Authors: Fflur Dafydd
Seren is the book imprint of
Poetry Wales Press Ltd
57 Nolton Street, Bridgend, Wales, CF31 3AE
Â© Fflur Dafydd 2011
ISBN 978-1-85411-562-1 (EPUB edition)
The right of Fflur Dafydd to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
A CIP record for this title is available from the British Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted at any time or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the copyright holder.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters and incidents portrayed are the work of the author's imagination. Any other resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Mathew Bevan
Inner design and typesetting by [email protected]
Ebook conversion by Caleb Woodbridge
The publisher acknowledges the financial support of the Welsh Books Council.
for Iwan and Beca
Some stories, it seems, just keep on going. Whatever you do to them, the words are still whispered abroad, a whistle in the reeds, a bird's song in your ear.
Every culture has its myths; many share ingredients with each other. Stir the pot, retell the tale and you draw out something new, a new flavour, a new meaning maybe. There's no one right version. Perhaps it's because myths were a way of describing our place in the world, of putting people and their search for meaning in a bigger picture that they linger in our imagination.
The eleven stories of the
(âstory of youth') are diverse native Welsh tales taken from two medieval manuscripts. But their roots go back hundreds of years, through written fragments and the unwritten, storytelling tradition. They were first collected under this title, and translated into English, in the nineteenth century.
brings us Celtic mythology, Arthurian romance, and a history of the Island of Britain seen through the eyes of medieval Wales âbut tells tales that stretch way beyond the boundaries of contemporary Wales, just as the âWelsh' part of this island once did: Welsh was once spoken as far north as Edinburgh. In one tale, the gigantic Bendigeidfran wears the crown of London, and his severed head is buried there, facing France, to protect the land from invaders.
There is enchantment and shape-shifting, conflict, peacemaking, love, betrayal. A wife conjured out of flowers is punished for unfaithfulness by being turned into an owl, Arthur and his knights chase a magical wild boar and its piglets from Ireland across south Wales to Cornwall, a prince changes places with the king of the underworld for a yearâ¦
Many of these myths are familiar in Wales, and some have filtered through into the wider British tradition, but others are little known beyond the Welsh border. In this series of New Stories from the Mabinogion the old tales are at the heart of the new, to be enjoyed wherever they are read.
Each author has chosen a story to reinvent and retell for their own reasons and in their own way: creating fresh, contemporary tales that speak to us as much of the world we know now as of times long gone.
Penny Thomas, series editor
It was on a day when Goleuddydd was at her most visible â more visible than she'd ever been in her lifeÂ â that she seemed to vanish into thin air. How could you lose a pregnant wife in a supermarket? That's what people were asking. Cilydd watched the news item every night in a stupor, as if he were watching a story about someone else, as if it were some other unfortunate being he saw snivelling into his fleece at the press conference, eyes at half mast. âWe are all concerned for my wife's safety,' he heard the sap say.Â âShe is nine-months pregnant and very vulnerable.'Â Very vulnerable. How Goleuddydd would have hated that. She had never been vulnerable in her life, let alone invisible. She wasn't a woman you could miss, a splay of wild red hair twirling like a tornado around her small, perfectly formed face, a woman who walked in bold, quick strokes; it was always you who had to step aside, never her. But, as she had prophesied, the pregnancy changed her. As she grew bigger and bigger she somehow retreated into herself, became half the woman she had been, even as her flesh doubled. Her red hair stood static on her head, became a matted pink mess. She walked as though trudging through treacle, the whole world around her a gloopy, arduous struggle. She was all too visible and yet ever so slowly disappearing.
Something wasn't connecting, she told her husband. Neurons were misfiring all over the place. She had dreamt awful things of late; had seen her baby shrunk to the size of a die, imprinted with dots. One night, Cilydd woke to find her shining a torch on the wallpaper, and when he asked her what she was doing she told him she was looking for the join of flesh and concrete â for she had dreamt that the baby had been built into the foundations of their home, squished in between two bricks. The most persistent, recurring dream was the one where she left the baby on a pub windowsill and, when she returned, found that the taxidermist had been at it, mounting her offspring on the wall: a dream which left her uneasy for days.
In the final month she began taking down all the pictures in the house, in case they fell on her pregnant belly. She wouldn't take a bath because she was afraid the floor would give way beneath her. It seemed that everything she had previously known and trusted; every static, fixed, screwed-on thing was now malleable, rickety, unreliable, including herself. And Cilydd, too, seemed to fit into that category.
âIs it me you want or just the baby?' she would ask him, sloping off before he could answer. Whenever he tried to reach out to touch her stomach she would stare at his hand as though it were a hostile creature, swatting it quickly away. âIs it kicking?Â What does it feel like?' he often asked her. âHard to describe,' she'd say, before giving him a sly pinch in the ribs. âSomething like that, I suppose, only firmer.Â Harder.'
A stylist by trade, it seemed that she could find nothing that would soften or style her bump, favouring rather the unflattering smocks that were her mother's hand-me-downs, merely emphasising how laborious and irritating the whole ordeal was to her. âWhy are they all staring at me?' she'd say.
