This is a story spelled out by curled and fallen leaves, the roots of trees and toadstool spores…
Just before the Lord-by-the-Sea came to hear his story-rent, the servant who usually brought his wine, made a request of the Pilgrim Woman.
‘Can we have a story of an older woman, someone neither glamorous, nor wealthy but with a tale worth hearing? There are not enough of those.’
The Pilgrim Woman smiled and nodded as the Lord came in. She kept quiet as the servant poured the wine. This is the story she told:
The Woman with the Empty House expected it to feel huge without her children. How could it not, without the long shoes, the piles of laundry, the lanky legs?
Yet it felt as if it shrank inwards: like an old shower curtain hugging you damply without permission. Her husband turned into a bluebottle of a man without his sons: bumbling, irritating. The space between them vibrated with eagerness to do something, anything.
She could not bear him at home instead of them. It made the popped bubbles that were her dreams leave even more obvious rings and splashes. Home reminded her too much of her failures.
So the Woman with the Empty House went outside – without warning. Se left no note and took nothing in preparation. Just wandered the lanes and fields and footpaths.
In her travels , she came upon a fallen waypost. It pointed down a holloway, half filled with old leaves and smelling of badgers. She took that bramble-crossed path. Darker and darker it grew. Thorns snatched at her clothes. Spider webs dragged against her skin. Still she went on until it opened out into a round grove, heavy with the scent of growth.
At its centre stood a tree. She had often been a walker and an explorer of the country, but the like of this she had never seen.
Each leaf was different, and each twig, yet all the tangled roots sank deep into the same moss-softened dell.
No breeze came there, and yet the tree rustled. Leaves with lobed edges, serrated, spiked, or smooth and plain. Leaves with spots, stripes, bulging veins or soft down. Fat leaves, spindly leaves; rounded or spear-shaped, skeletal or velvety with sap. They all whispered to her.
She tiptoed forward, her boots sinking into the humus. With the tip of one damp finger, she touched the nearest leaf ( A heart shape; pale green and pleated like a tiny fan.) A song of yearning filled her skull – and she had to write it down.
Her pockets yielded a biro from the bookies and a bus ticket. She scribbled notes on the crumpled surface and rushed home to try out the tune.
Without stopping to take off her boots, she opened up the old piano in the hall and leaned the ticket on the stand. The music from the fairy tree filled the house. The threatening walls receded. Forest-scented air gave lift to her husband’s wings.
‘Turned over a new leaf,’ her neighbours said of her as she wore a path to the grove day after day.
image by Hans Braxmeier