A Landscape Of Mostly Colour (extract)
WHY DO DOGS CHASE CARS DO YOU THINK?
ISN’T IT BECAUSE THE CAR ALWAYS RUNS AWAY, SO THEY THINK THEY’VE WON AND DEFENDED THEIR TERRITORY?
IS THAT IT, YEAH?
I DON’T KNOW, IT SOUNDS RIGHT THOUGH, I GUESS.
Tigger and his friends jumped about in a frenzy. Snapped at the wheels and tore along the road behind us. I counted five dogs and imagined the scene if I’d turned down the lift and walked after all. I watched in the wing mirror transfixed and listened as she told me their names by colour and size, but filled with spite forgot them instantly.
MY HARRY DOESN’T GET INVOLVED WITH THAT LOT; HE’S TOO OLD FOR SHOWING OFF.
SHOWING OFF? THEY LOOK LIKE THEY WANT TO KILL SOMETHING.
OH THEY’RE ALRIGHT. I SUPPOSE THEY CAN BE INTIMIDATING WHEN TOGETHER.
A pleasant winter sun came down.
I ALMOST TURNED ROUND WHEN I SAW YOUR DOG IN THE GARDEN.
AH, HE WOULDN’T HURT ANYBODY. I CAN’T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME HE BARKED, EVEN.
She had something of a permanent smile whenever she spoke and seemed excited by our journey, insisting on taking me even though I refused twice, explaining that I didn’t wish to inconvenience her further and that I enjoyed walking immensely.
We climbed the slim road up to the t-junction, the sea and the landscape revealing itself.
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL PLACE ROUND HERE.
OH WE LOVE IT.
We swung left as we got to the top, away from the beach, and I felt elated at the prospect of seeing somewhere new. The little disused shop I stood in front that very first day shrank out of view. It seemed crazy to me now that I wanted to change my name.
I’VE NOT BEEN THIS WAY BEFORE.
She gave an enthusiastic look and lifted her shoulders at the anticipation of it all. The houses were less. They each varied slightly in size and shape and age. The lumpen, older houses sat closer to the road now wide enough for one car only. The aloof looking and often colourful newer houses sat much further back with winding driveways and alert looking cars sat impatiently on the perfect black tarmac drives. An elderly farmer in flat cap went about his business.
Slowing down and without letting go of the steering wheel Karen gave a small movement with a couple of fingers to acknowledge the farmer that radiated good nature.
THAT’S OLD BERNARD.
He turned to face us fully with huge closed-mouthed smile and did a small bow with an unhurried sweeping gesture of his arm as if allowing us to venture further down the road with his blessing. An island of grass grew in the middle of the road. At once things came to me in flashes only, like night falling and lifting in an instant. I couldn’t seem to focus on anything properly - the landscape shifted and made little sense, the elbow of land jutting out to sea at first to the left then somewhere else moving without my seeing it. I felt sick and quickly became dizzy. I could feel my body sinking into the seat becoming incredibly heavy and difficult to move. I didn’t want to move. My hand shook and I couldn’t seem to make sense of anything.
The sea ahead of us got closer. We stopped.
THIS IS IT.
THIS IS QUITE A DISTANCE FROM THE VILLAGE.
She got out with what I thought was a forced laugh.
I got out shakily taking breaths of air and leant on the car.
THERE’S ONLY ONE MORE HOUSE FURTHER UP THAN THIS. SHE’S A REAL CHARACTER, THE WOMAN THERE.
The land about us looked wild, with entire fields under water. Everything seemed alien and somehow incomprehensible.
THE SEA SOMETIMES FLOODS THIS ROAD AND COMES UP PAST THIS HOUSE, THOUGH NOT FOR A FEW YEARS. YOU SEE THESE BOULDERS DOTTED ABOUT? THE SEA LEFT THEM THERE.
I didn’t answer.
YOU SEE THEY LIVE IN BRIGHTON AT THE MOMENT AND THEIR PLAN IS TO MOVE HERE EVENTUALLY TO RAISE A FAMILY, OR SOMETHING, BUT AT THE MOMENT THEY’RE AFTER CAREERS. THEY COME OVER EVERY NOW AND AGAIN. I THINK IT WAS HIS GRANDMOTHER THAT LEFT IT TO THEM IN HER WILL.
