He left the drive at five thirty. She watched from the living room window. After he’d gone a perfect Beulah night fell, the sky clear and pierced by winking stars. The vernal equinox was under way. Night would equal day at the turn of the season, and, from this point on, there would be more light than dark in the world. Until the celestial cycle turned again at the autumnal equinox, Burning Man, when the great cogs and chains of creation would make them equal for one day again, then reverse direction into cold, bleak winter. Somewhere in Sterning Wood, Marjorie Tyler and her followers were marking this pivotal point in the earth’s annual journey. With an unfilled space in the ceremony where the initiate should have stood.
In desperation she phoned Justin. There was no reply. She didn’t know whether to be grateful or disappointed. Sara had a point, as always. But Sara hadn’t lain his in embrace in a damp chestnut bole, listening to the wild creatures of the wood, feeling the heat of ecstasy run through her body. Sara didn’t know or care what it was like to need or be needed. For her, practicalities had superseded emotions. Sara’s world excluded danger, and with it went love and passion too. To be safe, Alison reasoned, was to be merely half alive. To live only for the future was to deny the present.
“Damn them,” Alison said to herself, and thought that a few glasses of red wine could hardly pose a problem. Damn them all. Marjorie and her favours. The beastly quack and his seasons. And men, for all the complexities they introduced into the messy business of living.
She went to bed at ten, feeling a little queasy from the drink. But it was impossible to sleep. The night seemed full of odd sounds. The distant, unexpected screech of an owl. Cars on the Minnis. Drunks stumbling out of the pub. Something, a mouse or a squirrel, scratched its way across the roof space, its talons scraping the ceiling.
With the lazy, involuntary roll of the half drunk, Alison fell in and out of sleep, dreaming in a random, narcoleptic fashion that mingled reverie with reality and never let the seam show. Miles blasted the broad, blue sky and feathers fell like rain. Marjorie Tyler and Bella Cartwright danced naked in a clearing of newly harvested leeks, nuzzling each other suggestively. And Arnold was there, with all the sadness of the world on his ancient shoulders. He sat weeping wordlessly in the old armchair in the study, staring at her, shaking his grey, dead head.
There were two Alisons in this place. The first awake, in light; the other dreaming, in the endless folds of the velvet night. One of them — and she didn’t know which — sat bolt upright in the big, empty double bed, looked at the bedside clock flashing two fifteen at her and thought: there is someone in this room.
Then turned to the big Georgian window overlooking the Minnis where, so many months earlier, a different Alison, new to the village, had unwittingly shown her nakedness to the long-dead Harry Blamire, busying himself on the bright green cricket pitch, peering through the windows or Priory House, nosing his way into everybody’s business.
The curtains were open now. Harsh bright moonlight poured through the open window with a chill, alabaster power that sucked the heat out of everything.
A man stood there. A powerful, stocky figure, staring out onto the Minnis. He held a long, narrow implement in his hand and raised it to the light. Alison saw the reflection it made on his face, a brief spark of radiance on a single dead eye. There was a scar on the skin, a lightning flash cut that glowed deathly white. The knife turned and caught the full reflection of the moon. Something viscous dripped from the blade.
A ragged cloud rolled across the sky, obscuring the too-bright moon.
(c) David Hewson 2012