If you were to tease a path for your weary feet at the end of the day through the thickets of cow parsley, uneven tussocks of thick grass and swathes of vindictive nettles, you may find your way to the back of the church yard, behind the dark line of bent yew boughs that screen the ivy clad wall, to a secluded and surprisingly bright area of smooth grass overlooking the downs beyond. The iron railings of the fence are twisted, bent by the weight of a half century’s neglect, the bank beyond the fence shelves away steeply to the brook at the meadow’s bottom, ferns thrust through the ivy trails and, if you made it this far this is probably important, you are the only person here. The only one to see the little lawn or the lupins, the only one to frown at the surprising appearance of several clusters of tall white daisies circling the clearing. Certainly, the absence of anyone else was what drew him here. Had drawn him here at the end of every day for more than a quarter of a century. It was he who’d planted the lupins and daisies. He carried his scythe here on his back to keep the grass neat, it was he who kept the nettles at bay and he who held quiet conversations with the nest of voles and entertained the robins with low whistles as the day closed.
This is where he is now, it being early evening and his day’s work being over. He has walked across the meadow, clambering up the steep slope after traversing the plank bridge at Forge Foot, looking down at his labouring feet as he laboured up the incline, each step heavier than last year’s. He made his way slowly, carefully, unhurried, knowing each step well enough to be unaware of it, reached the forgotten cast iron gate that rusted on greased hinges, opened it with the minutest click of metal against metal, closed it carefully with a sound in echo and went to sit on the lowest bough.
Reaching into his pocket he finds his knife, lifts a short piece of fallen branch from beside him and recommences whittling as the sun fades across the valley. This is his evening, has been his evening for many years now, an evening he is content with, for one thing he is not comfortable with is change.
Away down the valley, in the deepest nook between the two hills, twilight already falling beneath the heavy leaves of the copse and twenty minutes behind the regularity of his feet, irregular footsteps cross the narrow bridge. These steps do not follow a pattern, they are the sort of feet that have restless energy in them, feet that disturb passing shrews and upset feeding squirrels. These feet are attached to the form of someone who bursts with frustration at the thought of anything not changing, who finds a today even vaguely similar to yesterday implacably, irrationally and loathsomely foul. These feet don’t follow his up the hill, but vault the triple line of stones that mark the ruin at Forge Foot. These feet are followed closely by two other feet, feet eager with excitement, yet if you understand the language of feet, perhaps there’s a hint of the tentative to that excitement. The second feet leave the ground and land, as hers did, inside one of the three ruined stone squares.
As whittling continues on the hilltop, untroubled by any alteration to the patterns of the days, twenty minutes’ walk behind on older feet, there’s a hurried disrobing against a beech trunk, the swift gasped fornication of novelty troubled by disrespectful thistles and impudent nettles intent on challenging the imposition of bare thighs upon their late summer drift.
There is another problem to be found on the crushed grass beneath the canopy of beech and ash leaves keeping the innocence of squirrels secure – that of intent not matching the event. True, anyone deciding upon a pleasant stroll along the winding stream with their boisterous border collie would, were they the sort of dog walker to be observant of what goes on about them, as opposed to the sort that walks briskly looking at the ground, or whose world is consumed only by the canine path as it zigzags back and forth in perpetual motion pursuit of a hurled ball, would if they were that sort of walker, have seen breasts, buttocks and thighs. True too, that it was precisely what she’d intended. Indeed, she’d intended it for some days now, had mused upon it, decided it was what she wanted, acted with bawdy intent to tempt him down here – or indeed somewhere else, but she liked it here with the slow-moving stream and the dabbled shade – it hadn’t been subtle, it hadn’t been romantic, but it was definitely successful. The success of which could be seen by that dog walker taking time off to lean on their stick perhaps to decide that if people chose to rut outdoors, then it wasn’t quite rude to pause and take a glance. That dog walker moves on, after all, who wishes to be thought of, even in one’s own mind, as a voyeur? As he does though, picking the ball up with a little frisson of titillation lighting his steps toward tea, he doesn’t know the disappointment secreted away amid the seclusion.
Maybe the disappointment would be lessened if the dog walker existed, maybe the disappointment would be lessened if the dog walker existed and she knew he was there, it’s impossible to tell as blind trials of al-fresco fucking are rarely run and it’s unlikely her partner would have accepted such a challenge even if approached by a very reputable university. Her disappointment lay on her thickly, reducing the pleasure she found, wrapping itself about her as it did permanently, forcing her to conclude even as he pulled her thighs upwards and spread her wider, even as he indicated his pleasure gutturally, while he bit her nipples in a manner he deemed both passionate and respectful, that life was more than a bit shit and dull. Interminably dull. Still… and she squeezed him a little tighter, after all, if you’re going to fuck someone you shouldn’t, better make the best of it.
