Read Sing Like You Know the Words Online

Authors: martin sowery

Tags: #relationships, #mystery suspense, #life in the 20th century, #political history

Sing Like You Know the Words

SING LIKE YOU KNOW THE WORDS

 

By Martin Sowery

 

Copyright © Martin Sowery
2012

 

Smashwords Edition

 

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My dear friend, the real truth
always sounds impossible, do you know that? To make truth sound
believable you must always mix a lie with it. People have always
done so

- Dostoevsky

 

The vaunted eloquence of
statistics has all the futility of precision without force…the
printed page of the Press makes a still sort of uproar, taking from
men both the power to reflect and the faculty of genuine feeling:
leaving them with only the artificially created need to have
something exciting to talk about.

- Conrad

Chapter One

 

The boy followed the path
without thinking about anything in particular. It was late
afternoon; almost evening. Mist hung in droplets as the air
chilled, softening the autumn colours of the hills. The day was
very still. The only sound he heard was the light rustle of his own
clothing as he walked.

Earlier in the day, the fells
had been busy with hikers and ramblers. Now they were gone; some to
fill the crowded tea shops and pubs, while others hurried home to
beat the evening traffic. Now the boy felt as if the country was
his alone; the deserted path, the still air, and the light that
shone through the soft mist with such peculiar clarity as to make
it seem to glow.

At first, he’d only intended to
catch the last of the sunshine on the high path that overlooked
their rented cottage. His father had warned him about walking the
hills alone. The old man was annoyed because the boy had refused to
join the rest of the family on the hike he had so carefully
planned. His son preferred to spend the day alone, sitting in the
warm kitchen, idly leafing through the pages of a borrowed book
that was as dull as his thoughts; turning the pages mechanically,
his attention wandering.

At last the boy could enjoy the
outdoors in solitude, letting his feet lead him, with neither map
nor compass to spoil the mood. Already he’d travelled a good
distance from the cottage. His father liked to pretend that the
fells could be threatening, but the boy knew that in fact this was
a tamed country. Even in its remote places the paths were so well
trodden that you could hardly miss your way if you tried.

Soon, the path became steeper
and rockier, but the boy was young and some long denied part of him
welcomed the effort of climbing. Without being aware of it, he was
standing straighter. His hunched over shuffle unconsciously
lengthened to an easy stride. He had no clear destination in mind
but he knew that the path he was following led to a summit
somewhere. It couldn’t be far away, and there was still plenty of
daylight left. His uncle had warned him that high on the tops, the
route tended to be a bit of a scramble: he looked forward to it. He
was glad he was wearing trainers rather than the stupid heavy boots
that his father had made the rest of them wear.

As he continued to climb, the
air cooled and the October sun could no longer sustain the ripening
droplets of moisture that were hanging in the air. An improbable
rain began to shimmer faintly in the light of an almost cloudless
sky.

Soon, the landscape became a
little darker and its colours more muted. The boy enjoyed the
freshening breeze and the feeling of the rain on his face. This was
weather that suited his mood more than the time-stopped noontime he
had dozed through back at the cottage. He could admit that the
scene was pretty enough, in a lifeless way, but its charm was not
to his taste. A country landscape painted in discreet oils: dappled
sunlight through trees with pretty shading emerald to russet. In
the foreground a few dumb cows, chewing cud with patient stupidity
and treading the paddock to bog. His father had described the scene
as bucolic. He didn’t know what that word meant, but in his mind it
hinted at something sickly, which seemed to him appropriate

This brooding, and overcast sky
of early evening on the empty fells was better than the cottage;
more vital. At least here you could actually feel as if life was
happening.

The thought of what his father
and uncle would say if they could see him now made him smile; out
on his own and without what they would call suitable clothing.
Maybe it was true that the mountain wasn’t quite safe. You couldn’t
see so far into the hazy distance now as you could have minutes
earlier. Fair enough, you’d be in trouble, say if you had a fall,
and weren’t able to walk. But falls were for old people. And
besides, even with the damp now penetrating his sweater, the day
was warm enough. The summit must be close: to turn back without
seeing it would seem like failure at this stage.

Although, as it turned out, the
summit was further away than he had thought. Eventually he arrived
where he thought it must be, but by now there was nothing to be
seen at all for more than a few yards in any direction. The fog was
a blanket, and the cold was biting. He was a little empty and
deflated as he stood there, feeling as if he should leave something
behind to mark his visit; simply retracing his steps was not
adequate to the moment. But then, as if for the first time, he
realised how close the night time was.

He needed to get back down as
quickly as possible. He knew that there was a downward path that
was shorter than the way he had climbed, but in truth, it wasn’t
easy to pick out any path across the exposed rock of the summit.
Even so, he thought he could pretty clearly make out where the line
of it should be.

The weather was freezing now.
His clothes were soaked through, and there were big drops of
moisture coating his sweater. He felt the first pricks of barbed
anxiety that had been hiding in a corner of his mind; but not too
sharp, for the moment.

Quickly, he sighted the more
direct route and started down the track. Without the exertion of
climbing to warm him, he soon felt cold seeping into his body. He
tried to speed up to compensate, but then realised that in this
light, if he started to jog, he would stand a good chance of
twisting an ankle or worse. The wind seemed much stronger now. It
was surprising that there could there be so much wind and mist at
the same time. It seemed that the rain and the air had merged into
one.

