A short story printed one letter at a time onto tissue paper





You think there was once a witch, but you’re not sure. Long ago, and you never met her. 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. Painted and sugary or poisondark, depending on the mood. Quite delicious.

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’re focussed on his lips, so pouting and sensuous, as he silently mouths the vows. You’ve always thought toads are cleverer than frogs, just by implication of weight, and the intricate textures and bumps 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 goes on to describe future holidays where you’ll both sleep under fairylights in swamps. 

You didn’t know he would ever speak.

His voice shocks you. You reel, shrink, flurry upwards, and bash your head on a lightbulb. Your eyes sting as you try to recall 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 to the guests, ‘we will 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 family aren’t here because they think you’re a mismatched couple. It is hurtful, but your toad is the only one you’ve ever wanted to be beside.

The most honoured guests are an empress spider and a kingfisher and a blind mouse. Your vision distorts. The mouse has a bird’s head, and the spider weaves a cradle out of the mouse’s tail. You must have wedding concussion. Your toad wears ant-made shoes. Pin stripe stompers. You’re frightened of flitting into their path as you dance the first dance. You are pinched tight. Your grey wings are dusted. You appear far bigger and 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 knifish and shimmering. Murderous red shoes. Kisses and transformations. Choirs of frogs, butterflies and mushrooms, all singing in tune. There’s not a single moth in this picture. You feel inadequate, but hide it well.

You give your toad the gift of a mothsong. Even with concussion, you raise your silence as far as it will go, aiming for the lightbulbs, aiming for the stars, aiming for his heart.

He’s looking elsewhere. Perhaps he can’t hear it.

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 are 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. Or not speak quite so much about all the things he wants which you don’t have.

He doesn’t like how much you flit and flutter around all 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 to aid his digestion, you move through silent rooms, wishing for cold air, half-dreaming 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. When he’s angry with you, his shouting makes you tremble. 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. Sorry for the toad. Sorry for yourself. You want love, but he wants transformation. Those two things aren’t equal to each other. For him, your miniature lips will never be enough.

Your toad tells you, ‘It’s now your turn to speak about us, about the future, about how you might best meet my needs.’

You reply with the saddest mothsong he’ll never hear.

He waits for a while, as if he senses that 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 is bright enough to light your way. As your toad sleeps, you fly outside into lavender-scented wind. A gale spins you up, and you brush your wings on the trunk of an oak tree. Changing direction, you fly towards a shining lake, up on a moor.

For some time, you’re lost in your own thoughts, reflecting on wedding concussion and the demands of untransformed toads. You’re baffled about what you were to him, and he was to you. 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. There is a moth. There is always a moth, because the moth is you.

And there is this moor. You’re in love with the moon in the lake and the lakes on the moon. Light pulls all lost things towards itself. And there are these stars. On the clearest of nights, they sing so silently, you can hear them.






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