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The Stranger

















I’m sitting here in the library with a nice cup of tea. Because I work here I can nip into the staff room and make myself a brew. I take a stealthy splash of someone else’s milk and wander back to my seat. I’m figuring out how to rewrite this story. It needs a rewrite. At the moment I wouldn’t even call it a story, just a lot of metaphors squeezed onto the page with the kind of force that could churn out sausages.




It’s probably wrong to start a piece by telling you I’m re-writing it, but I’m just re-telling an old anecdote. You may have heard it before. I might have told it to you. I might have lightened-hearted it, and made you laugh. Writing it down has changed it, though I’m not hiding anything from you. You can see the artifice, the symbolism and half chewed through thoughts.




........................................




A young woman is travelling between two cities, alone. She is walking along a path that runs beside a canal. The deep, still cut of water is walled by enormous clumps of meadow sweet and giant hogsweed. She is not afraid to be alone, the sky is achingly blue and the sun’s curfew will not set for several hours.




I can’t tell you the name of this young woman, because she doesn’t have a name. She doesn’t exist as an individual - even in the fiction of this story. ‘The young woman’ lives in the narrative space between ‘the girl’ and ‘the mother’. She is an innocent, always seen from the outside, in a world that crudely casts it’s characters into good and evil. She wears a pair of glasses pushed firmly up to her eyebrows, without a hint of the slid-down sexy about it. Her fringe is held up with a big smile. Some people find that idea of innocence impossible to resist.




There is another person walking along this path, into this story. This person is older. Her hide is dyed-blonde but root-grey. She is not innocent because not everyone in a story can be innocent - not when the story contains a wet tongue licking. We do not know what form she will take in the tale yet. She is a much more complicated figure than the young woman. In this moment I will call her “The Stranger” because she is strange and unknown but later she will transform into a wolf.




The young woman tries to allow the Stranger to pass, but she doesn’t pass, instead she speaks in a voice which is earthy low and cracking, the words are being mined from somewhere deep down, roped up and tipped out of the hole of her mouth, in piles.




........................................




When a word is passed from mouth to ear to mouth to ear it becomes sucked smooth, sweetly familiar.




........................................




The Stranger’s words were tense and jagged, used to breaking into hard silence. The woman kneels down amongst the rubble, gathering up the words in her skirts and begins gently polishing them, picking out the meaning.




........................................




I lean back, stretch out the small ‘c’ of my spine, taking a quick break from writing to excavate some worries from underneath my fingernails. The feelings are so strong they’re shading the paper a kind of puce purple. The room feels hot and I’m blushing with the ‘Autopsy live’ embarrassment of it. I think loneliness is that colour. It’s a kind of wine stain that spreads out from someone’s chest, where loneliness sits. I’m lucky that I can cover mine with my coat but some people’s loneliness seeps through all their layers of clothing and marks them out.




........................................




The Stranger tells her that, about a mile in the distance, there is a bench, where she would like to have a conversation with the young woman. To pass words into her young and open hands and feel them caressed by her polite attention.




The young woman had no reason to say no. It was not an unreasonable request. So she agrees.




........................................




And therein lies the heart of the matter. What is the difference between kindness and agreeableness? It’s someone asking for a sweet before you could offer. A malteser with the chocolate sucked off. Are we responsible for the loneliness of others? Agreeing becomes a kind of consent, a going along with, a giving up of control to please another. Kindness is given on its own terms.




........................................




The bench sits in a clearing just a few steps away from the path, but it is well hidden by tall and stinging things, which the Stranger gallantly draws aside like curtains. It’s an ordinary wooden picnic bench, with a table in the middle. The two women sit down on the same side, looking out at the coloured flecks of people half-seen walking in the gaps between the leaves. The young woman takes out a biscuit from her bag, unwraps it and breaks it in two, offering a piece to her companion, but the Stranger looks at her and shakes her head. The young woman sees herself reflected in those eyes, bobbing in the dark, small and rosy-round. The gaze is hungry for her. It is a whole-faced curiosity. The Stranger wants to know everything. The questions fly from her mouth in darts. She asks where she is going and where she has come from, and from that and many other curled and pointed questions, marks her as lost. She takes the young woman’s hand in her paw and turns it - palm up - to sniff it.




........................................




