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#MilitantFactionsQuotes 33: The walls are closing in...

#MilitantFactionsQuotes 33: Eleven Years Later

The walls are closing in. No word from my agent; editors their inscrutable selves; all frustration and one-way emails. My wife’s in the final stages of her dissertation, and though she hasn’t said anything I know she needs an empty house to clear her head. Besides which the scaffolders are all around, building a cage: outside every window (blinds down) as I try to write, effing and cursing as only people hanging off poles know how.

By Wednesday I needed to get out, to take a walk. The only question was where? I’ve explored every tree and every glade between Cuffley and Broxbourne, all the safe paths within walking range of my recovering nan. I love to city-walk but only when it rains, when it damps down the grit that gets between my eyeball and contact lens in such delightful fashion. But there’s been no rain for months, so I decided to take a train.

I could have gone anywhere, but somehow I found myself at Victoria Station. Even then, there were many options available, but as if from habit I bought a day return to Brighton, telling myself on the empty train I would walk on the Downs, to Rottingdean or Hove, along that polite coast. Even went in a stationers in London Road to check out a map. But of course I knew where I was going, the place I was being pulled.

Passing through the gates I walked up a long road lined with tall trees, panting in the unseasonal heat. Unwisely I ignored the tiny office; I’d know the place, I’d find her. Past the chapel where we sang sad songs, up through the gentle trees, across Bear Road into the new section, uphill all the way. All coming back to me now: the funeral, the illness, the scares; and all the rest, the good stuff that means so much more.

At the Eastern edge, the top of the hill, there is a green area where trees are planted instead of stone. Some of the plots have been allowed to slip and slide into disrepair; I staggered round, through deep grass, checking post after post for her name, Ennio Morricone’s music in my head as I ran, faster, faster, in ever-decreasing circles.

I thought I’d know the spot: thought all would be the same and her tree would jump out, branches festooned with musical trinkets. But eleven years have passed, and the trees have all grown tall. Unable to find her I went back down, across Bear Road, through the crumbling tombs, past the busy chapel, down the tree-lined road to the office, where I asked for a map.

The clerk was polite but insistent: no-one buried of that name, not that year. Did I have the right details? Yes, I said, polite but firm: I know the right place, the right year, I placed her in the ground myself. He frowned, perplexed, and went away. The room was so small after the wide spaces; so cool and dark, walls closing in. I checked the leather-bound register: nothing. Finally he came back: I’d got the name wrong, of course, forgotten she was buried with her married name. I laughed: I was there then, too, I said to the clerk. The wedding.

Back up the tree-lined road, past the chapel, another family grieving and smoking, through that shadowy bush, past the bowing angels and family mausoleums (the neat, encapsulating brackets “Born” & “Died”;), over Bear Road where race-drivers never slow for you and aren’t even ashamed, back out to the wide open space where I could breathe.

The map was confusing, but finally I narrowed the “X” down to three small trees, picking the centre one as hers and not really caring if I was right. This tree was tall and strong, bright orange flowers decorated the roots; she’d like it here, I decided: remembered she’d chosen the place herself that final spring.

I didn’t feel sad or guilty that I’d left this visit so long; didn’t feel the need to collapse on the ground, or pour Bacardi into the soil: I spoke a few words to her, of course, as I’m guessing many of us do alone at a grave; spoke of happiness and my wife and children, thought of leaving a photograph, took it from my wallet and screwed it into an empty bottle of water, but then decided that was too corny and melodramatic and so instead I turned and looked out across the sunlit hills and the city to the sea.

-First published @ Legend Press (2011), and one of the pieces of non-fiction in Mark Piggott's fiction/non-fiction collection "Militant Factions"- available in paperback or Kindle from Amazon.


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