We have come here to walk, convinced that a change of scenery and aimless miles are the answer, or the beginnings of an answer. An antidote to our hurt. Telling each that we will find forgiveness and the ability to forget in the throb of aching calves and bracken coated fells.
Yet our boots lay unsullied and abandoned in our bags; the cottage door locked and maps unfolded. Phones switched off and buried beneath Kendal Mint Cake and layers of barely folded clothes.
Instead we have retreated to the bed, where we lie together under clean cotton sheets, watching the mountain sunlight fall through thin curtains; drifting in and out of conversation and deep dreamless sleep. Both wary, raw and untethered. Unsure how to be, how to touch. Simultaneously trying to remember and desperate to forget.
My husband’s breath comes in sleep-sour breezes that tickle my neck as I move closer, tracking the shadows that morph, shrink and lengthen; casting their angles and edges over the landscapes of his face.
Tentatively I lift my hand from the tangle of bed clothes and press my thumb to his forehead, running my bitten nail slowly, gently over the wasteland of skin; pausing to map the furrows that appear as he stirs in sleep. Each a mini earthquake, a seismic ripple commanded silently by me.
With ragged fingertips I traced the contours of his cheeks, feeling the cleft of bone, the moss-like spring of muscle. I count the crevices, the small gullies and tributaries that are recent erosions. The tracks of time and salt water that mirror my own.
Something within me dips and tugs, that familiar lurch deep in the empty quarter, threatening to topple me. To send me spinning over my own forbidden ridge. Instinctively I press my palms harder, firmer, refusing, this time, to let my hands stray to the flatlands of my empty belly.
I close my eyes tight, then slowly let them open; before guiding them back to the spaces of him. Feeling safer here I pause, focusing on my breath, bringing it back to the path, letting my gaze settle on the narrow pass between his eyes, making my fingers dance lightly on the bridge of his soul.
His lids flicker, then open, two pools, first ice blue with shock, slowly warming with tender recognition, and the familiar undercurrent of pain. I frame them with my fingers, hold them in my gaze.
Awake, his topography changes, the shift from sleep to awareness animates his features, making them both harder to map and easier to get lost in. Simultaneously a threat and a promise.
The oblivion I crave.
He stretches, letting his jaw lift from a shelf to a peak, neck extended like a path, raw and exposed; inviting journeys. Unplanned trips that will end in the crags of his uncertain smile.
Beyond the curtains I sense the wind lift the branches, hear a bird's call. And I push myself forward, heading slowly back to home.
Rachel Canwell is a writer and teacher living in Cumbria. Her debut flash collection ‘Oh I do like to be’ will be published by Alien Buddha in July 2022. Her short fiction has been published in Sledgehammer Lit, Pigeon Review, Reflex Press, Selcouth Station and The Birdseed amongst others. She is currently working on her first novel.
Website - https://bookbound.blog/writing/
Twitter - @bookbound2019