by F.H Maard
A story of a girl in the woods, a farmer, her wife, and their dying pig.
Skin was the most unflattering thing. Pink and blotched, mine stared back at me like the skin of a pig waiting for a slaughter overdue. Pores that open and close, open and close, filled with sweat and dirt as they clog around the roots of little blonde hairs. I spent too much time thinking about it, fixating on every part, and I suppose it became uncomfortable because of it, thinking about it for too long, too deeply, feeling it all too well; how tight it is, how loose, how ill-fitting. My face in the reflection looked at me the wrong way, all the pieces seemed out of place. Picking at it, pulling at it, I deconstructed for hours on end until my eyes were placed on my cheeks, my mouth above the wings of my nose, ending up like one of those paintings that father hate, always wondering if the face in the mirror really was any different from anyone else's, if those paintings really looked like mine. Figured it was, they did, because when I tried to puzzle everything back together the order was already forgotten. I tried and I tried, thinking it looked alright in the end, but other people never agreed. I have seen enough of them cry and scream to know that they did not. It is not their fault. It was mutual anyways. At some point having ripped away the plastic which was once put up over the world, the gloss went away, and shaking loose all the filters acquired over time I found that my colours were always at a fault, and so trees became foreign, people became alien, and everything became disturbed in its own sense of the word. It became raw.
There are seven paintings hanging on our four bedroom walls. They are paintings of women, of faces without rules. They are the paintings that father hate. Crooked and misplaced, they make some sense to me. The first thing I saw as I woke up last time was a woman's eye, just that one eye that looked deeply into both of mine. She was naked and made out of all the hues of blue, sitting in a landscape made of foam as she shaved her cubic leg. Up, up. I swear I could have been right there, next to her covered in those bubbles, watching her skin give way and shape after the razor’s blades cutting the hairs growing there. I followed the movement as her hand slowly climbed towards her knee. Almost got there. It was a love affair too abruptly ended by a thud on the windowpane which threw me back into my bed. There my skin itched. It itched and it was pink. I found myself in the world where all my days looked the same, never seeing enough of the sun, the moon, the woods. I have forever stood in one place eating what my father gives me. I always stood there so alone and looking around on all those things, those damned things that made no sense to me. Foreign. Alien. Raw. Itching. Those walls had never been so close to me as they were then, and so I opened them up, bit by bit, and left. I never planned for the day to be so beautiful, I did not mean for it to be like this, I swear.
Bradbury was the farmer's name. He woke up early on the ninth of June, before the fog had rolled back and while the dew still laid undisturbed in the arms of the Lady’s mantles. First thing he did was to reach out towards his wife lying next to him, and not until he felt her breathe would he open his eyes. Almost expecting to see a young woman lying there, with ashen hair spread over the linen cloth, smooth skin, he woke to find someone aged like him, someone in which everything once wild was now tamed and shaped by the comfort found within walls.
Bradbury rose and sat on the edge of the bed for a while until his heartbeat wasn’t so heavy anymore, and then he stood up to get dressed, eat, and look towards the bed for a moment more before putting on his paddy cap and opening the door. The light had just come up close when he stopped in front of the barn to watch over the fields, as if interrupted by the thought of them, and how the tips of their tall grass swayed. After a while of narrowing and adjusting his eyes he made up his mind; a patch in the middle of the last living field had now also turned golden. Dead. A problem for later contemplation. Bradbury continued inside and through the dark corridor leading to the animals lit vaguely by a warm row of lamps. He saw the pigs trying to force their fat bodies up onto all four, some bobbing back and forth for a bit, with little strands of straw sticking onto and leaving red impressions on the big canvas that is their skin. The confused and newly awake creatures stood in place for a moment, taking in their surroundings to figure out where and what they were. Walking around in the pen he noticed how one of them stayed down, so he patted a few of the grunting animals on the head while he waited for the last to stand up, soon realizing that she wasn’t going to.
He asked her with a stern tone what be wrong, wrinkling the skin around his grey brows, and nudging the other pigs he made his way to the one laying in the dirt, kneeled down beside her and laid a hand on her stomach. Still, she did not move. The sow just lay there by the wall, still breathing and staring lamentably in front of her, with no reaction whatsoever to Bradbury’s presence.
