My gifts sit waiting and the garden stands dressed, the guests are still in their beds as just the blackbird calls and sings his rural hymn. But I cannot bear today, and choose instead to leave while my bed-drunk thoughts give cause to act rash. I slink to slip away, from impending celebration and responsibility, before the house wakes to see my age of majority, the mark of manhood cast across me.
There’s too much talk of late of work and marriage and family, with my mother’s solemn nods and my father’s pipe tapped against the hearth. Words spoke of duty and devotion. But my heart won’t bite and I refuse to see it bought, owned and stifled. Yes, I spill guilt at this shirking, but not enough to cause me pause, and my pounding heart doesn’t disturb me nor those asleep. The gravel rattle and gate latch go unheard on empty privet lanes. The furtive glances go unanswered until I’m well away. Over bridge and shaded brook, uphill and at once into the woods.
To walk and wake this May, to leave behind the village thankfully sleeping late, and seek instead another place, a place to both open and rest my mind. I find and steal forgotten paths that meander me through glades full of nodding foxgloves, past the standing stones and pines, up to where the village is just a distant smudge, up to where the whispers told the witches lived. The house a ramshackle, held together with string and vine. There’s no life except the wild hens and captive cock who offers an indifferent forest his strangled crow.
They said “never lay beneath the witches’ oak”, and “never cross the water”, a childish curse to keep us out the woods. Up here no water flows and, though I was never one to study, I am certain there grows no oaks. There’s just this old house, nearly gone, and certainly no witch.
The forest follows me. A silence has trailed this far through the woods, a sphere of watchfulness, opening before and closing after as I pass. A series of pricked ears and piqued attention marking my movement, stifling the noise of the inhabitant beholding this invader, this clumsy mammal soft-footed not nearly enough, curious where or how I’ll end.
Down the ridge towards water glinting, calling me closer until at last I find myself upon its bank. Out from under the sun-obscuring canopy, to bathe face in gold light and feet in crystal ripples. To watch these wandering soles washed clear in clouds that dissipate and deny wherever I’ve been. My boots forgotten, behind, away off the jetty, nothing more than forest floor detritus, left like guests gone native, never to leave.
The ghosts of fat carp drift lazily like airships beneath duckweed. Flitting columns of pure woodland sunlight caught and reflected, winking from the pond. A moorhen clicks and bobs its head, feet unseen propelling him from lilies to reeds around the island, and out of sight there beneath a towering dead trunk. Three magpies chatter and flap and swoop and laugh, caught in the sunlight about the pond. They fly lines, to track triangles back and forth above the water, alighting on branches to call and taunt and fly again.
My legs content to hang, suspending feet in the calming pool, these limbs offering little resistance as I lean to lay. I’m cushioned on ancient wood. Eyes closed against the sun, lids red, lit-through. Everything hums with the busy activity of life, from the thrumming centuries of the forest giants’ growth, to the fleeting life-beat of the bee and the beetle.
The sphere of watchfulness closes, drawing in, the silence that has surrounded, shrinking, to accept me, a dumb mammal with no grace. As if this heartbeat kept it all away, each thump pushing back, now allowing all to draw near as softened. Those thumps fade to the rhythmic sigh, no-more than a turning of pages. Just a nothing. An ineffectual. Slow life. To find at last not sleep but mind for rest and to forget.
A touch, not more, just an inquisitive touch upon my big toe and then the sole of my foot. I rise, and blink back the brightness and see my feet investigated by fish. But beyond them, out on the pond, halfway to the island and its dead tree, floats a woman. Face-up and body draped thin, she’s tranquil and translucent as the water. A woman who I swear is no more than a trick of the light. She’s something between desire and deliriousness, a case of sun and thought refraction to offer hopeful distraction, with the rise of her breasts and the curl of her grin.
As I lift and lower my body to the water and venture further from the edge, the rustle and hiss of the trees and leaves seems to dampen, imbued with a velvet fugue.
The fresh spring activity, awash with the click and buzz of life, fades to become a lazy sticky summer humidity. The air and pond feeling to grow thicker, and prickle, as I near her. Every part, from garments suspended beneath, to the trailing ends of her hair, every part seems to reach, to spread her touch, her influence thick as liquid gold throughout the pond, ‘til everything drips with her languid essence.
My voice is distant, my “who are you?” and “where’re you from?” ignored, disappearing in the still until I’m unsure they were ever said. Instead she turns. Her feet to find the same ground of leaves and silt that I stand on, her figure sepia and cut as stained-glass through the surface. Her smile and eyes require that I come closer, a request that draws me in, to her hand reaching and touching my chest, to her fingers firm as they stroke down and pull up. And without another move she stands patient and a little aloof as my clothes come loose to leave me undressed, then a smirk as she follows suit. So fresh from home and in the world, I’ve fortune felt and touched desire with this lithe prize, and I can’t believe my luck.
Closer still and her hand on mine, to guide and let alight upon her hip, where it slips unbidden, to the small of her back, flat and urging her, toward her smile of intent realised. Her hand, just fingertips on my thigh, then higher, my ribs and chest and shoulder and neck before, with the slightest tip of her head, and dip of our four eyes, she permits and presses our lips.
