My walking at last has brought me out on a high outcrop. It’s bright spring weather and in the short turf, exquisite flowers are scattered about. I’ve never really looked at flowers before, but here among the mountains, under a blindingly blue sky, everything is fresh and new. There’s still snow in the shady hollows (sprouting tiny fringed purple bells), and gullies where the melt water runs clear and frigid (and edged with tiny silk white buttercups, stained with red at the edges). The crevices in the otherwise bare rock are stuffed with tiny green cushions, studded with crystalline wine red stars. I feel sure nothing so wonderful could possibly exist back in the world, although I admit to being dizzy with the clear air and the sun (although it’s still very cold) after all that damp and shade. Mountains, still half clad in snow stretch on forever in all directions. I drink the water and find a sheltered place to lie down naked, and spread all my belongings out on the grass so I can finally dry everything out properly. Tiny birds hop among the outcrops, and a huge furry iridescent black bee savagely molests a nodding jade green, bowl shaped flower, wrestling it to the ground just beside my head (What’s the point in a green flower? What a strange place).
Still, it’s freezing out of the sun and the wind picks up at dusk so I set my tent up just below the tree line for shelter.
I wonder where she is. I can’t bring myself to go back and look. I call for her sometimes but there’s no answer. Partly I doubt she even exists, but part of me knows I’m being selfish. Going backwards is just more than I can stand. ‘I’m sorry’ I call. I hope she’s alright.
Morning comes. I look at the view. My good mood of the previous night has turned sour. Each ridge, exposed above the tree line gives fresh hope, and just as quickly dashes it. Part of me wants to avoid them – to avoid the disappointment of having to re-enter the forest after. But the respite is too good to miss. I love the air, and the light, and the chance to dry off, and the fellowship with other living things. You’d never think a moth could be a kindred spirit until you’ve had the company of nothing but millipedes and spiders for weeks on end. Oh colour and movement my soul! I sit and steam in the sun, or rinse in the rain - either way it’s too good to pass up. And then there’s the snow – so white after so much gloom. Looking at it I can feel my retina burning away and it feels wonderful.
I cast my mind back, and I can’t say how many tree lines I’ve crossed. It all begins to merge and repeat. I have had nothing to eat in a long time and I don’t miss it that much. I would like to arrive somewhere some time soon, but it is remarkable that I’m not going mad for it. I just keep going. That’s what there is to do, so I do it.
It gives me time to think though, which I suppose is the point. Kevin said something about there always being a purpose – a meaning – to what happens here, unlike in life, which I know had come to seem completely meaningless to him after he lost his family. I always used to believe in fate – in destiny (I’ve never been sure what the difference is) because I never really felt like I had much of a say in what happened. Here though, it’s different. This is what it’s really like to feel a subtle presence acting on events, making things happen. I know I’m being tested.
I endlessly go over what happened with Ray and the others, and with Lucy of course and I just feel like punching myself. Why couldn’t I just act like an adult like everybody else for fuck’s sake? What was wrong with me? I should have either had the balls to tell them to fuck off or... Or what? Or been like them? Tried to fit in? Hah! No way.
So what was I supposed to do? If I couldn’t be myself convincingly, and I couldn’t stand to be like them, what was I supposed to do? To be honest I’m not even sure I wanted to do anything much. When I was alive I was happy to stay home, drawing and writing stories in my room, reading, listening to music. Well, not happy, but I could stand it. I knew how it worked. Sometimes I couldn’t even get it together to sign on and I’d have to go in all shame faced and apologise for being crap and fill out a whole load of new forms. Then I got the shop job and I was crap at that too – I didn’t know a hawk from a hacksaw but it got mum off my back. I don’t know. Up until my exam results actually arrived I still thought there might be some sort of miracle. I’d always got through somehow before without doing much work at all. It was a shock, and yet I wasn’t surprised when I found I’d just utterly failed. The staff giving out the result slips just shook their heads and looked away and I went home. Nobody said anything about it.
If you want to know the real reason why I wanted to go to university it was because I wanted a girlfriend. Pathetic isn’t it.
I met Naomi at a family do and started going out with her the autumn after I left school. At the time I don’t think I took her very seriously. She was only sixteen and kind of mad I thought. She made me feel quite mature by comparison.
I didn’t even think she was particularly attractive, not initially, but I did what I thought boyfriends did – went round to her house a lot, even took flowers once. We didn’t do anything much, hardly said anything to each other – just snogged, or I sat and watched telly while she studied for her A levels which she was due to take a year early. Seems strange now. Of course I desperately wanted to go further but she wouldn’t let me – she just giggled and made sarcastic comments. It was only then that I realised she was, of course, absolutely gorgeous. Suddenly her ‘madness’ was really sexy. I spent my days waiting to be with her and my nights fantasising about her. That was when I bought her the flowers – I was that desperate. I told her I loved her.
As with the A level results I saw it and I didn’t see it coming when she finally broke up with me. The fact that she was applying to Oxford and was clearly very bright didn’t make me feel any better. She’d been increasingly unpredictable, playing stupid jokes on me – inviting her friends around on the evenings I was there and excluding me from the conversation, giggling and flirting with the boys, pretending to play fight with me but actually hurting me quite a lot, pinching and scratching, and I had to pretend it was cool in front of everyone because I was more mature or something.
No doubt she was hoping that if she treated me badly enough I’d ‘get the idea’ but of course I didn’t. I now know that this is a cheap and cowardly strategy and probably never works on the besotted (After all – you always hurt the one you love, or so my dad used to sing, and he should know) but at the time I didn’t understand at all. In the end she was the mature one and told me very calmly and articulately one day that she didn’t want to be with me any more because I was still living with my parents and didn’t seem to have a future, and she was very sorry and there was even a little tear. I spent the next I-don’t-know-how-long working on my script to get her back, writing letters I never sent (Thankfully. My common sense hadn’t completely given up on me) and wandering about town aimlessly, half hoping to bump into her, half dreading it. The whole thing lasted about two months.
I know now I wasn’t in love, and we didn’t even have anything to talk about but it doesn’t help. No one else wanted me even as much as she did. How fucking pathetic. I did the right thing that night, up on the Downs, just brought the whole stupid thing to an end – done with it.
And now here I am, trudging through wet undergrowth alone for all eternity for all I know. Terrific.
Actually, the forest can be more interesting than I’ve admitted. The trees are not all one kind for instance and I’ve been collecting bits to compare. Although, like everything here, large numbers are difficult to keep track of, I think there are at least twenty different types, plus miscellaneous climbers, ferns and other weeds, not to mention fungi – especially in the clearings and lesser ridges. The best places (except the high tree-less ridges of course) are where the path runs along the side of a precipice. There you see enormous birds, and streams dropping hundreds of metres into the void. I look from above at the top of a huge tree that has its roots somewhere far below, and watch herons nesting in the uppermost branches. Even on some of the smallest twigs there are tiny ferns and mosses clinging, beaded with moisture and supporting bustling colonies of ants. In some places the trees exude a foam of tiny flowers strongly scented of honey. I tasted some and nearly fell into the abyss in the process.
I don’t want to spend an eternity doing this, but actually, it’ll do for now.
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