Pieces of the world flew by me, onto me, through me. The buttercups were caressing my legs, trying to tickle and tease me. I stood right behind the edge of the forest, looking toward a small lake with a pontoon surrounded by a fence with a red gate. A girl stretched over the wood, her feet dipped in the water, so still I thought she might be dead with hands laying next to her and hair spread out like a crown. Waiting for movement, I spent the time watching my fingers leave pale trails on myself, trails that faded first and then came back red. I did it all over. All over. Following the shape of my ribs, the little dents and canals in which my nails could run. My long skinny arms, my hips, my stomach. Once everything that could be touched had been, I waited for the red to come. It did. She still did not move. I went through the gate and when my feet touched the wood on the water it wobbled, and the girl woke up making little ripples in the surface around her ankles.
“You are not dead.”
“Did you want me to be?” I think she smiled when she said that.
Her eyes, her mouth, her nose, her cheeks, they were all floating around, shifting places. We looked at each other. She studied me. I tried to study her. It took a while for either of us to speak, suppose we did not have much to say yet. Staring at each bit of me she got stuck on my legs.
“What is it?”
“You have a sunburn on your legs.” She said hesitantly.
I knew that. I had just touched it. The back of my calves were so burned that the skin had started to produce pale bubbles and fringes in an uneven pattern.
“I do.” After that there was a bit more silence. I did not know what to do. My hands felt like an odd concept.
“I can take care of it if you want.” She said willing the burn towards her. “I really wouldn’t mind.” When she said it, it sounded more like she really wanted to do it, rather than not minding, floating eyes wide open, eager. I thought why not. She began picking on the edges, pulling off large pieces of me. I laid down on my stomach and saw my own reflection in the water as she pulled, carefully. She did not scream once, and I liked that. Now I realise that she pulled off my skin as much as I pulled off hers. How much we liked it, releasing the little bubbles of liquid that hid beneath the sheets of tissue. Steady, Steady, whoever gets the largest piece wins. The raw skin underneath did not itch as much as the bits we took off. They were beautiful, those sheets I held in my hand, they were living only moments before and now bits of her were dead, as the bits in her arms were dead bits of me. They ripped apart so easily when you added a little tension, stretching, breaking them with a tiny sound. Pop. We put all the little bits of us in a pile on the wood, it looked like a pile of ripped medical gloves, like worn out plastic. Our skin was wet, we had released all the bubbles and the fluid they contained dotted what was left of us. She picked it up and dumped the skin in the water, piece by piece, and watched as the fish jumped up and ate it. We both smiled, and she laughed, somehow. Crash, burn, boom and bang. Watch the mountains being made.
The farmer's wife was sitting on the porch, bathing in the newborn light. In his eyes he saw a peaceful picture of her absorbing the world for only a second, the kind of picture which knows exactly how to melt itself into the back of the mind. The way her sundress vaguely moved with the little bit of wind which also carried the dead remnants of over-bloomed dandelions. Her chin stretching upwards with ease. He could see the smile in her, just not from her expression. He could see happiness in just that view. When Bradbury came closer and put his foot up on the porch she awoke and the serenity became mundane again. They wished each other a good morning and Bradbury told her of the way the last of the fields had begun to die, and in turn, she assured him that she had noticed it as well. He looked at her for a while longer but she had said all that there was to say. The poor man tried his best to get her attention and told her of the pig as well. One of the pigs have turned apathetic, he said, clarifying that it was Luna. Luna was the wife’s favourite pig. This inflicted the right amount of concern, if not actual pain, to give him the result he was after. Blue eyes looked intensely into his, and they both thought of the cabinet under the hallway.
She held my hand and took me back into the woods. Gate opened, gate closed. I think I liked the feeling of her new skin already. It was smoother than before.
“Do you trust me?” I could see her mouth moving, just not where her mouth was.
With a sharp pull she led me running through the forest, in between every tree not once feeling tired. Sometimes she looked back at me, allowing me to vaguely trace a momentary outline; long hair flowing with the speed of our movements, arms and legs falling in different places, her face? Not her face. For the first time I made sense of the sunlight, I no longer felt like my colours were at a fault, but that they were perfect, that they were just right. The trees we brushed against were not foreign, we knew them well, and for a moment nothing in this world around us was disturbing, nothing was raw, least of all her. Her face? Her face still floated around outside of its own frame, and each time she looked at me I was reminded of it. Then my skin itched again, and again, and again. We ran until the sun was completely upright in the sky, when all the shadows were hidden beneath themselves. We had arrived in a yet more dense woodland than we came from so I asked her where she had taken me.
