At last, treading softly over creaky floorboards, as I pass my shadow, at last I see you and though you are alone you laugh and whisper and tell the darkness things you never told me, holding in your bloodied hands the remains of the family cat…..”
by louise graves
I’ve been too insubstantial to write, walking in my memory a path, well-trodden. The path was old and one we have been down so many times, and laughed and ran up and down and sang, and played our games, all horrible. You were so much bigger than me, my hero, Jack, my nemesis.
On wet days, inside, making paper planes that glided and spun and crashed into nasty twisted heaps, still we ran and sang. Do you remember?
On my return, passing fields of corn and darkened woods and hills with rabbits, cows, deer, passing me like dreams. The darkness was alive, like the mosses creeping around your window and the gravestones in the churchyard. Mosses strangling the grass and turning the lawn we played on brown. We listened, you and I, whilst the grown-ups ate and talked among themselves and never, never stopped, but we were there, hidden, in the hallway, crouching on the stairs, peering between the bannisters. I listened even though you laughed and said my ears would burn and skin turn inside out. I lay awake at night and waited to hear you approaching my room, footsteps outside my door on the landing: I, hiding, waiting in my nightie, barefooted in the light of my half opened door, I held my breath and watched you pass. At last, treading softly over creaky floorboards, as I pass my shadow, at last I see you and though you are alone you laugh and whisper and tell the darkness things you never told me, holding in your bloodied hands the remains of the family cat. Do you remember that Jack?
Because you could, you kept your secret, the one I shared but never told and because times changed, because now, the ground is no longer steady beneath me and above me, I make the journey through the fields and the houses and the cities’ graffitied walls. And the brother of my childhood, because he is other wise occupied, with a lady on his arm, and the floor and the kitchen table, ignores my gentle arrival and talks on, are you listening now brother? I was disappointed, you have changed so little and I so much.
I see Mother reaching out to me, but she is halting, stopping, catching your eye as if you hold a command over her but still she wants to touch me. She came to take a photograph something to remember by, but our childhood was so long ago. There is nothing of those children here, nothing of me.
Try to catch the sun, pause, take in the air, it’s pleasant a break from the past which is chopped in bits and discarded in the gutter. Cut ties, cut fences, burn bridges and build a wall around you. Remember how faintly pleasant it was to feel secure, the bars upon the windows and barbed wire on the high fences, and barbed wire to keep the cattle out. Trees to keep the light out, crowded round, my witnesses.
The day is glorious again, flesh grilling on the barbed-wire fence in the summer heat where panicked cattle halted. Lost memories, like lambs’ tails in the spring time, lost childhood; lambs’ tails hanging from saplings, yellow amongst the green leaves, red in the remembering, springing from dead leaves four hundred years deep. I see you shocked Jack, but I am watching you.
I hear dogs in the woods, dogs chasing along the path, jaws open, lips slavering, a gentle walk in the early mist or are they after you now?
The man with the dog whistles while he walks and the tune turns your flesh to ice, you hide and wait and the man whistles, swinging his plastic bags and his big stick. The dogs run and piss and crap and you shit yourself waiting for him to come close. The man has bags to pick up the shit I know that, they pick it up in bags and then collect all the bags of shit together and bury it deep in a hole in the woods. I have heard them, heard them whistling and digging and swinging their bags of shit while they dug and I remembered my own death. My body is in front of me, in little bags. To the left, a crow sits quietly: left-right, he looks, unblinking. I am not here, not here, I have gone away. You wipe sweat from your brow, resting heavy on a spade dug deep into flattened ground. Dead eyes Jack-a-daw, watching the crow.
November. Glorious. You take your morning run, then out of breath, you walk and find three polythene bags of shit. Do you remember Jack? Remember the poor little child, who vomited and wept? The child who begged and promised, oh Jack! The child reclaimed by the land, dug up and relaid by fox and stoat walked and shat on by rabbits, deer, dogs.
Red then dead, yellow amongst the green.
On my return I found that my house was not ready. You, snorting disatisfaction. Sun, like a spirit.
The men are drilling again, digging up roads and hedges and tearing down woodland. Building a new start. This is the key to all our futures, better late than never, did I say all our futures? I meant yours my dear brother; but better for us all, better for me and building a future for you.
Do you remember the little tea-house, and scones, thick with clotted cream and strawberry jam like clotted blood. You pretended to be a vampire, playing then and hiding behind the lightning struck tree whose root was not quite right.
The sun slits through leaves. My trip back was something, it took some doing. It was you who got away.
They marched so close to my house, little rows of ants, carrying leaves and grit, my funeral procession. Workmen too, they walk by my home, hard hats cupped under their arms. My spirit courses on, through the trees down wells, to less effect, obviously, watered down and running through the streams. To my right, remains of the stick cross you used to mark the place I rest.
Silenced now the trucks, concrete, plans to house twelve hundred men and women and children.
When at last, I turn away, I see my shadow, I missed the golden, early morning light through my roof, the trees. My house is not ready, but soon I will rest.
We marched these woodlands, played and sang, do you remember? Held hands, together, and you lay your secret down.
(illustrations: tom harding)
Louise Graves lives in the Lake District in northern England and has been writing short stories for just over two years. She’s had some of her stories published in e-zines and small print publications. Louise writes regularly with Alex Keegan’s online writer’s group, Bootcamp.