A furtive ramble takes a dramatic turn.
It was Facebook that had brought Clive Wilkinson to the desolate face of Yeasdale Rock and had delivered the hand of Mandy Young to his. It had been arranged almost instantly. A few clicks, an amusing exchange of words, a cover-story for home about chasing Osprey, an online B&B booking and they were together. They were kitted-out for climbing the county’s second highest peak with the nation’s highest average precipitation. The rain did nothing to dampen the shared sense of excitement and danger. On achieving the summit, they then bounded back down the crest, sliding gleefully into a sheltered nook. They crouched down close together, overlapping each other’s coat hoods. The rain threw streams of translucent confetti in honour of their reunion. A tap tap tap of water drops drummed on their heads and splashed across the rocks like an expectant drumroll, enhancing the sense of unfolding drama.
“’Could never had done this without you Clive” Mandy still panted from the climb. She took a deep breath and squeezed him around the waist before producing from a deep pocket a battered sliver hip flask.
“Gin… ‘Warm you up Clive…” An impish schoolgirl look in her eyes.
“No. No….Oh, yes, go on then… it is a special occasion.” He smiled, but not without a secret dread that he had unhinged himself from everything that had once governed him, had kept his life safe.
“You know Clive, this is the same thing I took on that school trip 26 years ago….”
“You didn’t offer it to me then!”
“Wouldn’t have wanted to get you into trouble ‘Mr Wilkinson’ would I? But I so wanted to drag you behind a rock like this, all alone together…”
The gin, and the enveloping fog disorientated Clive. He felt a flush to his face. A stirring in his loins. But also an existential queasiness….he wondered if he was going to be sick.
On their last visit, Clive was a 40 year old biology teacher taking the 15 year old Mandy and her contemporaries on a Natural History expedition to Yeasdale Rock. Mandy, now in her early forties, had tended to recklessness and attention-grabbing acts. He found her still youthfully irreverent, and bursting with energy. She had broken back into his life, blowing away the cobwebs. She shuffled over and slung her leg over, pinning him to the damp mossy floor. She stole a kiss. He did not resist.
Sharing bodily warmth together, tufts of warm breath began to emanate from their little bundle of waterproofing. The mountain cradled them in his craggy palms. Clive’s heart and body sang. He felt like he was soaring above the weather. He circled in his mind far above their little redoubt like a bird on the wing. He’d forgotten he could have feelings like this. Feelings of emancipation, of release from years of bondage and duress.
But at the same time the flustered man’s soul stirred within with a force of darkness – a deep insurrection against his renewed ardour. There were the dictates of his society. Since he’d last met Mandy, he’d married, became rich, and had produced a sizable family. But the marriage involved virtually no physical attachment at all. So impressed had he been by the seismic encounters with the feisty schoolgirl back then every sexual engagement since had left him cold. He had accepted that he was just one of many people in the world whose tastes or circumstances did not allow them to be anything but celibate. On the four occasions when a conception had been achieved with his wife it had been merely a chemical reaction between focussed fantasy and fine wine.
A newspaper headline flashed in his head:
‘”I do Sir!.” – Husband of Tory MP elopes with former school pupil’.
Burning hot coals would be nothing compared to the personal vengeance from his spouse he might look forward to. Camilla in her career had learned to perfect tactics involving the most exquisite kinds of sadism and icy blackmail. A chill went through him. No one must ever know. Mandy’s existence threatened his very way of life.
‘Hey, cheer up Clive… it might not happen!’
Mandy planted a kiss on his cheek and scurried off ahead down the path.
He was mortified by the malice of his own imagination. Malicious indeed murderous thoughts erupted in him on the way back down the mountain. He looked around as if for fear of a witness to his illicit thoughts.
The rock looked down on him with a disapproving frown.
How quickly did fantasies of destruction follow that pulsating passion he’d experienced on the higher elevation? The gusts begun to batter and rebuke him. He resisted. There was a hard logic. Feelings were an encumbrance. Feelings are what had got him to this awful mess. He loved her. He hated her. His soul was racked by a civil war. He was envisioning the snuffing out of the fire that had smouldered in him all these years.