With tea-time approaching, he pocketed the knife carefully, slid the piece of wood he’d been shaping for the last half an hour beneath the tree root where he kept it, stood tall to straighten his stiff back and smiled out across the valley. He could hear across the wall children being called in for tea in the gardens of the new houses that covered what had once been the Glebe grounds, knew that before long the vicar would appear and lock the church up, knew that if he timed his departure wrong he’d end up in a conversation with him, and so stepped out. Past the line of yews, over the little iron fence, across the graveyard’s rough grass with its occasional rectangles of tended remembrance and out into the lane beyond to walk quietly home to warm up his stew.
He went in the back, always went in the back. Everyone went in the back. They always had. Everyone went in the back when he was little. If he’d thought about it, and he didn’t, he’d have struggled to recall a time when the front door was used as a child, it’s possible that he might have been able to rack his brain and recall some special occasion, but really, it’s not the sort of thing that would trouble him. The back way was what was done. So he did. The back way and a scuttle of coal for the stove. Kettle on, stew warming, shoes off and slippers on, then he’d check the post and sit by the back window waiting for the whistle and check the back pages of the paper. It’s what he did.
Somewhere, not that you’d know, as who is going to be out at the bottom of a field as the evening mist starts to build and twilight really speeds its leeching of light from the hopes of the fading day, a solitary figure sat atop a wall. The wall at this point is three courses of stone high, substantial stones, such that the three courses are high enough that this figure’s feet dangle a good few inches from the ground. This is good. Feet that can dangle above the ground level are perfect for swinging, and everyone knows that if you’re idle and reflective at the day’s end, foot swinging is a perfect pastime. So this figure in the gloom sat atop this wall and swung their feet in an indolent and thoughtless way whilst actually being filled from the tips of those very swing feet to the ends of their slightly tousled hair with thoughts. Unformed thoughts, thoughts that swirled, thoughts that passed, leapt and nudged for attention in a formless eager manner, but certainly making the mind of the foot swinger far from idle.
There was no one else about, no late dog walkers, no trysting lovers, no furtive hikers pretending they hadn’t got lost and they’d just walked a really long way. Just the foot swinger. Her companion had left, she was happy about that, although perhaps he might have been slightly keener on staying, he seemed to be over the wall, scampering over the bridge and away within seconds of coming, she was sure there was slightly more interlude than that, but she thought it was fractional, a matter of nuance between nano and milli second. She lay there a little while longer, enjoying the dissatisfaction. Not dissatisfaction with the sex, that hadn’t been terrible, even if his eagerness to leave had somewhat overplayed the urgency. This rather was the pleasure she garnered daily from her dissatisfaction with life. It proved permanently that this place was rubbish, that whatever you did here, however much you upset, challenged or cut your own furrow, whatever successes there were, fundamentally, life was a tedious pile of shit here.
So she shagged him. Blatantly tempted him, flirted, used every feline wile she possessed, and when he proved horribly unsusceptible, told him when he came into the café as he did just before closing every night, every weekday, every night of every weekday, at just before five forty five, to buy the same drink to take away. When he’d come in then, immune it seemed, then she lifted her skirt behind the counter as she placed the latte on the counter and reached for the pointless plastic lid that never fitted, lifted her skirt under which she’d oddly neglected knickers, and suggested very carefully, very quietly, very deliberately, that she wanted him to fuck her. On this occasion he hadn’t ignored the hint. He had however fled very quickly straight after. Cold coffee probably, who wanted cold coffee after all. Only odd people drank cold coffee. Was he odd? Probably she thought. He bought coffee at the same time every day and lived here. Odd.
She was enjoying the cold stone on her backside. Stone that wasn’t as cold as it had been. How does that happen? Surely the stone can’t absorb the heat of a backside? Does the arse have enough warmth to heat stones? Or is there some strange equilibrium that there’s a Greek philosopher’s law about. Like Galileo or Newton or Sappho or something. Sappho’s inviable Law of Rocky Arse Temperature Equilibrium. Without it the whole foundations of physics would flounder. Perhaps if she sat there long enough the stone would absorb all the heat of her arse and she would turn to stone, then one day there would be a little hole in the wall where a stone had wandered off and atop it a statue gathering moss, a less demure statue than some perhaps. Maybe people would walk here deliberately to see her as a statue and girlfriends would tut about their childish boyfriends looking up the granite skirt. Or she could just move now.
Elsewhere, he was moving now, slowly. Everything he did he did slowly, he pottered. Pootled perhaps, moving gently through his evening as he moved through his days, he watched faster than he did, watching took a keen eye though, doing took a steady hand, diligence and patience. Now patience was smoothing thoughts as he planed rhythmically in his workshop, sliding firmly along the length held snug in the cast iron vice, peeling curls of even wood away in each practised, firm press of tool against wood. Making small wooden gremlins, each with unfeasibly large penises and gargoyle faces.