Staring at the corner of me bedroom window. Watching a spider shove itself back into a hole in the woodwork, folding its last pair of legs under its bulging abdomen and dragging them through. Listening to the sounds blistering up the stairs from below. Me Dad yelling. Rubbing a bit of muck off the pane with me sleeve so the hills peep through the space. Me Mam yelling back now. Smelling that weird aroma; flaky wood, stale spit on the cold glass, damp earth. Now there’s the bumping, and the banging.
Making it go away. Closing me eyes tight. This room is at the top of an ivy clad, crumbling tower with a spiral staircase like Rapunzel’s. Running me fingers through me hair, not long and silky like hers, knotted like a bath mat. Short, like Beast’s when Beauty stroked his head in the rose garden. The bumping and the banging isn’t so loud now, just thuds with spaces in between. Counting them; one Jack o’ Lantern, two Jack o’ Lantern, three Jack o’ Lantern, Will o’ the Wisp flying over the misty marsh. Four Jack o’….
There isn’t a four.
Rubbing the muck on the glass again, spit, rub, spit rub. Me shirt sleeve has great grey smudges on it now. That’ll be a slap for me later. Spit, rub, spit. The clean place on the glass gets bigger and bigger till the windfarm on the moor is at the top of the circle. The great white turbines nestling like a squadron of landed damsel flies sucking the sap out of the ground. The furze trees on the cusp of the horizon like a giant’s beard jutting up to the clouds. The rocks, bumps on the top of his brow, the reservoirs lakes of his tears. It is a good picture. And now, the wind rattling the hedgerows is his song, calling me.
He is calling me.
Heard him before. Lying in bed when the storm makes the sky purple, and the rolling clouds boil, and the light flickers behind them. The low rumbling as he rolls a boulder across a wooden bridge for whatever purpose suits him best. Lying in bed when his owl hooting, whistling snores rip the branches from the trees in the moonlight, or shaking his great tangled mane of hair dry, the river overflows and the houses flood right up to their bedroom windows.
Quick as a flash now. Don’t even need a coat. The tiny window creaks open and the ravens are waiting to carry me down softly onto the grass. ‘Run away’ their black beaks squawk. ‘Run away! Leave ‘em to it. They don’t care, they don’t want you. Run away.’
The bumping and the banging, don’t need it. The thudding neither, and the silence, not for me. The frozen blood-red tear on me Mam’s cheek, the black spider legs of her eyelashes, and the white face of me Dad screaming in the wind, it’s not for me. None of it’s for me.
Legging it over the gate like a race horse sleek and shiny, good at running, me. Me shoes clip clopping on the cobbles and me heart racing, never looking back. Up the lane, and over the dyke, past the windmills and the gingerbread house, baba yaga’s hut on chicken legs. Black Annis’s blue face peering through the curtains at number six, Mother Goose and her brood of freckled goslings chirruping at the fence, Snow White and her seven or eight fancy men over there, tearing through the estate me, away from the crying and the shouting and the drinking and everything else. Tearing through, hearing his call on the wind; Beauty, come to me.
The road slowly rises up to the moor, through plump hills like green silk pincushions, past glittering ripples of the sun packed reservoirs. There’s the old mill like a toy fortress caught between the wildwood and the wilderness beyond; the dark green ginnels, great folds in the earth leading to places where dragons live guarding their piles of jewels and gems, sleeping with one great eye open and a sharpened claw poised lest anyone sneaks in to try on a bauble or two.
On the top of the great wall of the hill in front of me is the little square house, Withens. The place where willow grows. But the willow is long gone, leaving in its wake a cluttered yard with a plough, its red paint flaked as if someone has scratched it off. There is a house full of hens, clacking and chattering like old wives, and a marching band of geese, strutting merrily playing the Radetsky March. There’s other stuff too, a blue tractor with red wheels and shiny black tyres, a haystack with a cluster of rakes and pitchforks as if the farmboys have taken off to the hills, and a dovecote softly cooing in the gloaming. There are sheep down in the meadows like dots of bog cotton, and there’s the black and white tenor of cows. It’s a grand farm, this. As grand a farm as anyone would want.
Fixing me eyes on it as it slowly grows bigger and bigger before me, bobbing from right to left as the road curls round. The mullioned windows glint with fiery redness as the bloated sun starts to roll down the back of the hills. But getting nearer, it still grows. It grows and grows until the doorstep is as high as me waist.