Now he felt wet and cold, and showered in a secret shame. He felt condemned for the homicidal visions before him, born of a soggy moral decrepitude. A terrible microclimate took him in its grip whipping him and soaking him to his underwear. He watched himself as if from a distance slipping into a dark madness. She was not a promise but a threat. A cheap trollop. If only she could just die. Die here. He would pretend he’d never even seen her out on the Rock. It was time to be freed from all that troublesome yearning. Was he not mad but merely seeing true reality?
The mountain decided to teach Clive a lesson.
A soupy cloud clung to the scree and Mandy’s figure appeared and disappeared as a ghostly silhouette as Clive followed at a distance along the wet shale until only the sound of her steps like breaking porcelain betrayed her existence: ‘Creek, creek, crick’
Then the sounds stopped.
Only a deathly howl of the wind.
He felt a wrenching feeling inside. A feeling of panic.
“Mandy. Stop playing around!”
He stopped, listening intently, squinting into the grey pall before him. Ten paces revealed at his feet the sliver hipflask standing accusingly like a silent sentry guarding the scene of a crime. Then, an earing. Beautiful but broken, so fragile… like a life. He thought he’d either awoken fully, or had fallen much deeper into madness.
The wind eased. Silence.
He discovered her, the bleach blonde travel agent, splayed out at an unnatural angle across a slimy boulder. Blood oozed from her temple. He stooped over her face. A juniper sweet perfume teased with his senses. She was as still as a doll. Her blouse had been torn and her breasts were partly exposed.
The rain stung his face, telling him this was no fevered dream. Love bites on her neck and nape shouted at the petrified biology teacher. He shuddered at the omnipotence if his imagination. She lay twisted, her pale skin uncovered, incongruent with the moss and bracken, bloody and lifeless like a ewe mauled by an old fox.
The wind whistled alarm in his numbed ears and a heavy nausea came over him. His legs carried him away, stumbling over boggy pools, but there was no remission. Clive tried to marshal his thoughts. His madness was still offering counsel: ‘Just walk, just get away, leave her.’
Clive angrily answered the voice inside.
“That’s what you said last time. The day I lived to regret!”
He recalled that late September afternoon many years ago, in a darkened school cricket pavilion. The girl lay prone and drunk, as insensible as he had just found her on the rocks. He’d left her then, as he was leaving her now, but not before he had appraised her body, caressing her with his hands, exploring beneath her cream jersey, skin on skin….
A gaggle of sheep passed across his way, then stopped and seemed to encompass him in from all sides, staring at him with piercing marble eyes
Was this mountain and its creatures teaming up against him, aware of his every thought and action? He collapsed on to the ground, retching, bleating an affirmatory reply to the sheep.
The mountain gale howled its disapproval in his ears.
For what seemed like forever Clive shuffled and scrambled around the mountain in the leaden fog, trying to distance himself from the body. He was on automatic. He couldn’t consider his tender feelings, a blind fear had driven him away. The mountain with its conical forms and disorienting gusts delivered him right back to the scene. He yelled in alarm as he tripped over the bloodied body. Falling atop her, he smelt the perfume, he stroked her twisted wet straw hair. He cried out at the looming countenance of Yeasdale Rock above him.
“What do you want from me!?”
The wind lulled.
He looked down. Her mouth slightly open. Inviting. Without inhibition he lunged at her, kissing her lips moistened by his tears. Her mouth was warm. He was in the cricket pavilion again. He loosened her top, feeling her soft skin. For a moment he blissfully lost himself in her warm flesh. Arms moved around him. Her vitality suddenly reignited, Mandy unconsciously kissed him on his neck, then winced.
“Ow…..My effing head Clive!”
“What are you doing?” She tried to refasten her top, a quizzical look on her face.
Clive smiled and gently cradled her head in his hands.
At that moment his madness was banished forever. This ancient landscape, this hallowed gale had ministered to him. He’d found himself. This mountain had no tolerance for lies. It had exposed him to the core. It only responded to the truth, to the veracity of his love for this woman. Viscous forgiving globs of oily rain trickled down his forehead. He felt anointed. The cloud lifted and he could sense this was a holy place. The blessed light revealed the sheep had moved off to graze happily in the distant pasture below.