I’m just opening a packet of dry roasted peanuts, I need them to give me something salty and solid to munch on, because from this point on the tone gets even more excitable; slippery and hot. It darkens too, into a blue-black ink. The accent changes to something a bit more French-noir sexy. It’s started smoking menthols from a long cigarette holder and rubbing your thigh. As it moves its mouth further up, don’t get too excited, it won’t let you finish. You’ll just be left feeling overly sensitive and wonder what it was all for.




........................................




Swinging one of her heavy hind legs over the seat to sit astride the bench, the Stranger edges closer, the tight denim fabric of her skirt moving back to reveal knees and then thighs and then hips, then a tail.




........................................




Can I whisper something in your ear?




You feel so far away and I’d rather not write this down. Your eyes are so distant, holding the paper arms length away from the tiniest typed touch from the tips of my fingers. If you were closer I could tell you; in a breath I could blow the thought from my body, straight into yours. If I had the skill to do that with words, I could abandon myself, get rid of this “i” to be an invisible giant, with a dream trumpet.




........................................




‘Can I whisper something in your ear?’




Asks the Stranger. The young woman looks uneasy, her eyes cast down. She slightly shakes her head but smiles. The crooked bend in her lips is meant as a consolation but, leaning in to look, the Stranger counts enough teeth for an invitation. Without knocking, in language so thick the verbs stick together and slowly drip, the Stranger lets himself in:




I want to eat you, cloak you in fur, muzzle your mouth and suck out your voice. I want to gobble your tongue and crunch your teeth, I want to fill my belly with you’




And with that, a huge and heavy snake unfurls from inside it’s jaw, probing forwards to blindly lick the side of the young woman’s head.




The young woman turns and pulls her heavy head away. She looks at the Wolf sitting next to her. She is not surprised, just resigned. Quite often people around her turn into wolves. Sometimes the people you’d least expect. Still, she carefully examines the Wolf’s gleeful expression, looking for some shame shadowing the features. If there is just a small area of doubt weakening the leathery skin of this creature, then she has somewhere to apply her forgiveness. But the Wolf just sits there, solid and immovable as dare. With a sigh she closes her open hands.




I’m sorry’, she apologises, red rising in her, ‘unfortunately I can’t agree to being eaten today’. Her lips feel large and rubbery, tangling up in embarrassment. She had believed that perhaps, in this story, she had been given her name - not the generic ‘young woman’ archetype - not again. She looks up at me, ‘but i’m just telling it how it happened’, I say.




She pulls herself out through the space between the lines of text. From this vantage point she can see predictable path of the actions across the page, the sparse way she has been written. It is a strange sensation to see yourself from the outside. She realises that her quiet kindness has been used to lure a more interesting character in, one that could drive on the plot, needing from her only polite agreement.




........................................




With this new perspective she takes the scissors keeps in her purse and makes a cut to slip back under the surface of the page.




.......................................




Inside the scene, she shares this revelation with the Wolf. She tries to explain to him how this wasn’t the story she agreed to. That the story she thought was being told, was that of two Strangers meeting -  two Strangers that could become friends. But she’s never allowed to be anonymous, always the ‘young woman’ in the tale. It seems to dictate all her interactions with others. Doesn’t he see? They’ve both been typecast by the codes in this society - stooges to their craving for connection.




But the Wolf just sits there, stupidly still and panting. He licks his chops, spittle dripping from his whiskers, thinking how delicious her arms would taste cooked with sage and honey.




Sensing the failure of her words the young woman jumps up and throws her bag over her shoulder. She shouts a sudden goodbye over her shoulder, and hurries off though the stinging and hanging leaves, leaving the Wolf behind her.




She is running down the path now, as fast as she can, racing to exit the story, to reach The End, to come to the last full stop.




........................................




I am the young woman.




How could it have played differently? When should I have stopped pitying, acquiescing, smiling? Should I have kept my face shut, disguised myself in pantaloons like a Shakespearean heroine? Naivete is a fragile trait that has to be carefully tended, easily lost along the way. I’ve been remembering stories I was told when I was a girl, before I became the young woman in this story. About frogs and kisses and transformations and riches, about open doors and glasses of cool water. There is a tyranny in stories. A loneliness in the outstretched hand of the written word, when the page turns, and the book shuts closed.
















