Hide and Seek
She was a girl. Well, a woman really. But somewhere inside all those layers of time which grew her up to a mismatch of then and before and here and now and tomorrow, there was a small, hard, kernel in which she kept the essence of her. And that was a child. A child who used to doodle and daydream; a child who used to meander and explore. A child who dreamed of big, exciting things happening to her… big things which turned out to be smaller than she expected. More subdued and less intense. Now the mundane tones of her humdrum life found her treading an easy pattern; tapping a regular rhythm which kept things cheerful, and light. But sometimes she still longed and yearned for that space to dream. That wide-open space to travel to the very corners of her imagination and rummage around, turning up marbles keen as cat’s eyes and pebbles caressed into mythical creatures, or chipped stray buttons which appeared to her with their pale milky lustre like delicate shards of the moon. These and other peculiar things would keep her entertained, feeding her long play hours until bedtime. Sometimes books could take her back there, but they were too easily discarded. Dog-eared pages turned over. Substitute coffee mats, a reminder of time lost.
Time was ticking louder in her head than it used to, and one day she decided to embark upon a journey. She found herself in a wood, following an overgrown, abandoned path flanked by tall, knowing trees which whispered to her feet. The path was long and tiresome, spiralling around into hazy misfortunes which confused her, but she followed the intermittent trickle of honeyed laughter, which darted and weaved about the trees impetuously. She found that her bare feet were sure and quick enough, to her surprise, faithfully marching out the stark, soundless rhythm of the ticking clock.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
With each step the woman grew frailer, and more sure of her destination. Eventually she came across a square, framed mirror suspended from an impossibly slight tree branch. The frame was gilded and elaborate, adorned with swirls and delicate flowers. The glass was mottled and badly scratched, but she was just able to make out the etchings of her familiar furrowed expression, her red dress – which seemed ragged and ill-fitting – and the merest smudge of her long hair, which she was surprised to see looked dull and grey. She closed her eyes and, fancying herself as Alice, prepared to be launched into an implausible storybook adventure. Yet when she opened them she found she hadn’t moved from her spot. She peered down to inspect her feet, willing them to move onwards, but noticed with some curiosity that they had widened and grown sturdy. Her toes, long and thin, had rooted themselves into the yielding earth and were lightly carpeted with tufts of dank, green moss. But I only closed my eyes for a second she wondered aloud, absently.
She looked up and gave the mirror a challenging stare.
The teasing laughter had returned, but it was close now. Behind her… yes — yes! Right behind that tree trunk! She whipped her body around suddenly, her feet still rooted to the spot.
At last she submitted her frost blue eyes upwards, beseeching the ancient giants which waited patiently for her. Their long, eerie green trunks bowed inwards and their domed hemispheres blocked out the sky so she could not tell if it was night or day, summer or winter. Tears began to roll down her waxen face, tracing her muted features until they reached her lips. The tang of the salt water jolted her back to awareness as it stung the crevices of her cold cracked lips and trickled down her warm tongue. She drank thirstily, down into her blue veins. Right down towards her waiting feet.
After some time she nodded to the trees and twisted her arms gracefully around her thickening torso.
A stilled silence shrouded the woods like a fog.
Finally, she let her head droop sullenly, and as she did, she just caught the wispy image of the laughing child wavering in the mirror before her.
© images and content Emily Hughes, 2014