The sun was sharp as she entered the lane.
She found a point where enough of the wall
had tumbled – through neglect or misuse –
for her to climb the rough, sandstone blocks with ease.
She was in a forest of rhododendron,
dark leaves a foil to extravagant flowers –
rich, vivid reds, pinks, purples, lilacs, whites,
an exotic palette, almost sensual.
Though the sun was distilled, the air was humid.
She thought of what little she had left.
The silence was dense. What insects there were
were soundless. She saw a patch of dry sunlight
and rushed for it, foliage and branches
chafing her bare arms, calves and ankles –
pulling at her tee-shirt and her cut-offs
and snagging her empty backpack. She hoped
there would be stones – knew there would be stones.
She paused briefly to look at the marks
on her skin – knew it was too late to return.
She pushed on and emerged into full sun.
What had been the lawn stretched before her – a field
of long grass with occasional thistles,
cow parsley and yarrow. At its furthest edge
was the house – Georgian, derelict, its windows
and doors crossed shut with crude wooden battens,
half its roof collapsed. Suddenly, a vixen
lifted its head from the grasses to watch her.
She could hear the cubs mewling and looked away.
She heard the beck before she saw it.
It was pellucid, a murmuring brook
with crayfish scuttling amongst its pebbles.
As quickly as she could, she moved upstream,
the garden giving way to the wildness
of hawthorn and elderberry. An owl
flew suddenly past her, silencing the wood.
She reached the pool. It was, as she had read,
a covert place, suited to sacred rites,
surrounded by high banks of moss and fern,
its edges shallow, its centre profound –
and, yes, there were stones: large pieces of flint,
brought, for whatever forgotten purpose,
from some altogether different country.
From habit, she removed her trainers
as if she were about to paddle in the sea –
and sighed, suddenly weary with so much.
She took off her backpack, filled it with flints,
put some in the pockets of her cut-offs,
and shouldered the bag, staggering slightly.
As she took her first step into the shallows,
the cold and the pebbles making her gasp,
she saw minnows darting away to the depths –
thought of the crayfish, the lawn gone to pasture,
the owl, the vixen and her young, the
sensuous, destructible flowers,
began to sob then howl and howl and howl.
Exhausted, she took the flints from her pockets,
lay down in the moss and ferns and slept.
She dreamt she was bathing naked in the pool.
Menacing, he appeared on the bank.
Seeing his lust, she rose from the water,
splashed him, as one might at the seaside.
Dispassionately, she watched him turn slowly
to stone. The cooling air woke her, smiling.
She put on her shoes, emptied the flints
from her pack and built a cairn, selecting
each piece and deliberately placing it –
then made her way downstream in the sunset
with care, a lightness on her back, rejoicing,
the water squelching in her trainers.
beckbrookcow parsleycrayfishDiana and ActaeonelderberryflintsGeorgianhawthornLetheowlpellucidpetrifiedsacred ritesthistlesvixenyarrow