I land and feel loose stones under my brittle feet. I can still smell the pine sap, the ripe piss and the dry earth. I can still gag at those terrible berries that exploded in our palms and reminded us of the dead. I stand at one end of a long corridor and the muddled path ends in a bright wall of noise and unforgiving majesty. Not for us the escapable, but the inescapable. The self-evident knowledge that certain barriers can never be destroyed. Even as we leave them far behind, they still stand. Barriers can be ignored, and routinely are, but that is not the same as being conquered.
The pine sap still clings to my fluffy arms. The brambles still catch in my greasy, rough hair. The bearings of gravel and stones roll between my toes. I still see the bite marks of foxes and I still feel the pure, long grass of untouched lands. I still, and I am. Watching dispassionately, I’ve been dropped into an event of enormously insignificant magnitude. I watch as a young boy, previously indestructible, sheds tears for the first time. He’s always laughed through injury and blood. One time, he winked at me as he clutched a nose almost torn away – I saw a great sac of green mucus veined with blood hanging lower than his chin as he ambled back home to assess the damage. But now, a minor accident and he is walking with his head down and he is crying. He is actually crying. Nothing will ever be the same again.
I sit on a raised bank and stare across a blank field to a single tree, blasted by lightning so that its base is eaten away by a black and burned crater. It leans, in a paroxysm of death, away from the bright electric lights nearby. Alone and surrounded by terrible machinery, it begs to be accepted abroad. One hundred yards away, a defensive green line forms. Ostracised through no fault of it’s own, it awaits the final judgement, which arrives on a mild morning. Under the canopy rests the body of a woman.
I’m here to distract but I know that I am not needed. On this particular day, myself and my companion will not stop by. We will not discover what a dog walker discovers, what the police eventually discover. We will sleep in our beds as a life is bagged and tagged. A pathetic slumber under a blasted tree that is now no more. The next day and every Sunday hence, we stare at that leaning tree, now burdened by guilt. If the trees could talk, so it goes, what would they tell us? Our tree can only think of one event.
There were never bodies under our blasted tree but it stood as immeasurable and unknowable to us as Stonehenge. A vast, dead eruption, grey and erect. Hollow but with green prodrutions. Overlooking a jungle of old rusted trolleys and kitchen appliances, rusty with dis-love, it was our sentinel. In this wasteland, and what a terrible name, we slouched and were scratched. We explored and were eviscerated. We sniffed and were scuffed. Our clothes rent, our skin bleeding, we smiled and laughed and sweated. I was crucified and fought my way out of the nails. Those who knew could take the walk; those who didn’t would stand and stare. Under that blasted old tree, I scored many goals, dreamed many dreams, laughed many chuckles. I stood in a bed of nettles and I lay on my back waiting for god. I rested on my haunches, a base of total safety as I hacked out spit and phlegm after running from teenage danger. I watched as everything smouldered and fell.
Years later, I remember shaking as she straddled me. Slouched in the passenger seat of her car, she smiled and asked me if I was about to cum? I lied and told her I was cold. The one thing she never considered was the truth – that I was neither about to cum or was cold – that actually I was nervous. We made our way to the blasted tree and lay under it, illuminated by a single spotlight danced by moths. Dark brown eyes and dark brown hips slotted into my lap along with that exquisite body. She frowned at me for not bringing contraception. With clothes scattered in the hissing grass, we both grasped each other’s private parts, and both climaxed under the same stars you can see today. She asked me, after the moment, ‘can anyone see us?’ I tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear and said ‘it doesn’t matter now’.
There are Things That Are Not There Anymore and Things That Are Still There But Dead. I can tell, when walking nearby, that a faint heartbeat still chugs away inside the mess. Most echoes bounce from the walls and floor and into the ether but many echoes remain, bouncing inside an invisible bubble that we have created. It is up to us to maintain that bubble and make sure it never falls into disrepair. We owe it, not to ourselves, but to the places that helped shape us. We want to keep these places alive; not for the past but for the present and the future. What future generations will taste rusted iron, or feel the pain of a nettle, or scrub the black finger of old tar from their arms, or rescue the thorns, needles and sap from a thick haircut? The totems need not become memorials. Our End need not become The End.