny scratching from the door. Such a small and innocent sound. Perhaps it is a little mouse, a cat, one sharp hooked claw or fingernail maybe, scraping the splintered wood. Her eyes flicker to life, and there are tears in them as she looks around, as if she has awoken to find the light outside extinguished. As if she has returned to realise the door lies unlocked. As if she has just remembered…
The scratching grows in strength as the darkness crowds in suffocatingly close; the door shaking, the old-fashioned latch bouncing fit to spring open. Her marble pallor heats suddenly, flares into flesh, and she springs toward the door, slamming it shut with the remains of her shaking strength. Holding it pinned with the last of her will, she wonders; where have I been?
© Jill London 2013
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