Beneath the leafy boughs, she waits. In one slender hand she clutches a white rose. The other grasps the branch of a tree, against which she slumps like a pregnant doe. The air is heavy with spring and anticipation. She stares vacantly into the forest.
Shadows dance beneath the trees. Her sisters assume female shapes as they converge on the copse. Skeletal ladies drift from between the trees, fine cheekbones pale in the dark. Long, fleshless legs carry them to the feast. Her sisters have not fed for many days.
Perching upright in the grass, they eat slowly. Pained smiles give their faces the likeness of skulls. The feast is bountiful but they do not gorge themselves. With terrible patience they pluck out delicacies from those arrayed in the grass and bring them to their broken lips. Burs cling to their cold breasts. Leaves flow from their waists like tattered dresses stitched from moss and mulch. Their scornful laughter fills the trees.
She does not dine with her sisters. She could scream, watching them pick like mice at their spoils. Her appetites are wilder. She craves contact, warmth, light against her skin and inside it – life in the dank wetness of her womb.
Where her sisters intend mockery, she sees only envy. Their fingers are green with it. She is sick of the forest, of her siblings, of the trees; so old, so uncompromising.
But what is a dryad without its parent tree? Should she move a dozen feet from her willow – its pale skin so much like bone – she would wither and die. Such is the fate of the dryad. Such is the link between body and soul. Her fingers curl around the rose, clench tight, tremble until viridian beads trickle down its stem. She will always suffer in darkness.
But she need not suffer alone.
He is coming. Over the wet sounds of her sisters’ chewing, she can hear the crack of the forest beneath his boots. She has grown gaunt with waiting, but he has kept true to his word, at least; that red-blooded man with heat in his hands and in his loins. How could he not return, after their last encounter, when he had feasted so hungrily on the ripe flesh of her fruit? She imitates the female form so well: nature personified; the spirit of the earth and the bark and the leaf, and all the appetites that come with it. Let her sisters find satisfaction in their own way, and she in hers.
She watches them eat until they cannot eat any more and fall back from the steaming bodies in their midst. Cavernous rib cages lie cracked, exposed to the beetles and the birds. Faces stripped of their flesh stare without seeing at the trees, and the ladies in their midst; skeletal no more but plump and soft like swollen fruit. Mockery abandoned, they sprawl in the darkness, and sleep, and grow roots into the damp earth.
In the darkness of the copse, far from the world of men, where the sun struggles to reach and the soil is always moist, she turns from her sisters and begins to weep. She weeps for the forest and for love and for the feel of sunlight on her face. Is that not what the willow does best?
~ Thomas Brown
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