I’m sitting here in the library with a nice cup of tea. Because I work here I can nip into the staff room and make myself a brew. I take a stealthy splash of someone else’s milk and wander back to my seat. I’m figuring out how to rewrite this story. It needs a rewrite. At the moment I wouldn’t even call it a story, just a lot of metaphors squeezed onto the page with the kind of force that could churn out sausages.




It’s probably wrong to start a piece by telling you I’m re-writing it, but I’m just re-telling an old anecdote. You may have heard it before. I might have told it to you. I might have lightened-hearted it, and made you laugh. Writing it down has changed it, though I’m not hiding anything from you. You can see the artifice, the symbolism and half chewed through thoughts.




........................................




A young woman is travelling between two cities, alone. She is walking along a path that runs beside a canal. The deep, still cut of water is walled by enormous clumps of meadow sweet and giant hogsweed. She is not afraid to be alone, the sky is achingly blue and the sun’s curfew will not set for several hours.




I can’t tell you the name of this young woman, because she doesn’t have a name. She doesn’t exist as an individual - even in the fiction of this story. ‘The young woman’ lives in the narrative space between ‘the girl’ and ‘the mother’. She is an innocent, always seen from the outside, in a world that crudely casts it’s characters into good and evil. She wears a pair of glasses pushed firmly up to her eyebrows, without a hint of the slid-down sexy about it. Her fringe is held up with a big smile. Some people find that idea of innocence impossible to resist.




There is another person walking along this path, into this story. This person is older. Her hide is dyed-blonde but root-grey. She is not innocent because not everyone in a story can be innocent - not when the story contains a wet tongue licking. We do not know what form she will take in the tale yet. She is a much more complicated figure than the young woman. In this moment I will call her “The Stranger” because she is strange and unknown but later she will transform into a wolf.




The young woman tries to allow the Stranger to pass, but she doesn’t pass, instead she speaks in a voice which is earthy low and cracking, the words are being mined from somewhere deep down, roped up and tipped out of the hole of her mouth, in piles.




........................................




When a word is passed from mouth to ear to mouth to ear it becomes sucked smooth, sweetly familiar.




........................................

The Stranger’s words were tense and jagged, used to breaking into hard silence. The woman kneels down amongst the rubble, gathering up the words in her skirts and begins gently polishing them, picking out the meaning.




........................................




I lean back, stretch out the small ‘c’ of my spine, taking a quick break from writing to excavate some worries from underneath my fingernails. The feelings are so strong they’re shading the paper a kind of puce purple. The room feels hot and I’m blushing with the ‘Autopsy live’ embarrassment of it. I think loneliness is that colour. It’s a kind of wine stain that spreads out from someone’s chest, where loneliness sits. I’m lucky that I can cover mine with my coat but some people’s loneliness seeps through all their layers of clothing and marks them out.




........................................




The Stranger tells her that, about a mile in the distance, there is a bench, where she would like to have a conversation with the young woman. To pass words into her young and open hands and feel them caressed by her polite attention.




The young woman had no reason to say no. It was not an unreasonable request. So she agrees.




........................................




And therein lies the heart of the matter. What is the difference between kindness and agreeableness? It’s someone asking for a sweet before you could offer. A malteser with the chocolate sucked off. Are we responsible for the loneliness of others? Agreeing becomes a kind of consent, a going along with, a giving up of control to please another. Kindness is given on its own terms.




........................................




The bench sits in a clearing just a few steps away from the path, but it is well hidden by tall and stinging things, which the Stranger gallantly draws aside like curtains. It’s an ordinary wooden picnic bench, with a table in the middle. The two women sit down on the same side, looking out at the coloured flecks of people half-seen walking in the gaps between the leaves. The young woman takes out a biscuit from her bag, unwraps it and breaks it in two, offering a piece to her companion, but the Stranger looks at her and shakes her head. The young woman sees herself reflected in those eyes, bobbing in the dark, small and rosy-round. The gaze is hungry for her. It is a whole-faced curiosity. The Stranger wants to know everything. The questions fly from her mouth in darts. She asks where she is going and where she has come from, and from that and many other curled and pointed questions, marks her as lost. She takes the young woman’s hand in her paw and turns it - palm up - to sniff it.




........................................




