The following is a very short story inspired by the names I found carved on a tree on one of my favourite walks…..
James peeled off his shirt and cooled his feet in the shallows. He draped his socks and shirt in the cow parsley. Heat shimmered from the fields blurring the outline of hedgerows and distant oaks. He closed his eyes, felt the sun warm his back. It had been seventeen years, but little had changed.
He crouched at the water’s edge, cupping the river and sluicing his forehead, neck and shoulders until drops ran from his eyebrows. A young rabbit popped up, ears pricked, high on the ridge. The bank was riddled with warrens, held together by hawthorns. James smiled. He was a little over an hour from the diesel fumes and sex shops of Euston, and he was chewing grass, feet in a stream, watching rabbits.
James crossed a stile and made his way up the bridle-path, ducking in the shade of brambles and sycamores. A gate had been left open and James shut it, straining to lift the bolt into its clasp. He leant on the gate and looked out over the river valley. The stony ground fell away sharply to boggy fields spiked with marsh grass and the meandering river. He’d sledged here, whooping and screaming, feeling every jar and scrape of the hillside as he bolted down to the valley. They shared one sledge between them, though it was little more than a packing crate with a rope. There had to be fifteen of them that day, panting and steaming in the mist, rosy-cheeked, gloves and boots dripping with slush.
James rummaged about in his pack and tugged out his orange juice. He rubbed at his spine. If he could plant his feet just right and twist there was a pleasing clunk of his spine. He stood in front of a huge sycamore and placed his palms flat on the trunk. The bark was mouldy but striped with slashes. Names and dates had been carved with a blade. A heart, shaped more like an apple, had a clumsy arrow puncturing it.
Tony & Penny
Facer is Ace
Facer was a name James knew from high school. Paul Facer always had money and drove a car before anyone else could afford one. He ran a finger along the scar. He walked around the trunk, reading messages that might date back 30 years if they were true.
James L 4 Katie 4-ever
He blinked. James Lesser 4 Katie Swain forever. He traced the words with his fingertip, wondering if Katie had written them. She would have stood in the same spot almost 20 years ago and took a blade to the tree.
‘I wasn’t worth it, Katie,’ he said.
It was such a long time ago, but the words were part of the landscape and so little had changed.