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The Pits

Sometimes he would emerge from his bedroom around midday and the sun would be more or less bright, or else the sun wouldn’t be out at all, it being a grey day. And maybe that was good, standing half-asleep in the dimness of the hallway, unsure of how the day would ultimately reveal itself.

 

Mondays, without a job or anything else to go to, he could stare out at the city with a cup of tea going cold and try to think things through. On Monday mornings, he believed, there were always questions. In the distance, with a sort of great yawn, the city would begin to pick up from where it left off. In these moments he felt the most sympathy for this strange thing, which breathed over him whilst he slept.

 

Planes would fly overhead. Big machines put into the sky, trailing patterns that, with time, became clouds. Carrying people and things. He listened to the crying of the planes in bed, looking up at the dark ceiling and imagining all of the unseen passengers who were going places, turning over on his side to hear the faint din of them reaching the edge of the night-sky, alive with impatient determination.

 

He took a sip from his tea. He still had a small bit of money left. It was, he figured, enough to see him through the week.

 

***

They had told her that a busy period was approaching so she took half of the day off, hoping to get back to the office just after lunchtime. What had been cool and quiet in the early morning had become almost unbearably warm. The streets, in the full sun, were now brash and bothered, jostling her on the way to the doctors. Only now, hours since she had woken up, did she feel awake for the first time that day, surrounded by the sudden almighty hubbub of the city. She reflected that this was life, more or less. Life in all its offhand givings and takings. But it was just a small thought and as she carried on walking her mind turned to her mother who had, aged twenty-one, made the decision to never worry about anything ever again.

She would be up now, busying herself with the house. The house where the girl had been born and still lived. How much of the present did her mother understand?

 

She sat down in the waiting room. Away from the noise outside she could hear the blood pulsing through a thousand tiny channels around her head. Somebody in the waiting room coughed for a while and then it was quiet again. A woman came out and called someone’s name. She thought maybe she wouldn’t return to work in the afternoon. When she had saved up enough money she would move out of home. She did not feel she was enough of an adult to leave her parents.

 

She felt impossibly small.

 

She picked up and put down a magazine, and stared into the wall, straining to avoid thinking about the future, waiting to find out if there was a baby inside her.

 

 ***

Sometimes he spent his dreams running away. There were dreams – nightmares, he supposed – in which he was chased by something. He could recall nights as a child spent crouched by his father’s bedroom door having been driven from his own bed by the things chasing him. But there was a much different fear somewhere in his head that stopped him from crying out and waking up the man. The timid sound of his father sleeping still reached him despite the years.

There were other, vaguer dreams in which he found himself running even though he wasn’t being chased. As a young man living alone for the first time, long after the nightmares, he had dreamt that he was running for the sake of running. Those were, he felt now, whole nights spent attempting to outrun the baggage of the past.

 

But there was one night, around the time he had started at his job, when he had been running and had stumbled, waking up abruptly on the floor beside his bed having fallen out in his sleep. For the rest of the night he had laid there feeling the idling of the heart in his chest, and had gone into work the next morning feeling weary.

 

It was a week before he had another dream. By accident he found the place where he had fallen over and he saw that he had tripped over a rock. He balanced it on his shoulder and walked until he found the right place to put it down again.

 

There were more dreams and other rocks. He carried them all carefully to the same place, finding, night after night, a place for each one. And gradually the thing grew until, with the passing of years of dreaming, he found that he was building an enormous house.

 

There were times when the whole thing came crashing to the floor, sending him with a jolt back to his single bed, feeling daunted and indifferent, half-awake with sweat all over him. He worked with one rock at a time. Sometimes in his dreams he just stood and looked.

 

He became withdrawn and was laid off. His days were tired and indistinct. After his father died he stopped dreaming altogether. He began to struggle with money. Eventually he forgot about the house that he had created in his dreams but never stepped into.

 

He sat by the window all day. Scores of bees, made delirious by the swelter, flung themselves at the glass of the windowpane, bouncing off surprised and sad. He imagined the great sadness of bees. He watched the street outside through the blinds and drunk his tea. The sun of its own accord made a sweeping pass across the sky, scattering bits of light across the floor of his room.

 

Later his phone began to ring and he went to find it.

 

***

They got in the car. The sun was hotter now, in the afternoon, than it was before. It pulled ghostly streams from out of the road up ahead which disappeared as soon as you looked at them. Sitting in the passenger seat she could imagine the smell of them, air thick with the bronze odour of melting bitumen. There were no more clouds.

