That’s new. I sit in front of the green, perched on the verge. Broken car pulled up behind me, half jacked, tyre removed but not replaced. Puncture. Should’ve bought that new spare. Little white balls float through the air like gulls, wobble in the breeze before landing on the trimmed grass. They pick up the flag, one hits and the other hits and the last hits. They put the flag back and move on. More balls sail across the sky, more flags are hoisted.
and you won’t tell him will you? she said
Phone died before I managed to make a call. Had to ask the club receptionist. Airy room, dark mahogany desk laden with leaflets, memberships, 101 Things to Do, that kind of thing. I pick up a couple and leaf through while I wait. Nothing interesting. Door swings open and the receptionist enters. Smartly dressed, combed hair, Argyll socks and leather shoes. He looks at home. The smile falters ever so slightly when he clocks me. Not exactly his clientèle; I look less Lehman Brothers, more mechanic.
‘Can I help you,’ he says. ‘Sir?’
‘Car broke down. Could you ring me a tow?’
‘Certainly.’ He picks up a cordless phone and dials. I wander over to the sliding glass doors and stand close enough to see my breath. Used to be pastures criss-crossed with hedges laden full of tart blackberries. Spent hours, days, years trailing along those hedges. Maybe I’ll give Jimmy a call, see if he’s still around. Did he move? Don’t remember. Can hear the receptionist talking on the phone behind.
‘Sir?’ It’s getting hot out. Sky looks bleached white, the colour drained from it. Probably gone to find shade. ‘Excuse me?’
‘Where are you going?’
‘For the tow,’ he says.
‘Right,’ I say. ‘Stourminster.’
and you won’t tell him will you? she said, it’ll kill him, after mum, everything else that’s happened it’ll kill him, I know I said, then do it for me she said
‘What time is it?’ Ben said.
‘Dunno,’ I said.
‘Why’s it matter?’ Jimmy said.
‘Mum said I needed to be back by five.’
‘You’re such a fucking loser Ben,’ Jimmy said.
‘Both of you fucking shut up,’ I said. ‘Your mum still tucks you in at night Jimmy, so you can piss off.’
‘You’re a fucking twat Mike.’
We walk on for a bit in silence. The sun, now a burnt orange, is starting to kiss the wooded horizon, sinking into the depths of the forest. We cut through one of the hedges, peeling back the razor branches and avoiding the knee-high nettles. The grass reaches up to our shorts. Ben kept stopping to swipe a hand over his legs.
‘Saw something about ticks on TV,’ he said. ‘Don’t want a little bloodsucking bastard on me.’
‘Have to burn them off,’ Jimmy said.
‘Piss off,’ Ben said with a little laugh. He ran a hand down and up each leg when he thought we weren’t looking.
you’ll kill him, you’ll kill me, you’ll tear us all apart and you know you will she said, I know I said, you’re a fucking dick mike, you know that? I know I said
‘Said they’ll be about half an hour,’ he says.
‘About half an hour. For the truck.’
‘Can I interest you in a quick round?’ He has his salesman smile back on.
‘Not today.’ I wander outside and watch a bird circle above. It doesn’t flap, just glides effortlessly before darting off towards the forest. Still hot, getting hotter. There’s a couple of benches and parasols round the corner from the entrance. I claim a table and slip my shoes off and close my eyes and the forest was cool. Twigs crunched underfoot and birds cawed in the branches overhead. Jimmy lobbed a couple of stones into the air and grinned with every satisfying thunk. The air was soaked in amber twilight, gave our skin an otherworldly glow.
‘What’s that?’ Ben held his hand up and we all stopped.
‘Fucking nothing,’ Jimmy said and started off again.
‘Wait. There it was again.’ A grunt, faint and faraway, echoed between the trees.
‘I heard it too,’ I said.
‘If you two are pissing around, I’ll fucking flip.’
‘I heard it,’ Ben said. The three of us stood still, surrounded by thick, mossy trunks. The birds had stopped cawing and the air seemed to freeze and there was the noise. The sound of fluttered breathing; of breathless gasps; of pained groans. We stalked the sound, keeping as quiet as possible, drawn to it.
We bunched up behind a wide oak, planted our knees in the dirt and scrabbled forward on our hands. They were right there, in front of us. We watched. So close we could smell them. We couldn’t leave. We didn’t want to.
Then she turned round.
nat I’m sorry, I have to I said, no you don’t, she said we all have to be here for him, you can’t tear us apart, not now, you owe me mike, I know I said
‘Sir?’ He says standing over me, his hand shielding his face from the sun. I manage to sit up and wait for my eyes to adjust. I can already feel the beginning of a burn on my arm, must’ve left it in the sun. ‘Your truck’s arrived.’
Header photograph: By Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa (sxc.hu) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0) or Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons