Know Your Place

The next morning Martin picked me up in his bashed up Subaru Foerester.
“Are you ready?” He shouted through the rolled-down passenger window, over engine rumble, like I should have been preparing for something more than hard graft. I held his gaze in a half joking glare and stared into his eyes. He had soft, dark brow eyes. He cracked a small smile. I joined him in the car. I’d met Martin on the first day I moved here. A caravan trailer had blocked the lane as it negotiated the tight road corner at the top of the track to the cottage, three wheels caught in the mud. I was bringing them tea in a flask as they waited for rescue. The Subaru pulled up, he jumped out and, with that neighbourly rural gait, had approached the anxious caravan couple with the words they wanted to hear, “Need a hand?”
Concern and worry-wrought faces turned hopeful and joyous as I helped him with the tow rope, he turned to me and asked who I was. “I’m new, down at Cwm cottage.” With an unbothered smile he’d declared “I’m your new neighbour then!”

Having been born locally and grown up in the area, Martin had his own names for the places around. If he wanted to visit a friend he would often strike off from his place across the fields, without a thought for footpaths and permission, because it was simply the best way of getting to where he wanted to be. He liked the vistas pecked out of the hillsides and his sense of ownership – a kind of procurement made through experience, knowing and bold friendship with the land and its creatures. He searched for sublime moments, romanticising his own image of himself there – a tempting vice: wild swimming; cutting firewood with an axe; walking in the woodland in the rain; his silhouette striking a ridge at sunset. He had spent many hours in his house, a small cottage on the edge of the village, reading books on philosophy and religion, though he found most of them dull, he sought after a trigger in their sentences and ideas which offered a mirror-in-words to his experiences. He’d left school at sixteen but decided to stay in the area, learning some forestry skills from a friend of his parents. Now he worked seasonally for the Wildlife Trust and was caretaker for an elderly landowner in the area.

“He won’t like it if we’re late!” Martin said as we went down the road. I’d agreed to help him with a job on the estate where he worked, after miserably complaining to him about being near broke at the pub. He needed an extra pair of hands and I needed the money. We would be clearing fallen branches, brush and saplings in a sprawling spinney of oaks, yew and hazel.

It drizzled all that morning. At lunch, Martin headed off to see a farmer friend about some fencing. I was left in the clearing of the spinney at the back of the estate with a flask of hot coffee and a few Welsh cakes the elderly landowner had brought down on a coughing quadbike. I wanted to see the extent of the job, which looked like it would take us a week or two to complete. At the back of the spinney, about twenty meters away, was the crumbling old estate wall, twelve feet high. Its whimsical orange brick construction corroded by weather and time, was lurking in the undergrowth of the gone-wild, forgotten edges of a grandiose garden. Holes in the wall gaped like eyes and mouths; roots disturbed the foundation that bowed parts into hunched shoulders and backbones. Sandstone urns and wreaths chocked with ivy adorned the occasional false arch with windows into the woodland beyond. I balanced the plastic flask cup on the moss ridden trunk of a near-by fallen tree. The nearest urn, high up on top of the wall, had caught my attention. Getting up, I pushed past the low branches, between my spot and the wall, being careful not to trip on protruding roots or slip on mud. The urn was badly weathered, but there was something inscribed there, in the stone, picked out by lichen. Looking up I saw it was a W. A loud branch cracked from the skirmish of two squirrels. I turned my head to see them fleeing. The wall was more derelict than I realised. Further on, past the squirrels, I could see the bricks turn a sharp corner to the left. Where did it go? I wanted to see. Wild roses caught my trouser legs and laces as I walked, holding me back till I unhooked their claws. I ducked hawthorn branches and arms of old oaks, making my way further. The wall turned sharply and disappeared into a thicket of brambles. Would we be clearing this area too? This was going to take weeks! The drizzling rain, driven harder by the afternoon wind, splattered on the ground. I pulled my raincoat hood up and shivered. “How big is this job?” I exclaimed to myself, starting to doubt the reliability of the deal I’d made with Martin. Going on with a small amount of annoyance, I walked over to the foundations of a ruined, old farm building that rose out of a thick littering of rotting leaves; spindly ash saplings now its residents. I kept going. Beyond the building, down a small slope, I could see more of the old wall, exposed rock and a small clearing. Gingerly I stepped across the uneven woodland floor avoiding rotting stock fences with wound up piles of barbed wire. I headed towards the clearing, the sides of the slope curling up on both sides. At the clearing sunlight was bursting through the overhead branches; a strange yellow glow. High walls of rock appeared as I circled round to see more clearly. It was an old quarry. Rusted Land Rovers missing their wheels and roofs sat lined up next to old farming machinery and years-old sheep feed buckets faded with sunlight led strewn about. Dried out hogweed flowers swayed between broken timbers in the abandoned yard. At the back of the quarry was a cabin made from corrugated iron painted black. Though it had been raining all day, the stony ground here was dry. I pushed my hood back, craning my neck to see the fifteen meter high Greywacke sides that rose up behind the Land Rovers. A small flying insect buzzed close to my ear. A lizard basked on a large rock in a slither of light. There was a strange silence. No wind noise, no birdsong. The place was dry and crisp and movementless.

