Rachel J Fenton’s fiction won the University of Plymouth Short Fiction Prize, came second in the Dundee International Book Prize, was shortlisted for the Cinnamon Press Debut Novelist Prize and longlisted for the Michael Gifkins Unpublished Novel Prize.
Michael Longley said, “going back to the same place in a devoted way, and in a curious way, is a huge part of my life”; my fictions are devoted to the field.
THE SECOND TIME I CROSS THE FIELD
there is a man and two kids, a woman is just entering from the bush track as I pass, and she says,
“You’re R’s mum.”
“Yes,” I say, turning my head to look at her over my shoulder.
“He is a lovely boy, he always says ‘Hello’. Such a lovely boy. A wonderful person.”
I recognise what she is saying.
And I watch her walk away, to catch up to the children who are pointing to the cricket pitch and
saying, “Rabbit poos, rabbit poos,” giggling, while the man is repeating, “Rabbit poos, rabbit poos,” in a high, light pitch and laughing, and as I turn to enter the forest I catch the eldest girl ask, “Why are the rabbits frightened of us?” and the man says, “The rabbits are not frightened of us,” and he sounds surprised, but the girl says, “Why have they gone away?” And I get as far as the first bend in the track, where darkness contrasts what little sun shines on roots of pines pushing knuckles through soil, and dropping to my knees I open my mouth and a bird lifts silently into boughs and I breathe – scent of broken earth – breathe – sharp pine – breathe – fern leaf, snapped at the thickest part of the stem, revealing the moon-ish underside we have learned to call silver.
A MAN LYING ON THE PLAYGROUND HAS HIS LEGS BENT
a child’s ball supports his head. On his back, he has the top of his head to his children and a woman we call wife. The smallest of his tribe runs and drops against his tummy, smiles big. A drone flies over us.
Heavy treads have made mud leading to the cricket pitch.
“I walk there.” I claim responsibility then plead innocence upon discovery of footprints on the Astroturf – I would never walk the centre. Disbelieving, you are critical, first of the excuse then the execution, and ask,
“Why not?” We are both walking over the artificial green as we speak and at some point, on this narrow strip, we have both acknowledged the damage it would inflict.
A drone flies overhead. You look up.
“Who do you think is operating it?” you ask.
“The man in the playground,” I say.
Perhaps not. You suggest, “How marvellous to live by this field and just fly that.”
Ahead, sun has yet to reach the edge of the playing field. Thaw, though no white leaves; each blade of
grass threads a single bead of melted frost and pokes its pointy head as if from the wool blanket on your bed. Just like that, sheep appear.
The drone has your attention.
To my left, toadstools grown ragged as Wilis’ skirts. I digress. The roots of pines undressed appear raw. It is painful to look. Right, you are still watching the drone.
When I am at your side again, you say, “I’ve found the man with the drone.
On the hill.”
I can’t see a man, only a tree and a shadow. Then I look again, and the shadow is shaped like a man.
There is some talk, hushed, about men in black on school grounds.
The drone comes down and the man crouches to pick it up. I feel uncomfortable watching. I turn, look
back over our footprints. In the grass, grey ovals dash the tracks, twin rows, until the hairpin. “Where I left you.” I point to them.
“You came back.”
We are standing in the shadows of trees. Our shadow heads are in their canopy. Between us, our prints, laddering.
EVERY V HER FEATHERS
sharp as carpet tacks, rug hung, she let me watch while afternoon rolled on delicate as woolly cloud. I remember when it changed.
Eleven, bellowing idiot. Older, Joseph could do whatever other side of field. But first had to walk past me and Mags wobbling wooden fence with our heels. Living on edge, alright.
Behind us, carthorses, left to roam: travellers couldn’t camp since council trenched. Displaced clay resembled burial mounds. For now, I was content to have a dig at Joseph and listen Mags braying, head back. Side-on, she was noshing cloud. In eye’s corner, two figures, smudgy as old eraser rubbings. Fast as scissors, disappeared.
Joseph called “Idiots” back and I chelped, “You’re a bigger idiot.” But Mags’d had enough. “Dun’t go ’ome. Lets lake osses.” I stirrup-jabbed fence, clicked tongue against teeth. “Giddy-up.” “Gi’e o’er. Tha mecking me feel reight sick.”
“It was giving me spells anyroad.” I didn’t sound bothered, but it showed in my dismount.
I picked splinters, watched socky cinnabar caterpillars eating groundsel. I would have liked to have kept them, but I broke out in an itchy rash and had to put them down. Fat ones turned into pupa, burrowed underground. Dark like school shoes wet from pot-holes after rain. If I picked one up, it wriggled like a jumping bean until I dropped it, then looked dead.
Kestrel shadowed me like Pinocchio’s conscience. I could have filled my pockets with crickets from Yorkshire fog, but they’re boring without room to stretch their legs. I was glad I was a horse and could canter.
Mam said carthorses smell fear, kill with one kick. They took apples gently with their lips. It was difficult to believe they had hooves hard as cellar-tops under that fringe, but field was proof: each hoof left prints size of mine but deeper. I couldn’t match their stride. I was a foal. Maybe that’s why horses didn’t hurt me. Or maybe mam didn’t know how to be a mam to a foal instead of a human.
I climbed fence, careful not to snag new-from-cousin dress, with sandals soft as dogs’ tongues licking every sweaty step, but it was heels’ clip-clop I most loved, though couldn’t fathom how, if shoes fit, skirt slipped-off; what shape must cousin be? Was this reason she was never seen? Invisible, like my brother. I searched field.
Eraser rubbings reappeared.
“Not so cocky on thi own,” one laughed. “Call us idiots nah, I dare thi?”
I was talking horse, they wouldn’t understand. I started backwards.
Gap closed, one said,
I used horse powers. Field was dry, rough. My heels, instead of clopping strong, loud, sounded dull, caught on clods. I fell. I got up. I galloped. I ran.
Changing direction way wild creatures did, chase was fun. I laughed, but laugh dragged in my throat, dry as muck. Hard clay dug into my thighs, hurt my tail-bone.
Kestrel, pinning up sky, tucked in her wings, then. Dove like an arrow head.