You think there was once a witch, but you’re not sure. Somewhere back then. Some once upon a time. There is a moth, and there is always a moth, because the moth is you. And there is a toad who has intoxicatingly kissable lips. He paints them either sugary or poisondark, depending on the mood.
Tonight, you are marrying the toad. In moments of doubt, you’ve thought that this wedding is some kind of price for a spell. But then again, moth brides are always nervous. You focus on his sensuous lips as he silently mouths the vows. You’ve always thought toads are cleverer than frogs, just by implication of weight, and the intricate textures of their skin.
As soon as the vows have been made, you gaze into your toad’s mottled eyes, loving him more than starlight. But as you kiss his poisondark lips, he croaks, and speaks.
He talks like a prince. He tells the entire wedding party, ‘During our marriage I want diamond rings and sugar-dipped dried flies.’ He describes future holidays where you’ll both sleep under fairylights in swamps.
You didn’t know he’d ever speak.
His voice shocks you. You reel, shrink, flurry upwards, and bash your head on a lightbulb. Your eyes sting. What’s just happened? You’ve married a toad, you’ve kissed, and now, he talks like a prince. Perhaps you have wedding concussion.
He hops onto the middle tier of the wedding cake and uses the top layer as a lectern. He knocks the moth and toad miniatures off the cake as he announces, ‘We’ll have constant house parties and all of our rooms will be filled with stinging nettles.’
The wedding party is in a forest glade. There are strings of lightbulbs and glow-worms, glittery bubbles in the ponds, and fleas have been employed as waiters. Your vision distorts. Your toad wears ant-made shoes. Pin stripe stompers. You’re frightened of flitting into their path as you dance the first dance. Your grey wings are dusted. You appear far brighter than you really are.
Your toad gives you a wedding gift – an extravagant oil painting of characters from all kinds of fairy tales. Magical princes and princess brides – all applish and mirrorish and shimmering. Murderous red shoes. Kisses and transformations. Choirs of frogs, butterflies and mushrooms. There’s not a single moth. You feel inadequate, but hide it well.
You give your toad the gift of a mothsong. You raise your silence as far as it will go, aiming for the lightbulbs, aiming for the stars, aiming for his heart.
But no one hears silence, unless they’re listening.
Your toad examines your face with melancholic eyes and your thoughts race. Have you always been a moth? You feel as if you have. Seeking out light, hankering for the moon, silent, torn-winged and hopeful.
Has your toad always been a toad?
You silently beg him to answer this question, but again, are unheard.
For the rest of the celebrations, your toad constantly talks like a prince. You’re still disoriented but no one seems to notice, they probably think you’re drunk. Nectar is flowing freely.
Now you’re married, you set up home together. It’s a derelict, dust-soaked cottage. You try to believe you’re happy, but as you collect husks of dried flies, you guiltily wish for three wishes, but only really need one. You constantly wish that your toad would unlearn speech.
He doesn’t like how much you flutter around the rooms. He prefers you to crawl.
You grow more silent as his speeches grow louder. He wants servants, it seems, more than anything in the world. Hiding all the gathered dust under the bed takes time, but you love listening to its quietness. As you lie next to him in bed, what can he be dreaming of with his eyes wide open? His stomach rumbles, and you’re fearful of his hunger. Your wings ache like dying things.
While your toad takes afternoon naps, you half-dream of smashing all the sealed windows. You linger in the highest corners of each room, flexing your wings, avoiding cobwebs.
He seems constantly irritated, and you’re no longer certain that he loves you. He tells you that you’re clumsy so often that you become clumsier. Sometimes you deliberately bump your head again. Concussion dampens sound; a foggy mind is protected from noise.
There must have been a witch, once upon a time. A witch who hurt him. Everything about him seems hurt, from the stripes on his back to the cracks between his toes. His lips now pout with disappointment. Your toad is secretly a prince, waiting for the right transformative kiss.
You feel sorry about this. You want love, but he wants transformation. These two things aren’t equal to each other.
Your toad tells you, ‘It’s now your turn to speak about how you’ll meet my needs.’
You reply with the saddest mothsong he’ll never hear.
He waits for a while, as if sensing he’s missing something.
You keep singing.
After waiting, he says, ‘Oh, get lost, then.’
You wait till Summer to get lost. A window is open at night-time and the fattening moon lights your way. You fly outside into lavender-scented wind. Changing direction, you fly towards a shining lake, up on a moor.
For some time, you’re lost in your own thoughts, reflecting on the demands of untransformed toads. Sometimes you are not really a moth, but a woman who married someone with the heart of a toad. Sometimes you are a moth with the heart of a woman, escaping from anything which might hurt you, but slightly too late.
On the mistiest nights you imagine your toad’s tongue, dark and enchanted, is there in the fog, and it’s drawing you in. But there are clear nights as well. And there is this moor. You’re in love with the moon in the lake and the lakes on the moon. And there are these stars. On the clearest of nights, they sing so silently, you can hear them.
Jess Richards is the author of three novels. Snake Ropes, Cooking with Bones, and City of Circles are published in the UK by Sceptre. She also writes short fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. She has recently completed a PhD where she combined art and writing in a hybrid project. Originally from Scotland, Jess now lives with her wife in New Zealand.