A Short Story
By Jon Edgell
Text Copyright © 2015 Jon Edgell
All Rights Reserved
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One beautiful late summer’s afternoon I found myself lying on a South Downs hillside soaking up the radiant sunshine. I could feel it revitalise me as I lay there, drifting in and out of semi-consciousness, and I thought of my dear late wife who relaxed me when things were stressful with the wonderful, simple words; “there is nothing to be done right now.” Sometimes I heard distant voices as walkers passed me by on the chalky path below. Sometimes I could hear the birds, or the bees.
Then, surprisingly, and suddenly, I sensed a shadow fall and I opened my eyes to see a young boy standing over me, his mouth quivering in anticipation of tears, his cheeks fat and rosy.
He was wearing a heavy brown suede jacket with dirty white fur lining and a floppy sun hat over his long blonde hair. I sat up and looked around instinctively for his parents but he was alone.
“My dog is drowning,” he said, holding out an empty lead towards me.
The valley below was shrouded in early evening mist, broken only by the church tower; square, not a spire, more like a castle. On the opposite hillside sheep grazed among the grave stones of the village cemetery. A dog barked in the distance and I could hear the sound of a hammer blow on metal echoing around the hills; perhaps smoking heavy industry stamping out steel pins and staples, or a lone blacksmith honing a garden sculpture.
The boy ran off up the hill and stood silhouetted at the crest beside a solitary hawthorn bent over and twisted by the ancient wind like a wizened old man leaning on his cane. He turned and watched until I began to follow his trampled path. He waited for me to almost reach him and then ran on down the other side trailing the lead behind him in the long grass towards a thicket of trees.
We entered the edge of the woods and immediately it became cool. Soon we came across a stream. It was now muddy underfoot and had become darker as the woods thickened. Upstream we reached a pool. The dog was floating at the side in the reeds with black sea cucumbers bobbing in the shallow swells. Even in death the strong reeds were reluctant to give up their prey as I tried to lift the soggy matted weight with heavy arms.
“My dog is gone,” the boy whimpered.
“He has gone to heaven,” I said.
Sun came through a gap in the trees and touched the edge of the pool, its water taking on a golden colour almost as if real gold lay on the bottom.
I carried the wet bundle against my chest as the boy led me back the way we had come to the top of the hill. The mist had cleared in the valley and I looked down on the grey roofs of the village, ribbons of comforting chimney smoke breaking the orange sky like fault lines.
At the bottom of the hill we reached a row of cottages, all slate grey but for one painted white. Again the boy ran on ahead, just occasionally stopping to look back, like a dog waiting for his master to catch up. We approached the white house where the boy’s mother was standing in the garden holding a basket of washing under her arm. She was short and thick set, wide-stanced and unsmiling. She peered towards us, almost through us, as if she was expecting, or looking for someone, perhaps awaiting her husband’s return from the fields. Then she tilted her head and focused with one eye on the boy. He held out the lead towards her and began to cry again.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said.
The woman put down her washing and took the boy in her arms. “We are sorry for your loss too,” she replied as she led him inside.
I stood motionless, momentarily frozen in time, alone with my burdens. A creeper climbed the house, withered and died, brown leaves curled and brittle. The strains of a violin fell from an upstairs window.
I placed my soggy bundle carefully on the ground next to the washing basket and walked away.
The sun has gone now and the village streets are dark and narrow. Street lamps glow and the pebbles are shiny with wetness. Cloaked men with deep hats stand still holding iron tools on street corners. I am drawn towards a warming lamplight and ushered into a bar. Black shapes drift aside in my wake, merging into the walls behind me as I climb a stool and lay down my heavy, still damp forearms. A barmaid serves me a shot of something burning.
“We are all sorry for your loss,” she smiles kindly.
I take a room but my sleep is fitful, disturbed by noises in the night – shouting voices, a dog barking, rolling dustbin lids and the echo of hammer on metal.
Jon Edgell lives in Brighton, UK, and has interests in music, art, literature, travel and sport. He writes short stories for both children and adults, and articles and reviews for various websites and magazines including Viva Brighton where his Resolution won the Flash Fact Short Story Competition in February 2015.
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