Grief is a circle. Ben thinks to himself, his face is dripping wet with the rain which plummets from the cradle of the leaves above. A showering, relentless pounding upon his nose and forehead, reaching beyond the shelter of his wax green hood.
He is placing foot before foot, working his way through the winding woods running alongside the path from the local pub to his house. He routes it everyday without fail, the journey alongside the canal. It is a familiar track which only changes with the seasons.
He had not been drinking at the pub, but was only slouched in one corner, watching the drunks drift in and out of the oak door, in order to escape sitting in the confinement of his house on the edge of town. It is a weekend, but his friends are out of town so he attempted to fill his time with the mundane. When I am still for a moment, one moment I am uncomfortable and restless. He thought, watching one man fall asleep next to his half-finished pint, head lolling on the bar, wondering how someone could be content with this stillness.
Momentarily he toyed with the idea that he almost missed the bustle of school-life, but shakes off the thought as he knows he will regret it come Monday. He resents the stagnation of the weekends, as he is on the border of adulthood, being eighteen and able to drink.
Ben’s stillness disturbed him. He felt wrought with knots, edges and jarring pain, probably from all his jogging in the local woods, he concluded. Every muscle was tied to a tendon, and every tendon held tight towards his toes. Not a single molecule of his body was at ease. It was all held tight, as though drawing in a breath. He felt as though he must always be running, moving and running.
So he runs, runs through the woodland alongside the water, snaking his usual route with his green trainers pacing the concrete slabs. The world seems full of edges and corners, but he feels bold and equipped with his muscular calves, pursuing this linear narrative back home.
Turpentine, leathered flesh mingled with the entanglements of branches, roots, vines and brambles, he is at one with the forest around him. The air is heavy with moisture and his lungs are heaving. All he wants is an obliterating and all-consuming scream. A guttural, verbal outlet for all the spores he feels writhe within him. Ben pictures his state as the start of fungus growing within him, beginning with small capped stems growing warped into full flourished decay. He felt as though he was rotting, similar to the way he kicks bark below his feet and it broke upon impact. Contaminated and unnerved. So he runs, and runs, and runs.
Crashing through the door, the house is empty. Empty and silent. Ben can hear his own breathing as though someone were stood next to him, warm breath on his ear. There is no dinner laid out for him on the table tonight, as he remembers his family are away on a trip, so he doesn’t eat. Instead, he carries himself up to the bedroom and seats himself upon his double bed, below the oak beams which structure the ceiling, and in front of his full-length mirror. The room is strung with tiny silvery webs. Staring at the reflection, his face is round, white and shiny like the surface of a pearl. Sweat glimmers on the surface of his skin with slick unease. The glow of this pristine adolescent complexion is accentuated by the rain, he thinks to himself. He is rosy and glowing.
But the truth, the truth is something Ben can see only sometimes, momentarily and fleetingly. For brief moments, the mist rises and when it does, what he turns to see when he looks towards his reflection is that he is not nearing eighteen, but eighty-four. For a moment, he realises that he does not run like he used to through the woodlands, but merely walks the 500m home from the pub slowly, with his green wellies on; lost in his own head, but never lost from the path home. But as ephemeral as these visions are to him, there seems an attempt at safety in his fantasies. Because why would he opt for his present, which he struggles to make sense of, when he can nestle himself safely amongst the trees he ran through as a young boy? He sheds a tear, not quite knowing why. The past stands beside him as a guard in the dusk, poised and reckoning. It is not a timeline long gone, merely one which runs parallel to this clouded old age.
Currently, the sky outside the window is a fiery orange, dusted with white-red clouds. The rain has stopped, but his silver hair is still wet from the walk. There are no lights on inside the house, he is a silhouette upon a deadened background; intoxicated. Writhing with the pain of this puzzle. Grief is dubious and the depth of his agony runs with the same vigour of a cheetah in pursuit of prey. The mind turns away from its current resting point, so he is sucked into sleep by a dull tiredness. Sleep is dry and welcome; a timeless retreat for his mind.
In the morning, when he wakes, he no longer remembers what it is he was running from. Like resetting an alarm every morning, a visceral uncertainty arises, and sits like moisture in beads upon his being.
It’s the mornings like those which smell like last night’s bonfires, or smoke when he hasn’t been smoking, when sunlight rushes down upon pale skin, and last night tastes like barely recallable tears, that he knows he has a chance to try again. Ben has a vague feeling in the back of his mind that he has been here before. The hairs on the nape of his neck rise slightly, as he contemplates running his usual 10k, then going to the pub to watch the drunks until the day he is old enough to buy a cider.
He steps out onto the front lawn and holding a hot mug of tea in his hand, wonders why it is that he lives in such a big house, when it is only him who occupies it; and when it is that his family will return home.
– Emily Black