The girl’s mother had forbidden her to go into the forest, but the eyes of a maned vixen guttered brighter than any windowed candle, the chwirk of a hawk enticed more ineluctable than maternal gravity, the tusked kiss of a boar tantalized more than any village boy’s frosted lips.
Inside the woods, she found knock-kneed trees. Crawling, muggy moss. Two rabbits, frantic. Above, brief pockets of clouded night; below, brown earth dressed in scant, fallen leaves. Beauty, spelled out in the marrow of skeletal remains. The forest held no laws but cycles, waxing crouch-leap, bulging teeth-meet, waning brief-squeak. Here, the blood called and the bone answered. Here, the mind lamented while the body rejoiced. Here, the myth began when the girl deviated from a prescribed path, when she halted where she knew she belonged, when the forest asked her why she wept and, in turn, she begged to know what a forest might desire.
The woman’s husband had forbidden her to go into the forest, but the oak beckoned her with a single twig and whispered a cold sapphire secret. The birch bent her slender shaft, cracking the white bark further into a thousand sweet caves, each ready to be kissed. The willow splayed his hair over the pale pillow of the sky and peered, coyly, from beneath a waterfall of greenery. The burbling stream led the woman onwards; water tripping nymph-light, thrusting between banks with steady vigor.
Downwards, seedlings burrowing under prickled skin. Downwards, green-sap pumped through shouldered slopes, through constellations of freckles, through honeyed teeth and a warm-spiced tongue which lured the husband into one bed-death, followed by another, much graver. Downwards, the myth deepened when the woman went where she had been told not to stray, where she knew she should not return unchanged, where she was free of all that was expected of her.
The widow’s elders had forbidden her to go into the forest, but everything cooled eventually; tempers, vitality, stars. Ancient, we rose when the lizards fell; hot-blooded, nose-pricked, slithering wet and wailing into the world. Remote, we relinquished the safety of the egg in favour of that first skin-on-skin. Distant, each single person born as a filthy, clenched fist, proud fingers uncurling one-by-one.
The myth ended when the widow voyaged into the known, where she accepted her fate and embraced the trees one by one, sinking toe-by-root into the soil, evolving from Tawny to Cedar to Hickory in a single bare-limbed season. The myth lingered on inside her acorn-shelled ears, broad-leafed mouth, gold-barked eyes blinking twice a year. Tolerating nothing, enduring everything, all at once.