The Old Wolf-Woman and Youth
Once upon a time – of course, this is how the story starts; it is how these things always must!
Yes, once upon a time there was an old, old woman. Her hair was not the soft white of clouds; it was not a soft floating thing of beauty but the iron grey of metal, for she was of the earth. Nor was it a mane of strength and glory but it fell from her scalp like sparse cobwebs. Her skin was soft like thin parchment in some places and wrinkled like tough, weather- aged leather in others. She lived season upon season as she worked in her garden, planting, nurturing, harvesting and re-planting. Her strong hands wielded forth bright vegetables as well as a beautiful abundance of herbs and flowers. Her back was hunched from where she had bent for so many years to weed out the unbidden plants that would, if left to their own devices, grow tall and strangle her beloved herbs and vegetables. Her shoulders were gnarled and folded where she had stooped to place the sharp egg shells in the soil – shells of the eggs she ate daily for her breakfast laid by her sweet, plump hens that ran about her feet as she worked. Her bones cracked and creaked as she moved and day- by- day grew ever more stiff, yet still she toiled. This place was her home and her joy. Here she was surrounded by the low hum of the wise bees – the blessed song of her honey-making children – as they flitted from the bright heads of the flowers and settled for a restful moment with pollen hugged feet upon one before finding yet another. Yes, those bees knew too the days of toil and the joy of it.
The old woman often spoke to herself as she worked, her glittering deep-set eyes always bright as she told her garden stories from her past and sang old songs forgotten by the world. As she sang she was accompanied by the music of the brook that babbled through her garden.
This life was a contented one, she had made her own mistakes, she had lived her own sorrows and was now alone. But of course she was not really alone for she had her children, the bees and her sweet, plump hens. She had her close companions of the wind and the brook. She also had the company of her dear friends. Her friends were the creatures of her garden. Belly slithering creatures, winged and buzzing creatures, eight legged and hairy creatures, flapping, flitting bright creatures, beaked creatures, skittering in the trees creatures and clambering in the branches creatures. Creatures that were no more than a bright whip of orange or grey as they scurried from sight. What more could she wish for? Her sons had grown and had children of their own; her husband had long since taken his final journey and become the earth himself. The old woman felt herself becoming it too. Her bones were becoming stone, her breath becoming the wind. So the old woman spoke out her stories and sang her songs. With each story of her life that she told her garden, she transformed a little more. With each song she sang she became less an old woman and more her real self. As she spoke she let the mask of humanity fall from her, allowing her True form to come forth. The form she had spent a life denying, the form she had spent a lifetime pressing down, fool that she was!
So she became what she had always been, bit by bit… transforming from tame woman to wild and untamed wolf.
One day as she sat within her garden she heard a sound. The high and sweet sound of Youth crashing through the woods, without a care or a thought. Beautiful and wide-eyed Youth broke branches, she stepped upon flowers, and she trod her own path without a care of anything but herself. The old Wolf-Woman sighed and shook her head. Youth came dressed in crimson; blood flowed behind her in waves. Youth turned her new eyes to the abundantly blooming garden. She heard not the soft, pulsating buzz of bees.
“Ugh, nasty stinging bugs and horrid creepy crawlies! I must get rid of those.” Youth sighed. She was blind to the sight of how the bees worked and toiled. She knew a better way.
“Dirty mess!” Youth turned her attention to the garden itself. She was unaware of the scent of healing herbs or the sprouting of vegetables poking their heads up from the soil as she clicked her tongue at the apparent squalor of the garden with the shells of broken eggs piled around the beds and chickens running amuck.
“Weeds!” exclaimed Youth
“Chaos.” declared Youth
“It’s a good job I have come at last to sort this mess out!” Smooth- browed Youth smiled to herself, pleased with her own cleverness. She held in her hand a basket laden with goods. Filled with rattling pill-bottles and needles. Crammed with plump but tasteless meats, scentless but shining fruits and bright liquids fizzing in bottles.
“My dear…” said the Woman-Wolf, licking her lips and smiling her old, cracked smile.
“What big eyes you have…” Youth offered up the basket to the Wolf-Woman, confused by the light of wisdom shining behind old eyes.
“Ah, all the better to see you with, my dear.” The Wolf-Woman said quietly, taking the basket from Youth. Wolf-Woman dug around the contents, frowning and picking up a grey slab of dripping meat in a bun. Scrutinizing it carefully she prodded it with a long claw-like finger before placing it back in the basket. She had seen how maggots were clinging on its rotting underside, she could see the junk and refuse contained within it. This was not food. Not like the food she grew.
“And what a big nose you have…” Youth looked horrified, how ugly Wolf-woman was. Not like beautiful smooth skinned Youth. Surely this ugly appearance was suspicious?
“All the better to smell with, my dear.” Wolf-Woman picked up a plump and perfectly round tomato, which had the scent of chemicals. She noted how the perfume of infertility and death clung to it. She wrinkled up her muzzle and placed that back in the basket.
“And what big ears you have…” Youth started to back away, unsure. Was this what age was? Could she avoid it? Would she ever look this way, with hairs on her chinny, chin chin? Youth became frightened of this Wolf-Woman that she could not understand.
“All the better to hear with, my dear…” Wolf-Woman whispered holding up an egg she had pulled from Youth’s basket and holding it to her ear. She heard the pitiful squawk of a million birds trussed up in tiny cells and forced into a living hell. Featherless, wretched birds sang to her, bringing tears to her eyes.
“And…” Youth turned pale, believing the Wolf-woman must surely be insane. She was dangerous! Wolf-Woman was Squalor, Chaos, Mess, Dirt and Ugliness! How could this be right? “And wh…wh..what a big mouth you have…” Youth quivered and trembled as she gaped into the jaws of the Wolf-Woman, watching dry lips curl over long teeth.
“All the better to speak with, my dear…and I believe you and I need to talk!” Wolf-Woman opened her mouth to continue and found that Youth had stuffed it with a rainbow of small, shiny, round pills. Youth pushed them down Wolf-Woman’s throat until she could hardly breathe. Youth was frightened and quaked, fearing the unknown, fearing what the mad old Wolf-Woman would say. The pills made Wolf-Woman sleepy.
“I shall get my father, I shall fetch my brothers and they will destroy you, you wicked, mad old wolf!” Youth screamed as she ran, her blood-crimson cloak flowing from her as she ran through the garden trampling the herbs and the vegetables beneath her feet as she went.
And so Wolf-Woman lay dazed and silent upon the ground awaiting her fate. She had so many wisdoms to impart, she had so many stories to tell, and the most tragic of all was this one: She too had once been Soft- cheeked, blossoming Youth with a crimson cloak. She too had once left an old Wolf-Woman dazed upon the ground awaiting her deathly fate as she ran from her in fear. Had she but known at the time… oh!
Had she only known.