I’m just opening a packet of dry roasted peanuts, I need them to give me something salty and solid to munch on, because from this point on the tone gets even more excitable; slippery and hot. It darkens too, into a blue-black ink. The accent changes to something a bit more French-noir sexy. It’s started smoking menthols from a long cigarette holder and rubbing your thigh. As it moves its mouth further up, don’t get too excited, it won’t let you finish. You’ll just be left feeling overly sensitive and wonder what it was all for.




........................................




Swinging one of her heavy hind legs over the seat to sit astride the bench, the Stranger edges closer, the tight denim fabric of her skirt moving back to reveal knees and then thighs and then hips, then a tail.




........................................




Can I whisper something in your ear?




You feel so far away and I’d rather not write this down. Your eyes are so distant, holding the paper arms length away from the tiniest typed touch from the tips of my fingers. If you were closer I could tell you; in a breath I could blow the thought from my body, straight into yours. If I had the skill to do that with words, I could abandon myself, get rid of this “i” to be an invisible giant, with a dream trumpet.




........................................




‘Can I whisper something in your ear?’




Asks the Stranger. The young woman looks uneasy, her eyes cast down. She slightly shakes her head but smiles. The crooked bend in her lips is meant as a consolation but, leaning in to look, the Stranger counts enough teeth for an invitation. Without knocking, in language so thick the verbs stick together and slowly drip, the Stranger lets himself in:




I want to eat you, cloak you in fur, muzzle your mouth and suck out your voice. I want to gobble your tongue and crunch your teeth, I want to fill my belly with you’




And with that, a huge and heavy snake unfurls from inside it’s jaw, probing forwards to blindly lick the side of the young woman’s head.




The young woman turns and pulls her heavy head away. She looks at the Wolf sitting next to her. She is not surprised, just resigned. Quite often people around her turn into wolves. Sometimes the people you’d least expect. Still, she carefully examines the Wolf’s gleeful expression, looking for some shame shadowing the features. If there is just a small area of doubt weakening the leathery skin of this creature, then she has somewhere to apply her forgiveness. But the Wolf just sits there, solid and immovable as dare. With a sigh she closes her open hands.




I’m sorry’, she apologises, red rising in her, ‘unfortunately I can’t agree to being eaten today’. Her lips feel large and rubbery, tangling up in embarrassment. She had believed that perhaps, in this story, she had been given her name - not the generic ‘young woman’ archetype - not again. She looks up at me, ‘but i’m just telling it how it happened’, I say.




She pulls herself out through the space between the lines of text. From this vantage point she can see predictable path of the actions across the page, the sparse way she has been written. It is a strange sensation to see yourself from the outside. She realises that her quiet kindness has been used to lure a more interesting character in, one that could drive on the plot, needing from her only polite agreement.




........................................




With this new perspective she takes the scissors keeps in her purse and makes a cut to slip back under the surface of the page.




.......................................




Inside the scene, she shares this revelation with the Wolf. She tries to explain to him how this wasn’t the story she agreed to. That the story she thought was being told, was that of two Strangers meeting -  two Strangers that could become friends. But she’s never allowed to be anonymous, always the ‘young woman’ in the tale. It seems to dictate all her interactions with others. Doesn’t he see? They’ve both been typecast by the codes in this society - stooges to their craving for connection.




But the Wolf just sits there, stupidly still and panting. He licks his chops, spittle dripping from his whiskers, thinking how delicious her arms would taste cooked with sage and honey.




Sensing the failure of her words the young woman jumps up and throws her bag over her shoulder. She shouts a sudden goodbye over her shoulder, and hurries off though the stinging and hanging leaves, leaving the Wolf behind her.




She is running down the path now, as fast as she can, racing to exit the story, to reach The End, to come to the last full stop.




........................................




I am the young woman.




How could it have played differently? When should I have stopped pitying, acquiescing, smiling? Should I have kept my face shut, disguised myself in pantaloons like a Shakespearean heroine? Naivete is a fragile trait that has to be carefully tended, easily lost along the way. I’ve been remembering stories I was told when I was a girl, before I became the young woman in this story. About frogs and kisses and transformations and riches, about open doors and glasses of cool water. There is a tyranny in stories. A loneliness in the outstretched hand of the written word, when the page turns, and the book shuts closed.








Emma Brown is currently studying for a BA (Hons) in Sculpture & Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art.

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