Why Holly Berries are as Red as Roses

No one plants a holly tree, so darkly green and prickly. So where do they come from? They grow everywhere, every park and hedge has a holly, as if the day-to-day park and hedge and neglected garden need such a night-time mystery, embedded in the ordinary. I look around my little winter-blasted garden and feel powerless at the sight of the holly tree that leans against my house, reaching nearly to the roof, grey bark as smooth as a slow-worm, leaves impenetrable as a hedgehog, green, green as death.

I shall have to get a tree surgeon to prune it; better still, grub it up. Its great head is pressed against my bedroom window, its stringy roots wind like snakes around the foundations of my little town house. I live here alone now, nobody cares for me, I cannot be enwrapped in living wood.

The sorrow started without reason at the end of summer and it makes me slow and stupid now, like a chilled bee lost without flowers. I cannot sleep at night for the constant seep of grief, I have taken to crying in my sleep, and I cannot wake in the day, nor taste food nor bear the light. My friends say that I must make an effort; as if happiness comes when called. I went to the doctor, and he said he would give me a drug that would ease the pain, but it turned out that it eased everything, hope as well as sorrow, and left me dull as well as sad. Now I am like an old woman, fearful of the approaching darkness, mumbling with fear.

Tomorrow I shall telephone for a man to come and cut down the holly tree, tomorrow I will force myself to go somewhere bright and noisy, drag myself into light. I must fell my sorrow and tear out its roots, I must cut it out of me.

That night I dream of the holly tree. In my dream he is both tree and man, he is King Holly and he slides up the sash window of my bedroom and steps over the sill, sure of his welcome. He lies with me and I cannot resist him, his mouth scratches my lips; and my naked body, white as the moon, is burnished red as a holly berry under the prickle of his touch till I cry out in joy and take the green-scented darkness of him deep into me and his roots wrap around my bare feet and I sigh with a pleasure that is the other side of pain.

In the morning I wake early, as the winter light shines in my window and I know myself to be different, I feel whole. I go downstairs to the kitchen and set the kettle to boil and look out at the garden. A robin is singing in the boughs of the holly tree, singing as if for joy inside the darkness of the leaves, eyeing the scarlet of the berries with his bright eager gaze. It is so early that the moon still sits on the rooftops like a circular mirror of the rising white sun. The round moon and the round sun face each other in the pale arc of the sky, as if night and day are the same thing – either side of the same sky like the same coin, as if sorrow and joy are one. And I understand this, at last.