Monday 18 December 2017

The Girl who Sings for her Supper by AJ Humphrey

Andy Humphrey is a legal adviser by day and a poet by night. His writing uses images from nature, myth and fairy tale to create contemporary narratives of love and loss with an undercurrent of social comment. He is the author of two poetry collections (A Long Way to Fall (Lapwing, 2013) and Satires (Stairwell Books, 2015)) and has appeared in the Bridge House prose anthologies Making Changes and Spooked.

They hunted my brothers to extinction – the old man and his people, with their gunpowder and hounds. Far away from the big old house they drove me: beyond the wide sloping lawn and the fairy ring, the high lichened wall with its razor curls of wire. I am Reynard, and I am the last of my kind. But they could not keep me away for long.

Through the bars of the black iron gate I creep. And I know you’ve seen me from your high, narrow window. You watch as I slink a slender shadow across the lawn, ears cocked for sense of danger. You wonder who I am, and why I’m here.

You’re the girl who sings for her supper now. You’ve grown up on quails’ eggs and ewes’ cheese, on spring water mixed with hot milk and spiced with pepper to help you fight off the chills. It’s clammy in the big old house, as the dampness fastens her crafty, crumbly fingers between the stones and round the roof-beams. The old man lights a crackling fire in every hearth to keep the chills at bay. The servants are weary from their foraging, bowed like old trees under the weight of wood they’ve scavenged from the ruins of what used to be the forest. The damp has got into their bones too. They smell of it. The house smells of it.

I haven’t forgotten the child you: how you used to let me watch as you sat at the window and brushed out your hair, ready for bed on those long summer evenings when the light seemed to last forever. You used to wave to me, blow me kisses. I think you barely remember me now. I’m a shadow on the lawn, the ghost of a memory you can’t quite summon. But I never forgot you.

This is a world without birdsong now. The old man and his kind have left us a ruin of a kingdom. Black silhouettes of lime and poplar, lining the driveways of their estates. Skeletons of hawthorn, branches scrabbling against the stones of their everywhere walls. The linnets and goldfinches have left us in droves, looking for faraway lands where the grass is as green as it used to be in our childhood, the berries as ripe and bright. Tar and concrete cover the acres where my mother used to play as a girl. The air has an oily taint to it.

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