“I don’t know.” She laughed, panting. But I know that she laughed.
“Then I will never find my way back home.”
The girl pulled me close and whispered to me, leaving her breath on the edges of my ear:
“That’s the point.”
I did not mind. Not when she laughed like that.
The farmer sat by his dinner table and carefully pondered the cabinet under the hallway. The untouched plate in front of him made his wife look at him, the dinner, and then him again. Bradbury assured her that it was not her cooking which was at a fault, it was this bloody summer and it’s bloody heat, making the bloody fields die. It wasn’t even July yet, he reminded her although she already knew, and if the hay doesn’t suffice then the sheep will die as well. The whole world was turning golden, yellow, orange. He looked back towards the cabinet under the hallway, knowing what stood inside, and thought of the bullets in each of the animal's heads. His wife went to the kitchen with the dishes and the food half eaten, and watched out over the field through the window to her side. She saw the edge of the forest beyond, and for a second everything in her gently stopped. No dishes, no dirty water, no kitchen at all. She knew that although the days never seemed to end, the woods could be drenched in complete darkness, and she longed for it. A place without walls. Part of her, Bradbury knew, was always roaming there, now more than ever.
She touched me and I touched her. We climbed on the stones and spun around spruce trees, whispered, whispered, climbing every hill and standing on their top revealing the miles of forest underneath. She pointed to a small spot of blue far away, telling me we had gone too far to get back before dark.
“We don’t have to go back.” Smiling at each other, we climbed a large stone and waited there, watching the light die smoothly next to each other. I looked at her and she looked at the sky; she looked at me, and the sky looked at us. When the moon finally rose the world became entirely blue and so did she.
Her hands were already familiar by now. Interlace. Tangle. Knew the way in, the way out. This time I could not see her body in front of mine, so thick in the forest the light could not touch us even if it tried, but I meant it when I said I trust her, she did not have to ask again. Her hand, her footsteps, no tree could stop us on our way.
After time spent in the black we found a speck of light and stood by the edge of it. The clearing was framed by the woods we had been walking in, tall woods, reaching woods. She looked back at me one more time and letting go of my hand she went further and further into the open space, her naked back becoming smaller by each step surrounded by glowing pennyworts, acting as a stage for her to dance upon. Arms out, around, she danced and I watched, zooming in on her every bit of blue skin. Spinning, spinning, almost falling several times but the moonlight’s strings always caught her. I went in and took a hold of her, touching, and for a moment there were no woods, no clearing, no blue flowers, just a face almost levelled with my own. Her eyes then placed themselves in order, slowly, falling next to each other looking plainly into mine. Touching her skin, we were made of the same stuff, we melted and we blended, and these trees witnessed it all.
Bradbury woke up on the tenth of June as early as all the days before. He stretched his arm out but could not feel her, and so he opened his eyes with a small sense of unease. She sat up in the bed now, naked back facing him. She was looking at the painting she had made years ago, hanging in front of the bed. Bradbury sat up too and once again mentioned how disturbing he found the picture, and to this his wife only replied that she thought it was perfect. A blue woman. She said it made sense. Bradbury simply stood up and got dressed to go out to the animals, and before he opened the barn door he looked out over the growing yellow on the last living field, but this time he saw something there. A path from the pen to the middle of the dead grass swaying. The farmer went back to the house, looked at his wife staring still at the blue lady, eyes to eye, without noticing him there at all, as he went to the cabinet under the hallway and saw the shotgun inside.
My skin does not itch anymore, her face is in place. I think mine is too. We lay amongst the flowers as the light revives, watching the moon finish its crawl beyond the treetops, allowing the world to slowly become golden.
“You’re not real.” I know that.
Her lips are parting, I can see her teeth, I can see the smile in her eyes as she laughs without a sound, carelessly saying to me:
“I wouldn’t bet on it.”
Interlace. Tangle. Soon all smiles are gone for the first time.
She looks at me, and those blue eyes make all the sense the world never had. No plastic, no filters, no disturbances; her. The mountains have been made, I have crashed and I have burned.
Bradbury fired the gun to the pigs head with a sound that echoed on the walls of the hills. For a while he watched the blood and the hole producing it, seeping. He watched it pour down onto the golden grass before he turned around, gun in hand, and followed the track through the straws which Luna had made walking out there.