Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Wastage of the Willows – Branch I; Leaf I

Blowin’ in the wind…

The Mole was old. And alone. All his pals were dead or long gone: the last being the Badger, who slept forever, now, cradled by a long, strong root of the old oak, under a deep blanket of warming leaf mould. As he had requested, nothing marked his resting place except the memories he and his friends had shared there, in better days; and the whispered “Toodle-pip” the Mole uttered conscientiously – with a hazy regret; a heart full of love; and a tear forming in each eye, like a dab of morning dew – every time he passed by.

Although he KNEW the air was changing, and dreamt of hazy green meadows and deep blue waters, it would be a while before spring penetrated this deep into the Wild Wood; and the Mole’s once-twitching whiskers now needed a far, far stronger beckoning to rouse him from his reveries. Where once had been deep, dark, glossy velvet, now the Mole was tinged from top to tail-end with silver: glistening in the sputtering candlelight like the first deep hoar-frost of autumn at sunrise. Gentle breaths could just be heard, rising and falling in time with the crocheted blanket tucked cosily around his expanding middle; and all around the familiar over-large armchair where the Mole, propped up with soft, fluffy cushions, spent most of his days – and nights, if truth be told: “Just forty winks, before bed…” – were scattered the remains of last night’s supper.

Before he awoke, though, a sylvan magic of sorts would happen: and the kitchen where he lay would be cleaned, ready for the new day, the new season. The extended family of mice who brought him his food, who made sure his socks were darned, his rarely-slept-in bed turned, would silently tidy it all away, replace the dying candles, stoke up the glowing embers, and prepare a small but sufficient breakfast, before vanishing back to their holes, at the end of distant, paved passageways. They knew the Mole’s hearing was not what it had been – once keener than theirs – and the eyeglasses that usually perched precariously on his inquisitive nose were pointer enough to the clouding of eyes that had never been the sharpest – and yet, still, the mice were careful never to make a sound louder than their master’s soothing suspirations.

If the Wild Wood was now tame for these little fellows – no longer holding dark, frightening, threatening secrets – then it still held powers over those who had been enemies of the Badger; or at least refused to shake him by the paw on acquaintance: which is why he knew he was only being a sensible Mole, keeping the small brass door-plate well-polished, and thus preventing any unwanted disturbance. MR. BADGER was as good a name as any to live under, after all – “the best indeed”, he had reasoned – and only those that he trusted would know otherwise and be welcome. And, anyway, grey as he was, he quite resembled a small, wise old badger – or so he had told himself, pulling his shoulders back with pride in front of the bedroom mirror!

When he was wakened, pulled harshly from his deep, misty slumbers, it was due to a faculty that was still as sharp as it ever was: due to an innate sense being alerted, switched on, by something more distant, yet, than the warm days of summer; but as dark, to the Mole’s mind, as a moonless winter’s night. He could FEEL it. It was not NATURAL. It was not, therefore, RIGHT. And, as he blinked open his tired eyes, and reached for the spectacles hanging from his neck, he muttered angrily under his breath. “Damn and blast it. They’re back.”

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