Through darkling woods, all spider-ridden and tokey, the trees bend backwards and spread. Old Goldilocks, porridge-thighed and grey-tressed, makes her way along the shingle path, peppered, as it is, with sweets and breadcrumbs, edible shells and witchcrafted goodies. Tight in her hand, a hand basket, a carrier for dad’s snap and for grandma’s piss-stained offerings. Behind a tree, a craven wolf beholding the bend of the trees. The night begins its crepuscular fall into the full of the night.
Black night then, with the lilt of the carling moon. The branches lined with big-eyed owls. Bats, their leather silhouettes against the threat of the rain. A snap of twig and the undergrowth of rustle. Wind. Things moving. Not a night, whichever way you look at it, for a slip of a boy and his sister the fool.
The mams and dads, of these abandoned children now forking their way through the forest, are comfortable in front of roaring fires, their big old faces dancing red against the mantelpieces. Glasses of port wine, elderberry, a sprig of laughing heather tickling their noses, a brew of indefinable charm bringing the soft lull into never-ending sleep. Princes with hands behind their backs, with lies upon their lips, would do well to free them. Their horses tethered to the millstones outside.
The cruel abandonment of one’s lover, a tawdry whelp who neither knows nor cares. Leave him behind, leave him there. Take the lowest road, past the inn, a wend through the marshes and the frog-strewn lakes. There, over the toiling bridge, a few coins for the ferryman, a gift of spun gold to placate the passing trolls. Leap you, leap like magic to the carpet, ride like the wind, past yellow cleaves and tiny houses, down twisted alleyways and rocky broughtons. A full turn through the silver arches, back to the safety of the safe dry land. Let the eagle lift you, let the eagle carry you and let the eagle let you fall. On crunchy beaches take note of the symmetry and coil your line until the rise of the dawn. Arrival should be enough to wake you.
Back, meanwhile, through the kill of the forest. The wolf and his minions are a dark in the night, circling the withered frame of dear Old Goldilocks, her flee from bears too long ago to care. Oh where, she cries, my grandmother be? And a shapeling shifter, of crone and beauty, steps out from the bend of the very best tree. This way my dear, come along my beauty. Her lank of hair, Old Goldilocks, falling like death from her breast to her knee.
Silken flax ringlets a fall to a climb. The sweetness of the air, the higher you climb. Let down, through bars of solid gold. Rise up, defeat the days of old.
The children whistle the trees to soothe their wits. Their progress, slow, is fair impeded. Guided by the pull of the moon, they tread softly a newer path outside the lines in the sand. The boy, his sister the fool. Breadcrumbs and pebbles weighing their pockets, the thumble man inside. A seven-leagued ogre, the bad. The bad from which they cannot hide.
What cries do hearken between the leaves?
What thumb-sized man pulls up his sleeves?
To battle urge against their fate
To rage their tiny roar of hate.
What evensong of birds are singing?
What carryout of church bells ringing?
Can hide the cries of children gone
Can tell us how to right this wrong.
What weary tread upon the goose?
What slender neck goes through the noose?
To pay the price for death unwitting
To listen to their song bewitching.
Mac the Sack has, in place of duck down, a whole range of goosey ganders. He has, set in place, a plan for the soft landing of the boy and his sister the fool. The ogre, the bad, has one more league to travel and then, and then, he will be upon them. They duck down, beneath a nest of twisted trees, feathers underfoot, their breathing in the minimum. If they are quiet there is a reasonable chance that the ogre will pass. If he catches sight of them, or hears of them, he will eat them quickly, after he has slashed open their throats and rescued his daughters’ crowns. Quiet kids, quiet.
In passing above, a sky ride in his seven-league boots, the ogre has, for the first time in his brutal, pointless, life, a crisis of conscience. Or rather, he has what is simply a quick self-question of whether he is doing the right thing. For the ogre this is as deep as it gets. It is enough to give him pause. So he stops, removes his bounding boots and settles down on the branches below. In no time at all, he is fast asleep. Dreams haunt him.
Goldilocks, her burden of basket, growing larger by the passing. The shapeshifter has her. In front of her pot, Goldilocks caged.
Shape: Stick a hand, stick a hand through the lock oh Goldilocks and let me feel how you’re fattening.
Gold: I would like to see, before I make with my hand, you make the shape of a mouse because I, here, old and the viewer of much, have never believed that crones like yourself could ever reach so small.
Shape: Ha, you think me a fool, I am not so stupid as to fall for the trick that my brother the changeling made, ant-like and crushed underfoot.
Gold: Oh well, then here is my hand which is in fact, as I’m certain you are now feeling, a magical blade. It will rip the life out of you and contain forever your evil.
Shape: I am melting Goldilocks, I am vapour my dear.
Goldilocks: Goodbye mother. I mean, goodbye.
Children they are and the boy thinks about his old stepmother who, long ago, killed his sister – his other sister – chopping off her head and scooping out her eyeballs, feeding her liver and bits to their father when he, woodcutter that he was, returned home after a long day’s chopping. He ate his own daughter and even wrapped what was left of her in a handkerchief, coiled inside a hand basket and took it as his snap for his following lunch. Oh, and his dead sister’s spirit transmigrated into the body of a falling bird where it rose, phoenix-like, and visited elves and shoemakers and witches of fire. The bird, his sister, at last the high-flier she always wanted to be, aloft, singing all manner of cryptic rhythms instead of getting to the point. Here, said the cobbler, a shoe. Here said the blind watchmaker, a silver pocket watch. That’s a necklace, the bird said. Are you sure? asked the blind watchmaker. Yes, said the bird. I do beg your pardon, said the blind watchmaker, it’s because I am blind you see. Here, here is the watch. And here, said the breadmaker, is a huge millstone that I’m sure you will not be able to carr… well, blow me down! The bird took to the air and flew back home, back home, her songs drawing out first the brother for the shoe, second the father for the watch and third the stepmother for the millstone. Hurrah! cried the useless father, I never liked her anyway.
Goldilocks, old and wrinkled with her thin lips and baggy chin, is a stumble of red through the trip of the forest. Her red flash, intermittent and pulsing through the black of the leaves, is enough to alert our boy to the presence of another who, he notes, is being tailed by at least three grey wolves. They’re behind you! he shouts. Goldilocks, were she the little girl of old, would have run but instead falls and begs for mercy, pointing out to the wolves – who are kicking themselves that they didn’t consider it – that she is old meat, inedible like mutton. They leave her trail. And Goldilocks, though removed in years, is not so removed in rotten character, refuses to thank the boy, even as he demands her thanks. Shhh, says Mac the Sack, forcing Goldilocks into a sack, do you want the ogre to hear you.
I hear you, says the ogre. I hear you.
Ask a devourer of children and he will show you the false way. Talk to the thumb-sized people and they will load you with the tragedy of size. Consult with the wolves and they will lie, they will cheat, they will invite you to make the comparison between them and the foxes. Strike a match and a tinderbox will hove into view. Crawl into a cave and you will sleep the sleep of the restless and the wicked. Marry a toad and you will wake the morning creepy.
The boy and his sister the fool take the lowest road to where the horizon waits to carry them through the seven seas, through the four corners, past the seven wonders and into the loving, waiting arms of their grandmother, newly freed from the belly of the beast. Goldilocks, close to death anyhow, is sealed inside a glass coffin where, for a fee, you can join the parade of endless midgets who pass her from hand to hand, who offer her bones to the bleach of the sky. The ogre, bootless and breathless. Faithless and tasteless. His wife, the spinner of gold, waits for him by the sugared frost of their ice-cream door.