The atmosphere was heavy with
water. His hair was plastered to his scalp and he could feel
himself becoming tired: more tired than he should be only from
walking. He had to make a conscious effort to maintain his pace.
The light was fading more quickly than he had expected. He knew
that the others would be home by now, wondering where he’d gone. He
allowed himself to admit that he was scared, just a little, hoping
that by allowing himself a small rational degree of anxiety he
might keep that growing sense of vague dread at bay. It didn’t seem
to work that way though.

The path he was following had
started out clear and well trodden, but now it was all but
exhausted. There was no more than a sheep trail to follow. In
places where the land was boggy, the track seemed to sink into the
earth. Each time, after he lost it, he believed that he had been
able to recover the path a little further along, but with each
vanishing he became less sure of his way. This was such confusing
terrain that even the sense of heading downhill could not be
trusted. The path followed the contours of the landscape, up as
well as down, and seemed in no hurry to get anywhere.

Finally, the track disappeared
entirely and he was abandoned in a broad hollow of boggy peat, his
feet sinking into the ooze between the marsh grasses. The boy
reasoned that if he followed a straight course, then on the far
side of the bog he should emerge on or near the path. But how to
know which way was straight?

The marshland tried its best to
suck him in. On the far side, he emerged from the bog with his
shoes coated inside and out with liquid slime. He climbed a steep
bank only to find his way blocked by a stone wall. Following the
line of the wall, first one way and then the other, he found no
gate or stile. That couldn’t be a path, but he must climb the wall,
or retrace his steps.

 

Over the wall he went; but on
the other side, still no path. And now the night was truly come.
The land became indistinct and featureless as the pale remains of
the day surrendered to the darkness.

The child within him urged him
to sit down and wait for the adults to make things right. Some
other voice insisted that he keep moving, even if the way forward
was not clear. His teeth were chattering uncontrollably and his
body was shaking. His thin sweater was heavy with the rain soaked
into it. All he could think was that he must find a path, any path,
off the mountain.

He climbed another wall. The
stones felt hard and sharp on his numb fingers. On the other side,
he found himself between two high stone walls, on a rough track,
unmade but broad enough for horses to have passed in the olden
days. He set off in what felt like the downward direction, arms
hugging his shoulders tightly and jaw clenched against the
shivering cold.

The new path continued for some
distance. There was not much that he could see beyond the walls, in
the almost perfect blackness. Then it seemed that there was some
kind of building ahead. It must be empty, he thought. No-one would
live up here, so far from any road, but at least there might be a
roof and somewhere to rest for a while.

By the time he came to the
building, fatigue had almost overwhelmed him. He knew that he could
go no further: still he felt embarrassment. How should he explain
himself to the owner of the cottage, if there was one? But when he
reached the building and it became clear that the old place had
been abandoned for many years, his disappointment was more bitter
than shame could have been. He felt as if the last of his strength
had been used up, practically falling against the door.

The wood was damp and almost
rotted. There was no lock, and it was easy to push the door ajar,
but to enter, he had to force the narrow opening with his shoulder.
The timbers scraped across the floor, sagging pitifully in a frame
that was close to collapse. Screws fell out of the rusted hinges.
He could smell the animals that had sheltered there before him. The
boy sank onto the uneven stone and in a second felt even colder
than when he’d been outside. At least here it was fairly dry. He
half crawled into a dark corner. There was nothing to be seen,
inside or out. He curled his body into the tightest ball he could
make and tried to collect his thoughts.

He must not stay in this place
too long, but he could allow himself a minute or two: a short rest
while he thought about what to do next.

When he awoke, it was the same
cottage, but everything had changed. Most important, he was warm
and dry. There was a fire burning in the grate, the roof was
somehow entire, and the empty window frames had been glazed. The
light of a fire and soft candle glow illumined the space. The boy
found himself dressed warmly, in a style of clothing he did not
recognize. He saw that his own clothes were drying near the fire:
they looked odd and out of place in this setting.

The sense of fear, even
desperation, which had taken hold of him earlier, had vanished, and
it was as if those emotions and that life belonged to someone else.
Instead, he felt safe and calm.

The cottage was nothing but a
single room, and there was a figure, back turned to him, performing
some kind of household task at the far end. He could tell that the
stranger was female, although as she turned and advanced to the
table that stood between them, her face was hidden in the shadows.
He could only see distinctly her hands, setting a bowl on the
table, and steam rising from the bowl.

Try some, she said in a voice
that was very tender; a voice he knew. He realized that he was very
hungry.

The boy struggled to his feet
and staggered towards the table. He felt so weak. A place was
already set for him. Then she smiled and he saw her face, and it
was his mother: his mother who had been dead for almost two years.
But this did not trouble him just at that moment; it seemed right
and comfortable. His concern was that he needed to eat, and to rest
some more.

When the boy awoke again it was
after midnight. He was alone in the decaying cottage that once more
reeked of animal droppings; lying in the dark on the stone floor.
Through the holes in the partly collapsed roof he could see
moonlight and the glow of stars. The night air had cleared. The
rain and the fog seemed like a false memory. He was wearing his own
clothes, but they were dry, and his body still felt the warmth of a
fire and the satisfaction of a hot dinner.

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