When I was twelve years old my grade six class went on a camping trip to the Coromandel, a rugged peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island. Three teachers came to supervise the boys-only class. After a two-hour bus trip we pitched our tents at a campsite off a dirt road, thirty minutes from the small mining town of Thames. The site was surrounded by bush and mountain ranges, one mountain caught everyone’s eye, it had a long flat top, a teacher, Mr Larson, informed us it was aptly named Tabletop Mountain.
The clouds were moving. If Harvey closed one eye, he could see them as they drifted above him. He didn’t know when dental offices began putting relaxing pictures in their light fixtures, but he was damned grateful for it. It could have been the numbing stuff they jammed into his gums or that he had been in this chair for an hour and was starting to hallucinate, but those clouds were definitely moving.
“It was a hay loft, sweetheart,” her mother said. “The old lady who used to live here kept hay up there to feed her cows.”
“But it’s empty now,” the child said. “And I hear things.”
“It used to be a hay loft,” her mother said patiently, “so there were lots of small animals lived in it.” She smiled encouragingly. “Dormice, you know, like in Alice in Wonderland.”
Reuben chomped on a crispy chicken back at the kitchen table when Deputy Nancy smoldered in through the back door, coughing smoke.
“Tanning again, Nanc?”
“These are flash burns!” The deputy dented her waist with the oven door handle. “Bog fog was thick. Smashed a boulder. Patrol car’s toast.”
‘Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things…’ Robert Frost
Daphne Robins decided to end her life immediately. Not in the conventional way with bullets or paracetamol or dangling from a beam. Far too dramatic. It was more of a replacement she was looking for. She’d been drifting. She knew it, and a change was needed. Not a small, measly, January-the-first-gym joining change, that wouldn’t do at all. She needed a profound, wow-your-so-brave-I-never-thought-you-would-could-facebook-status-update-to-all change. She placed her well-thumbed copy of the complete works of Robert Frost onto the speckled granite breakfast bar, but not before placing a soft kiss onto Robert’s sun-faded profile.
‘Thank you, Robert.’
I’ve been running long enough that everything in me wants to collapse and the grass is looking like an awfully good pillow. Every morsel of my body is getting back at me for those sports I never played and the exercise I never did. Just to rub it in, time slows to a caterpillar’s pace. You could solve a Rubik’s cube in the time it takes me to make one step. Slowly, I evacuate my body parts. It’s a skill I spend my gym periods perfecting. You try and imagine you don’t even have a body. I start with my legs. They still move but I just don’t feel them anymore, like an employee that keeps on coming to work even after you fired him. Then I release my kidneys, pancreas, ovaries, and all those other miscellaneous organs. Finally I reach the basketball court, light splattered liberally across it. I take a breather and check my phone, just in case she texted me back. She hasn’t.
I was on the Northern Line a while back, from one of the Finchleys. I was listening to loud music, a thing my doctor had warned me not to do, and yet it was drowned out by nearby conversation. You get to after East Finchley, around Highgate, and wherever, up around there, and there is nearly always this kind of decibel-creating person gets on.