Tuesday, January 17

Dessert Excursions

Because of the long break, or in spite of it, I found it exhausting to return to work. After my first two days back, the Thursday and Friday, I had to work the Saturday additionally. As much pleasure as I extract from the city early on a weekend morning – and I do find it wonderful – the day was long and tiring. Afterwards, I walked through St James’ Park as it was darkening and looking most serene; positively London, drooped in greys and mist. Trafalgar was its usual imperial orgy of tourists and I escaped quickly up Wardour St, right to the end (for a particular shop) and then back down to Embankment. When I got home, the heels of my feet were bleeding, my trainers wet with black blood and I was thoroughly empty. The next morning I awoke knowing it was going to be a bad day; my instinct did not disappoint, and in some twisted way, I wished to return to work so that my mind would not be such a disaster. At least work kept many unpleasant thoughts at bay, but the week was no easier. I worked late each day – on Wednesday I did not leave site until eleven – and was constantly miserable. Work left me weak; I could not have written, painted, or played guitar, even if I had had the time.
I looked forward to the weekend, when I would see my family again, as we all broke for Suffolk, a cabin in the woods, three nights. It was a Christmas present from my brother, and as soon as I learned of it I was excited, although my face may not have conveyed as such. I was excited because this is such a bleak month. If I could just get through the week, then all would be okay.
On Friday morning I met my father and brother at the train station in C—r. There was an arctic wind enveloping the country – and much of Europe – and I could not leave my fingers out for too long so I stood there on the pavement with a cigarette clasped between my lips and my hair all over the place and my hands in my pockets. I was very hungover and tired but I liked the way the air became bruised with blue and that my father offered me a cap; while the cabs shuffled in queues and the trains grated noisily, we awaited the arrival of my mother, which she did precisely four minutes late and beaming. It was wonderful to see them again. So few places do I belong, but in my parents’ company is one of them. We set out in two cars overloaded with clothes, wellies, food, cleaning products, torches, toys, board games and a cot for my niece.
It was warm inside the cabin. All of it glowed, and outside the grand windows the forest lingered in darkness, its thin golden fingers reaching toward the light. The air was cold and in it was the scent of burning wood fires. During the deep night I smoked on the veranda and looked into the abyss of the trees before me. The noises from within alerted me and pricked my ears. I heard a fox come close but could not see it. With the lights at my rear, the fox could certainly see me. It moved along and I heard it go. In the morning we went for a walk along the river. There was not much else to do but walk, but that was all I wanted. I had wellingtons on – my first in years – and found great pleasure in walking through the mud; the way it slid and squelched beneath my feet. The river did not move at all; my father tossed a reed in but it only remained in the same spot, drifting neither up nor down. We carved our own way through the brush. Pine trees stood in the distance and through them beat the sun, unable to melt the dregs of snow that lay scattered about. It was a fine time. We would go for a walk then relax in the pub – at my own encouragement – before going out on another long wander. In the pub we sat by the fire and I thawed my feet. A guide took us around the forest and pointed out the species of flora and fauna. He showed us a two-thousand year old Roman road that would lead us straight to the coast—‘It’s a nice two week walk,’ he said.
For all of it, though, I could not shake my mood. It hung on every word I said and followed me to bed at night. I became very sad when I thought of how happy I wished I was and that, right then, I was not happy, in spite of it all. You have been looking forward to this! I told myself, but it was no use.
Still the snow did not melt.
The following day and the weather was grim; unrelenting drizzle falling on the frozen ground, softening it to mush and erasing the white scraps of ice. I stood at the window and watched all of the brightly coloured birds peck at some discarded strawberries. Amongst the green grass the bright red of the strawberries stood out proudly, even as they were harassed and emptied by tiny tweeting beaks. When the rain stopped my parents and I went for a walk. It was wonderful, just the three of us. If I could do anything for the rest of time, it would probably be exactly that: walking aimlessly with my parents. We went deep into the forest. At every intersection of paths, we took that which would lead us farther from the cabin, farther into the woods. I was so happy. There was a fog in the trees and the pines loomed out at us. Although the rain had stopped an hour ago, the forest hissed with infinite falling droplets, a great evergreen of radio static. Nothing was ever silent. We tried to remember what the guide had told us from the day before and we chatted and told jokes. I had bad gas and every time I farted I would say—‘What was that?! A bear!’ and pretend to get a rifle off my back. It amused us for a time. My dad commented that it would be easy to take someone into the forest and kill them and bury them. My mother and I agreed; most easy! ‘You could cover the grave over with dead leaves,’ my mother said. ‘The rain would hide a lot of the obvious traces, too,’ I remarked. ‘No one would discover it for years,’ said my father. ‘Ah, but!’ my mother said—‘You would have a right hard time digging a grave with all these roots about.’ My father and I conceded that this was an excellent point. ‘Forget about it, Dad,’ I said—‘We’ll have to do it another time.’ My mother laughed. After thirty minutes of walking we saw some other humans and our perception of the universe was broken as we remembered we were not alone. We said—‘Good afternoon.’ When we got to the road, we crossed it and carried on walking. It was becoming dark so we had to return. Determined to cling on to the occasion as much as I could, I said—‘Let’s go for a drink. A quick one. On me. Come on.’ ‘I will if your mum will.’ ‘I’ll just have a coffee.’ We sat down in the pub next to the fire and I thawed my feet and I savoured that last half hour before we went back to the cabin. Like the frozen snow, it would not last forever.

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