Happily, Red

Occasionally, it is possible to have a happy ending. Not a happy beginning; those are frequent enough. And certainly not a happy middle, because middles are always either one of two things. Either you know you’re in the middle, and that makes you sad, because either you have such a long way to go until the end, or because you’re already halfway through and that means you’ll only ever have less; or you don’t know you’re in the middle, and you get occasional flashes of happiness.

Much, much harder to have a happy ending.

It is possible, though. It’s in the bees buzzing officiously around their daisies, the wild lace flowers strewing grass so lush it’s thigh-high and crisp, the fresh pinch of early morning air that pinks the cheeks while the glorious golden sunlight promises a warm day; and in the feel of your warm arms around mine.

This doesn’t have to be an ending of course, and depending on your perspective it’s also a beginning, also a middle; perspective is everything.

But that’s just the point; perspective. It would be just as easy to sit here and document the mud stains in the yard, the dead, dull branches on the trees infected with barkbug, the feel of the empty bed beside me when you’re gone for days at a time. It would be easy for my mother’s words to ring true, to fester in my heart until I was sorry I said yes, until I regretted your smiles and wiles, days spent hand in hand, picnics with scones and clotted cream and fresh-crushed raspberries with sugar.

No. I could never regret those things. Not even on the nights when it feels like you have been gone for a month and I fear you may never return. You know the woods well, and as you have saved me once I know that you will save yourself a hundred times – and one day, perhaps, I will save you, though you say I already have.

It is possible to get a happy ending. It’s in the melody you whistle as you cut across the yard, the gentle werking of the chickens as they bustle in search of grubs, and the flutter of life inside my belly.

I know they said it wouldn’t work. But some people don’t trust happiness.

It’s not that this is what I’d have chosen, though the early springtime air and the smell of baking apples isn’t far from heaven. Let’s face it: f I’d have chosen, I’d have chosen not to need rescuing in the first place. I’d have chosen… But no. There’s no way to replay things that doesn’t leave one of my family dead, me or grandmother, or maybe even you. And you couldn’t have saved Grandma the way you’ve saved me.

It’s lucky there was anything to save. That’s a happy ending of its own – and of course, that’s where the stories usually end. But happily ever after doesn’t begin just because the monster’s slain. Not when the monster leaves a special gift behind.

I still remember the look on Mother’s face the first time the moon rose full. To see what her beautiful, ringletted daughter had become… She’s not one who trusts in happiness. I think she’d always suspected something like this would happen, ever since she was tiny. She’s never trusted hope.

But you… As you pause in your labour to smile at me over the furry backs of goats that bleat like traffic at the markets, my heart flutters in time with the kicks in my stomach, and I know that you believe in hope, that you believe in happiness. That’s why I’m with you, in the end. Not because you saved me from the belly of the wolf, and not because you saved me from the curses of the moon that the wolf so lovingly bestowed, but because you believed that despite it all, I could be happy. That’s a power all its own, you know.

You’re coming towards the house now, my red cloak slung casually round your neck. It means nothing to you, that symbol of blood, of horror, of innocences lost. I love you for that.

The blood you bring me, still warm from the veins of the wolf it ran in, tastes good, sharp and iron-like. But I wouldn’t drink it if it wasn’t for the glimmer in your eyes that promises me laughter when I’m done, the love the outshines fear, the notable lack of tremor as you bid me drink up my tonic. If it wasn’t for that, I’d never drink; I’d gladly lose myself in fur and fangs and lack of thought. Mother’s ending wasn’t worth living for. Yours… A happy ending’s always possible. You just have to find the path. Thank you. Thank you for believing. For you, for hope, I’ll drink the wolf’s blood forever. Hope is the most powerful tonic of all, and who knows how long this happy ending will last.