by Sandra Arnold

It wasn’t because of the time she sat in a café holding her head to stop it splitting in two with the screeching of buses and cars and screaming police sirens and people shouting into phones. It wasn’t the last team meeting with its exhortations to set higher goals to maximise profits, or the day she unravelled in the gym at the sight of perfect bodies chasing greater perfection. It wasn’t the media photos of world leaders beating their chests like enraged gorillas threatening the destruction of the world, or headlines about lethal plagues. It was one single moment after weeks of colour-leaching rain. It was the exact moment the sun burst out of a sky so blue that everything shone and the mountains had purple shadows under snow-white peaks and light and shade were sharply delineated.

It was in that moment that her memory gave her the moon in the morning sky when she stepped outside to go to school and the way she called for her mother to come quickly and her mother’s expression changing from panic to relief to amusement that it was only the sight of the moon making her child go wild with joy. And this memory, surfacing when it did, was the reason she threw out her make-up and donated her fine clothes and killer heels to a charity shop and left her job and the cacophony in the city to live in solitude in a tiny cabin in the woods.

She grew her hair long and tied it back from her face. She drank water from the stream and baked bread and grew vegetables and planted fruit trees and kept hens for eggs and a goat for milk. She had all the music she wanted in the wind in the trees, the singing of birds and the hooting of owls. She sang and danced in the moonlight until she was old and then she preferred stillness and the sound of hedgehogs and mice rustling in the dry leaves. When the day came, as she knew it would, she sealed herself in a hollow tree. Over time, everything she’d ever been, thought, felt, said and done seeped into the soil. New roots thrust into the earth. Branches stretched to the sky. Birds built nests and raised young and dropped seeds on the ground from which wildflowers spread and teemed with bees.

From time to time, lost and dispirited escapees discovered the cabin and stayed for a while. They drank from the stream, ate fruit from the trees and honey from the wild hives. On their return to the world they told stories of hearing singing at night that soothed their heart. They swore they’d seen a woman with long hair dancing in the dark. But after listening to the  counter-arguments of others they convinced themselves it was only the wind they’d heard and what they’d believed was a woman dancing with joy must have been a tree swaying in the wind.

Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a  PhD in Creative Writing and is the author of five books. Her most recent work, a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) and a novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ) were published in 2019. Her flash fiction and short stories have been widely published and anthologised in New Zealand and internationally. In August 2020 she was awarded a writing residency at the Robert Lord Writers Cottage in Dunedin to complete a new collection of flash fiction.