Flesh and Blood

From the most north-western edges of the wastes to the lapis-lazuli kissed beaches of the southern shimmering ocean, this is our domain. There is not a footstep you can take that we will not hear. Not a whisper. Not even a breath. The stillness is deep, heavy. You must wade through it like water. And rumbling through our boughs, breaking through our branches, titillating the smallest twig, we will catch the echoes in our outstretched leaves, and we will hear you.

Amidst a sea of murmurs, you look back and see no one. Pass swiftly. We long for our sea of silence. Though which man would linger in the Bloody Forest?

On cold winter mornings, we bleed. A kind of crimson condensation, clinging like diamond droplets from our fingers. Touch our trunks‒ go on, touch, any will do‒ and when you pull your hand away, your fingertips will be pricked with the buds of small bloody blossoms.

Now, they begin to bloom. Wolfsbane, belladonna, forget-me-not. Except that we do not forget. We remember everything. Of an infant locked and swaddled in our recesses, and the day we began to pulse. Since you still linger, stranger, we will tell it to you. We steal the words that are left unguarded, hoard histories. Our memories do not drip away in time, but solidify. Like the very rings inside our trunks. Time exists, not as the canvases of past and future, but an endless circle where we can begin at the end, end at the beginning, and live yesterday like tomorrow. There are some things we cannot forget, even if we wanted to.

It is here, where you stand now, that the mother hides away her child in the hollow of our brother. Wraps her and shrouds her in her shawl, before entombing her in our arms. Leaves her to die, for what can we do but watch? We hear the mother's footsteps on the bracken as if they were happening again‒ crack!‒ the brittle leaves‒ crunch!‒ on a embalmed stick‒ snap!‒ cracking creaking bones, she stepped over our skeletons and slunk away.

We breathe a long breath that lasts for minutes, and days. We wait. The child struggles. Cries. Wails. Her mother will not return. Our arms wave and twist a star-studded canopy overhead, a cradle. The trickles of light that infiltrate our barriers fall pitifully on the forest floor. They illuminate patches of pine cones, caches of cartilage. They fail to meet her face. Will she die in darkness?

But at the same time, through separate, inclusive ears, we listen as the patchwork woman heads out to collect herbs. Swish and flick. Her knitted knees do not creak, nor do her sown feet crack on cones. After she finished knitting herself, she embroidered a lovely red cloak, tucked around her embroidered shoulders.

The patchwork village lives deep in our woods, sleeping in the mulberry grove. One day they spun themselves out of silk. Sooner or later, they unravel. Even cloth and string ticks to the funeral march of the metronome. Even yarn and wool must crawl the pace of the hearse, to circle the cycle of life, much like the dead greenery the patchwork woman picks. Mashed mugwort, gnarled ginseng. A wail starts up. With surprise, the patchwork woman plucks the baby from our midst. A child of flesh and blood. She's never seen one before. So strange, the heartbeat that bounces under her warm chest like a frightened bird flapping, trying to break free.

She takes it home to show her husband. He leans forward to peer into the basket; to his knowledge, he had never heard of ragwort that could wail. And as little arms and little legs reach towards his patchwork face, which seems as soft and inviting as a quilt comforter, her husband's beaded eyes blink. He announces; "You've never brought herbs like this home before, dear wife."

So do they toss her in with the rest of the pot, and make her into stew? No. Instead, they bring her up. Raise her as if they had woven her themselves. Dress her in patchwork clothes; let her play with other patchwork children. Even name her, a good patchwork name; Eve.

The child grows. So many years; so fast, so futile. They flash past in a collage of images. Now the child toddles past, hands outstretched, unsteady, uncertain. She falls, cries.

…The image changes. She walks steadily, hand in hand, knitted and flesh, with her playmate Leonard. Every year he and his mother sew him new legs, arms, torso, so that every year he gains a few more inches. In this respect, he and his friend Eve are not so different, though when she takes a scissor to herself as he does, she cries out in pain. No one in the village understands when she talks of pain. And nor do we, yet…

…Now she runs. Eve loves to run, feel the wind running with her, against her skin, ploughing furrows through her red hair, stinging her eyes, ears. She runs through the forest, and the view constantly flits, tree to tree, so we see her long pale legs, faunlike, graceful, her moon-shaped face and olive eyes. Half-closed, sleepy, though she feels wide awake, with this, the devastating silence, and the only noise her; her own breath, her own heartbeat. She has learned to run like a patchwork girl, so that her feet are like a ballerina's‒ she flies like the arrow, and her feet leave no pressure in the milky soil at all. But she has not learned to feel like a patchwork girl, not completely, because only she can feel the wind, the sunlight. Only she can hear the clamouring silence, breaking like the waves she has never seen, beating the percussion of her eardrums.

But right now, at this moment, the drums beat faster, break into a clashing crescendo, as Leonard, a man, asks Eve, a woman, to be his wife. She smiles and takes his hand; "Yes."

