Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Story: The Solitary Woman

From time to time I may share some pieces of creative writing with you, and here is my first small offering. 

This story is particularly special to me for being the very first one that I wrote, a little over two years ago, therefore marking the beginning of my journey as a writer. Indeed, writing it is what helped me to believe that I could actually be a writer. After all, to have the technical ability to write is one thing; to be able to write creatively, to grow stories from the fertile ground of the imagination, is quite another. 

At first I did not believe I would be able to write fiction, for creating stories had never been one of my strengths or talents. And, to be honest, the basic structure of a story—the plot itself—is still something that I struggle with. Places and characters come to me far more easily. Yet, a dear friend (they know who they are) encouraged me to write, to perhaps initially write a story about myself and where I wanted my life to go. At the time, I resisted. I did not feel that I could write imaginatively about my future. Though, without my fully realising, a character had already been evolving within me for some time—a woman somewhat like me and totally unlike me—a woman who I aspire to be more like. Inspired in part by the Wild Woman archetype, and by all the stories of witches and healers I have ever read, she suddenly came to life. 

Strangely, I knew that I wanted to use the words ‘ramshackle’ and ‘hodgepodge’, and from those humble beginnings the story grew in the course of one magic afternoon. 

It seems that what I needed was someone else to believe in me before I could believe in myself. And I needed to give myself permission to write, to sit down and allow myself to begin placing word after word, until another world appeared on the page. 

Now, here I am—a writer. Still learning the craft, but a writer nonetheless. 

And here she is, the healer–herbalist–witch, the edge-dwelling woman of the forest, wild-hearted and wise beyond knowing. 

The Solitary Woman*

She lived in the woods in an old, ramshackle hut made of stone and timber, wattle and daub, topped with a mossy green roof. Some people said that she built the hut with her own strong arms and hands, her sharp axe and sturdy hammer. Others said that the hut had always been there, as if it grew up out of the earth, fully formed, a strange wood and clay and stone creature, warmed into life by a fiery hearth heart. Whatever the truth was, there was something magical about this hut and the women who lived in it. 
She liked to be alone, though she never was, not really. She was friends with the trees and animals, the toadstools and birds, even the ants that walked in a line across her windowsill. It was human company that she avoided. Yet, when some poor, lost and half-starved soul did manage to stumble into the clearing in the woods where she lived, they were always treated hospitably enough, offered hearty food, a warm seat by the fire, and a comfortable place to sleep. Providing the weather was favourable, they would be sent on their way the following morning, their bodies rested and their bellies full, with fail-safe directions back to their mislaid path. Still, though she was kind to her human visitors, she was always happiest when they were gone and her forest glade was quiet once more, filled with the peaceful hum of nonhuman life.
Yet some people in the nearby village were suspicious of the wood-woman, and they wanted to spy on her, to prove that she was a witch, and wicked too, but curiously, anyone who went into the woods with that intention never found her. It was as if her hut was so well camouflaged that it was invisible, as was she, her clothing a hodgepodge of greens and browns that made her blend in with her surroundings. Or it could be that her hut uprooted itself and trundled off to some new location, deeper in the forest, and harder to find. Some dark place that even the most courageous villager would be loathe to enter into, for fear of wolves and other wild creatures. Perhaps even the forest itself hid her, the trees protecting her home, blocking paths, and tripping unwelcome intruders. But even more curiously, when people were desperately in need of help—for the gash in the woodsman's foot, a woman’s difficult labour, or a child's broken bone—the woman's hut could always be found, quickly and with ease, as if it was situated right on the edge of the forest, the smoke from its chimney curling above the trees and clearly visible from the village, its scent blown in on the wind. She would then come, with her satchel of herbs and potions, utensils and restoratives, to stitch up and bandage the wound, deliver the baby, or set the bone right again, before disappearing back into the shadow of the trees. 
Of those who had seen her up close, none could agree on her age or appearance. Some said that she was old and wizened, small and stooped and quite definitely ugly. Others thought that she had not seen many summers at all, and was tall and strikingly handsome. Yet others thought she was of middling age, neither old nor young, and entirely unremarkable in appearance. And was her hair winter white or autumnal auburn, chestnut brown or sunlight golden? But, despite the contradictions, everyone wholeheartedly agreed that her green eyes always seemed to be laughing, even if her lips were not, and her voice, when she did break her silence, was lilting and rich. 
However, in spite of her obvious strangeness and the inquisitiveness of the villagers, in the general commotion of illness or injury, the woman’s presence was often largely unnoticed. She simply went about her healing work, quietly and methodically, doing whatever was necessary—staunching, stitching, bandaging, massaging, reassuring, easing pain. It was only when her patient was cured, on the mend, or had peacefully breathed their last, and she was gone once more, that her warm-hearted and motherly, yet uncanny presence, was acknowledged and missed, and the earthy smell of herbs, woodsmoke and soil that accompanied her would fade away. The villagers would then feel a peculiar dull ache, a yearning for something they knew not what—her patients most of all. And this yearning would pull them towards the forest, towards the dark, green, wild place outside the confines of the village, with its fenced yards and homely cottages, clucking hens and bleating sheep. Something called to them from the shadows under the trees, something ancient and untamed and mysterious. But after a few days, or a few weeks, most people would forget this yearning and get on with their lives. They always forgot.
Once in a blue moon, though, there would be someone who wouldn’t—or simply couldn’t—forget, who would feel the yearning so strongly that they would abandon their home and walk straight into the woods without looking back. And after the villagers had called and searched and eventually lost all hope of their safe return, sometimes that person would walk out of the forest, months later, smelling of leaf mould and vegetation, their clothes tattered and patched with squares of green and brown, but looking none the worse for their long absence. They would, however, have a strange kind of laughter in their eyes, now newly flecked with green.

*This story has previously been published on the Blue Mountains Library blog, Writers in the Mist, along with a number of short stories by other members of my writers’ group. Do click on the link and have a read of their stories too. We are a talented bunch.


  1. I love the message that I can see behind your story, Therese - that we can go about life, seemingly unrecognised, misunderstood, and that many may judge, or not care to try to understand who we are, or the good we do, but... if we follow our heart, follow whom we know we are, regardless of whether that might not always seem to fit in with what others may expect of us, or whether we are judged as a bit of a "freak" even... we can and do make a difference, and we can leave others with a little bit of uplifting "laughter", or an everlasting bit of the colour from our eyes to uplift them and perhaps help them to share with "ripple effect". Thank you. :-)

    1. A great interpretation of my story, thank you. Yes, follow your heart, the wild, the green world, be who you are meant to be, and do good where you can. It's also about our yearning for the wildness beyond the confines of the village/domestic/tamed space. We all need wildness in our lives, the healing of the natural world and the more-than-human.

    2. Ooh, I love that, thank you. We all need to be in touch with our wild side, and the wilderness. You are such a wise one.


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