They sat with their backs slightly damp against the seats. They did not know where they were going. On the road silence between them could be alright. Laughing and yawning and looking out of the window until the trivial melded indistinguishably with the meaningful, and their hopes and fears and beliefs and desires were one long stream of blurry things passing by, with the radio on and the music turned up. Strange and familiar shapes, a place for each one.

 

He lowered his window first, and from time to time took his eyes off the road to look at her face. She put a hand on his knee and they both let it stay there for a while.

 

They stopped at the side of the road to buy cherries in a brown paper bag and he paid with the very last of the money he had stolen from her father, telling the boy at the stall to keep the change. In the shade of the trees they sat eating the cherries and spitting the stones out across the road, and he watched her and she watched him. Her head had begun to ache but she didn’t say anything. She was young and she got headaches. A car sped by and flattened a cherry stone.

 

On the breeze they could both smell lemons. They looked up and breathed. The smell reminded him of that spring in the orchard when his great-grandfather had warned him, his fragile finger pointing, that in going from planting trees to burying the deceased you would have trouble knowing the very dirt on your fingers. Had he not kept that image somewhere in his heart all these years? Had he been able to separate things? He wondered what it meant.

 

They were driving again.

 

She supposed he got lonely. Sometimes she looked at him and his face seemed clouded over like there was trouble inside him. Once he had told her, one of those mornings, the two of them lying naked, that he was not smart but that maybe he loved her and that that was a smart thing. She wondered what it would be like if they had never met.

 

He had sold everything but the car. Now, he thought, he would have to get rid of it, dump it somewhere. It was the one possession of his father’s that he had kept. He clutched the old steering wheel and imagined his father’s hands gripping back as they swung him easily around and around on some beach in the south, and he heard the laughter and he heard the strength in the man’s voice, the words, ‘Hold on. Hold on.’

 

She leaned over and rested her head against his shoulder. They were coming to take him away and she, of course, couldn’t know anything about that.

 

He put his foot down on the brake and the car shivered uncomfortably to an abrupt stop. Beyond the line of the bushes on the roadside were a dozen or so lemon trees and they got out and walked towards them. She went first, ducking through the hedge and appearing on the other side with leaves in her hair.

 

The trees stood perilously on the edge of a gorge. Down below you could see the relic of a stream that had long since died, now littered with decomposing lemons. They picked up the lemons which had dropped from the trees and they looked into the distance. He came up to her from behind and ran a hand up her leg and under her skirt. She leaned her head back on his chest. They both sighed and fell to the ground, and he rolled her skirt up above her thighs and she put her teeth into his neck and kissed his cheek. They listened to the sound of a car racing by on the road and then the sound of their own moaning. They turned over and over, the smell of lemons everywhere and inside them. And they turned over and suddenly they were falling down the cliff.

 

Their tangled bodies were tossed around against the side of the gorge, their skin scraping against the rocks as they rolled. He felt one of his ribs break. She landed at the bottom on her stomach, grazing her chin on the dried mud, one of her arms throbbing with pain. They panted and coughed and tried to get air in their lungs.

 

The sun looked down, unmoved. They lay there completely still for some time, maybe hours, days. He closed his eyes and started to fall asleep. At some point he thought he could hear her crying. But his mind was drifting back across the years. He saw the spring rain rolling through the orchard quickly and carelessly, and the old man, the father of his father’s father, resolutely staying put whilst everyone else scattered. He heard that voice, untempered by old age, crying, ‘It will pass!’ And then he heard the giggling, which came from somewhere behind the man’s white beard, sounding then entirely like a part of the spring itself. The whole business seeming like the natural order of things: the image of an old dying man, sitting out in the rain, laughing with his linen shirt stuck against his shoulders.

 

She had stopped crying. They lay there, listening to the sound of their breathing and waiting to be saved. He began to feel, more or less, at peace with the world, and dismissed it as concussion.



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


FMJ  Botham is a writer and maker of things, based in South-East London. Alongside his written and visual art practice runs a picture-framing studio under the name Haymaker Frames, and is co-founder and editor of Canary Magazine. He also produces music as Mute Fight and is the creator of the Encyclopaedia of Moments project. He is the winner of the Ideas Tap/The White Review short story competition.


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