Arvon is 50 this year and to celebrate we have collected the stories of writers far and wide who have a tale to tell about Arvon. The collection will be published in our anniversary booklet and featured on our blog throughout the year. The following piece is by novelist Jess Richards.
One of the many wonderful things about Arvon is sometimes getting the chance to do the writing tasks set by other tutors. This was a short piece of prose I wrote at Totleigh Barton, which was based on an exercise set by the marvellous poet, Cliff Yates. The task he set was to write about an event / memory, but tell it backwards. I chose to work with the memory of a fairytale.
SkinStiltRumple, Remembered Wrong.
The girl cries after forever making a stranger of her baby. Half-sized in silhouette, a wrinkled man enters through the barn door, carrying a baby in a cloth. The man is rumpled, stilts-for-legs, wrapped in skins. Arms stretched, she collapses into bloodstained straw. Her dress rises above her thighs and bloods rush back into her. She exhales the smell of the sea. The man places the baby between her thighs. The baby is pulled back into her body, it clenches and curls head-down inside her womb.
The crumpled man walks backwards out of the barn as she stares at him in recognition and swallows screams as her contractions are fast and violent, slow and then stop; she is soaked and then dry. She’s thinking of white threads and the distortions of magic. The baby kicks too hard, her swollen belly flattens as the baby shrinks back into foetus. Her breasts unswell, her hipbones reshape themselves and her body is thin. She wishes she could name a fertilised egg in this glow of love before it splits and splits and splits. Her period doesn’t come. She hides, ashamed.
In a forest, half naked, she takes lust from a farmer against a stone wall. His sperm rushes away from her egg and he pulls his body from hers. They back away from each other, eyeing one another with feral curiosity which fades into fear as they startle each other. She breaks down the door of the barn which mends itself behind her and locks her inside. Through a crack she watches autumn leaves blow back up onto the trees. Something shakes in the air. A feeling of Wrong. She thinks of guesses. An impossible game; she regrets all her attempts at choice. Her thoughts split hint from clue, puzzle from maze, key from lock. Final try. Wrong. A second guess. She is clever, she knows this. The first guess is wrong.
Night after night, the crumpled man is with her. Through her dreams she hears him suck in the words, ‘name my guess.’ He hands her the spindle and is gone. From midnight back to dawn she unravels threads from the spindle till blood runs into the cuts on her fingers. Wiry threads soften into cotton which fills the barn with pale clouds thick with dust. She is choked, unravelling, alone.
A wind pulls away from the sky and an old woman unlocks the barn door and steps inside. She removes the spell from the spindle, empties the clouds out into the sky, and pushes the girl through the forest all the way to her forgotten parents. Her parents’ tears roll back into their eyes as they embrace her. They throw gold coins into the hands of the old woman who disappears, leaving the girl staring at a thickening sky in anticipation.
Inside their cottage her mother and father sit by the fire, starving, poverty-stricken and strained. She begs them for time. They explain to her that they are welcoming her home. She feels young, small as a child. She pushes herself upon them. Cries like a baby. At least once.
– Jess Richards