This month our writers group had to write something inspired by a picture of a net and pearls on a pebbled beach. So if the picture is of a beach, then I should write about the North Yorkshire moors, right? It’s funny how your mind can take a tiny element from a prompt and go off in a totally different direction.
Above me is August blue, broken by the odd bleached, white patch, sedately sailing by. Beyond the blue, out of sight, is midnight, littered with stars and planets. And beyond that? The heather scratches my skin, digging in, protesting at my crushing weight. Their scent a reminder of half forgotten memories as the wind laps over me. A lone curlew’s pewit cry echoes across the moor. This is where we came, your hand wrapped round mine. Now my hands are alone in my pockets, rubbing the smooth pebbles, each a promise given to me.
A trail of salt water creeps, cold against the skin. The clouds continue past, made up of rivers, sea, lakes and tears. Tiny molecules which when combined could easily drown me. Do memories live on in the water? I shake my head as I would an etch o scketch, to wipe the stupid thought away. I wish I could rid my mind of all unwelcome thoughts that easily.
A rogue branch takes its chance to harpoon me.
In my heather tomb, I try to empty my mind of bilge, listening to my shallow breath and waves of surging blood. Piercing the quiet a shrill whistle scares the curlew into flight taking it’s laments with it. I rise, looking to my left and right as people emerge from the thick heather, a stretched-out line, young and old squinting against the glare and all facing the same rolling moorland. A nod passes down the line, unsmiling as it flies along, then we set off, slowly, methodically in our measured steps. A line of waving white, plastic flags, creating a sharp crack. Beating. The grouse in front of us fly up in fear, the smarter ones doubling back with cries of alarm. Over a rise, hidden from view, we can hear the lead shot. Hunters camouflaged behind the moss-covered, craggy stone butts, their barrels resting on the shaggy, grass tops.
Rolling a stone in my fingers, a worry bead of smoothness against my dry, rough skin. This was a promise to watch me grow old. It drops from my hand, soundless as stone returns to earth. Another pebble, hard against my fingers. A promise to love me forever, now released from my grip. The trail of pebbles disappear in my wake until only sand remains.
I concentrate on putting one foot in front of another, trying not to twist my ankle. Our line pinches in as we reach the butts, and I stumble in a hidden fire ditch. Shooters are handing over their guns to be cleaned, dogs are being called to heel and we are being herded to the land rovers. I’m watched – covertly – but watched, so I keep my eyes down, my face neutral, automatically reaching for my pebbles, grains slipping through my fingers.
Piling into the back of the transport home, we sit, exhausted two rows facing each other, bouncing on old springs along the dirt track, the tyres kicking up dust as we fly along. The twins laugh and joke, youth on their side while we sit in silence, smiling at their silliness. This is their backyard, their playground and today they are getting paid for it. Catching the eye of the eldest beater, his weathered face turns, the smile reaching through the heavy lines to his eyes. I smile back, my muscles rusty and sore.
Track turns to tarmac as we descend into the village. The other vehicles are already there, the guns being unloaded into the store room, ready to be locked away until tomorrow. With a creak of brakes we stop, the back door is opened and we start to climb out. I wait my turn snuggled in his jacket, taking comfort in the familiar smell of wax and aftershave. A hand is extended to help me down, tanned, firm. I don’t need to follow the line of the shirt up to the neck to know whose it is. I drop carefully to the floor, hands by my side. His voice is low, near my ear. “Want to help me feed the pheasants?” I stare deep into the forget-me-not blue eyes, not giving me any clues, so familiar yet so foreign. His hair has grown longer, a slight curl against the tanned neck.
“Sure, why not.”
“Meet here at five?”
He disappears into the throng.
Walking down the steep path to my house, I smile. This time it’s easier and without the pebbles in my pockets, I feel lighter. Slipping my boots off in the porch, I carefully hang the wax coat on it’s usual peg then move into the kitchen calling out as I go –
“Dad I’m home!”
Then I remember.