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Fiction

As soon as she said the words, I knew that I’d made a mistake. Sitting about halfway back, watching her profile as she looked at the guy I was just then realizing was the wrong guy. The guy who wasn’t me. 

I left the party early, very early, and walked around the grounds. 

I wanted to hate the place. The towering walls, the ornate patios and sculpted gardens, the woodland border. I wanted to hate everything. But where does hate get you?

I’ve known hate. 

I was thinking this, but I was also thinking it wasn’t true. A part of me was saying I was melodramatic and a part of me was telling that part to shut the hell up. I had the idea that everyone inside was laughing at me. 

Deeper and deeper into the trees, the shade cooled my temperament and I tried to take stock. Mistakes are things people make, and everything made can be broken. 

I used to climb trees. We used to climb trees. Not us, exactly. Me in the branches, her on the ground below, calling up and worrying. That was our life then. A dynamic that worked. 

I looked up and I wondered about how time passes and how things change. 

Travelling through the darkness, a throbbing, indistinct, irregular pulse, the music continued playing. It sounded like an army marching across a distant border, making their way. Inevitable. 

I came out of the woodland and down a steep bank to a narrow, winding road. Possibly, it was one I’d driven down only hours before. I thought of my car, in the car park. Of the fact I could be in it and heading home, instead of wandering aimlessly, wondering about life. 

Sometimes, I’m an idiot. 

Trees overhung the road to either side. It was like walking through a tunnel. It was like going back in time. It was like some kind of mystical fairy pathway, if I’d been in the mood for fantasy and magic, which I wasn’t. Sometimes only self pity will do. 

And where was I walking to anyway? It was an almost two hour drive home, so there was no way I was going to walk it. My front door key was back in my room anyway. 

As I walked, the darkness became absolute. The foliage blocked the moonlight and I used my phone to light my way, a spectral glow that elongated shadows, promising willow-the-wisps or whatever it is that lurks in trees in the dead hours.

And all the time, I saw her face, exactly as I’d always seen it and at the same time transformed. She was no longer anyone I knew. She was some else now. Someone new. 

Once upon a time, I’d thought the same about myself. 

On the opposite side of the road, I could see light. White and obscured in a field of crops of some kind, long and wavy and making a rustling sound like a swarm of insects. I don’t know what it was. What do I know about farming? 

I crossed over and peered towards the light, recognizing it as headlights. I had a number of thoughts in quick succession, or more accurately, all at once, overlapping and trying to drown each other out:

An accident

I should help

I should call someone

The police

I should go and see

I should run away

What if someone’s hurt?

What can I even do?

I was not proud of all of them. 

There was no reception on my phone. That’s what happens when you go into the country. I had no choice then, I clambered up the embankment and into the field, almost laughing as I thought of the continued destruction of my new suit, which I had envisioned lasting me for many years. 

The voices I heard after only a few steps into the field made me freeze. 

“Are you giving me a hand, or what?”

“Shut up will you? I’m right here.”

“Well, take this end then and let’s get this done. I don’t want to be out here all night.”

It was two men with deep, menacing voices. Or maybe all voices sound menacing when you’re alone in the dark and you hear them unexpectedly. Not that knowing that would serve as much comfort when you hear them.

I crept forward a little, trying my best not to make any noise, but the two men kept up their bickering, so I don’t suppose it mattered. 

They hadn’t driven too far into the field, and soon I could see them through the crops. They were pulling some kind of long tube out the back of a van, struggling to carry it with one of them at each end, the middle sagging. They took it off to the opposite side of the van to where I was and, after some grunting and swearing, there was a dull thud. 

“Ok,” said one of the men, both of whom, when I saw them again at the back of the van, were big, burly men with bald heads. “One more to go,” and another long sausage-like object was pulled out, followed by the same sequence of sounds. 

When they returned this time, I lay flat on my stomach and watched them get into the front of the van and then back out of the field. 

I stayed there for some time, telling myself what I had to do. Internally, sure, but I was also whispering to myself trying to give myself courage to go over. 