âWhy do they all seem to think they can speak to me? Baby this, baby that. Do you know what you're having? Why does it matter to them what I'm having? What I'm having, everyone, is a nervous breakdown.'
Which wasn't a mile away from the truth, Cilydd began to think. It was in the genes, she said; hereditary. There had been that incident with her grandmother and the maypole. Her mother and the suspension bridge. But so far none of them had made a run for it. He knew that's what the police officers were thinking when he reported her missing.Â âShe's left him, hasn't she? Made it look like a disappearance. Poor bugger.' And the longer she stayed missing, the more certain he, too, became, that whatever had happened to his wife, she had brought it upon herself.
It had been a Saturday afternoon. She was wad-dling around the cheese aisle at the time, perusing all those pearly triangles she'd been denied for so long, staring at the blue threads of Stilton as though they were her own veins. He was at the checkout (buying snacks for the maternity ward, sugary lolli-pops to help her in labour, little treats to help him through the night, and those maternity essentials for the things no one wanted to think about) and, as there was still no sign of her by the time he reached the entrance, he waited by the toilets. After thirty minutes he'd grabbed the elbow of a tiny, white-haired pensioner and pleaded with her to go in and check for him, and when that proved unfruitful he'd gone back to the car. He'd sat inside with his snacks and breast pads reading the fine print on the pack of maternity towels, before scouring the supermarket one last time. There was an announcement going off repeatedly, calling someone to the flour aisle, and he wondered for a second if he should request such an announcement for Goleuddydd. But he could imagine being scolded for it later on. âSo embarrassing, Cilydd, to have my name called out like that as if I were some missing toddler. 'And so he left it, went to his car, and drove home.
Leaving the supermarket, he felt an overwhelming sense of relief, as though he were leaving the whole sorry situation behind. She's at home, he thought with great certainty. He was convinced of it. Of course she's at home. But when he arrived home the house was dark and empty. He sat there until all the light had drained from the room.Â Goleuddydd. Her name a combination of light and day; those bright, hopeful things. He recalled how last Christmas, in the days before the pregnancy, she had beckoned him to the window to see the sun rising over the snow, her face alight with childlike wonder. She was always showing him the light in things, the whiteness. When they first met it would pain him when she left the room, as though the light were leaving too. The day she disappeared happened to be the shortest day of the year.
Of course the whole thing became a spectacle. It was Christmas. The silly season, with no hard-hitting news to speak of. Which is why a pregnant wife's disappearance became TV gold. Much was made of her love of cheeses, the brokendown CCTV camera which cut out at the crucial moment, and of the argument he and she may or may not have had in the car park, which was really just a hair tousle (him), and an attempt to snatch a snowflake (her). These gestures, exacerbated by the fact that, according to one of his neighbours, they hadn't been getting on, of course made the whole thing appear rather suspicious. Much was also made of the thin air into which she had vanished. As it happened, this was not thin at all; but thick and glutinous, dressed in tiny white particles. In the wake of his wife's disappearance, the flour aisle curiously burst its banks, spreading tiny atoms of spelt, buckwheat, tapioca and rye into the stale air of the supermarket. No one seemed to have witnessed it happening. The few shoppers in that particular aisle only remembered the sudden sensation of flour-on-the-lungs, the uncontrollable cough, before tiny pale hillocks appeared mysteriously at their feet. Nobody actually recalled seeing the flour fall. When the bags were examined it was found they had all been punctured sharply and swiftly, though it was impossible to tell by what.Â Some other items were missing, too, some bread had gone astray, and some of the shelves also seemed pockmarked. Cynddylig and Tathal, the flour-aisle security guards, were actually on a sandwich break when it happened.
âThe holes and the indentations,' the detective told Cilydd, âmay prove to be a significant feature of our investigation.'
This, of course, did not provide any consolation for Cilydd. He wanted something real and concrete to go on, to tell the rest of the family, to hold on to in those dark, lonely hours. A small hole was not enough. At his request, he was shown the CCTVÂ footage again and again, watching his wife turning that fateful corner. The cheese-aisle security guard âÂ Gorau â was reprimanded for his lax surveillance.Â âI'm paid to watch the cheese, not the people,' he protested.
They replayed the incident in the flour aisle too, looking for clues. The atomic eruption seemed to happen spontaneously, leaving grainy trails over the camera surface.
âCould there be a fault with the tape?' he asked.Â The policeman pressed rewind. Cilydd watched the white fug retreating back into the little brown bags.Â Chaos retreating into calm. On another screen â at the very same moment â Goleuddydd reappeared.
âThere would appear to be some sort of time-lapse here,' said the policeman. âThe supermarket tells us there isn't. That it's linear, continuous footage. But we think they're hiding something. I mean, there might have been a robbery, and for some reason âwe can't think why just yet â they're trying to cover it up. So perhaps your wife, in some way, was caught up in it all.'