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The Road Back Lost
Do you know what it is like to gut a wolf, child? Do you think you have the stomach for the knife? If you are a daughter of the wood, you ought at least to have that. But perhaps the tool they have given you is not up to the task? Faced with the breath, the lure of iron scent, the clinging claret clots that call to your own quickened pulse, the sharp, sharp teeth a grotesquery of your
Perhaps you would rather flee?
Or perhaps that dilation of your dark and precious orbs betrays your lust to leave this wood and simply be devoured, melting on a hot tongue, melting in a hot belly, melting like a shadow into night? How many times have you tried to lose yourself that way? How many times have you wandered from the path, waiting for your wolf?
Here she is, child, here she sits; white throat waiting to welcome you home.’
‘Go into the woods’ they said. ‘Go and visit your grandmother.’
‘I do not know they way,’ I said. ‘I do not even know who my grandmother is or even if I have one, much less where she lives.’
‘Foolish child, she lives in the wood in a little cottage with roses round the door. As for who she is, well, she is every grandmother, how could she not be? Stick to the path, stick to the path and you will find her with ease. Oh, and take this knife.’
‘This knife. You know. In case of wolves.’
In case of wolves? Seriously?
I laughed out loud; were they blind? Did they not know me at all? But their glass eyes looked back at me dulled with the glaze of their mantras and their lotus hymns, their self-sonnets to their divine innards. They must be blind, I decided. How could they not see what I saw? They pressed every green and screaming herb into a luscious mush of protesting, flailing and broken life –all its cells exposed and its sinews ground and shredded – and they slurped it down so that it stuck between their grinning teeth. Wolves are the same. We are all the same. The life a man takes is green, the life a wolf takes is red. We are all eating the sun-god’s sacrifice and his mother earth will not forgive; in the end, her armies of worms will devour us. I laughed at their pious cannibalism and set my back to the village that had never been my home and my boot straps to the path that, they promised, would lead me to my grandmother.
The path was just as they had promised, long and bright and dull as the dusty summer day. I strained my eyes against the glare, into the shadows of the pines, but no bright eyes pricked back at me through the red mists of bark dust and caterpillar silks, no scimitar smiles, no teeth, no wolf.
The path stopped at a black husk of a home that may once have had roses round the door. Whatever had been here before me had not loved what it saw, had devoured all with a hot hatred, had left me nothing to discover but ash.
And so I waited.
And so I wandered on.
And all I wanted was to open you up
And all I wanted was to swallow you up
And find my grandmother.
And when it was done, and we were one, still grandmother did not come.
What did you want to find her for anyway? What were you expecting, Wolf? Validation for the monster that you are? Authentication for the bright star bird being you are trying to be?
Or did you fail at all their feathered fakery and did they see a flash of crimson on your lip, a glint of fangs beneath the practiced pout, did you let slip a howl, Child? And did they tut and scold and mutter ‘there is a child in need of her grandmother’ then send you down a sunlit garden path with a token knife and tell you, without a trace of irony in their green fudged throats, to beware of monsters?
Forget the wittering of bird-brights, the voices that echo in the cold light and loneliness of space illuminated by narcissistic stars and push away the voices that whisper ‘you should not be here. This is your prison, your punishment, your cell.’ Remember this dark of my innards is only the dark, is the lap of yourself, your own dark heart and your own lightless blood pool. Open your fingers like eyes and feel what pricks you, what cuts you and what burns and what makes you howl. Trace with your skin my skin your skin and cartograph the passage each bright bird blade carved when it moved through the forest of our soul.
There is so much bleeding here, so much devastation and pain and I cannot mend it you must mend it I cannot mend it you must mend it but we have no skill no teacher no tools to do the work.
Grandmother would know, that is why they sent us.
Grandmother is gone, or perhaps she never was; stolen, lost, forgotten…it does not matter, it does not help us now. All we have is this burnt out cottage shell and a lot of dust and tears.
We have teeth and claws. We have the knife…
I think they are for destroying, rather than mending.
Then we will fashion them into something else; needles and hooks, scissors and pins … and we will learn to stitch with them, we will do our best with them because, crude as they are and good for little, they are all we have.
And what will we do, when we are through with all the mending and our fur is mangled with the scars of all this clumsy work? Go back and show them all with pride our new formed selves? This is not the healing they sent us for, this is not the metamorphosis of the moth or the swan…
No. They will call us beast and try to purge me out of me you out of me out of us out of ourselves.
I would save you if I could. I would stand inside the hot furnace of their tongues while they purged me from you, I would let them burn me away with all the cleansing of their gnash-gnash green death until all my red sacrifice was gone and you shone out, white and gleaming little bright bird child, just as they wanted you to be. They will leave you alone then, and you can go about the light as they do and forget the shadows, the wood, the wolves – a place for monsters, a prison for those who stray, a punishment for those who disobey – immerse yourself in their gospels of Pandora and imagine that cottage with roses round the door, that waits for every good little girl, is waiting for you also.
No. We will not go back. We will wait, my wolf, and when the next monstrous child comes looking for her grandmother we will be here.
When she has no tools we will show the ones we made.
Crude as they are and good for little.
But better than nothing, better than a burnt out shell and dust and tears, claws and fangs and a silly little knife.
And when she does not know how to knit and stitch we will show her how we did it.
She will find a better way.
Let us hope she will but all must begin somewhere
Even we began somewhere, and ‘though the way back to that place may now be lost … has been erased may have been stolen or simply forgotten we cannot tell… still we are here, the chain has not been broken and when the next little wolf child comes looking for her grandmother, she will find us.
We will not be what she is expecting…
But that is no matter; Grandmothers seldom are.