Saturday, September 17, 2011

Excerpt from Persephone's Children

She found that she did  not mind waiting and surrendered without question to the sense of  peace which rose  if like an invisible cloud from the  warmth of the soft, moist earth, and sought to  wrap itself around her.  Like  a heartbeat the shape of  the man in the  distance could be seen, rising and falling amongst the shadowed  green of  the  grass;  the wind  teased  in a  soft stirring through  the full-skirted drape of  the willows; the fast-flowing  stream, danced  and sang  in a  liquid, crystal gurgling of  delight and  all around rose  fat, full-breasted clumps of daffodil and jonquil  in vivid bursts of yellow and white.
Jennifer sat,  her arms wrapped around  her legs, her chin resting  on her  knees.  This was  a sacred  place.  For once she agreed with Collen, although he believed that all of Somerset was sacred.  It was strange really, how all three of them, John,  Collen, herself,  so very  different in  the way they lived life  and yet in this place they  felt exactly the same thing.   They had  nothing else in  common and  yet they could share this  feeling; this sense of  specialness, in the earth, in  the trees, in  everything that made up  this land. Everything else was different but in this one thing they felt the same.
Not  that they  were the  only ones.   There were  many  who believed that the whole  of Somerset was a special place; this land of deep  underground caverns and heathered uplands. Its serpentine hills  had long been known to have  a power of their own, a force felt  although unseen, which rose from the deep mysteries  of the earth.   It was within this  rough and rolling  land  that  Camelot  was said  to  have  been,  that Christianity  was cradled  and that  long before  either, and perhaps even still, the Gods of the Otherworld held sway.
It was a place which the fairies called their own, where the past  walked in dreams  and visions, where what  was seen was not  necessarily what  was known and  what was  known was often not seen;  where serpents dug deep  beneath the surface of  the earth, through soil and ancient limetone,  carving their nests between valley and tor, sliding silently from one world to the next. 
These were the fields of  Avalon, of the glass castle  and the blue-circled  island of death,  of King Arthur,  Merlin and the shadowy Guinevere; of Uther Pendragon... and of others, from  even more ancient times of Noden, the  hunter god,  woodland guardian  and guide  of souls, and of Gwyn, the King under the Hill, whose palace lay beneath  Glastonbury Tor  and  where pilgrims  might come  to sleep so  the god  could give  them messages  through dreams. Gwyn, Lord of  the Underworld who takes the  soul through the most harrowing depths of the psyche, down deep into the inner realms, through  desolate tracts and blighted  fields, to the land  of the  living dead  where the  hag Ceridwen  stirs the cauldron of  rebirth, preparing the bitter-black  drops which bring the only hope of life in death.
But for Jennifer, cradled as she was, on this clear bright day, nestled in a circle of the soil's warm breath, it became a  place of sleep.  As the grass  had fallen still in  the  emptiness  of   late  afternoon,  she  dropped, unknowingly,  into its  embrace,  floating  on small,  gentle snores  in a  stream  which fed  far-distant springs.   Small faces watched her as she  slept; small  faces, curious  and bright,  disappearing  back into  the  crush  and crumple  of flower and leaf,  leaving no more than a  shivering tinkle of laughter  as they  went.  She  could hear  the laughter,  but wrapped as she  was within the folds of  sleep and surrounded by a warm, heavy mantle of droning bees, it sounded more like the quick, clear rustle of dragon flies.
It was the sound of  the raven  which  woke her;  the coarse, raw cry of a fat,  sleek bird which sat, watching her with  glass-bright eyes,  from  the top  of  a hawthorn  bush further up the hill.  When she  sat up it was to find herself alone.  There was no sign  of Collen.  She had fallen asleep, had slept in fact for hours.  It was a silly thing to do, she told  herself,  getting to  her  feet  and straightening  her clothes.  The day was nearly over and she had wasted it.
“So, you're awake  then?" She turned to  see John making his  way down  the  hill.   "Collen said  you  were up  here. Thought the day was getting  on though.  Couldn't  leave you here all night."
“I'm  quite capable of finding my way," returned Jennifer, trying  to pull her  hair into some sort  of order, brushing at the pieces of grass which seemed  determined to make a permanent home in her clothes.
"You look  okay," said John  as he reached her.   "Had a good sleep then?  Lucky Collen  didn't mistake you for one of his strange herbs."  It was a feeble joke,  delivered in his gruff, half-hearted  way, and they  both knew it and  so both ignored it.
Jennifer was less  than happy that Collen  had seen her, sleeping like  some field-worker in  the grass but  even more aggravated by the  fact that she had missed a  good chance to talk with him  in  private.   She would  be  leaving in  the morning and  it would be difficult  now to make an  excuse to John as  to why  she wanted  to go down to the  cottage.  It would  have to  be done  after dinner.   John would  probably drink himself into  a stupor again and would  have no thought and even less care as to  what she was doing.  He didn't look too bad  really, considering the  events of the  night before... a bit bloodshot around the eyes, that was all.
He seemed so normal at times.  It would be easier if he were simply mad all the  time.  This changing,  one minute one thing  and the next another, was exhausting.  Last night he looked as if he were lost  forever, and  now, now  he seemed  no more  than a middle-aged  man who  has not  slept well  but was  otherwise perfectly ordinary and in command of his faculties.  But that too could be a sign of insanity.  She had read somewhere once that the insane were  very clever  about acting  normal when they needed too.  The madder  they were the more cunning they became.  It  was part of  the disease.  On that  basis John's mother must have been very mad indeed and his father not much better.  It was not surprising that  he was as he was and she could almost feel sorry for  him.  It wasn't really his fault for he was doomed by his birth.
