Porkpie Hat—Into the Woods

This world is a forest from a dark fairy tale, dreamed up by the fevered imagination of the Brothers Grimm. At the moment, it seems to be locked in eternal winter, but, far away, the sky is burning red, and I fear it’s not from the approaching dawn. The trees here are black and gnarled; the petrified spirits of unfortunate travelers who came before us and had lost their way. They whisper in language of the wind, and clutch at our arms and legs as we follow the meandering trail. We carry only dim flashlights, navigating by means of the few pale lights in the sky we glimpse through the thick and twisted branches. I wonder, are they stars? Satellites? The searchlights of helicopters? We leave crumbs of Wonder bread to mark our passage, but I suspect the crows eat them as soon as we’re gone.

To the east, a witch has built a house made of hard candy and glittery distractions. We enter it, meaning to stay for only a little while, but a spell falls upon us, and years go by. If you hadn’t managed to rouse yourself and drag me outside, would they have found our bones lying in that bed made of sugar?

Older and wiser, our feet sore and swollen, our faces and hands cracked and raw from the northern winds, we wander on. We walk through knee-deep fog, which smells like the breath of wolves. Our flashlights have died, and it’s never been so dark. Still, you somehow seem to know the way. The night is a melancholy candelabra, but it spills the light of an overripe moon onto your head and shoulders as you take my hand and lead me on. When I am too tired and cold to carry on, you give me your coat and carry me. In time, when my strength returns, I do the same for you.

Eventually, we come to a clearing in the woods. Miraculously, we find a box of wooden matches. We build a small fire there from frozen pinecones and the branches of trees that have been struck by lightning. To pass the remaining hours before dawn, we huddle together for warmth. (It is always darkest, it bears repeating, right before the dawn.) We exchange stories from our lives. All the people we have ever been, or ever hope to be, all the ages we have ever known, or might yet know, slowly come to greet us like magnificent beasts on the edge of our perimeter of light. I can see you in my mind’s eye, a fairy-tale creature, but also flesh and blood. You are seven years-old, hanging upside down from the monkey bars. You are twenty-one, running through Orly airport at breakneck speed, carrying your high heels in your hand. You are an old woman, sitting in front of a light box, looking at an x-ray that might mean trouble, but still you smile at the dark beauty of the fairy-tale we have both lived through. Then, we just sit in silence, looking up at the majesty of the deep blue sky, waiting for the golden fingers of the dawn.

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