Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lazy Blogging

I have been neglecting this blog. It's a combination of trying to avoid procrastination - working on the NaNoWrimo project - and just not having anything much to say (that I can articulate).

In order to get something up here, for the countless millions of readers who have been pining for a new post (oh, okay the three of you) I decided to 'cheat'.

This is a story I wrote, oh dear, easily 6 years ago. I was in a lot of pain at the time. Um. Yeah, 'cause I'm sure that doesn't show in the story. Good thing I pointed that out. But in the spirit of this blog, it should be noted that this was written while I was in the midst of a GODAWFUL, poisonous relationship and dealing with my own illness. I'm much better now. So, if anyone has any concerns, please, don't. This was a long time ago. And far, far away.

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The Old Woman in the Woods


Once upon a time there was a woman who was alone. She had always been alone, as long as most hereabouts knew, any way. She lived in a small stone cottage, in a clearing in the middle of a dense wood. Only occasionally would she come out of the woods, to be seen by the people of the town. She would nod, sometimes, in greeting to some of the old ones she remembered and who remembered her, but never stopped to speak or pass the time of day. She moved through the town, not rushing, but never stopping. She would buy what she needed then return to the cottage in the clearing.

There was a story told that once she had been beautiful, that once she had been young – though the children found it doubtful, she had been old as long as they had been alive. And the stories told of the old woman in the cottage in the clearing said that once, only once, she had been in love.

They say she used to sing. There were some, the very old ones, who remembered a lilting voice rising from the cottage, songs full of flowers and blue skies, of sweethearts and lovers. There were some among the old ones who said she used to dance. They remembered a swirl of red skirts, and flowing blonde hair and the woman twirling and laughing in the tavern. The woman would sing in the tavern sometimes, when someone would play, and if someone would ask. She could sing any tune they would name; she had them all by heart. They say she had an easy laugh then, and would tease and flirt with the men of the town in a playful, innocent way. They say her smile would light the room and her eyes watched everything. She was interested in many things back then, or so the old ones say. She loved books, and would borrow them from any who had them to lend. And she cared for them like baby birds, gently reading them and carefully returning them to their nests.

Only a few of the old ones remained who remembered when the man came. The stranger with the dark hair who seemed so serious and so sad. But they told the story so the rest would know, that once the woman who lived alone in the cottage had been in love.

He came to town with books. He sold them, and bought them, and would trade them if someone had a particularly fine one. He would sit in the tavern and watch. He watched everything. He would write in a book of blank pages, filling them night after night.

One night, they say, the woman came into the tavern while the sad man with the dark hair was there. It was a summer night of driving rain, and while the people ran for shelter and cursed the downpour, they say the woman stood in the middle of town her arms spread wide spinning and laughing as the rain poured down. That night they say, she came into the tavern laughing like a child at herself, soaking wet. She was offered a towel to dry off with and the people were so taken by her child-like glee they begged to hear her sing, while her voice was so full of happiness. She sat atop a table and asked what would they like to hear? Voices called out their favorites, some that everyone knew and would sing along with, and some that were new; but she knew them all. As she listened to their requests and tried to decide which best fit her mood a voice no one recognized called out a song they’d never heard of. The room became quiet and the woman looked into the crowd to find the source of the voice. The sad man closed his book, put down his pen and looked up at the woman. They say that when their eyes met you could feel them touch from across the room, that something magical happened that night. Though the young ones doubt it, how could someone feel a touch from across a room like that?

The sad man stared, and the woman stared back. She nodded towards him, she knew the song, of course she did. And in the hush of the room she began to sing. It was the saddest song they’d ever heard. A song of loss and love, a song of regret and longing, a song so full of passion that it hurt to hear it. And they say that when the woman sang even the coldest heart in the room melted, and grown men cried like children. Though the young ones doubt it, no one could make them cry just by singing a song.

She sang and sang and, the old ones say, when she was done a single tear ran down her cheek. The sad man watched her, and they say, he too had shed a single tear.

After that, the story goes, they were inseparable, the sad dark man and the singing woman. They say he smiled then, when he was with her, and that her laugh was heard from far away, and the echo of her song could be heard in a room for days after she had been there. They say they spoke for hours, he would give her books and she would read them. They would walk together, reading passages to each other and talking long into the nights. The tavern would close around them, then they would walk to the cottage and the old ones say birds would start singing in the dead of night when they passed by the trees where they nested. The old ones say they had never seen two people more in love, that there had never been any in their little town who had shined so in each other’s presence. And it seemed they had always been together, that two halves had made a whole. No one who saw them ever doubted that here was a rare love indeed.

But then, the story goes, on a day not long after he had come to the town, the dark man packed up his cart and rode away. Everyone thought he would return, for he had only gone to the next town to sell and buy his books, or trade them for a particularly fine one. But the night fell and he did not return. Nor the following day, which stretched to weeks and still he did not return. No one spoke of it. No one knew how to ask. The blonde woman no longer came to the tavern in the evenings. The people would see her come into town, they would see her walking but her step had changed. She no longer walked as if she might dance, and no one heard her laugh. There was no echo of her song, and any room she had been in remained cold for days.

Those that got close enough said her eyes were empty, it looked they say, as if she stared inside herself but saw nothing there. She moved through the town, when she came into town at all, as if she were made of straw. When the rain fell now, they said, she would cover her head with a shawl and hug herself as she stumbled back to her cottage, as if the pressure of the rain drops hurt her. They say she trembled sometimes as if she had seen something too awful to speak of, that she would stop in the road with a gasp, staring at nothing, and then, her hand clasped to her mouth she would struggle to move along her way. She would return to the cottage in the clearing, and they say, those who approached, that there was never a light in her window and no sound was heard from the cottage that had once rung with song. But the young ones thought that too strange, who wouldn’t light a candle in the dark of the night?

One day the shopkeeper sent his son to see if the old woman was alright. It had been some time since she had come to the town and the shopkeeper worried. His grandfather had known the blonde woman when she used to sing, he had told the story to him and the shopkeeper was always especially careful that the old woman had all she needed. The boy went to the cottage in the woods and he said later, that he heard a beautiful voice in the woods as he approached the cottage. Someone singing the saddest song he’d ever heard. A song that made him weep. He knocked at the door but no one answered. He pushed the door open and saw the old woman sitting in a chair at a table strewn with books. She had been dead, it seemed, for quite some time.

When the people went to empty her house, for there was no one to claim her things and so they divided them up amongst themselves even though everything they touched felt cold. They found the books on the table had been books filled with scribbled writings. Pages and pages filled with handwritten words. The people put the books into the fire and watched as they burned away to ash. And some say they heard a wail as the pages burned, as if someone were keening. Understand, though, the old ones say, that they burned the books only because the contents were so sad. For page after page after page contained only the single word: “Why?”

The young ones laugh, why would anyone fill a book with just one word over and over like that? But the old ones know. They know. It takes a long time to die of a broken heart.

2 comments:

Jay said...

I'm glad you're better now, but I think that great art often comes from pain, and I think this is a pretty fair example of that.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Um yeah, I wouldn't have known you were feeling down when you wrote this unless you had told me.

I am so glad that you feel better now.

Good luck with the NaNoWriMo!