A Sad Tale’s Best for Winter

hemburywoodsinwinterjohnwales

You always loved this walk. For a moment, you don’t remember how often you’ve walked it, like this, on Christmas morning. Your skirts breaking shards from the ivy. Under the starved arm branches of the rowans and oaks, glistening with a king’s ransom in diamonds, interlaced like hands at prayer, you follow the path once more. A single moment of happiness on this widow’s walk. Strange to say ‘widow’ but what else can you call yourself? Joy is gone like frosty breath on the air. You will not look at the black, mirror-smooth surface of the lake. The walk will end there soon enough. But you pause as the trees part and the small, grey stone church comes into view.

Can you know and forget at once? Perhaps. A girl stands amongst the tombstones. You know her well – pretty, merry and young, too young to look beyond the tinsel offered by the handsome man at her side. You see how his smile does not reach his eyes. You see now, at least… Her gaze falls to the glittering grass and her colour rises. So flattered. A baronet.

And just like last time, you want to scream, shake her, slap her face – anything to bring her to her senses… They pay you no mind. Your hand passes through her shoulder, just as before. Girls ought not to be both rich and pretty, you think, despair making you wail. The man lifts his head. Did he hear you? No, he checks for watchers before pressing a kiss against the girl’s soft lips. Foolish chit! He has not even paid for that ring yet! You see the ardour in his eyes and know it for what it is: desire for her money.

Then you feel it in your hand. Soft, silken death. A weapon. A warning. If you could only give it to her, make her understand…You could change this. Never walk this path again… The girl shakes out heavy skirts and takes the man’s arm. They fade. They are gone, unwarned. Slowly you walk on, all beauty drained from the day. At the edge of the lake you pause. No ripples. Her body is down there. Your body. You wrap the stocking around your throat, tight – tight! – and slip back into the lake. Next year, on a frozen morning, you will walk again.