Late Season || Judy Darley


by Judy Darley

They disembark the train at Freshford and breathe in a sweet, beery scent of mulched hay. Turrets of late-season lilacs add their heady hit to the peaty waft from ewes cropping grass in a horse chestnut’s shade. The view swells with more shades of green and yellow than Ceri has seen in weeks in the city. She feels like some thirst she hadn’t noticed is being quenched.

Omar takes her hand and they follow the path uphill past houses hemmed with asters and Japanese anemones. It’s all a touch too pretty, too perfect. When she spots a plastic bag that’s blown free from somewhere and snagged on a hawthorn, Ceri almost feels relieved, as though balance has been restored to the scene. Even so, she helps Omar untangle it from the branches and watches him tidy it into the next dustbin they pass.

Where the road meets a stone bridge, they pause to admire the River Frome hurrying by below. A small long-tailed bird flits from one bank to the other. “A dipper?” asks Omar, but Ceri shakes her head. 

“A wagtail, I think. Did you see its yellow undercarriage?” She wonders where that word-choice came from, rather than tummy, or belly. It must be Omar’s fault—Omar and his love of wildlife documentaries. “Did you see its fluffy bum?” she adds, to rejig things a bit, and is gratified by his snort of laughter.

They’d have been great parents—no doubt about that. Just the right blend of pragmatic and silly.

A pair of swans tread water with half-grown cygnets, beaks threading through trailing weed in search of snacks.

“If those chicks are anything like human offspring they’ll never fledge,” Omar comments. “They’ll be in their parents’ nest, scarfing all the waterweed and grumbling about not having enough space, till the end of days.”

Ceri smiles, acknowledging his efforts to cheer her. “Yeah. Aren’t we lucky?”

It isn’t that she doesn’t believe his words, more that she resents reaching the end of that particular road of possibility in a way that Omar never will.

They were so young when they met at uni. She was skinny then, with the energy and inclination to change her hair weekly, from blue to ombre pink to all the shades of purple available. He was plump and sweet and obsessed with fencing, fancying himself an Arabic Zorro. 

When she suffered crippling stomach cramps a few months after they started sleeping together, she assumed it was food poisoning. The doctor’s questions about whether she could be pregnant felt like an imposition, but he confirmed Ceri was having a miscarriage and the shock of what could have been felt like tripping in the dark and narrowly missing a flight of stairs.

It was like her body had been hi-jacked and then landed smoothly exactly where it had been taken from.

Now, more than twenty years on, it was being hi-jacked again and she knew enough from older friends and relatives that the landing would at best be bumpy.

“Our chance to create small versions of ourselves is officially over,” she says suddenly, abruptly, and feels a slight pang as Omar stares at her startled. The smile he offers is the same he wore when she told him about the miscarriage—gentle, careful, and taut with the desire to make her feel better.

“Not really,” he says, and she’s confused momentarily, wondering if there’s a stash of eggs stored somewhere that she somehow forgot about. But he hunkers down and prods the mud. “This is clay, isn’t it? We could make statues of ourselves.”

“Why on earth…?”

“Of earth,” he corrects her, and grins. “But that’s my point. We’re enough. Aren’t we?”

She mirrors his smile and nods.

Her mother’s generation called it ‘the change’, like some kind of metamorphosis from youth to hag. She tries that word out in her head, but can’t make it stick. ‘Hag’ sounds like dried cracked tree bark and dust, while all she feels is the sun’s warmth stroking her skin silken, each freckle a small burnished reminder of a childhood as vivid as the scenery surrounding them.

Her own generation have no terms for this time apart from those printed in medical leaflets. It isn’t familiar enough yet to have earnt a nickname. She’s the first of her circle of school friends to be edging over that bridge, and has promised faithfully to report back from the other side.

Ceri and Omar walk on through fields, pausing at each kissing gate. She presses her lips to his and then her cheek to his jaw. Omar’s face is slightly stubbled, the individual hairs shining silver in certain lights.

Before long they reach the lock at Avoncliff where nobble-kneed herons often stand. Omar glances the other way, upriver, and cries out in triumph.

“The kingfisher?” she asks, swallowing her disappointment at having missed the slash of emerald.

He nods. “Just a glimpse.”

Next come the narrowboats, lined up in rows, their roofs laden with potted dahlias, zinnias and other colour-explosions. The canal water smells green and cool. Bubbles rise from the cloudy depths, as though something is hunkered down, out of sight.

The sounds of Bradford-on-Avon curl outwards—children playing in the River Avon’s shallows, squawking giggles and shrieks. 

They eat at a café where his tuna salad is delivered to her and her burger placed before him. Omar waits until the waiter has moved on and then swaps the dishes.

“Who knew lunch could expose sexism?” he comments, and her love for him wells up so suddenly her eyes dampen. Another symptom of ‘the change’, she thinks and squeezes his hand across the table.

She knows more will come—hot and cold tsunamis, anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness and unfathomable rages, but so far, it’s been… she hesitates, deliberating, and then chooses… “manageable.” Today is beautiful and all she needs is the strength of her body to walk her from A to B and Omar smiling beside her.

They begin the return stroll to Freshford, stepping over a dead shrew or vole that’s been trodden into the mud by a less observant passer-by. The eyelids look glued closed. 

For an instant, Ceri pictures a child reflecting her intrigue—the gleeful gaze they’d share. Imagine a stranger getting home and wondering at the strands of fur on their heels!

At Avoncliff, the kingfisher glints by, beetle-green on top and apricot beneath.

“Did you see it? Did you?” Omar asks. Delight floods his expression when she nods. 

Reaching Freshford, they sit in the train station listening to the ewes bleat to one another. Ceri rests her head on Omar’s shoulder, thinking of the years ahead, each one theirs to stroll through at their own, shared pace.



JUDY DARLEY is a fiction writer, journalist and occasional poet from Bristol, UK. Her fiction has been described as 'shimmeringly strange', possibly because she can't stop writing about the infinite fallibilities of the human mind

Judy is the author of three fiction collections: The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain (Reflex Press), Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me to the Bees (Tangent Books). 

Judy’s words have been published and performed on BBC radio and harbor walls, as well as in bookshops, museums, cafés, caves, pubs, a disused church and an artist’s studio. Find Judy at http://www.skylightrain.com

Post a Comment

Post a Comment (0)
Fiery Scribe Review