So this is it. This is where he lives. The giant of the hills.
What to do? Well go in of course. But what if he’s mad? What if he’s bad? What if it’s all a big plan just to get me hear and eat me up? Need some protection: an egg from the hencoop, a feather from the dovecote and the shiny golden key from the tractor. It’s always three isn’t it, but right now, against all tradition, feeling the need of a fourth, a pitchfork, just in case.
Pitchforks are useful for all sorts of things, not least stabbing an angry giant in some place of vulnerability, but right now for vaulting a curious girl come to meet her love up the step and into the kitchen. There’s a pair of enormous rubber wellies in the damp room, and the amazing smell of wet dog. As expected the floor is laid with terracotta quarry tiles and there is a forest of wooden stumps leading up to the chairs and breakfast table. There should be golden eggs for supper and the plinking of a magical harp, but the place is curiously silent.
Now finding yourself in the kitchen of a giant is not your average every day experience, even if you do have a fancy that he might be a better future than the ragged mess you have left behind. There is always the risk that you might have got it wrong like every other damned thing that you’ve tried in your mouldy old loaf of a life. And if running away from parents who have literally lost the plot isn’t enough, running into the arms of a giant who would stick you in his pipe and smoke you might just be too much. Something in the middle would be much better. Something in the middle would be right grand to be fair.
So now the bumping and the banging is in me ribs as me heart is fair battering against them to get out. If you’ve ever found yourself in a place where you’re not supposed to be, you’ll know that it feels like all the colours in the rainbow at once, like you want to get over it to the other side and at the end of it to find the pot of gold and don’t know which way to go first.
Brushing me scarecrow hair down and tucking me shirt in, just in case a good first impression is needed there’s suddenly something large wet and cold nudging me back. Hardly daring to turn round but kind of recognising the sound of a large nose sniffing and pushing me forward, there’s the large brown eyes and big black nose of the big fellow’s dog. So here’s where the egg comes in useful, hurling it on the floor with a crack and a splash of liquid sunshine so Fido here can lap it up giving me the chance to run round the back and grab onto his great hairy tail and hitch a ride up to
A bumpy ride it is, as Fido lollops up the stairs saving me quite a journey and hops into bed right under the covers. It’s dark and warm and not that easy to breathe to be fair. The aroma of sleeping giant might not be everyone’s cup of tea but thankfully this fellow has showered. Now this is where it starts to get dangerous, as the dog has disturbed him, he’s rolling and shifting around, a great hand burrowing through the sheets to ruffle his head, nearly taking me out in the process. But hauling myself up his pyjama bottoms is quite easy to do, but the rise and fall of his chest as he settles back to some kind of sleep fair makes me sea sick, bobbing around on this ocean of flesh, hanging on for dear life to his copious chest hair.
It’s time for the feather now, and lying in this curly black hay field, finding certain points to tickle his skin. Creeping up towards his throat, holding tight in case he sweeps me off, tickling away, little murmurs of mirth invading his dreams like sparrows in the treetops. This is it, this is when you get to meet the one that will change everything, change your life for the better, and all at once he splutters into wakefulness, taking me in his great hand and holding me before his enormous blue eyes. These are eyes you can get lost in, like a thousand summer skies, and he’s looking at me, trembling on his palm.
‘Fee, Fi..’ he begins. Yes, really. ‘Fodlie foo furl. I seem to have found a tasty young girl.’
Looking into his eyes, wondering which way this is going to go. To be honest, not that bothered now. He can eat me if he wants. It can’t be as bad as staying at home.
‘Be she alive…’ He’s on one now.
‘Well, yes, I am. Alive I mean. And I want to stay that way if it’s alright with you.’ And with that I burst into tears.
And so does he.
I have found myself. I didn’t know where I was till I landed here. I was lost. I mean literally. I had no voice. I couldn’t say I. Got that….I mean I got that used to leaving myself out of things I didn’t even speak in proper sentences.
And him? Oh of course, he’s a handsome young farmer who got turned into a giant by some cranky old witch, and I have broken the spell. The farm is the right size again, and the farmer wants a wife. Ee eye addio…
So that’s us. And me mam and dad?
I heard me mam went off with a giant of a man. With a harp and everything. Me dad? The witch got him.