Saturday, 26 December 2009
The Fruit Basket
I'm told this happened when Maddy was a girl. She had a little sister called Rachel who she loved dearly. It seems that when Rachel was a little girl she and Maddy were told not to go alone into the woods.
"There are dangers in the wood that are too much for little girls," their Grandmother told them.
But of course, children being children the quickest way to get them to do something is to tell them not to do it. One summer's evening, Rachel gazed out of the bedroom window across the garden, over the wall - into the woods. The trees were leafy and green, the branches wavered gently as the light breeze passed among them. Above, the sky was blue and pale with only a few fluffy clouds. That was a glorious summer. Downstairs, their mother was making a quilt in red and white with help from her mother.
"I don't see what's so dangerous about the woods," Rachel said pensively.
"Well if anyone would know, Grandma would," Maddy replied, gazing at her sister.
Rachel folded her arms on the sill and rested her chin on her arms. The cat was curled up in a large flowerpot asleep. The flowers in the garden were bright and colourful. The sun looked down upon the garden and banished all the shadows from it. To be sure there were pale gentle shadows beneath the apple trees, but these were not dark. They gave only calm and coolness to the garden. Rachel took a deep breath and raised herself lazily from the window. She left window, she ignored the bed, she made three paces across the room. She stopped and said to Maddy,
"Let's go out."
Knowing Rachel as she did, Maddy asked her,
Rachel shrugged her shoulders and left the room and the question unanswered. Maddy went back to her book. Her fingers toyed idly with the little steel cross her grandmother had given her. Rachel's was on her bedside cabinet.
Rachel went quietly through the house, out of the kitchen, through the small herb garden and into the main part of the garden. At the far end of the garden was a wooden gate banded with great iron hinges. Rachel strolled across to the gate and pulled at the handle with both hands until she could slip through the gap. She left it open in case she wanted to come back and entered the wood. The trees were like a temple of living pillars around her, they rose up and were garlanded and decorated with greenery. The elegant curves of the branches formed living arches high over her and the sunlight was filtered through the leaves. Here there were shadows both pale shadows and darker ones. Rachel moved along a little pathway into the wood until she met a little man who seemed even older than grandmother. His eyes were bright and piercing, his clothes were green and red.
"Are you lost, little one?" he asked her.
"No," Rachel replied.
"Are you hungry then?" the little man asked her not unkindly, though his eyes seemed to widen slightly.
"Yes, a little, thank you for asking," Rachel answered careful of her manners.
Grandmother had told her and Maddy about the faeries and the spirits of the woods and fields and waters. But Rachel seemed to have forgotten all that her grandmother had told her about these spirits. Instead, she gave her hand to the little man who held on tight and led her deeper into the wood.
"I will give you apples red, I will bring you berries ripe and juicy," he told her, "Pears and quinces, strawberries and apricots, a mess of juices sweet and tastes full of delights."
Rachel almost felt that she could taste them as he spoke. She tightened her grip and followed him quickly. From the sunlight columns piercing through the trees a crow croaked loudly a warning, but Rachel did not hear him. She was already bewitched. She longed for the baskets of fruit the little man told her of. All else was nothing to her. She licked her lips to think of the fruit and the juices filling her mouth, staining her mouth red.
"Strawberries and raspberries?" she asked eagerly.
"As many as you wish nestling," the little man answered with a sly smile.
The crow banked in his flight and fled towards the house. A hawk hovering as if stuck to the warm sky suddenly dropped in a blur of red upon the crow. The crow dodged swiftly and spun in his flight darting on. He came quickly to the window sill and cawed to Maddy who turning to him frowned. Then a sudden presentiment made her gasp and taking up Rachel's steel crucifix, she fled down the stairs and into the garden.
The crow turned and flew down to the garden wall. Ivy seemed to twitch, but the crow hopped and flew down into the woodland. The ivy snaked it's tendrils across the gateway, careful not to touch the iron hinges of the gate. Yet, as Maddy approached, the cold iron in Rachel's crucifix made the ivy withdraw almost withering. Maddy did not notice, she tugged at the gate and the beetles fled crawling into the brickwork. Maddy slipped through the open gate into the wood. The crow hopped a little ahead of her and led her along the path. Maddy followed calling Rachel's name.
"Rachel, for virtue's sake and for love, be wary of all here," she called out.
After a little while she came upon Rachel seated in a nest of moss and leaves as if she were upon the softest cushions. In her hands were galls and wormwood. Upon her face the expression of purest delight. Juices from ivy berries dribbled down her chin and cobwebs were forming about her body. The little man was gone from Rachel, but beside her, holly bushes in glossy green with red berries stood, their spiky leaves glinting slightly from the faint sunlight.
Maddy stamped her foot and reached out with her free hand to her sister. One of the holly bushes stretched out it's prickly branches and scratched her hand. Maddy yelled and thrust out her other hand, the steel crucifix hanging from it. The treacherous branches shrank back from the iron in the steel, but in rage their other branches stabbed at Maddy. Her own steel crucifix protected her.
She placed Rachel's crucifix about her sister's neck and Rachel dropped her galls and spat out the bitter womwood. She coughed as if the galls and wormwood were choking her, then she fainted. The cobwebs faded into dust and Maddy found that she could lift Rachel, for she was as light as shadow. She bore her faint and faded sister home back towards the garden gate. She slipped through the gate and into the sunlit garden. The light seemed to shine through Rachel, but Maddy placed her sister down upon the gentle grass and let the sun upon her. Rachel was pale and faded, but the sunlight glowed upon her warmly. Her skin showed a gentle warm blush and she began to breathe deeply as if in a deep dream. Maddy ran indoors and fetched her mother.
Three days later when Rachel awoke, she was covered in a red and white quilt. Only one panel was not yet stitched, though it was pinned upon the quilt. Printed upon the square was a full basket of fruit. A reminder of the love her family had for her - and a reminder to stay out of the wood, being so young.