Bedtime story by Jess Kidd

The Simple Things - - NEST | COLLECTIONS - A fairy tale 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.”

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