Sunlight on her mouth, the loose lingering touch of skin, and lascivious fruit of a citrous tongue. The pond seems to swell and thicken, no difference between the warmth of the water and air. My hand holds her hip before she raises it to her breast, my thumb grazing back and forth. In response her hand coiling to bring my heart quickening, to flush my cock and hold it firm between us. She moves to occupy one space, to press heart to humming heart and find unity in rhythm.
Her mouth leaves mine, tongue tight behind her teeth, sleepy eyes soft before another kiss, with patient ferocity, and her grip tugging, raising me full-mast to navigate with her across the pond.
Tongue and teeth and lips, grin and bite and tease as I follow, finding our bodies rising through the shallows, through the reeds and to the bank beneath that towering dead trunk.
Our bodies collapsed together, wet upon the grass, hands and feet fumbling for purchase, legs tangled then spread. Her hands pinned above her head, and my mouth scattering down her throat. Her chest and breasts, bitten and sucked as I refrain, strain between us, eager to satisfy that urgent need, more so to watch it rise. Her feet, on bent legs, heels at the base of my spine, then, to my surprise, a kick that rolls and leaves me supine. Her trunk, pale as the tree, knotted and sun-bleached, boughs that reach to return that wrist grip and pin above my head, as her roots spread about and she grinds and guides me in. She topples to touch lips to mine, mouth sweet and viscous sap to attract and trap. Her heart beating through her breast, with volcanic threat that threads a molten stream through her, to a liquid core, to overheat and overwhelm me.
Her fingers spread heavy on my chest, to take her weight as she lifts to rise and ride and fall. That insistent grind elicits grunts, with mouths and eyes half open, as she moves to deliver a double-beat ellipse, teasing a gasp and a tense. She smirks and laughs, light and lyrical, with a raised eyebrow, knowing now how close. She slows and lowers herself once more, her breath on my lips, my jaw and, at last, audible by my ear.
“Not yet,” she whispers, I fear, too late.
But she retreats, raising herself from her seat and holding tight, laughing tricksy but maniacal, ceasing that climax, keeping it as I writhe in her dexterous manacle. Wide-eyed and reduced to beast I feel the immediate need subside, but not desire. Gritted teeth and a flash of anger, at eschewal and refusal, at her denial. She releases, satisfied I’ll not yet find relief, leaves me pulsing as her hand instead rises to my chest, followed by her mouth. My fists unclench. Fingertips muddied by my sides. My lungs and heart full of slowing lust, undiminished but tamed.
She’s predacious, practically stalking, lupine, chest pressed to mine as she paws my wrists once more, above my head, dirtied fingers curled and unresisting. Pulse and passions rise as she bares her teeth between bedraggled hair. Canines that she rakes over shoulder and clavicle, makes me groan, prey offering prayer. She could take my rib, her mouth, those teeth descending to it, to the curve of my trunk, to press and test soft flesh, sink teeth skin deep.
My wrists released, my hands tense and persist in their position, held above my head, denying a temptation to touch this feral apparition. I arch my back, thorax on offer, under her breath and tongue, under her thumb as her hand reaches to hold. And for all the discordant hunger, the mess her mouth has drawn across my skin, her touch takes and manipulates with finesse to raise and keep me on edge. I mutter urgent need, a plea on my body stretched taut, caught on the cusp of losing my all. She laughs, head rising to offer a wild grin. She smirks for refusal, for insistence that she’s not yet done. Instead she drops her mouth, to drag her thick slick tongue over, to tension increase, to feast now on need.
She speaks in tongues, words all but unheard, tumbling from lips dripping as I lift my head to see that grin, wild eyes peering back, nails in my thighs as her mouth rises. She torments with intent, coiling bleak hope from my cock to heart that beats too fast and mind falling apart, a dog that chases his tail, desperate to catch and stay uncaught.
The magpies sit in their dead tree and cackle. With their tail twitch and hop to watch and switch, awaiting gold to glean, spectators to this feast. They’re emissaries from the forest on this sticky static island throb. Everything pulses and hums, a heady vibration running wild and unrivalled through.
She drags her mouth from me, crawling, grazing taut sweat skin up to breathless chest then throat, to boast her dominion, canines gnawing to jaw. I twitch and drip, ignored below as she knocks teeth and lunges tongue. Her fingers in my hair and frantic in my breath, to taste myself on her. Her influence fluid in everything, oozing citrus sweet, neat summer to stick fingers and at last permit touch. Hands on her skin, shoulders and neck, hair through my fingers to hold and kiss. She moves, on hands and knees and finds to brush a touch between us, a life-and-death press of contact too-long coming. Taken quick complete with whimper and bit lips. She sits and pulls me to join, exquisite, with legs around. As the manic hum finds its pitch, perfect resonance and skin prickles with sweat beads under kisses all along clavicles. Her rise and fall, slow and light, no longer tease or need, but bound to a boundless pursuit of relief.
“Not yet,” she says, “wait for the tree to bloom,” and dancing in the branches the magpies pick and pluck each green shoot. “Such a good husband,” words on her breath, and “you’ll stay here with me.” Too late I fear, my heart has bit and I’ve been bought, and caught and cached.
Her mouth offers mantra, ritual and incomplete, vowels floating on her exhale, honey but bitter on my tongue. Under that dead oak, unobserved or at best disregarded, with fingers and figures interlocked, we’ll ride this endless forest hum.
And somewhere back along the valley, where the brook bears sunlight and laughs under a bridge, the village awake celebrates an absence and offers knowing nods, of one more wastrel abandoned to the woods.