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.
I’m running, flying, up the back track in the dark after Erica. My head’s spinning like the stars. The trees are just dark giants laughing down on us in our crazy, drunken escapade. I don’t know where we’re heading, or even if we’re together. I know she’s not fleeing from me, but neither is she with me.
The wine wasn’t ready, really. Some house kid stole it from her mum, still in the carboy, and donated it to the dorm full of teens. Among those pert-breasted girls, adolescent hippy dudes and alternative oddities, I too drank my fill. The sediment churned in the glass as I sat on the mattressed floor and made vain efforts to be included.
In the morning, it’s a scene of vomit. Buckets and washing-up bowls and ice cream tubs litter the floor, like boulders in a maze.
June steps into the room, a wry and patient smile of fond tolerance on her lips and in her eyes. “Let’s get this cleaned up,” is all she says. No reproach.
“June… June… I really like you,” is all I can manage. The alcohol still has its hold.
It’s true. Perhaps more than any of my cohort, my peers, I prefer one who’s one of their mothers. Hers would be the arms to hold me.
I’m just a child. This adult striving isn’t yet for my world. Perhaps just a mother to hold me.
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.
Lapsang was our black and white cat, who left only a month or so before Enya also did. In one sense, he defined the time of her stay with me, as he first materialised at her previous place on the eve on my arrival to collect her belongings. Sitting large and unflappable on the stone steps that led down to the unkempt, canal-side garden, he barely had to lift a paw to secure his future home.
Prone to sudden biting, Lapsang was an edgy companion, but I loved him. As a city-born one, his experience of being parachuted into the real, natural world seemed revelatory. You could almost see his hair stand on end as he first stood out there on the grass, beech trees distantly overhead, sheep baaing and birds flittering and chattering. I guess his sensory envelope had expanded from something cuboid and living-roomy to infinite and universal.
Before long, though, he was fully engaged. More so than Luke would have preferred, stumbling to me in tears many a morning after finding decapitated rabbit corpse adorning the bottom stair. Why he’d choose to crunch through the skull and leave the body, I don’t quite understand. Perhaps less fluff and fur to cough up later?