It was the cry which tore her away from her thoughts and a determined brushing of the last  few pieces of grass on her blouse ... the throat-choked gasp of anguish which burst from the stilled and stricken man.   The body lay face up, rocking gently  with each  reverent stroke  and wash  of the  running stream.   His  long  black   hair  floated  out  behind  him, rag-like; creeping  and snaking beneath the  ancient roots of the willow which had taken  hold of this intruder and claimed him as her own.
The sun  danced prettily on the shiny silver belt  buckle, which  held his  small cream  shorts neatly  in place, a glistening talisman  beneath the protuberant rise of milk-white belly.  He looked for all the world like  some plump, plastic doll, cast into the water by a cruel and angry child and  like the doll he  would bear no grudge  and waited only for someone to draw  him forth.  The expression upon the broad,  square face  was peaceful  enough, with  the curl  of ebony lashes  in a final  rest upon  his cheeks and  only the eyebrows, thick and black, joined ever more forcefully at the bridge  of his  nose by  the gathered  wrinkling of  a sudden frown.  The  arms floated wide  on either side of  the goblin body, fingers  drifting listlessly  on one  side, and  on the other, grasping  tight, a  handful of daffodils  with crushed stems and torn blossoms.
"Ellis, oh  my God  Ellis." The words  came in  a broken whisper as  John knelt  by the side  of the  stream, rocking, unknowingly,  back and  forth,  reaching out  with his  hand, every now and again, as if  by some miracle he would find the power to draw the child back from his watery grave.
But  it was  not so  much the  stream which  had claimed Ellis, as  they would  discover later, but  that bright-faced herald  of Spring,  the  daffodil,  Demeter's sacred  flower, known also as  chaplet of the infernal gods,  guardian at the graves of the  dead ... the flower which heals  but which can also kill.   The small, fey  boy had trodden silently  in the footsteps of his father, seeking  the treasures of the field, gathering and tasting  that which could be used  to heal, not knowing that death  most often also resides  in the strongest source of life.  He had eaten of the daffodil, drunk deep the poison  from its  pure golden  chalice and,  beckoned by  the fingers of death  had fallen into the  water, clutching still the  broken stems  with the  bruised and  bitten head  of the blossom.
It seemed  an eternity to  Jennifer, that John  knelt by the side of  the stream, the muddy water  seeping through his trousers.  She  did not know what  to say.  She did  not know what she  felt.  She could only  look at John looking  at the body, wanting  him desperately  to do  something and  yet not wanting him  to move,  not wanting  anything to  move because that  would then  make it  all undeniably,  irrevocably real.
After a time he stopped rocking  and she moved down and knelt beside him.  When she looked into  his face it was to see the shadow of rage,  brought to birth in his  eyes, dropping down through every  line and contour.   He turned toward  her, not really  seeing her  but knowing  she was  there.  The  hollow grief which ate hungrily into  his soul could be clearly seen on his  face.  She shivered.   This was  a John that  she did know and one she feared.  It was not  the same man that Ellis had known.  She doubted that anyone would see that John again, the  one whom Ellis  so miraculously brought  to life, for with the death of this small, strange boy he too had been extinguished.
When John stood  up and stepped into the  stream it came as a  shock, shattering as  it did, the  ephemeral, dreamlike quality of the  moment.  In an instant, or so  it seemed, the day stood lit, harsh and clear, the sun biting and nipping at the slosh and  whirl of water as John walked  across to where the body  lay.  Everything  seemed somehow  sharper, clearer, brighter, louder  and far, far more  cruel.  Jennifer watched as John bent over to gently untangle the strands of hair from the greedy  roots of the willow,  and when he scooped  up the sad little body and turned toward her she could see the tears running down  his cheeks, but  the words when they  came were firm and clear:"I'll take him to  the house.  Go and tell his parents."
Jennifer nodded and began  to walk away.  Something made her turn  back as she  reached the  middle of the  path which would  take her  through the  apple orchard  and down  to the cottage.  She  watched as John carried  the dwarf-small body, one  arm flung  out,  still clutching  the bedraggled  yellow blossoms, watched as he carried the dead child on up into the house,  not wanting  to  hurry on  her  terrible mission  and wishing  too,  for some  strange  reason  which she  did  not understand  and which  therefore  bothered  her slightly,  to give John  some time alone  with the  boy.
He had  loved the child,  of that  there  was  no doubt.   In  fact, Ellis  was probably the  only person  John had ever  been able  to love; Ellis who loved  because  it was  in his  nature  to do  so, without doubt,  without question and without  conditions.  It was a given  thing, this kind of love, of  that she was sure. It was not  something which ordinary people could  do; it was not a normal kind of love.  But then he had not been a normal kind of boy.  Perhaps that was  what John had liked about him so much; he  was imperfect and he did not  demand that others be what  he was not.  He  made it seem somehow  normal, being different, being unlike everyone else, as if it were the most natural of  things to be a  small, unfinished boy who  was in the world and yet not quite of it.


Post a Comment

<< Home