Unremarkable behind the house. In summer, beyond the beech hedge, one field of barley and another of sheep. The lambs run speed trials back and forth beneath the horizontal dyke half way up – tiny specks of white, careering, bouncing, like cartoon characters or jumping beans.
I clamber over the wire fence. The first foot bends the rusty wire, pulling it through the staples in a gentle, creaking sag. Swing the second leg over, tight thighs and clenched posture making sure the barbed wire doesn’t snag my crotch. Over safely, and landing on the un-ploughed field margin. If I pick my way along this edge, I can reach the broader pathway steeply up under the ascending rank of beech trees.
Here’s the steep sledging field where Lena broke her leg, tobogganing over ice-crusted snow, straight into the lower fence. Was it fear that numbed or froze their minds, that prevented them from bailing, or dragging feet to slow the descent?
I gently pull a grass stem, easing the upper part out of the grip of the first joint. The tender fleshy end tastes vaguely asparagus-like, and then the remainder settles into a satisfyingly tough chew and cowboy-casual look.
I’m breaking sweat now, as the gradient increases. Over another fence, and clambering along the low-key rocks and muddy margins of the burn. Well, it’s barely that – more a field drain, really.
Sleeping fitfully on the youth hostel floor with baby Melissa at my side. She’s burning up – and coughing woefully. Like a pitiful kitten. I rest a paternal hand on her back as Amy and I try nonetheless to get some sleep.
Suddenly, a scream, a jolt. She’s shaking, jerking. I jump up and turn on the light.
“What…?” asks Amy, blurrily.
Melissa’s eyes are rolling back inside her head, and her back arches with involuntary spasms. She’s almost on fire. I grab her from the floor and stumble to the basin in the corner. Splash on water with cupped hand, grasping her writhing form under my other arm.
“That guy’s a doctor! The goose fat guy – the cassoulet guy!” Amy is pulling on her shoes. “I’m going to call 999.” She rushes out.
Where’s the doctor guy? At 3am, anyone’s guess. My only reference point is my mother’s room, so I go, just go. A naked man running down the corridors with a naked, fitting, baby girl.
The youth hostel is pretty much in uproar now – doors banging, the doctor summoned, lights on, on every floor. Amy, having failed with the public phone, is flagging down a lorry in her pyjamas in the snow. The young female warden appears from her room, sees me, and screams.
As doctor friend administers Calpol and confirms cooling with water had been right (although “a bit extreme”) I figure it may be time to go and find some clothes.
It’s a few feet from the verge, looking slow and disoriented in our approaching headlights. Ben slows down to a crawl, fearful of hitting it.
“It makes me so angry!” says Karen. “No, we can’t leave it like that. Myxy is such a terrible death – they’re suffering so much!”
“D’you want me to run it over, love?”
I can feel Enya tense up beside me, gripping my hand, as Ben reverses the car a hundred yards, halts, then engages first and floors the accelerator.
“Get a clean shot!”
The rabbit wavers, and Ben swerves slightly.
My body whole body spasms, spine tensing and tingling.
The car stops, and they look back in the darkness.
“Not sure. Did I get it properly?”
Ben seems ready to get out and take a look.
“Honestly. That was a clean hit. It’s dead.”
The good deed’s done.
The kids have crowded round in the tall, darkened room. Lame jokes are told, muffled behind plastic masks. I hand out sweets and money.
“Would anyone like some of this? It’s a dragon’s heart!”
I tear open the pomegranate melodramatically, juice spraying, and the garnet-encrusted centre is revealed. A few dare to eat the sweet, seeded drops, discarding bitter yellow substrate. Only later do my children relate that one of the party fled the house in terror.
Finding the deer skull… Walking into the hillside woods, along the forestry track. I’m hungry for solitude and quietness of mind. Breaking off the trail, I descend into the conifers, expecting nothing, just wandering and being with what is.
She’s there on the brown, dead needles, like a pale jewel set on dark velvet. I gently lift her up and carry her home, feeling somehow she’s part of me, some wild and fragile soul spending solitary hours enjoying simplicity among the trees.
Since then, at Samhain, she keeps me company through the festival of the dead, of ancestry, of the endless line of souls we watch as we walk backwards into the future.