Friday, 19 April 2013

Sunset

John was halfway to Clare's home. He was nervous, excited and a little tense. He'd met Clare about three weeks ago and he'd been drawn to her immediately. She was vivacious, energetic, outgoing and seemed to bring a spark of life to everything she participated in. He was the moth to her flame. When he'd asked her out, he'd been shocked she agreed to go - there was nothing in his drab little life that could possibly appeal to her. Nevertheless, the first date had gone well enough that they'd followed it with a second and third.

At the end of the third date he'd had the courage to kiss her goodnight, but still felt he was being presumptuous to think of her as his anything. Clare, he felt, was too vivid to be pinned down like a butterfly on a display board, but he'd enjoy his time with her until she realised she could do better.

Last night had been their sixth date, and he had taken her for a picnic in a forest clearing. It was a popular spot with families and there were a number of children running around laughing. He'd apologised but confessed that he found it peaceful to be surrounded by family life. When he asked her what made her feel at peace she'd been quiet for a few minutes and, just as he was about to retract the question, she'd invited him to her home tonight.

And now he was here. She lived in a cottage overlooking a valley. Although her house was directly on what was referred to as "the main road" it was so quiet that it seemed isolated to John who lived in the city center, 20 minutes drive away. She welcomed him in and, after a light dinner during which she gradually became visibly more nervous, she invited him out for a walk.

As they walked they kept up a light, easy flow of chatter about their time together, common experiences and their day. Guessing that this walk had something to do with her feeling at peace, he scanned their surroundings eagerly. They had crossed the main road and were headed down into the valley along a narrow road. The largest thing on the landscape was a church and, as they passed the graveyard he noticed her reach out and run her hand along the wall for a few steps, but she passed by the gateway without a second glance. When they crossed the river at the bottom of the valley, she paused briefly to watch the water pass beneath and reached up occasionally to touch a flower, or a leaf.

Beyond the bridge the road turned into a car park for a pub, but a narrow strip continued up the other side of the valley. They walked up together. He couldn't help but watch her - the love she had for her surroundings was almost palpable. Occasionally he felt intrusive and returned his gaze to the scenery. Fresh from the city, everything seemed incredibly green to him. It was past eight in the evening, but the light was still clear and vivid although the heat of the day was dissipating slowly from the environment. The incline was generally gradual, but with the occasional steep section which left him panting self consciously. She was walking with the breezy, abstracted manner of someone who was accomplishing a regular task and he felt surprisingly unfit in comparison to her airy unconcern.

They passed two inquisitive horses on the right and a pig sty in the woods on the left. They came upon some houses scattered along the road, most with cars parked on tilted driveways, and passed several fields of sheep. The lambs were still easily distinguished from the sheep and occasionally gambolled carelessly towards them. Suddenly, John realised he could see the summit. After a forty minute walk, they had reached the end of the path: a gate marking the entrance to a reservoir.

Clare opened the gate and continued on to the reservoir wall. There she waited for him as he caught up after closing the gate and smiled up at him.

"Not long now."

She led him along the wall of the reservoir and turned right. The dirt path wound erratically along, but she only followed it for about twenty paces before stopping, laying her coat on the ground and sitting, facing the water. He sat gingerly beside her and saw that from this angle the sunset was reflected perfectly in the water.

"You like to watch the sun set?"

She shook her head, and looked at him for a moment before saying, with the solemnity of a confession: "No, I come here to listen."

He would have asked her more, but as he went to speak, she reached out and touched his hand in a plea he instinctively understood to be a request for silence. He slipped his hand over hers, interlocking their fingers, and looked out over the water again.

After a few moments of complete silence, he idly wondered what she was listening to. All he could hear was her breathing. He smiled as a sheep bleated, bringing back memory of the lambs. Then, after a few moments, he identified the rustling of the reeds in the reservoir below. He watched them for a little while, then heard the gentle sound of the water casually moving among them and lapping at the edge of the reservoir. A duck quacked and several insects cried intermittently, forcibly reminding him of troopers sounding off.

As the sun slipped lower, the sounds varied. Never very loud, but continuous. At one time he swore he heard a horse whinny, off in the distance. A dog barked nearby, and the ducks flew up out of the water, their wing beats rattling with the intensity of gunfire. A sploosh in the water sent ripples outward but he felt no need to watch it happen. Grass rustled behind him, and the ducks settled once again, quacking comfortably to each other. The sheep began sounding off all around, not just the fields they had passed on their way up and silent planes painted tail lines across the sky.

He didn't look at Clare once.

The sky had turned a peculiar shade of bruised when she sighed and stretched.

"We have to go." Her statement wasn't issued with any enthusiasm, but with the implacability of one who doesn't expect an argument. He stood up and offered her his hand. As she shook out her skirt he picked up the coat they had been seated on and asked why they had to leave now.

"The road isn't lit and, if we don't get past the houses before the sun sets, we'll have trouble seeing the way. The trees there are thicker than you'd think and not much light breaks through."

He nodded and they made the way back to what would become their home together in a peaceful silence.