Thursday, June 4

Walking Home From Jason’s

HE AND HIS family were off on a daytrip, early, so I got dressed in his brown bedroom with its stuffy smell of two boys’ sleep, and thanked them all for having me over. It was very early; they were making the most of their day, although I knew my family would still be asleep. It was a Saturday morning.
His house was part of a long brown line that rimmed the village, banged into the side of the country hills, overlooking them, teeth. The window frames were painted various different colours but the red bricks talked the loudest. I left his garden through the banging gate and walked down the alley, shaded off from the morning sun. It was a beautiful summer’s day. It was as though the sun had awoken early too, to get a head start, and it was delicious to be beneath. I walked down the thin alleyway and all the moss that grew in it, out into the morning sun, at last, bright & bare. The warmth already. His house used to belong to the ironworkers – well, a family of them, that section of the village dedicated in red brick & chimneys, muscles & iron. The houses all stood in a row like teeth. All the curtains were drawn. Nothing but quiet. The ironworks was closed, too, and had been for many years. Its chained white gates were rusted shut; beyond them the works rose red, and shattered eyes, graffiti, an empty courtyard and green sprouts from the cracks. It took a long time to walk past the gates, but the ironworks groaned at me, in the day, made sounds and reminisced.
Foundry Lane opened up on to the village high street. The village high street was straight. From an ordnance survey map, my infant eyes surmised that the village was shaped like a fish, some tiddler, its plain white road the spine and in a sea of fields with specks of plankton adrift & random. Next to the junction, surrounded by tall trees, was a grand house. It stared down at me, I up at it. My body was not quite awake. I looked forward to a bowl of cereal, and the smell of my house in the morning, when the living room curtains were drawn, waiting for my mother to open them. I zigzagged across the street; no cars, nothing coming, down the whole view not a vehicle moving. Of course the sun caught everything.
I went down a small road that led to my house. The village policeman lived there, Spink, just opposite the station, well-known and respected. His daughters went to my school and we often saw them coming out of their gate, wooden and tall, blinking drily in their uniforms. There lived Fabian, the French boy, and his family who disapproved so strongly of guns that they would not let him own even a plastic toy. I peered in through his big glass windows but saw nobody moving around. I carried on down the street, where my playschool was by the side of the road: flour water and salt, fingerpaint, old wood, varnish, plastic toilets, the pews for village meetings stacked up for small children to play upon.
My path wound in between some old folks’ home. The pavement was different here, the tiny embedded pebbles like the skin of a lizard.
Then the long stretch at the edge of the village again (so small that you can walk from one side to the other in no time at all, see houses and trees) and there my fondest patch of land, nicknamed ‘The Den’, in capitals, a name, fully personified in our games and in our activities, a part of us, and we a part of it. A thick bustle of trees and then the fields, a ditch, docked in places for us to climb and with elderflowers growing all around, their sweet musk around my morning nostrils and birdsong. I don’t know why, so simple, but my morning return had felt as though it were the end of an epic journey, like I set out days ago with only nuts in my bag and a flask of water. Indeed it felt so special to be out so early, especially on a Saturday, to catch the day before anyone else. My proximity to my house made me stride with vigour.
The Green, another friend. Its poor grass wore so easily in the heat and did not return, but it was a satisfactory playing surface for all our ball games and running. Iris lived there. Orange peel littered her garden, to keep the cats away, and from the right angle you could see the imprints of our footballs on her windows; she at once so hated and loved us. She would scream at us, and then an hour later come out with ice creams. Rhiannon was still asleep and in years to come I would fall for her truly, and years even more would see her at my university in the blinking lights of the club, unsure and then sure, blown away, transfixed. John was stepping out to run—
‘Mornin.’
‘Mornin, John.’
‘You’re out early, aren’t you?’
‘I stayed at my friend’s house.’
‘O.’
My house had its curtains drawn and it did not move, not even slightly in the breeze, not like the trees did. Its bricks were red, but not the same as the ironworks. The paths were not followed, but I walked across the grass to the front door where my key found the lock, turned and the catch made my brothers spin in the living room. I smelled the house. Above, my parents were getting ready.

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