“Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a beautiful woman who was locked in a palace high in the trees.”
Gwen spooned a bite of applesauce into Anwen's mouth, and the little girl watched her with large bright eyes.
“Applesauce, made from our own apples on our own apple tree,” Gwen murmurred to herself. She wouldn't have imagined it, not even five years ago, when she was PC Gwen Cooper and nothing ever happened to her. Anwen said nothing, but Gwen imagined how she would look two or three years from now, with soft brown curls and a child's sweet voice. “Finish the story, please, Mummy.”
“Well, this girl didn't much like being locked up, but she had a secret weapon no one knew about. And it wasn't even a closet full of guns and crossbows.”
Oops. She wasn't meant to have said that. She hoped Rhys was still in the bedroom, where he couldn't hear.
“No, no one would have even guessed it was a weapon. It was her hair.”
“Why do you tell stories about women who are locked up, Mummy?” she imagined Anwen asking. No, that wasn't right. That's not what little girls ask. “Why was she locked up, Mummy?” Gwen imagined instead. There, that's better.
“Well, the truth is, her mum locked up there. It was for her protection, see. She was on the run.”
“Just going to pop out to the garden for a bit, love.”
Gwen jumped; she hadn't heard Rhys come up behind her.
“Just startled a bit, I suppose.”
Really, this had to stop, jumping at every strange little sound as if it's the government come to take her away from her daughter. She peered around the corner, waiting for the front door to close behind her husband. Then she turned back to Anwen, smiling conspiratorially.
“Don't tell anyone, but actually, she was on the run from aliens. There were all kinds of aliens. Some of them did drugs and looked like fish, and some of them inhabited people's bodies, and some of them were like robots pretending to be people.”
She spoke a little faster, keeping her eye on the window to make sure Rhys was still in the garden. She fancied Anwen was watching her more intently now, longing to hear about the aliens just as much as her mum longed to tell about them.
“Mostly, she hid from the aliens, but every once in great while, she let down her long hair and a man climbed up it. He looked young and old at the same time, and he wore a great coat like he'd just come home from the war. Sometimes he came just to tell her about his long adventures in outer space – and they were long, because he couldn't die – but sometimes he and the woman climbed down from the forest and fought the aliens together.”
She jumped again. She hadn't heard the door open, hadn.'t been watching the window.
“I thought we'd agreed. No more stories like this.”
She looked at Anwen, whose eyes were still sparkling bright.
“Right,” she said. “I forgot we're ordinary now.”