I stood there for a moment, hearing only the thump of my own blood in my ears. Finally, the trees way up on the top ledge of the quarry shifted their leaves in the wind, making a reassuring sound which filled the still quarry with ghostly shivers. The shed door swung in the breeze, metal hit metal. I walked over to put back the swinging door, it was bound to rain here soon. The shed interior was musty and the smell of old wood weighed heavy in the air, dust occupying every flat surface. I stood on the threshold, amber afternoon light flooding in, particles dancing in the rays that hit the floor. There was a small wooden chair in the centre of the room and warped floorboards ran towards the back wall where there was pinned an old and faded paper OS map. Someone had marked the map with highlighter and red spot stickers. Pencil marks traced footpaths and byways. Arrows pointed to circled spots, heavier lines drew emphasis. The faded map was not a modern edition.

I stepped into the shed tracing my eyes across the back wall with the map pinned on it. Typewritten text on a pinned up piece of paper read:

Think about direction – wonder why you haven’t before.

particles reveal the frequency

A rainbow patterned geophysical survey was pasted on a board propped up next to the map. White circles scattered the digital landscape’s red and black areas. Black lines, that must have marked fissures, were like lines on the palm of a hand. A piece of paper, no bigger than a handkerchief, lay on a trestle table. The handwriting on it read I can’t sleep when I think about the times we are living in, I can’t sleep when I think about the future I was born into, about the future she was born into. It was signed at the bottom. Embossed into the top-right corner of the paper were the ghostly letters UBST.

Beep-beep. My phone vibrated in my pocket with a text message. Where are you? Gerry’s here! Martin’s message finished with a wiggly mouth emoji.
“Shit” I whispered. Heading out of the cabin and back up the slope towards the boundary wall, I squinted in the golden light. Picking my way back through the roots and saplings, the image of the map in the cabin burned in my mind, and also the one red dot which, I realised, marked Cwm Cottage. I only noticed the rain again when it started running down the back of my neck. It splattered down, impatient for me to get back. The sound of a distant engine. I turned the corner back to our working area. Martin was standing there with the landowner, Gerry, who was astride the quadbike, looking concerned. With widened eyes Martin called to me.
“There you are!”
I apologised, embarrassed to be found away from my working station.
“Let’s call it quits for today, the rain is getting too bad.” Martin said, visibly agitated.
The landowner’s face was fixed on me. His furrowed brow crowned two piercing blue eyes under the shadow of a tweed flat cap, the corners of his mouth turned down.
“Don’t go down that way,” he bluntly warned in his soft border accent, pointing to where I’d emerged. “That’s out of bounds.” My face got hot. Then quietly he added, “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
His expression didn’t change, he looked over to Martin and back again at me. Martin didn’t meet his gaze.
“I’m sorr…” I began.
“Your parents are Warrick, right? You’re a Warrick?” Gerry calmly continued over my apology, a dark emotion flicking cross his face, he was not expecting an answer. Then turning away and almost inaudibly under his breath “another nosey blow-in.”
“Right” blurted Martin, who was able to hear him well enough and hoped I hadn’t, tried to deflect the insult. “Grab the tools, let’s get to the car.”

The Subaru trundled down a muddy track lined with sheep pastures. “Sorry about Gerry.” mumbled Martin “You still want to work there?” Worried he looked across to me.
“Its fine” I said, drawing out the i sound and changing to subject matter to “just how long does he think its going to take us to clear the spinney?”
“Maybe a week?” Martin answered. I replied with a sceptical but conversation ending oh right and turned to look out the window, absentmindedly biting a finger nail.
“Where did you go anyway?” Martin said a minute later.
“Oh, you know, nature called” I said.

Martin stopped the car at the top of the track to Cwm Cottage.
“Thanks for your help today.” He said “And sorry about Gerry, he can be difficult. He was asking questions about you, up at the house. I didn’t tell him much, said he’d have to ask you. I just told him when you moved in, that you were at your Grandma’s place. You know he lost his wife and has never been the same since. Maybe your grandma knew them?”
“Oh, right” I went quiet, feeling uneasy. “You got time for a half at the Sun?” I asked.
“Yeah, go on” Martin smiled, nodded, put the car into gear and took the next left towards the village.

Later, in the headlights of the Subaru, I waved blindly to Martin. I’d debated telling him about the delivery and the quarry in the pub and decided to keep it to myself. I told him titbits about life in the city. I walked the track towards the cottage, footsteps slipping down the muddy rise in the dark, towards the caravan: a miserable welcome. As I got closer I could see something attached to the door handle on the caravan, flapping about in the breeze. I got out my phone. Shining the light caught the face of the faded image of a postcard. Pausing in the middle of the track, a shudder ran down my back. The postcard was tied to the handle of the door of the caravan with bailing twine. The twine passed through a rough edged little hole, punched through the corner with little bits of rust caught on the perforation. It was slightly damp. When I reached the door I grabbed it and turned it over. Black capital letters in handwritten text stood stark on the white card.