art by Shot Hot Design
The Girl in the Wooden Dress
by Angela Rydell
Emmett saw a small head hovering where darkness met sunlight filtering through leaves, caught glimpses of pale hands and feet shifting in shadow. He thought these hints of feminine body were simply light itself, figments of his own desires for a world outside of woodsheds and sanding and the lathe. But as he pushed further down the woodland path, further from his father's demands to pound more pine pegs for legs, varnish maple tabletops stretching vast as frozen lakes, a whole girl appeared in front of him, barefoot and wearing a wooden dress.
He blinked, blinked again, and, as the wind changed, saw a girl wearing a dress of the woods itself. When she moved towards him the woods moved with her, yet she was more girl than wood.
She stopped in a wide patch of sunlight, a clearing open behind her, leading out of the woods. A bird landed in the nest of her hair, and she let Emmett, too, come close to see her dress.
The girl must have smelled sawdust in his hair, finishing oils in his pores, varnish under his fingernails, to let him come so close. He had been taught politeness, not to stare, not to touch what wasn't his, yet his father's dry reprimands blew out of his mind like leaves on a gusty day.
She stood still as a tree as he walked around her, admiring the rich cherry grain that curved over her young hips and fell, impossibly smooth as cloth, down to her feet. He marveled at the golden bird's-eye maple of her corset, laced up with slenderest of willow branches, so taut and tender that, if plucked, he imagined her torso would resonate like a fine violin.
When he could hold back no longer and held out a curious finger, she let him trace the grain along her waist. The wood was impossibly supple, as if sap ran through its veins as blood surely ran through her own.
"I am a woodworker," he told her, though he sensed she knew.
"I too am a worker of wood." Her voice was whispery as wind through leaves.
"How?" he asked, "How is this possible?"
She began to speak in a small voice light and airy and slow. Once a babe who wandered often into the woods, she fashioned dolls from twigs and birch bark, acorns for heads and tassels of pine for skirts. Until one day she wandered back to find her village no longer a village but turned to ash and smelling of burnt flesh. She took refuge in the forest, and it took her in, taught her to fashion clothing for herself as she had for her dolls, schooled her in patience and the ways of the wood. Gave her all the time she needed to grieve in stillness and peace, planting her as if one of its own.
"There is more than blood flowing in my veins now," she said, and nearly disappeared again before him into the dappling of light and shadow. "But I am growing, not as trees grow." She appeared once more, looking behind her into the clearing, her voice even more hushed, as if she wanted to cast it in shadow. He came closer to hear her words. "I am changing in ways it does not understand. I cannot stay rooted here forever."
He too looked to the clearing behind them, toward the new life he had been running towards alone. "Come with me."
She breathed a deep sigh that sounded like a summer breeze, then began to unlace her corset.
"What are you doing?" He blushed, his hands grabbing hers to stop her from removing that most amazing of gowns. Yet his body wanted her naked before him.