However, it is not to be. The scene skips a heartbeat, and falters.

The stranger is lost. He arrived in a little tin boat from across the sea and we have tracked his progress through our groves. But the bears have eaten his supplies and a magpie stolen his compass. What is he to do? He rages and fumes. He stamps his heavy soles. We feel his anger and frustration so heavy that it hangs, trembling, in the air.

And Eve runs. Runs till she hears his exclamations and stops where she should have kept running, a deer pricking up her ears at an unfamiliar sound. She turns her head and sees a curious sight. Stencilled by the leaves, silhouetted by the trees, she pieces his parts together. He was not knitted, nor sown. He was not crafted on a spindle or with a needle. He has skin like hers, nails like hers, even hair. She takes a sharp breath. This is what the village men whisper of: myths and legends of men of flesh and blood. Dangerous, poisonous‒ but something else, something she is only just discovering. Her heart beating double time, but not due to fear. A warmness unfolding like a secret box in her stomach (and other places too.) Hesitant again, she steps forward; scared, trembling antelope. The engagement ribbon, red as blood, gleaming like a sacrificial band round her head…

"…Hello?" she whispers.

He looks up, and she meets his round, dark eyes. When he smiles, it tears her asunder.

Repeating the actions of her adopted mother, she takes this curiosity home. He eats from her bowl, sits in her chair‒ she has the overwhelming, irrational urge to invite him to her bed. She is dizzy, drunk. What is it she's feeling? Does anyone else feel like this? His smell is everywhere: her carpets, her quilts, even in her hair. A smell like a wild animal, wet dog, wolf. She can taste the fear and anger on her tongue; it permeates through her like incense. The oracle at Delphi, she breathes the fumes in, and sees visions. Her father frowns. Her mother fumbles her worry beads. Leonard takes her hand and walks with her, but she can no longer hear him. His voice, so dear to her, has been captured in a seashell. He calls and calls, but cannot bring her back.

And helplessly, she falls into the man's arms. Warm. Soft. Ecstasy. Who needs the silence? Vanish it! Fill it up with pants, with gasps, with moans. Fill it till it brims, till it spills over. Till there's nothing else.

However, he is an animal of lusts and desires and fevered blood. Adventure is calling to him. Breathing hard, he crushes Eve to his chest.

"Go with me," he instructs.

"I'll go with you." She has no choice but to obey. Her instincts have made a puppet; desire pulls the strings (the seashell calls and calls.)

Morning. They run. Watched by a million secret eyes, Eve takes the man's scarred cheek in her hand and kisses him with her red, betraying lips. The colour of blood. And her blood is baying for him. For his fingers and his hands and his corroding, overpowering breath…

Amidst our eyes there are two that do not belong to us. Leonard, waking when Eve woke, following her, watching her. He cannot watch any more. Though he may be made from cloth and string, Eve has lent him her emotions; he tastes anger, tastes hate. He throws himself at Eve's lover, tears at him. They roll to the ground. But can cloth and string overcome flesh and blood? The man draws his sword and cuts Leonard in half. And Eve too, is torn apart. The puppeteer's strings are cut. Eve falls. The incense evaporates; she tastes, feels, and hears only grief.

Bells are a clamour; the village comes. When the man sees Eve isn't coming, he forgets her and flees. He doesn't even spare her a fleeting glance, not even a look passed over his shoulder.

"Child, what have you done?"

Prostrate on her knees, Eve weeps. The elders crowd around her, women gasping, father aghast. Her mother's worry beads have snapped and spill, like baubles of blood, into the dirt. Leonard has been shredded, cut to ribbons so he can never be sown back, gruesome fluff spilling from his chest. His beaded eyes remained locked on Eve's face.

Her eyes are crusted with tears, inflamed and red. In a slow surrender, perhaps a prayer, she raises her hands.

"I did this. Punish me. The harshest punishment you have. Just… don't let me feel any more!"

Blood spills over her gaping chest. With scissors, they cut her open. Stitch back together her broken heart. Remove her liver, her pancreas, her kidneys. From Leonard's lifeless corpse, pluck her new ones. Cut off her nerves. Cut off her hair. Thread wool through her scalp. Sew new ears, a new nose, with Leonard's dark beads for eyes. Stitch up her mouth, and stitch her back together.

Dark, unfeeling, numb, they complete her wish, and open us up‒ the very oak she came from. With Leonard's final remains, they enclose her like an envelope, and seal us shut. No longer feeling anything, in the silence forever, freed from the burden of emotion. Shut up for eternity in an icy marriage bed. But still bleeding; for no amount of thread and string can stitch together a broken heart. And on those mornings, the stillest ones, the ones that remind of her running, of the wind, of the sunshine, and of love, we feel her bleeding, and bleed with her.

The End