Bedtime story by Jess Kidd
Yesterday Agnes buried her stepmother, now she has to pack up her house, a new-built bungalow at the edge of the wood. As she approaches, the mock-Tudor windows glint and there’s a haughty look to the cement portico. A very old neighbour wearing a housecoat arrives and hands her a key.
“Take what you want,” she says, “but if you come across any trapped creatures, on no account set them free.”
Agnes, who donates to animal charities, is concerned. “Why not?”
“Because they are agents of the Woodman, they will rouse him and he will come here with a load of wrath.”
The neighbour scratches her beard and eyes Agnes flintily. “He’s a tree herder, a mist gatherer, a land nurturer.” She gestures at the bungalow. “He would not approve of your woman’s uPVC conservatory and a whole field full of tarmac for a drive.”
In the downstairs cloakroom Agnes finds a covered cage. Inside is a crow that has seen better days. It has lost its feathers and one eye is sealed shut. The crow flutters its raddled wings and sidles along its perch. “Will you let me out for a quick stretch of my wings?”
Agnes remembers the old woman’s words. “What’s to say you won’t fly away and rouse the Woodman?”
The crow holds up its wings. “In this state? I wouldn’t get far.” Agnes, feeling sorry for the bird, opens the cage. The crow flies out of the window.
On the hardwood dining table is a jar. Inside is a spider that has seen better days. It has lost several legs and a mandible. “Will you let me out for a quick catch of a fly?”
Agnes hesitates. The spider waggles its remaining legs. “You needn’t worry, I won’t get far on these.” Agnes opens the jar and the spider is gone.
In the kitchen, tied to the range, is a dog. Its coat is matted and its claws are long. “Will you let me out for a quick run on my paws?” Agnes likes dogs so she doesn’t even hesitate. She waits for the wrath of the Woodman. Unsurprisingly, given the condition of his agents, it takes him a few days to arrive. He appears on the back doorstep amongst the packing crates and boxes, with the dog at his heel, the spider in his ear and the crow on his shoulder.
The neighbour didn’t say the Woodman would be naked: a naked man on the doorstep, as natural as rain.
Agnes invites the Woodman in for a cup of tea before the whole wrath thing starts. The Woodman sits in the kitchen wearing Agnes’s stepmother’s dressing gown. She was a wardrobe of a woman so it goes across the breadth of his shoulders. Agnes helped him on with it, arms and back like you wouldn’t believe, roped muscles with a pale green polished hardness. While Agnes talks, he watches the trees at the end of the garden. The Woodman won’t touch tea but accepts a glass of chardonnay. The crow and the dog have sherry and the spider has vermouth.
The dog carries the petrol can, the crow carries the matches and the spider strikes them. Agnes and the Woodman have another wine for themselves.
Agnes races the Woodman to the end of the garden, where they stand hand in hand watching the kitchen blinds melt and the rattan furniture combust in the conservatory. The dog smiles, the crow winks and the spider looks on wryly.
As the bungalow burns, they head for the trees.
Jess completed her first degree in Literature with The OU, and has since gained a PhD in Creative Writing Studies. Jess was brought up in London as part of a large family from Mayo, and plans to settle somewhere along the west coast of Ireland. Until then, her simple pleasure is “finding a patch of sunshine on an empty lawn and lying in it.”