Do We Really Need A Moon : The Mute Girl
I had heard of her many times, in many places – even far outside the county. When the first snows fell, when the year’s first snowdrops blossomed, when the air glittered with frost, they spoke of her delicate, unblemished skin and the perennial youth of the mute girl.
She was spoken of in every town and village. She had become something of a legend, and a dearly cherished mystery. Woodsman and prince would make their way to her door to humbly woo her heart, but she was never at home. Her mother received the guests, the most eligible, handsome gentlemen and stout fellows, but always apologised for her daughter’s absence in the forest.
I was hawking for carpentry jobs on the edge of the county when I came to her house. Her mother welcomed me warmly, and told me my passing was such beautiful providence. A simple job of replacing the floorboards in her daughter’s bedroom, where their dog had repeatedly scratched at the bottom of the door over the years, though – with all her mother’s questions and small talk – I was rather late in completing the job.
And that is how I came to meet the girl, as she returned home from the forest at dusk, with her basket of gathered herbs and flowers. She seemed a rather indefinite shadow approaching the house in the low evening light, but when she stepped through the door into the kitchen, she took on an unrivalled radiance. All I had heard of her was true. Her simple, unadorned beauty was no exaggeration.
When her mother suggested I take my supper with them, I could not find the good manners to decline. How I tried to avert my gaze from her silken hair, haloed by the lamplight. I found myself trying to clumsily pass every table condiment just for the desperate chance of touching her delicate snow white hands, catching the shy gleam of her glance. She smiled often, and appeared to be entertained by every foolish thing I uttered, but she would not meet my eye.
She had a strange childlike beauty – not a line or blemish in her young innocent face – but the grace and line of a young woman. I could not discern her age at all, but the tales of her had passed through the land for a good few years, so I knew she must have come of age. But where were her suitors? Perhaps people were put off by her affliction.
At the table she told of the daily events of the forest animals. She could utter no sound whatsoever, instead using a curious language of signs, which her mother translated to me, but the girl never looked my way for understanding. I thought of what a wonderful mother she would make with such a colourful imagination. When I left, her mother assured me there was more work needed doing, and begged that I return in a week. It was quite a journey for me, but I was only too glad to be asked back.
The following week, my task was to repair the legs of the bed, which had been chewed terribly by their mischievous dog. Again, the mother availed me of a great many questions and small talk – was I married, how was I with children and animals – and kept me till suppertime. I had desperately hoped she would, and that I would have a second chance to acquaint myself with her charming daughter. Then somehow, by the end of the night, I found myself engaged to be married.
The mother assured me that, although her daughter’s hands showed no callouses, she was actually very practical and industrious about the house. I assured her in return that I had no doubts about the girl, but made an apology that I could not accommodate a dog – which was met with a very confused look.
Well, the wedding went as weddings go – it’s a woman’s place to indulge in those details. It was joyfully attended by a great many, and the feast, though not extravagant, left nobody hungry.
And then the guests left, and we were alone together in the candlelit silence of our home. It seemed we both marvelled at the strangeness of it all. I had built this house, but somehow it looked unfamiliar and new when I thought of it through her eyes. I looked upon my bride, my wife, my own. But she would not meet my gaze.
I took her hand and led her towards the bedroom, but she stopped at the warm hearth and would not move. She looked so magical there in the firelight. I unribboned the lattice front of her dirndl dress, but she stayed my hand from undressing her. She took my hand and turned it up to her mouth, kissed the palm, and held it to her cheek. I was too overwhelmed to know or care for how long we stood in our kitchen in silence. I only recall our guests return for their cheerful great shivaree, clattering and screeching outside our little home like some deranged unbridled beast.
I laughed, and she looked up at me with those big doe eyes. But there was only fear in them. A wild eyed fear. How my heart broke for her. I drew her into my arms, my dear sweet thing. I kissed her forehead, my fingers all up in her hair, cradling her sacred head. I kissed her cheek, and found tears upon it. I held her precious face in my hands, lifted her ruby lips to mine – and she bit me! Not playfully at all. A good stinging bite on my lip. I could taste the blood strongly.
She flung herself from my grasp and looked at me. A strange, hungry, fearful look. Of longing and sorrow and – pity. Then she spun towards the window, and seemed ready to throw herself through, but I caught her by the arm. She bristled at my hold and swung at me with long flashing nails. I stopped the blow and held her, bewildered. Whatever had possessed her?!
Panting, she looked down at her straining arms and then flashed me a raging glower I could not even describe, as she bared her sharp teeth in a feral snarl, lashed her long tongue at my face. Her milk white skin became strangely mottled, darker now, then sprouted the blackest hair, as the guests outside hooted and clattered at their pots and pans.
And then she screamed – a great roaring tearing of the air – and my hold was broken. She twisted from me, tore from her dress, and I tried to grab her tail as she leapt and crashed out the window into the night. The clattering ceased, and I stood numb in our suddenly wintry kitchen.
There was an uncertain disquiet amongst the wellwishers outside. They neither knocked nor called out. They just stood, listening. When I opened the door, they looked at me with apprehension and concern. I followed their eyes, to my reddened lips, the wedding dress in my hands. They looked at each other’s moonlit faces and started to chuckle. They nodded and winked conspiratorially, wished me luck, and started on their way from the house.
I turned back into the house, fell into a chair, crushed the dress to my face, and wept.
When dawn came, I was still sat there at the kitchen table with her dress in my hands. Had I slept? I really wasn’t sure. Of all the confused questions mewling through my head, there remained only one answer – I knew I must find her.
The dawn light does not venture far into the forest, but becomes quickly entangled in it’s depths. The shadows seem almost to reach out to tap you on the shoulder, and all manner of echoes seem to whisper from the gloom. But the smell of the forest belonged to her, and I began to understand why she spent happy hours here gathering herbs and flowers. Perhaps she truly belonged here, and her quaint tales of the comings and goings of the deer and rabbits were not silly make believe at all. As I ventured further into the darkness, somehow I began to feel less guarded and concerned.
It did not take me long to find her. She had not run far. Her milk white body lay there naked and curled up warm with the deer and the rabbits.