Little Dead Boys
I’ve read a lot of things in the first 2 months of 2010. But only one writer I’d not met before has made me sit up straight and shout Oh my God out loud. This is an extract from Kirsty Logan’s novel in progress, Little Dead boys. There’s loads of links to Kirsty’s amazing writing on her website. This is copyright, all rights, all everythings Kirsty Logan.
A story about punk rock dykes, fairy tales, and being lost.
Told in two voices, Little Dead Boys follows a couple on the verge of breaking up. Kit goes to the suburbs to sort out her relationship with Jen and her art project, but there she gets tangled up in the mystery of a decades-old child killer. Jen needs to figure out what she’s doing with her life, her girlfriend, and her lover – but all she can think about the mother she never met.
They were on the grounds of Woodilee, but Kit hadn’t noticed until now because they had not gone in by the path, but sneaked in sideways through the trees. Their feet were crunching through dead leaves that should not be there because it was the middle of summer, but were there because what Scotland calls summer is like autumn or winter for the rest of the world, and because Woodilee was the sort of place where these things happen. It was the sort of place where men went to bury little dead boys, and idealistic fathers went to try to cure the world of its ills, and grandfathers got their granddaughters caught up in strange twisted stories that resulted in chaotic artwork on the walls of abandoned buildings. It was a place where two girls who were not in love, had never been in love, always would be in love, could walk hand in hand through leaves that should not be there.
Every step stirred up a smell of leaf mould, musky and rotten-sweet. The forest was louder than the streets had been, the leaves rustling and the birds arguing and the wind gently pushing and pulling the trees around them.
‘I’m glad that you can forgive me.,’ said Gretchen. ‘I only hope that you’ll be able to forget too.’
‘I don’t want to forget,’ said Kit.
They stood in the middle of the forest, knee-deep in the corpses of leaves, and stopped. They stopped walking, stopped talking, stopped thinking. They were naked in nature, no secrets and no lies. They lay down on the vast bed of leaves together, and it was every mistake they had ever made and every beautiful moment they had ever had. It erased and replaced every bad memory of their time together. They told one another the truth in silence, slowly sweetly thoroughly finally.
‘I read a story once.’ Gretchen’s voice was slow and dreamy, like she was remembering something from a long time ago. Like she was talking to herself. Like she was telling a bedtime story.
‘Tell me it.’ Kit gazed up at Gretchen, Kit’s chin on Gretchen’s chest, below the ridges of her collarbones, above the softness of her breasts.
‘Once upon a time there was a woman, and the woman lived alone in the woods. After a while other women came, and they all lived together in a cabin in the woods. Then more women came, too many for one cabin, so they built more cabins. They lived together, in their own cabins, in the woods, separate but still together.
‘They lived there for so long that they forgot a lot of important things. They forgot how girls should dress, and how they should look away when they were being stared at. They forgot how it felt to be stared at. They forgot how things were supposed to be.
‘But they remembered a lot of things too. They remembered how to make fires, and how to catch and pick things to eat. They remembered how to act instead of being acted upon. They remembered how things were really supposed to be.
‘One day almost all the women had gone off into the woods to collect things to eat for dinner, or things to make art out of, or just things that they could share. One of the women stayed behind. She sat out on the front step of her house, carving something out of a spare piece of wood. It was a figure of a child, or maybe her mother. Maybe it was everyone’s mother. Or maybe it was nothing, just shapes and curves that felt pleasing for the woman to run the blade of her knife and the pads of her fingers over.
‘On that day, a man visited the woods. He walked into the clearing with a wide-legged stride, and when he saw the woman carving on the steps he stopped. He saw the knife in her hand, and he drew his own knife. Oh no, said the woman. Not now, please not now.
‘When the other women got back to the camp, all that they found was the half-finished totem that the woman had been carving, but that was enough. They knew what had happened. They walked straight back out of the woods, and they did not stop walking until they got to the ocean.
‘Later, more men came, to solve the mystery of what had happened to the women in the woods. They found store cupboards packed full of dessicated food that the women had picked and caught and uncovered. They found blankets that the women had sewn, and tools that the women had constructed, and art that the women had made. They found the tiny wooden chunk that the woman had been carving. It is a man, said a man. She was carving herself a little wooden man. And maybe he was right.’
Kit and Gretchen were quiet for a long time after that, watching the night close in around them. They could hear birds pit-pattering their feet on the carpet of dry leaves that was always in the forest whatever the season. They could smell tree bark, and soil, and clean cold air, and the warm heavy scent of sex.
Finally, Kit spoke.
‘Where did you hear that story?’
Gretchen put her arms around Kit, pressing their bodies close, pushing the coldness of the air and the darkness of the sky away from them.
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I can’t remember any more.’
‘Maybe you didn’t hear it anywhere,’ said Kit to the night sky. ‘Maybe you just made it up.’
‘We never have to settle down, Gretchen. I don’t mean settle down together, I mean settle down at all. With anyone. Ever. We can sail away forever. We can visit every island in the whole of the sea. The wind in our hair, salt on our lips. Far from home. We’ll be cold then hot then cold again. We can be happy being nowhere.’
Lying there, lost and found, with and without Kit, Gretchen knew what had happened to them. Being with Kit had been beautiful, exciting, calming. Being with Kit had been easy. Kit, the lost paint-spattered urchin, was not difficult to be with. But loving Kit had not changed her. She had not become worse, but she had not become better either.
They’d had night after night together: nights spent fucking in a haze of steamed-up windows, nights curled up with no need to talk, nights on opposite sides of the bed. Slippery nights and quiet nights. But what else were they there for, except to be in love? So they had loved. And now it was time for something else.
Kit and Gretchen shifted, feeling the grit of dried leaves beneath them and the sky spread above them. They pressed close until they did not know where one ended and the next began.
The night bled slowly into morning. Around the girls’ sleeping bodies, ghosts arose, the way that mist might rise on a cool summer morning in a forest full of dead leaves.