Once upon a time a baby was born to a couple who lived in the woods. Her mother and father led simple lives, growing food in their vegetable garden, keeping chickens, collecting mushrooms and blueberries in the forest, roasting chestnuts on the fire. Once a week they took produce to the market: eggs, jams, the wooden spoons and bowls they carved in the dark winter months, the patchwork quilts they had sewn. They were able to buy the few things they needed with the money they made at the market: shoes for their fast-growing daughter, candles and cooking oil.
The child grew up strong and healthy, running in the trees, swinging from ropes her father hung across the little streams, picking flowers to give to her parents, talking to rabbits and deer, learning to play the wooden pipe she had been given for her sixth birthday.
One day a stranger knocked on their door and asked for food and shelter for the night, for it was winter, and he was cold and a long way yet from the place he was walking to.
Over supper he told stories of his travels. He described places where people lived together in great multitudes. They worked together in big noisy buildings called factories which belched smoke into the air. They moved around in boxes called cars which travelled more quickly than the swiftest horse. Strangest of all, some of the people had never seen a tree, or a flower, or a butterfly. These people ate food which was made for them in the factories, which tasted delicious and made them fat, and instead of wearing the same clothes every day, they wore a different outfit every morning and threw yesterday's away!
The little girl, who was a beautiful young woman of 17 by this time, was so entranced by the stranger's stories (for he told a good tale and made the places he had been sound very interesting) that she asked if she could go with him travelling for a while. Her parents thought it would be a good idea, for they considered themselves simple folk and wanted the best for their daughter, a life that was better than theirs. So off she went with the stranger, promising to return within five years to tell her parents about her new life.
The five years felt long to the parents, who were beginning to feel old, and they missed their daughter. But they looked forward to her return, and sitting by the fire at night they would imagine what she might be doing and seeing, and how happy and fulfilled and abundant her life must be.
Eventually the five years passed, but the daughter did not return. Another five years, and another. The parents lost hope of ever seeing her again. Some terrible misfortune must have befallen her. Soon they would die of old age, for they were frail now and hardly managing to look after the chickens or the garden.
At last the daughter did return one day, but they did not know who she was at first. Her hair was a different colour, she wore bright lipstick and colour round her eyes, she was fat, and wore shoes with heels so high she risked tipping forward onto the ground with every flaunty step. Her clothes fitted so tightly her flesh bulged over the top at her waist and bosom.
When her parents offered her some broth to eat she pulled a face and asked if they did not have anything else, like cake or ice cream. The parents did not know what ice cream was.
She explained that she had come to claim her birthright, that she wanted the house she had been brought up in. She would knock it down and build a much bigger house, with many rooms, a swimming pool and a garage. She would have a road built to replace the footpath upon which they had walked to market every week. "And what about us?" asked her parents, shocked and bewildered by what their daughter had become. "Oh, you can live in that tree house you made for me when I was a child. It's good enough for such simple folk as you," she said.
It wasn't long before her parents died, heartbroken. The daughter did as she had planned, built a big house and a road where before had been a log cabin and a footpath. She had the forest cut down and sold the land to a developer who built a small town on it.
But the girl, now a woman, needed pills to get to sleep, and suffered terrible nightmares. She felt rich and successful, but rarely laughed, and wondered why she never felt the joy she had felt swinging across the river on a rope or talking to hedgehogs. She supposed it was just something to do with getting old.