He led her to the pub. An old place, so old it looked like it had grown, rock by rock, from the earth. She offered him a drink as a thank you, and they talked of the weather, and of the isolation of life and of the sweet nature of horses…”
by joel willans
Sometimes Edmund Kearny felt that heartbreak was his special friend. Not a loose see-you-around type of mate, but one who was there no matter what. When this happened, Edmund would walk the moors, striding faster and faster, hoping heartbreak would leave him be. On one such day, while he was enjoying the icy air and admiring the river and the mountains and just being in a place that didn’t make him feel empty, he spied a girl riding a black horse.
When she started coming towards him, he put his head down, made himself small and walked in the opposite direction, but the drumbeat of hooves followed behind.
“Hello, can you help me?” the girl said. “I’m trying to get to the George and Dragon. It’s a pub on the way to Otley.”
Edmund took a deep breath and felt a pinch of fear. He knew what her reaction would be when he returned her gaze. And sure enough, it came, a smile. And a beauty of smile, too, like sunshine on still water.
“You can ask where it is, but I can’t tell you. I can only show,” he said, hating every word that slipped from his mouth. “I’m no good with directions and I wouldn’t want to send you the wrong way.”
“That’s very kind. If you don’t mind and it’s not far. I’m Megan.”
When she looked away, Edmund slapped his forehead and heartbreak sniggered. He led her to the pub. An old place, so old it looked like it had grown, rock by rock, from the earth. She offered him a drink as a thank you, and they talked of the weather, and of the isolation of life and of the sweet nature of horses. Birds brawled on the rooftop, while a big, black dog sniffed Megan and sniffed Edmund, but stayed well away from heartbreak.
When she asked if they might meet again, Edmund said yes, even thought he knew that might mean love, sex and tragedy, and eventually another reunion with his closest companion. And despite everything, he even kissed her goodbye, just as he knew he would.
“I bet lots of girls have wilted when you give them that look,” Megan said, afterwards. “I’ve never seen such lovely eyes and such long lashes on a man before.”
Edmund shrugged. “A few might have, but I don’t look at everyone. In fact, you’re the first girl I’ve looked at for ages. You were difficult to miss when you sat on that big old horse of yours.”
She laughed, blew him a kiss and galloped off, along the road back to the town at the bottom of the mountain. Edmund stood watching her go and licked his lips, tasting this new girl and hoping she might be different from others. He couldn’t stop smiling and forgot his past suffering, but heartbreak did not. Heartbreak whistled and put his arm around Edmund’s shoulder, pleased at cementing his future with such a fine and reliable friend.
(illustration: john richen)
When not thinking up slogans for a Helsinki ad agency, Joel Willans writes fiction. Besides being published in a wide variety of journals and half a dozen anthologies, his stories have been broadcast by BBC Radio and performed on stage. In 2008, he also won the Yeovil literary Prize and Global Short Story Competition.