Through the cool morning went the woman, towards the loch. Day upon day for six days it had been the same. She walked the rough track between the drystane dykes, the road a little dusty, the stones of the walls sucking the dim warmth of the autumn sun. On the verge, the dog rustled through the rust-orange leaves, nose down, tail up. The damp spicy smell of a bramble thicket was heavy in the air. Pearly strings of spider web drooped from the thorns. A blackbird scolded from the bush.
The woman left the road and followed the path that cut down to the shore. The way was edged by ancient stunted beeches. They held out their arms above the woman, blocking the sky. Mangrove-like, they cooled their twisted old toes in the shallows. A fog lay thick on the loch, bright white. The water was bright white too, mirroring no reflection, as if the fog was a vampire or a witch. The air was wet and intensely cold. Great breaths of mist crawled in over the water. The woman’s own breath hung round her.
The dog trotted up and down the shoreline. He flushed a rabbit but paid it no heed, intent on his own course. The woman sat on a rock and waited. Looking over the loch there was nothing to see, white fog seamlessly merging with white water. For the past six days it had been the same. Three seagulls flew across a hazy patch of blue overhead. Sunlight ricocheted bright off their white undersides. She wanted to fly with them.
Down here all was still cold and white. From out of the mist came sounds and no sounds. Traffic far across the water. Cows in the sunlight fields behind her. Swans very close but she couldn’t see them. Everything sounded dull and sharp and somewhere else, not here. Here was hush and chill and waiting. A buzzard wailed in the blue above.
The dog did not sit with her but ceaselessly paced up and down the shore. Sometimes it would come close and look at her – why are we waiting? Why don’t we go? – then pad away again. Compelled to keep moving by some force neither she nor it understood, its uneasy tail down.
Then, ten yards away, the fish jumped. Every day he had burst from the bright water, at first far from shore but drawing closer as the days passed. Now, on the seventh day, luminous silver-gray, he looked at her. He smiled.
Come on in, he said.
The water’s lovely, he said.
The dog padded up and down the shore for a while longer, compelled to keep moving. Then it trotted back to the dusty warm road where the blackbird sang and made for home, tail down, alone. Neither she nor it ever returned to the shore.
(c) Elizabeth Angus 2015
Simon originally appeared in Flash Fiction World, and subsequently found a place in Still Me… with a new title: Gone Fishing.
I may have been too clever for my own good with the first title, because nobody has ever worked out why it’s called Simon. Any guesses?
Between Rock and Sky
Wordlessly I rack the climbing equipment onto my harness. My buddy’s hexes and nuts. The slings, the rope, are mine.
I tie the figure-of-eight. Focus. Buddy check. Solid. I look at him.
‘You can do this.’
Did he say it aloud, or just think it? Either way, I hear it; I know he’s right. I turn and place my palms on the rock. The ledges are sandy. My fingers dust them off, find grip.
The first part is easy. My body moves fluidly. It feels good. The drag of the rope is unfamiliar, tugging me down; but the rough brown rock, sun-warmed, pulls me upwards.
The voices of other climbers slide away. My world narrows.
I lean into the rock, trying to meld with it as my fingers search the rack for protection. The first nut is too small, slides straight out. The next plonks itself down perfectly into the crack. Beautiful. Reach for a quickdraw, then the rope.
He takes in the slack, and I look down at him for the first time. He smiles sunnily back.
More simple moves, more gear placements. I feel settled. No fear, no exhilaration: just a sense that this is right. This is where I should be. Free, the protection below my feet, above me the sky.
But now comes the crux. The slab to the left is blank: no help there. For the first time, I hesitate. An ant traverses the rock in front of me, sticky-footed, protectionless.
Doubt takes root, and suddenly burgeons.
A crow mocks me from the leafless tree at the top of the crag. My buddy seems tiny, far away, unconnected. My palms sweat. Focus! Deliberately I dip each hand into my chalk bag. The smooth powder soothes my fear. I know I’m safe. Concentrate.
The world contracts once more to me and the rock. The crack proves good. Silence seeps in, punctuated by my breathing and the cowbell tinkling of the rack. Trust my feet…
And then it’s over. I’m anchored at the top between rock and sky. Mining bees burrow into the sandy turf beside me; the earth smells alive. There’s a sense that this is right. This is where I should be.
And he’s coming up on my rope, and now the roles are reversed, and his life is in my hands.
(c) Elizabeth Angus 2015
This was first published on Flash Fiction World, a while back. It’s an account of my first outdoor lead climb, a long time ago.