I climbed to my feet, wiping my hands on my trouser legs. Why the hell not? Pushed out of the crops and into the flattened area made by the van. On the opposite side of this space, flickering like TV in the dark by the light from my phone, was a pile of something. 

I took a few steps. 

I heard something and stepped backwards.

I froze at the edge of the crops, ready to dive back in like a startled bunny. 

I hadn’t heard anything.

It was my imagination.

Lying on the ground was what appeared to be, as I got closer, a pile of rolled up carpets. 

They were maybe 7ft long, 2-3ft wide. 

I took another step.

I was thinking about her face. How I knew it. How I saw it today. The reality of it. The crushing reality around me. 

There were four of them. 

Dumped in a field.

I bent down and touched the edge of the one nearest me.

What about fingerprints?

I tried to put my hands in my jacket pockets and use those to open the end. That didn’t work at all. I knelt down instead and propped my phone against my knee, shining on the edge of the carpet and I pulled it open to see what was wrapped inside. 

Nothing.

It was just four carpets. Dumped in a field. Fly tipping. Damn fly tipping. 

I tipped over onto my back and lay there laughing hysterically until there was no breath left inside me and the heaving was dry and painful. 

When I got back to my feet, I felt heavy and damp and dirty. I checked my phone and the battery was nearly out, which seemed about right. 

I followed the broken down track made by the van out onto the road and then started to walk back down the middle of it, the road surprisingly hard beneath my feet.

I knew I had to stick to the road now. I didn’t want my phone to die going through the woods, leaving me stranded in darkness. That was no way to be found. I’d have to go the long way. 

Was that music I could hear?

Of course it wasn’t.

I had some way to go before I heard that.

I imagined her dancing, being held tight, laughing. I kept her there, on the dance floor, in my imagination. I didn’t want her going anywhere else. I couldn’t handle that right now. Maybe as I walked I would allow the past to replay a bit. Look at times we’d spent together. Places we’d been. Things we’d done. But then, maybe not. I’d only see my mistakes. I’d keep her on the dance floor. That was the trick. Moving, turning, slowly. All eyes on her. I could see it now. I had a long dark walk ahead of me. 

***

“Where were you?” she asks, coming over to my table at breakfast the next morning. “I was looking for you last night.”

I didn’t see her approach, because I’m sitting at a small table in the corner, with my back to the rest of the room. 

I try to force a smile, taking extra time to chew my mouthful of egg while I compose myself. “I thought you’d have more important things to worry about.”

“You,” and she punches me on the shoulder. “I wanted to dance with you. But I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

“I was there,” I tell her.

I don’t want to look at her. Don’t want to see her anymore. I was there when she got that t-shirt. I remember that night. I’d bought the tickets for her birthday. Five years ago? About that. Does she remember? Did she wear it deliberately?

She slides into the seat opposite and takes a piece of watermelon from my bowl. “You don’t mind, do you?” she asks.

I probably wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. “Does it matter?”

She licks it and holds it out towards me. “You can have it back if you want.”

My first thought is to bite it out of her hand like an animal, but instead I force a laugh and shake my head.

“Are you ok?” she asks. 

“Sure,” I tell her. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You look tired,” she says. “Did you go a bit crazy last night?”

Ha. “Something like that.”

“How much did you drink?”

“You know me, I don’t count.”

She laughs, light and carefree. “That’s true. I’m glad you had fun.”

Yeah. Like you wouldn’t believe. “It was great,” I tell her. 

What else am I going to say?

Really?

“I have to go back and finish my breakfast,” she tells me, looking past me, across the room, nodding at someone and then standing up. “But come and say goodbye before you go, ok?”

Not a chance. “Of course.”

“And don’t be a stranger, ok? Come and visit us soon, won’t you?”

I nod. My head feels heavy. It’s a real effort to come out of the nod and not just crash it into the plate.

“You better had,” she tells me and rubs my shoulder, exactly where she punched me before, in a perfect reversal of how I see our relationship. “Nothing has to change just because I’m married now.”

I don’t say anything. I don’t turn. I don’t watch her go back across the room to her husband and her family. I don’t touch the food in front of me. I don’t do anything. I especially don’t tell her the truth.

August 13, 2021 20:35

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