(written under the pseudonym Jan Thorn)
(first published in DEBUT Issue Number 5 February 2010)
(first published in DEBUT Issue Number 5 February 2010)
On top of the imposing castle wall Scarlet could see a bloodless head split in two by a violent blow. Giant eggs lolled at odd angles, as if balanced precariously on the rooftops by foolish dragons. Creatures that had given no thought to the plummeting deaths their emerging young would suffer.
The whitewashed walls climbed lazily up the steep hillside, and the fortress would have seemed impenetrable if it were not for the gate that was standing slightly ajar. It was there that Scarlet had seen the old lady enter. The beautiful old lady who had smiled at her with kind but weary eyes, and who had admired the tiny replica of the mysterious castle Scarlet had spent long hours building on the beach with sand, shells and gaudy flotsam collected from the shore.
In her childish eagerness to see the old lady again, Scarlet had used her pocket money to buy a small bag of cakes to take as a gift. Clutching the hessian bag her grandmother had helped her to make, and feeling the satisfying weight of her offering tucked safely inside, she peered through the dizzying swirls of the wrought iron gate.
It was difficult to focus on the enticing wonderland inside, so she pressed her eye against the cold metal and could just make out a row of tall olive trees standing sentinel along the path. Blinking to clear the image, she saw that their roots were planted not in the ground, but in absurd, giant teacups. Beyond them she could just make out the flickering golden reflections of sunlight dancing on water, but she could see no sign of the beautiful old lady.
As she pushed open the gate and stepped forward, the gaudy colours of flowers and jagged shapes of malformed succulents confused her senses. The heat seemed to be melting her, and she watched as tiny droplets of sweat formed on her skin and slid slowly to the ground, each splash sounding like the ticking of a giant clock.
Forcing herself to focus on her mission, she moved forwards into the strange environment. A fawn crossed the path, but its concrete feet stopped it running away. Scarlet paused to stroke its cold fur, and whispered gently in its ear, ‘Poor Bambi, I’d give you one of my cakes, but they’re for the old lady.’
The frozen animal made no response.
Crawling under the petrified creature she continued along the path. There was a sudden movement, and she span around to find a lupine man standing behind her. He was tall and whiskery, with wild eyes nearly popping out of his skull. His voice was deep, and the Catalan accent coloured his words. ‘Where do you think you are going, little girl?’
Scarlet held out her bag. ‘I’m taking my cakes to the old lady.’
His aquiline nose twitched as if trying to smell them. ‘Why do you think she needs cakes?’
‘Her fingers are bony, and she stoops when she walks. I thought she might be hungry.’
He roared with laughter. ‘Very well then, you should take her your cakes, but why don’t you pick her a bunch of flowers also. She is resting in her silken bower. I will go ahead to tell her you are coming.’
Scarlet looked at the lovely blooms growing all around her and imagined the old woman’s face lighting up at the doubly considerate gift of delicious cakes and a fragrant posy. She bent down and selected the brightest and most beautiful blossoms.
When she stood up again, she was alone.
In the distance she could see a billowing tent made from iridescent white silk, so she skipped merrily towards it.
As she approached she pictured the old lady reposing in the shade with the thin fabric protecting her translucent flesh from the harsh Spanish sun. Scarlet thought that if the old lady was asleep, her sudden arrival might startle her.
She pulled the hood of her red towelling top over her head and stood chewing the drawstring wondering how to draw attention to herself. After a few moments she attempted to whistle a tune, but only succeeded in making a wet blowing sound.
It was enough, however, to get her noticed, and a thin, reedy voice from within called, ‘Come inside child, let me see you.’
Drawing aside the curtain, Scarlet stepped forward. The tent was built against a vine-covered wall, and the corner was shaded with heavy boughs of fat grapes. Sitting underneath, in the gloom, she could just make out a fragile looking form reclining on a divan. A bony hand patted the cushioned seat, and beckoned Scarlet to sit down.
As she sat on the divan, Scarlet spoke to the twisted body that was draped with a heavily embroidered shawl. ‘Buenos tardes Senora.’
The figure exposed an ear as if to hear the words more easily.
Scarlet peered at the form beside her and commented. ‘I didn’t notice before what big ears you have.’
‘Eh, what was that?’ The old woman joked, but then quickly buried her face more deeply in the folds of fabric.
Catching a glimpse of whisker Scarlet realised she knew the game and giggled. She moved her head to stare directly at the shrouded face. ‘And you have such big eyes.’
The bushy eyebrows crawled up the domed forehead, but there was a glint of delight in the staring orbs beneath them. ‘Yes, yes, I have big eyes, but they do not see so well. Come closer child.’
Scarlet moved closer, but then reached out a hand to pull away the disguise. The deceiver shrank backwards, but sensing the game was up, allowed Scarlet to expose his dramatic features. She tugged at the waxed wings flying off his top lip. ‘And you seem to have a very big moustache.’
‘So will you when you are my age.’ The bogus old lady chuckled at the joke then with a leering smile said, ‘And now I suppose I shall have to gobble you all up.’
Scarlet’s posy of flowers fell to the floor as a hand reached out and gripped her knee. She tried to move away, but the strength in the hand surprised her as the lupine man leered at her and reached out with his other hand to grip her shoulder.
At that moment Scarlet’s father burst in, grabbing her hand and speaking angrily. ‘I thought I told you not to come in here.’
The real old woman appeared. She sharply struck the old man’s face, making him roar with laughter.
Apologies passed between the old woman and Scarlet’s father, but the old man winked, making Scarlet giggle nervously. Then in an extravagant movement, he stood and took the old woman in his arms, kissing her passionately.
Scarlet’s father blushed and turned away. Only as she was being dragged back through the garden did Scarlet realise she was still clutching her little bag of cakes. Dropping it at the feet of the petrified fawn she whispered, ‘Don’t let the wolf get you.’
* * * * *
* * * * *
Years later when her childhood memories had faded into fairytale fragments, Scarlet stood in an art gallery looking at the surrealist’s breathtaking creations. Images came flooding back to her of the day she had wandered into the eccentric artist’s haven, and the face of the old lady tenderly recreated in his works, reminded her of the love that was clearly shared between the artist and his beautiful muse.
Scarlet remembered stepping into that forbidden world. A sensuous world that she would try to get back to again and again, but never find.
I was mesmerised by the prose that captured the innocence of childhood with such eloquence. C Heath.
A witty cultural reference to a known fairy tale, and surrealistic passages, just like in Dali’s works, made a wonderful story. V Mackevic