Hot chocolate with whipped cream
The cowslips are growing. They’re only shoots now but in a matter of moments they’ll be knee high then they’ll reach the waist and with a soaking they’ll be higher than a man.
It’s as if you can see them growing, pushing through the earth pulling up to the light that here, is green. I love this time in the woods. After months of cold monochrome the green comes thundering in and time shows what it can do. After the cowslips, the brambles and stingers quickly follow and soon the paths will be hidden. Deep inside the wood I breathe in the scent of bark and leaves and earth and watch the light dappling, mapping the breeze. Sometimes I think there is someone beside me but whenever I turn to look there is no one there.
As a child I was always looking for the gingerbread house hidden deep within the trees but I never found it. Nor did I see the wolf but now I know it was he who snuffled up the bits of bread I left to lead me home.
It’s now when time here slips and nothing matters and the deep cool under the trees calls me to dream and remember a time long ago when I was just like you.
It’s hard to see at first. After the bright lights of the train and then the streets, the park is a mass of darkness. She is laughing and puts her arm through mine as she keeps up a constant chatter. I’m not listening. I know that under the bridge and across the field the woods are waiting. She’s talking about Billy and how he’d said he’d liked me. When I say I don’t care she stops and I can see her eyes laughing at me. ‘What? Don’t you like him?’
‘He’s just a boy.’
‘Yeah, but…’ She leans in close and I feel her breath on my face, hot and sweet. ‘But he likes you.’ I shake my head, so what? I want to say, who cares? But she’s started to rate things like that. I can’t help glancing around us. I can’t see anyone just the dark shapes of bushes and trees silhouetted against the sky. The rain blurs and I feel the darkness of the woods.
A low murmur of voices reaches us through the hiss of the rain. ‘Over there!’ she says and her grip tightens as she pulls me closer to the trees. Shapes appear, bodies, hoods, legs, arms, and then I see the group of kids around a bench. I hold back.
‘Is it them?’ We can’t see their faces. I strain to hear a voice I recognise.
It stops raining. A low mist hangs above the grass. There are kids everywhere hanging out in groups in the dark. Red points of light glow, illuminating their faces. They look like devils. It’s weird. I’m cold and bored. She’s having a great time sitting on someone’s lap glugging blue liquid from a bottle. I sit a little way back. People talk to me but they’re talking crap and I can’t be bothered to listen. I don’t care what they think of me. Someone passes me a zoot. I shake my head. She takes it instead and inhales deeply. She makes a big play of blowing out the smoke and whoops with laughter as she falls back. The boy catches her and she passes it to me. ‘Go on,’ she says, ‘or are you scared?’
‘No.’ Even though I don’t want to I put it to my lips and suck in. The smoke burns. It makes me want to be sick but I won’t give her the satisfaction of showing it.
They are shrieking with laughter now, the people around me. I feel light headed and nauseous. I want to be on my own so I wander away from the group across the field. It’s beautiful out here. It reminds me of being little, walking home from the child minder in the dark, holding hands with Mum while she points out the moon and the stars. There are none tonight. It was a time when I believed in faeries. Mum said they lived in the woods but I should never go there alone, especially not at night. She said not all faeries are good. It used to make me shiver with fear and excitement and I’d grip her hand tighter and ask if we could walk closer to the trees. She always laughed and said no.
She’s not here tonight and so I go closer. The darkness is thick between the trees and I fancy that her stories are true and I think of the oak man caught within the trunk of the tree. If you look closely you can see his face. Tonight I wonder if he’s walking out, free at last.
As I stare into the trees I think I see lights dancing between the branches. I catch my breath, what are they? Fireflies? I thought they only existed in stories but I can see them right there with my own eyes. One comes out from the trees and almost lands on my outstretched hand. I try to grab it but it zooms away and I follow it.
I am in the middle of the woods when I realise I shouldn’t be here alone.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk away and not go back? I wonder that now. Black spots swarm in front of my eyes. The light ones have gone. I feel his weight. His hand crushes against my mouth and I realise that if I go back now I will have to face him. So instead I run.
By the bench my friend pulls away from the boy whose lap she’s sitting on. ‘Hey where’s Anna?’ she asks. Someone passes the bottle to her. ‘Ah!’ She smiles wickedly, ‘I know. Billy!’
‘What?’ Billy leans forward on the bench. She looks at him and turns back to the boy she’s been kissing. ‘Oh, not him then,’ she says. Billy blushes- glad that it’s dark and no one can see.
‘Does she like me?’
‘Yeah Billy,’ she laughs, ‘she likes you.’
Billy is pacing round the bench. ‘It’s okay!’
My friend rolls her eyes, ‘she must have gone home, leave her, she didn’t want to come anyway. She’ll be all right.’
When we were little we ran through these woods holding hands. We had wings on our backs and wands in our hands. Mum took a photograph. Backlit by the sun we looked like we were glowing. Where are the faeries now?
My phone flashes a message. I see its screen glow green and light up the leaves that surround it. A message. I think but I don’t reach for it. Another message flashes. Later my favourite tune plays out through the trees startling the mice and rats that scuttle through the brambles. It plays and plays but I can’t answer. I know it will be my mum and my heart aches. I want to go back but now it is too late.
They come through the trees. Creeping slowly stopping at every sound. I see that they are more than lights they are people. I think that if I move my hand they will vanish only my hand won’t move. They come closer and whisper strange things I don’t understand as they gather around me joining hands to make a ring and everything changes.
Somehow I change. I am like them, made of light. They take my hand and lead me into the dance. I see Hansel and Gretel. We eat sweets from the gingerbread house and laugh at the witch inside. I see a green man whose face is made from leaves and I think, so it’s true. I watch out for the wolf.
The acorns that fell that autumn have grown now. I lay here perfectly still hearing the plants sucking the moisture, the worms grinding through the soil. If I listen carefully I can hear the breeze in the grass and higher in the trees I hear the birds singing to the day. Sometimes I feel the warmth of the sun as it penetrates the leafy bower. Sometimes I hear the shouts and songs of children playing and I dream that I found my way.
Alix has had several stories published and has worked in theatre and film. She also works under the pseudonym Fox E Parker with co writer Sue Eves.