Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Week 3: "Negative Space" - Ben
The skylarks were missing. Charlie heard it in the quiet field, emptied of the woodland sound of his youth. Following the ribbon of hills in the distance, he counted the trees. Two- no, three were gone- all elms; old men with sad, thin trunks brushing past the horizon and upwards to inky branches blushing with leaves. The asymmetry was apparent.
Pushing open the window above the butler sink, he called in the spring air. He soured at the stench of ash. Even here, miles away, the Blitz burned in the raindrops that fell overnight, carrying soot like tiny messages of bereavement.
He stepped into the expanse of garden. Charlie registered the crouching figure of his mother, tending to early-blooming peonies. This was an exercise in routine, for the flowers, she felt, were beyond her control. Charlie’s absent father was by now in France, or Germany, or God-knows-where (Charlie was not allowed to read his letters, but heard them paraphrased to saccharine-sweetness by his mother).
Walking towards the tree line, the grass grew up to his knees. Charlie placed his hands on the tips of the blades as he walked and felt the alternating brush and prickle as the jade stalks swept off his palm. Wild grass grew tall here. Where once this lawn had been cropped short in stiff regiment, it now seemed to lollop in the breeze, falling awkwardly like unkempt hair. He spent a few moments picking the worst of the wild grass and breaking the chaff from their stalks. They felt like sickly strands of grain in his hands.
A strengthening wind startled him, crackling the branches. He stared greedily at the blackberry bush, which seemed to heave and tumble onto the lawn, too large for its own network of thorns and twigs. The fruit shone like purpled bruises and seemed to roll round on their stalks as the clouds moved before the sun. Blackberries had always reminded him of spiders’ eyes- their beady gloss and the way they bulged and spilled and appeared to grow from one another tumorously. He picked one and broke apart the fruit on his tongue. It was bitter with no relief and he swallowed it with some haste. The sun was hidden now and the world was thrown into shadow.
He stopped at the back of the garden from where the house sat, stone and detached, like a postcard. The grass didn’t grow here and the ground took on the texture of brown, cracked cement. His father had tried to seed it, spent desperate summers ploughing and sowing in turn, knees to the ground and squinting to find green in the monotone. Some nights he had stayed outside till the sky blackened and then blued again, blinking through dusk and dawn, till he came inside with tears in his eyes, cursing the soil. Charlie knew the soil was a sorry scapegoat.
He rested against the white fence that separated their house from the field and beyond. It seemed a futile symbol, needless, as the flowers grew round and over the fence in summer. From here, Charlie could see the parish and the sunlight coming through in the distance where the clouds bloomed white and not grey, pouring off the church eaves and into the graveyard. He imagined his father standing here, staring at this very spot, trowel and all abandoned, as Charlie and his mother slept. Charlie had seen his sister buried, he was told, though he didn’t remember. He only knew the imprint she had left (his mother’s weariness, his father’s temper and Charlie’s own isolation that he didn’t understand).
Rain began to fall on the cracked ground and Charlie looked at his hands and wrists where the drops collected. The cinders in the rainfall left grey streaks on his skin- like overturning a water glass on a charcoal drawing. Charlie turned to see if his mother had gone inside. He saw her stoop in the kitchen window and he was overcome by a feeling of grief he could not attribute. He wondered what he was to do if his father never returned home.