The Girl who found her voice in the Witch’s Hat.

The Girl who found her voice in the Witch’s Hat.

Once some time ago there was a young girl called Estelle who had stopped speaking.  No one knew for sure whether she could speak but did not want to or whether she wanted to speak but could not.  All that was known was that no one had heard her speak in a very long time.

Her parents took her to doctor after doctor who all examined her and could not explain the problem.  They could see no obvious reason why she did not speak.   ‘Perhaps she had a terrible fright when she was very small,’ suggested one.  ‘ Perhaps she is just looking for attention,’ said another doctor who was annoyed that he could not solve the mystery.  ‘Perhaps she has nothing to say’, suggested a third.

Her mother and father and brothers and sisters gradually accepted the fact that Estelle did not speak.   Perhaps it made them even noisier for they were a very noisy family indeed.   Her younger brother and sister were constantly arguing at the tops of their voices.  The radio and television were always on. Music pounded from her older brother’s room.  Her mother had to shout to make herself heard.  ‘Can’t you keep it down,’ she would plead. ‘Sometimes I can hardly hear myself think!’     The family got quite used to communicating with Estelle through a mixture of pointing and a simple sign language they made up themselves.  When she started school her old sisters made sure no one teased her.    She learned to read and had very neat handwriting. She did all her homework correctly and was never in trouble.   But she made no friends and it broke her mother’s heart to see her come home every day, her face white and pinched with sadness.

Every Sunday morning Estelle’s father would take all the children up Killiney Hill for a walk while their mother had a rest in peace.  It made no difference whether it was sunny or raining, freezing or blowing a gale,  they had to wear what was suitable and off they set.   The boys liked to chase their dog into the trees and throw balls for him to catch.  The girls played hiding games, or collected blackberries when they were on the bushes or raced each other to the top.

One morning when they set off the mist was so thick they could not see the spire on the top. ‘It’s like climbing into a cloud’, they said.   The mist got thicker and thicker the higher they climbed.  ‘Stick together’, their father warned.   ‘Don’t wander off the path.  Stay where I can see you.’   There didn’t seem to be anyone else out walking that day.  ‘Everyone else has more sense,’ their father laughed. They were nearly at the top of the hill when they realised no one had seen their dog for some time.   They called his name and whistled but he didn’t appear. They heard a distant barking but it was hard to tell what direction it was coming from.  The mist made sounds seem very far away.

Estelle tried to keep up with her brothers and sisters as they scattered in search of their dog.  After a time she realised she was lost and quite alone in the mist.  She opened her mouth to call for help but no sound emerged.  Looking up she caught a glimpse of a tall, white bearded man with a raised arm like a sign post.  A narrow path appeared beneath her feet where the mist was slightly thinner and she followed it carefully.   Her outstretched hands connected with cold stone and as she groped her way around she found a arched doorway and crept inside.   There was enough light inside to see she was in tiny round tower with an arching stone roof above.  She could reach out and touch the cold stone walls with her hands.  Outside the white mist swirled more thickly than ever.

As she sat on the ground and hugged her knees to her chest to keep warm Estelle became aware that she was surrounded by the kind of silence she had never known before.   The white mist was like a thick blanket around the heavy stone arching above her.   The silence seemed to deepen until she could almost touch it.     It settled around her, thick and calm and soft.   Time went by and the silence seemed like it would never end, as if she would always live in silence.  A tiny sound escaped her throat.   The stone walls seemed to receive it gratefully, picking it up gently and holding it in the air.   Her lips moved slightly and another sound emerged, a low hum that rang clearly around her head, gentle and pure as it  floated up to touch the arched roof above.  The next sound she made rang throughout the stone chamber like a bell, sweet and clear and true, soaring upwards and outwards, through the narrow stone door, out into white mist and beyond to the sea.

Estelle’s family had found their dog.     The mist was clearing and they all came together hugging and petting the dog who jumped around barking

‘Where’s Estelle?’  their father demanded.   Everyone started running around and shouting her name at the tops of their voices.   After a few minutes they were starting to panic.  What if she walked over the edge in the mist or fallen and hurt herself and couldn’t call for help?

But then one of them spotted her walking towards them out of the last swirls of the mist.

‘Estelle’, her father said in relief . His voice was hoarse from shouting and he could barely make himself heard.  Her brothers and sisters were hoarse too and they could only whisper her name.  They gathered around and hugged her, hardly making a sound for once.

‘Hi Dad’, said Estelle.  Hi John, Annie, Joseph, Deirdre.   Come on everyone, let’s go home and have breakfast,  I’m starving.’  Her voice rang out as clear as bell. Her family looked at her in amazement,  hardly able to believe their ears. ‘Estelle’, her father croaked.  ‘Estelle,’ her brothers and sisters whispered, ‘you can talk!’

She smiled and skipped away down the path, singing a little song to herself as she went.    ‘You’ll all have to speak up’, she called over her shoulder as she went.  ‘I can hardly hear a word you’re saying.’