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Review of Tales Told Before Cockcrow
How about a dragon whose ‘scales rattled softly like a spring shower on leaves’; a tailor, normally the plucky little hero of a dozen fairy tales, who is not to put too fine a point on it, a spiv; a knight, who far from being the wounded, ‘ill-made’ but redemptive figure of myth behaves like an investment banker on the run from the credit crunch; a Sleeping Beauty who is in fact a chemically coshed lesbian feminist activist? Archetype, myth, scripture and fairy tale, Cherry Potts takes ingredients from these potent sources, shakes the kaleidoscope of her imagination and reveals new facets of such timeless companions. Her characters are described by a pen that is always painfully sharp, sometimes acid and never far from acutely funny.
However, funny is not just a default mode. As in life funny also trembles on the edge of loss, death, risk, sacrifice, love – and of course the jester on the block, politics. Read, enjoy and be provoked.
Tales Told before Cockcrow – fairytales for adults
A collection of ten stories published by Onlywomen Press in 2008.
Tales Told Before Cockcrow
Amelia couldn’t sleep. She lay in petulant discontent, eyes fiercely open, just daring sleep to lull her into unconsciousness. Sleep, naturally, had more sense than to tangle with her.
“Count sheep, darling,” her old nurse, Sibyl advised, trying for a reasonable tone despite her intense irritation.
“That makes me hungry.”
“Don’t be perverse. You are only awake because you ate too much in the first place.”
There was much exclamation in the market place and it was decided that someone had better go and get the She-lord, so that she could see this spectacle. After some discussion it was decided which someone would run the errand, and eventually the She-lord made it down to the market place to check out the fuss. She wore the ceremonial robes; the reason for these was also lost in the mists of time. Every one thought she looked very grand. Everyone, that is, except the man.
He, when he saw the She-lord, let out a great gale of laughter. Consternation reigned. There is nothing a cat likes less than being laughed at, except maybe being wet.
The Knight Who Didn’t
“Oh! Sir Knight, Sir Knight!” They yelled, running to keep up with the steady trit-trot of Harold’s smart white destrier.
“I’m not a knight yet,” Harold explained, without slowing down.
“Oh,” the serfs said, momentarily bamboozled. The one with more puff in him kept running.
“Sir!” He shouted, “Our village is being terrorised by a dreadful Ogre.”
Harold slowed the horse down, but didn’t stop. A bend in the road allowed the serf to catch his breath, while Harold rode round him.
“He says he’s going to tear us limb from limb and eat everyone!” Gasped the serf.
That decided Harold.
“I’m very sorry,” he said, “but I don’t do Ogres.”
There was a young man busking on the corner, outside the Travel Agents. His spikes of straw blond hair were beginning to wilt in the drizzle, and his violin was going out of tune, but he seemed oblivious.
Hannah strayed to his side and gazed at the display, unconsciously enjoying the cheerless squawk of the bow on the dampening strings.
Lord Gregory wasn’t it?
Of course it was. The man from Tante Rouge guided the young man’s fingers neatly through to the end of the tune, waiting for Hannah to make the connection.
Hannah looked at gloriously sun lit coasts. The Azores, Bermuda, Hawaii … she thought about Catford on a wet day and about travelling up the Amazon. Her passport was bound to be out of date.
The young man stopped playing, and tried to get his violin, no, his fiddle, back into tune, before launching into Love is Pleasing.
Hannah had learnt that one at her mother’s knee. In fact it was the first song she could remember; but there were other memories to that tune, ones that should bring her head up.
The Red Dress
Granny taught me to dance as soon as I could stand straight, and it is Granny I hear when I dance.
As soon as I stopped growing, Granny trained me for something else. Her black agate eyes watching me; fierce eyes: watching.
And now I am trained; I am honed to razor sharpness, like the tines on my comb; an assassin: I am my Grandmother’s weapon, her gift, her honour, her absolution, her revenge. And I will be your death.
And now I am here, dancing, with you.
So here’s Sisera, hot footing it across the plain all dusty and bloody, so I call out to him,
What ho, Sis, old buddy, I says, who’ve you upset this time?
As if I didn’t know. Always in trouble with someone, that Sisera, but you could hear the din of this battle half a dozen leagues away, so I knew what it was this time: that Barak, and the loopy Deborah. Nice girl, but her shekels were pared even finer than Heber’s.
By all the prophets, says Sisera, am I glad to see a friendly face. Do us a favour Jael, let me hide up in your tent?
Passing Gerda at the gate, Keith got the distinct impression that she glanced up. He turned, but as usual, she faced slightly away, her head down. There was a dog sitting at her heels, one of those stringy, sad eyed mongrels. Ignoring the rain, Keith offered the beast a hand to sniff. The dog bared his teeth, and Keith hurriedly withdrew his fingers from harms way.
“What’s his name?” Keith asked, automatically.
Gerda made no sign of having heard. Her rant continued, a garbled account of the front-page story. Somewhere in among it Keith heard a word. He laughed.
“Satan?” he asked, looking at the miserably shivering beast that was doing its best to get under the skirt of Gerda’s coat. Keith fished in his pocket for more change, bitterly aware that he had fallen for the animal, as he always fell for them. He pressed fifty pence into Gerda’s hand. She turned it over without looking at it, feeling the edges, accentuating the impression of blindness.
“For the dog,” Keith explained.
She hated the smell of him, the way it clung to anything he touched. Not the aftershave, the underlying male smell of him, that even his habitual perfume could not hide. She shuddered. She supposed she must smell of him too. She sniffed experimentally at her arm. She needed a bath anyway. She ran the taps again, went back to the bedroom to pick up her clothes and search for clean underwear. She could find only absurd silky things that could not be intended for anything but fulfilling someone’s sexual fantasies; not hers, surely, the knickers or the fantasies. Then the doorbell rang.
Lucy kicked off the slippers. She was not going to attempt speed on the stairs wearing them, not in her weakened state. She put the chain on the door. It was an automatic motion, one that she had never questioned, but she questioned it now. A half remembered nightmare rose in her mind to prompt that precaution, something terrible that she did not want to remember, or repeat. The half-shadow that she could see through the reeded glass looked small, but there was no sense taking risks.
Glory, or Hope
I seem to have had my eyes shut for some time, now. I listen to the waves, quiet ripples about my ankles; heavy sucking roar further out. I breathe in time with the heavier sound – slow, deep. The salt kicks in at the back of my throat, replacing the thicker sharper taste that had been there moments before. There is the merest suggestion of another roar, somewhere in the back of my mind- lion or motor, or whatever it is – it fades. I clear the smoke from my lungs, the stench from my nostrils, the bile from my throat. Sun on my shoulders, zephyr against my face, neck, hands; almost stirring the hair slicked back against my skull. One more deep exhalation: Time to open my eyes.
Fiona had nursed the hope that she might persuade Ellen into walking on the hills, but had been disabused of that hope within moments of their arrival.
Looking up at the cloud swathed mountain above the hotel, Fiona had felt her spirits lift in response to its towering magnificence. Ellen glanced up too, as she followed Fiona towards the hotel lobby. She looked up at the Old Woman, and met her, so it seemed, eye to eye. It made her suddenly uneasy.
“Good Grief,” she said, in quite the sourest tone Fiona had ever heard her use. And so, Fiona had put aside all hope of walking the slopes, and consoled herself with the thought of the constant availability of a comfortable bed, and the two hundred-mile distance between Ellen and her computers.