By Emma Downey
I will go straight across Mason’s land, where we used to call the Stray field. I keep an eye out for the little gate, you could easily miss it with the all ferns crowding it these days. And there I am, where we once met. I never have seen another soul on it… maybe it is there for us alone.
The lane begins with the old broken-down bit of fence where I once got sight of the stoat’s head, caught, dangling over the ragwort. The poor animal must have gotten trapped in the wire tangle trying to run from a predator, who must have then satisfied its hunger with the body and left the poor head, its eyes still bulging with fright behind.
Never have I been one for superstition, but I couldn’t help but feel unlucky, cursed even, for having found it. I told you about it once, you barely believed me despite knowing well how cruel natural order can be. And still the picture comes to my mind when I pass the spot even now in early May when the honeysuckle spreads her lovely blossom hands over the barbs. Woodbine, that’s what you called it, we never agreed who was right.
It is lovely here still, years after you knew it, left alone it has gotten overgrown and quiet. The old silver birch still stands, where you used to leave notes rolled up or small gifts nestled in the branches when you couldn’t get away unnoticed, as we had hoped. The cuckoo flower and cow’s parsley are in full swing. A sweet, thick scent is coming off the hawthorn promising summer soon. There is still some blackbird song to be heard, those yet to pair off thrill out their pure and winsome notes. Sometimes I hear a flurry, some low frantic activity, wings beating through the thickets or a small creature darting, unseen through the vegetation. If I can go quiet enough in my mind I hear you. I hear your voice that told me so much in our short, snatched times together, I can hear you teasing me, laughing, I only heard you cry once.
Summer will come soon, as it did that year, soon foxgloves will stand proud and waist high, poised and ready to ring out for the Fairy Queen. That was the story you knew from childhood, they were the flowers you were never to pull because they don’t belong to us in our world. I hadn’t known the story but I did know their other older names, Queen’s Bells or Shilly Bells. They would ring out, a high cling and clang for you too, were you ever to return.
Foxgloves were in full purple bloom when we found that little frightened creature. She had escaped her field through a small gap somewhere and she couldn’t find the way back in, she stood panicked and bleating. I scooped her up, wishing to cradle her but I knew I could offer her no comfort. Her terrified body rested on the palms of my hands, weightless and fragile as though held up by a shell not a skeleton. Between my thumb and forefinger her tiny heart thumped a violent beat. Before allowing myself another thought I threw her back over the hedges. You shrieked at the sight of the little creature flying through the air but seconds later she was back nuzzling into her mother. We laughed loud with joy, with relief at tension just passed.
That year was a bumper yield after gentle weather. Keen eyes were rewarded with wild strawberries, hiding, tiny and exquisite in the grass. Later in the summer your shins were covered in a network of scrapes and scratches convinced as you were that the sweetest berries lay at the top of the brambles. Your lips, our kisses were stained pink and violet from fruit. We were found out of course, just as autumn was turning around. There was no time for goodbyes, no time to plot an escape. It was me who told you where poison grows. Old Foyle’s field, where the blood red aminata pushes up through the warmed earth under the broad-leaved tree. You left your father’s house for the last time that day and walked straight to Foyle’s field, at the end of our little lane.