Tuesday, April 17

Only the Country stares back at you

IT WAS a country affair. I descended into the murky landscape of my youth, just a few miles from my childhood home. My friend’s car was full with various items from his life and his work; there was very little space for me to put my legs and all my beer.
Shopping had been a pleasure; as Adam and I skipped around the supermarket and filled our trolley with the ingredients for dinner, a couple of movies and some booze, we discussed the rise and fall of schoolgirls; they flushed from good-looks to ugliness, and some the other way around. All triggered by a girl he recognised from a party we attended back in ’01. She was there with her man, and, out of his eye, she winked at my friend.
The sun was setting. It strung the car’s shadow into long flopping shapes down the country roads and we, so engaged in talk of his failed relationship – as the girls grow out of love into life – nearly missed the house.
I was a last-minute guest. We opened some tins and begun dinner. Each of us took up a position behind a chopping board, preparing the ingredients. The kitchen was busy and Tom’s dog rattled on the tiles at our feet.
Adam’s girl had left him. Tom’s had left him, but she came back and there she was, sober, and in charge of the starter. She was quiet from work and she just made the pan sizzle. I thought of relationships and in my mind I knew that I did not care for them and I was quite content.
A plant pot was full of discarded cigarette butts; they looked like menthols or lights. I had a smoke and looked out over the valley. From the garden you could see for miles, and the opposite side rose up out of the marshes to stare back at you. There was very little noise except for the quiver of distant traffic on the air.
When you are born in the country your reintroduction to it lasts mere moments before it rushes back into you, and the
smells and the sounds and the air – that is clean and cold – fill you with a wonder that you realise you took for granted as a child.
In through the window I watched my friends who I have known for fifteen years. They sat at the table. They were very clear to me when the dusk did not reflect off of the pane.
After the starter Tom’s girlfriend went to shower the smells of work off of her. The three of us continued cooking. She returned, stood in the doorway, tilted her head, and brushed her long wet blonde hair that had darkened with the water. The angle at which she held her head over the brush did nothing but charm and interest me. She possessed a Scandinavian beauty and her hair was quite perfect. The smells of the food made us hungrier.
Later on they stopped drinking. ‘Is it only I who can’t stop once he begins? Why stop,’ I thought, ‘but continue until you have none left and you cannot keep your eyes open.’
Outside. The sky was so clear.
The sky was so clear outside; not in a long time had I seen it so clearly; all the stars. Venus swung on her swing and curved slow. Fireworks had erupted at dinner. Fires burned on the horizon and died out. Car headlights whitened one in the morning, slanted up into the cosmos. Then a lone animal – a sheep or a goat – began to cry. It was a haunting sound and alone. The other animals did not care. The beast did not stop crying. Its noise covered the valley. There was no other sound. One final alto for the atmosphere.
I tried to enjoy my last cigarette. Everyone else had gone to sleep. Something rustled in the hedge, getting closer. I swallowed my cigarette whole and rushed inside.
In the frozen and bright morning I saw that there was nothing to be afraid of. The colours of winter recovered into the colours of spring, with flecks of blossom and busier branches. There was a steeped feeling of goodness in me. I stroked Tom’s dog; she stood upon my lap. Her small bones shook.

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