Once upon a time there was a woman. The woman lived in a house surrounded by smoke. Every morning she would wake up, push back the coverlet and rush to the window. But there was nothing to see, only the great greyness pressing back against the window pane.
Gradually the woman stopped throwing back the covers with such delight. She stopped rushing to the window. Sometimes she didn’t even get out of her bed. The greyness seemed to ooze through the window and wrap its tentacles around her heart.
She tried to get rid of it, knowing it was making her breathless and sad.
First she went to the seaside and let the wind whistle through her bones and the sea pepper her hair and face with salt. But the greyness was afraid of the wind and clung tighter, squeezing her heart to the size of a walnut.
She returned home anxious and tired.
Perhaps I can find someone who knows about the greyness, she thought. Perhaps they will know how to make it go away or how I can find a new home for it.
The woman did all the visiting she could think of and drank more cups of tea and coffee than she had ever done in her life. But everyone seemed to have brought their own greyness. Some greynesses even had a smaller greyness in tow.
The woman ate a slice of Bakewell tart left over from one of the teas and pondered her problem.
There was one person left to visit but he lived so very far away.
She travelled for a very long time, over fields and mud and hills. Her little walnut heart made the journey a tiring one. Every sunset made the greyness squeeze tighter until she felt she might start crying and never stop.
Eventually she reached the bottom of the mountain where the man lived. She called up to him but the greyness in her chest was so tight she could only manage a whisper.
But the man had been waiting for her arrival. He saw her small and scrunched up at the foot of his mountain and hurried down to her.
Together they climbed, one step at a time, until at last she was sitting in his kitchen listening to him telling her all the stories he could think of. The words felt like a blanket he was weaving just for her and she and the greyness snuggled into them for warmth.
The woman and the man stayed together for many days, knitting word blankets and word cosies and word forts for each other.
Then one day the man beckoned the woman to the window.
The woman was nervous. The man lived so far up the mountain that his house was often inside a cloud. She was afraid that the cloud would bring more greyness into their lives.
Look, he said. You can see the trees through the mist.
She looked. He was right. Little shapes peered back at her, stretching and shining and waving.
The greyness was interested too. It had come to the woman to explore a world outside the grey soup but here was a whole world inside the soup, just waiting to be discovered.
Excitedly it uncoiled itself from the woman’s heart and flowed towards the window, oozing out through a tiny crack near the fastening and off into the new world.
The woman’s breathing deepened and she smiled warmly for the first time in months. The man smiled too, then he wrapped a cape of words around them both.