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Finn Grant

There was a young woman who went out adventuring into the world. On her travels, far away in the deep forest of a foreign land, she met a woodcutter. They fell in love and she tarried a while: she was tired of her journeys and enjoyed the love she shared with this kind man of the earth. They spoke little of the same language but with their hearts they talked freely, filling his humble cabin with a love so vibrant that it crowded the walls and cupboards until there was scarcely room for anything else.

One day, when she went to find him at work, she saw that instead of cutting down a tree he was cutting into it, sculpting with his axe and knife. He blushed when he saw her and stood in front of it, awkward at being seen before he was ready. "It's of you," he confessed. "A living sculpture in ash, slender and flexible yet strong, like you. I am carving it in your likeness," he continued, " and when I have finished you will be rooted to me, just as this tree is rooted to the earth."

Tree Carving courtesy Chainsaw Men of Michigan

The woman was terrified. What prison had she been lured into? Without a word she ran back to their cabin and began to throw out the love that had settled on surfaces and rounded the corners. She sensed that it was all this excess love that gave the woodcutter the power to carve so skilfully and she destroyed it frantically, scared she might already be too late. The woodcutter, racing after her, burst in just as she was emptying some down the privy. "Stop!" he cried, seizing her hands. "You're crazy! Nobody gets a love like this twice in a lifetime." He stood still and looked into her eyes. "I love you." he said slowly. "And you love me. If you run away now, you'll regret it all your life." She hesitated. Pure love with only one string.... it was a powerful offer. He added a final temptation: "Think about it."

Every woman has a curse. Hers was to be reasonable. Reasonably, she thought about it. Then she sat down and thought about it some more. She was certainly scared. Perhaps it was her fear that should die, rather than this great love. Or was it? The woodcutter was a patient man. "Go and see a wise woman," he suggested. "Someone who can help you see things clearly. Take your time. I promise not to carve another feature before you come back." He sighed and his face grew firm over his pain. "Only don't come back until you've made a decision," he added. "I couldn't bear it."

She agreed. They cried, and she set off that afternoon. Her trek took her to a provincial city, full of suburban snapdragons and the gentle murmur of lawn mowers. She was weary and it reminded her of home, so she lingered to work at her trade a little. Her funds were low. The next morning she checked the ads for wise women on the noticeboards of the new age cafés and health food shops. Some of the notices were interesting but when she applied them to herself, especially along with the price tag, she lost a great deal of her desire for help. What could any of them tell her, really, that she didn't already know - apart from the jargon of their particular view? She decided therefore to forgo the wise woman, and instead to spend the time given her in navel-gazing, value-questioning and general introspection. This, she felt, suddenly happier, was a better way to find her truth.

Question: Has she betrayed her pact with the woodcutter?
Time passed and she underwent the usual stresses and releases of deep dilemmas. Sometimes she thought of the power of their love, how big and strong it made her feel, how unique it was. In those times she thought she would go back and even help him carve her image. She felt strong then and brave, but also strained and stretched as though a great load was on her. At other times she felt it was impossible. That love could not be so engraved, imprisoned and inflexible in the scars of a living thing. Then she felt that to return was to suffocate and die.

On these days she was melancholy, sad that her nature was such that she could not accept this love she craved. But she also felt released somehow and was glad to rest from the strain of trying. As the days passed the yo-yoing became less intense, the balance of her scales found their natural weight and she began to realise that she was enjoying herself: enjoying her trade, her acquaintances, the sun glinting on the suburban gardens where snapdragons had been replaced by the late summer bloom of roses. She was enjoying her freedom. Such feelings were inescapable. She could not betray her nature. Being a reasonable soul however, she journeyed back to tell him. As soon as she saw him she was touched. Touched by his haggard, worn face; by his smile at seeing her; by his hesitancy to touch her, yet openness in reaching out. Love reared its ugly face and looked beautiful. She changed her mind. But not completely. "I will stay with you," she declared, "so long as we keep our love flexible, here between us, to come and go. It cannot be fixed for ever: I will not be carved into a tree." He thought for a moment. "OK" he decided, "though I hope that in time you'll see things differently." He shrugged. "But I may be wrong. And I love you. And I have missed you so much it has been unbearable...." He could not go on. They hugged: the fragile, tight embrace of two frightened souls at sea. She knew that he was wrong. She hoped that he was wrong. The idea that he might be right crept behind her like footsteps on her grave. However, she was not a coward. And it would be rude to change her mind so quickly. She was here now - and after all love was love, whatever its form. Wasn't it? So they stayed together under the uneasy conflict of her hoping it was not forever and him hoping that it was.

Question: Has she betrayed her instinct?
The moon waxed full, then waned. The wolf in her howled at it. The human in her tried to staunch the yearning at the back of her heart, which was the only blight on their happiness. He, in turn, tried to give her what she wanted. Slowly they filled the cottage with love once more. What she hadn't thrown away was still there, stored by the woodcutter in cupboards and drawers. He took it out, stared it in the face and dusted it down. Some of it fitted and some of it didn't. That which had become stale, he threw out. Like all fair men, he could be ruthless. But they also made new love: some intricate and delicate as a spider's web; some round and warm as a teddy bear; some wild and weird as the strangled howl at the back of her throat. They did not sit easily together, these loves, and, diluted only by the forest air, they were raw and demanding. She grew restless, her daydreams filled with longing for adventure. He grew anxious, his nightdreams filled with desire ­ a desire that overflowed into the night and, under the cover of darkness, continued his work. Dreams are slower and more subtle than knife and axe. They are also more beautiful. The carving of her likeness in the tree grew slowly, silently and with great power. He could not help it.
Question: Has he betrayed her?

© Finn Grant
Finn currently work as a freelance translator (French to English) and facilitator (covers a multitude of sins) and also do some transcription work for the RNIB. 'I've been in Plymouth for about a year and a half, having come to live here when returning from Québec, Canada, where I'd been for the previous six years and where I learnt my French. I am recently getting back into writing after a long, increasingly frustrating gap, brought on partly by becoming a mother and chief bottle washer, roles which seemed to take all my time and energy.'

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