She opened the door. Inside the porch were old, stiff looking coats on hooks and a dead bird on the carpet next to some wellington boots. Karen chuckled at it as though it was only pretending and wasn’t fooled in the least. Unlocking the front door she went into the house.
It smelt damp and was filled with seventies furniture. As soon as I saw the gas fire I groaned inwardly but knew I had little choice in taking the place so tried desperately to look for positives. I saw that the kitchen window overlooked the sea.
HOW MUCH D’YOU RECKON THEY’LL LET ME HAVE IT FOR?
I’M NOT SURE. She said awkwardly, as though I was about to negotiate a price. I COULDN’T SAY YOU SEE IT’S NOT MINE. I MEAN, I WOULD LET YOU HAVE IT FOR NEXT TO NOTHING JUST TO KEEP THE PLACE WARM AND SECURE, BUT, YOU’LL HAVE TO SPEAK TO THEM. I HAVE THE NUMBER AT HOME. NOT VERY MUCH I’D SAY, I THINK THEY ARE PRETTY DESPERATE TO GET SOMEONE IN HERE. I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT ANYWAY. I DON’T KNOW THEM THAT WELL.
THAT’S WHAT I WAS THINKING, I said, jumping upon the idea. SURELY THEY WOULD PREFER SOMEONE IN HERE JUST TO HAVE THE HEATING ON TO KEEP THE DAMP OUT AND GIVE IT SOME LIFE, YOU KNOW?
I suddenly saw in her expression a confidence of manner I hadn’t previously noticed, and she immediately confirmed this by saying directly,
LISTEN SEAN, I’VE GOT TO GET BACK, COME AND GET THE NUMBER THEN GO AND GIVE THEM A CALL.
OKAY, I said.
THEY MUST BE MAD. I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, LOOK, I FEEL LIKE I SHOULD APOLOGISE OR SOMETHING BECAUSE I GAVE YOU THE NUMBER.
YOU WERE DOING ME A FAVOUR.
She shook her head and pulled distractedly on her cigarette. There was an odd strand of grey in her long frizzy hair. Everything about her seemed casual and unfussy. The unvarnished wood table between us displayed myriad coffee-cup rings deep as the grain of the wood. I inspected it with huge concentration whilst running my finger along the edge.
WHAT WORLD IS HE IN ASKING FOR THAT MUCH?
I ASKED IF THAT WAS FOR A MONTH AND HE SAID, NO, A WEEK! I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT, I repeated for a second time, enjoying the incredulity in the room and not wanting to stray too far from it.
Karen seemed to be taking it personally.
WELL, HE MUST BE CRAZY IS ALL I CAN SAY. HE’S OBVIOUSLY BEEN LIVING IN BRIGHTON TOO LONG IF HE THINKS HE COULD GET ANYTHING LIKE THAT PRICE ROUND HERE. She got up to get the pot of coffee. MY SON MADE THAT TABLE.
I LOVE IT.
She laughed at my sudden enthusiasm, YEAH; HE MADE MOST OF THIS KITCHEN, IN FACT. She poured out more coffee with an eye closed to the climbing smoke of her cigarette. Took it from her mouth, LISTEN, DO YOU PLAY AN INSTRUMENT SEAN?
She looked disappointed in me.
OH, WE HAVE A BAND, ME AND MY HUSBAND, AND A FEW OTHERS IN THE VILLAGE AND WE’RE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR NEW MEMBERS. IT’S A JAZZ BAND.
She showed me the outhouse where there were bikes and a lawn mower and a couple of old tents leaning against the pristine white walls. I KNOW IT’S NOT MUCH BUT IF YOU’RE REALLY STUCK YOU CAN STAY IN HERE UNTIL YOU FIND SOMETHING. WE’VE JUST PAINTED THE WALLS.
I had flashes of the romance of it all - shuffling about in candlelight, rubbing my hands together, eating out of cans before settling back down in my warm sleeping bag, the tents thin material untouched by the furious wind outside. In the mornings I’d look at the sea before anything.
YOU’VE GOT THE TOILET THERE AND THE SHOWERS THE OPPOSITE SIDE.
THANKS KAREN. IT’S THE BEST OFFER I’VE HAD THAT’S FOR SURE. IF I DON’T FIND ANYWHERE IN THE NEXT THREE DAYS I MAY WELL HAVE TO TAKE YOU UP ON IT.