mush logs
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The Poddington Project: Stories


Mummy was gone again, and already the foggy gloom outside the window made the room inside the tiny cottage as dark as night, though it was only dusk. She put her eye up to one of the ragged holes in the muslin drawn over the grimed glass, but her gaze only met the smallest sliver of sky, glimpsed past clouds and ivy and the treetops that hung raggedly over their cottage's thatched roof. Her ears shut out Teddy's thin wails, though she knew in a short while she'd hear them again and be forced to do something about them. She was proud of being able to tell the difference between Teddy's different cries; she was better at it even than Mummy, but Mummy paid little attention to his cries anyway, whichever ones they were.

Mummy had gone out again, and wasn't home yet, and probably wouldn't be before she went to sleep. She had left tea, though: tonight there was bread and a small bit of sausage, and Mummy's tonic, the smell of which made the air around the wobbly table rancid. She wasn't allowed to touch Mummy's tonic, especially when there was so precious little left that Mummy had to go out and find some way to buy more. She had decided to try to leave tea to the absolute last minute, until she -really- wanted it. It was a game, one she was particularly good at playing. Teddy was good at it too - well, he had to be, since he wasn't big enough to fix tea for himself. At the moment, though, he gave an occasional whimper from his cot to remind her that he was waiting for tea as much as she was. She sniffed at the air, hoping to tease herself with the scent of sausage, and turned her back on it with satisfaction, pressing her face to the window again. Maybe she could catch a glimpse of the lady again.

The lady had passed by more frequently in the past few days. There was something about her which belonged yet didn't belong; it was odd, she thought, how the lady always stopped in front of their cottage before disappearing along the cart-road into the forest beyond. She shifted on the narrow window-seat, the thin cushion bunching under her knees as she tried to gain a better vantage point. It was difficult. She couldn't see much besides the thick green brambles overgrowing the garden outside the window and the small stretch of road of which the angle afforded her a view. She felt sure, though, if she waited patiently (and she was used to waiting patiently), that she would be rewarded.

The lady was not always easy to spot amongst the greens and browns which coloured the surrounding space. Always in green, always with her fair head uncovered, no matter what the weather, always so clean she seemed to shine. Mummy had once nearly bumped right into her coming home one night, but had blinked owlishly when she'd pointed it out, when she'd asked her if she'd seen the lady in green who didn't look like she lived nearby or even in the town. Then Mummy had scolded her for telling tales and making her look like a fool, and had even accused her of drinking some of her tonic. Of course she hadn't; it was horrible stuff, she thought scornfully to herself, and couldn't possibly have anything to do with such a nice-looking lady as that. After that, she'd never seen the lady and Mummy in the same blink again.

She blinked now. She'd been thinking, and she'd missed seeing the lady walk down the road -again-. She always missed that part. She would have liked to see where exactly the lady came from. For that matter, she would like to see where exactly the lady went when she disappeared. Wrinkling her nose in annoyance, she wriggled as close to the warped and bubbled glass as her nose would let her and peered, as from behind a mask, eyes through holes in the yellowed muslin.

The green frock barely seemed warm enough for the weather, she thought. She shivered in secretive sympathy. Even had it been raining, she knew, the lady would be wearing the same frock. It wasn't like the dresses that other women wore, those farm-wives with their tight bodices and full skirts in sensible, drab colours. It wasn't even like the dresses the most fashionable women in town wore, with the tiny waists and the bustles in back and the rows of buttons down the front, or those of their pretty, curly-haired children with lace caps and high-topped boots. It wasn't like any dress at all. It hadn't any shape at all. It flowed on the lady as though it were a part of her, and didn't seem to care about the wind or her passage through the brambles overrunning the road in front of their cottage. The green frock was almost as fascinating as the lady herself.

She shifted again on the seat, trying to see if anyone, anyone at all was sharing this secret, invisible moment. No one. Not another person was there to see that a bright and beautiful and mysteriously green-clad lady stood before the cottage amidst the dusty ruts of the road in the fog-wet air. She shivered again, this time in selfish pleasure.

Her eyes fell back to looking for the lady. She let out a small gasp; she caught sight of the spot of green, but now it was moving, approaching the winding, nearly invisible path that led to the cottage door. She pulled back from the window in startlement, then quickly pressed back against it to see if what she thought were really true - was the lady coming -here-? She was - there was no other thing in her path than the brambles and the ivy and the door...

She tore herself away from the window-seat, jumped up, glanced around the room frantically. What if the lady should want something to eat? There was only the bread and sausage, and precious little of that! What if she should want something to drink! Surely she would not want any of Mummy's tonic, even the last few drops of it mixed with water, as Mummy sometimes took it when she didn't have the money to buy more. What if she wanted to sit? On these dusty chairs, on the lumpy, knobbly cushion on the window-seat, on the straw-pallet bed, on Teddy's cot? She raced to the door, hoping to warn the lady away, to step outside it and close it behind her to hide what lay inside from the lady's bright, searching gaze.

She pulled the door open. Outside the air was darker and gloomier, and the wet tramp of some far-off carthorse's iron-clad hooves filtered  down the road through the beginnings of a misty rain. But there was no lady, and Teddy'swails found their way back into her ears, calling her bemused mind back to the bread and sausage which lay waiting on the table for their tea.