I was sitting on a wooden bench with my girlfriend, Daisy, in the graveyard of St. Mary’s in the village of Black Barrow. My fingers traced random patterns on the warm, weathered wood, as I gazed over a sea of gravestones. Many were ancient, toppled at strange angles, worn illegible by centuries of summer heat and hostile, frigid winters. Why was there no system to put them upright again, I wondered?
“It’s so peaceful here,” said Daisy, squeezing my hand. “Thank you for coming.”
I kissed her cheek, warm and soft. “That’s OK, I like graveyards.”
She sighed. “Two years. It seems like two months.”
I noticed her eyes were wet. “I know, sweetheart, but they did everything they could.” How many times had I said that?
She took a tissue from a brown leather shoulder bag and blew her nose. Then she reached back in and pulled out a thick paperback book.
“Christ, can’t you give it a rest?”
“Look, I have to study. I have to pass my exams. One of us needs to earn some proper money.”
The sky was cloudy but bright, the sun peeking through sporadically, and a pleasant warm breeze blew lightly, rippling the long grass. It looked well overdue for a cut. Pots of colourful flowers graced some gravestones, generally where the lettering was gilded and bright. Others held wilted, dry blooms, as if those who’d brought them had themselves died, unable to remove or replenish the desiccated ones.
I took some deep breaths, forcing myself to remain calm. I didn’t want another row, not here. “What are you working on?”
She didn’t look up. “As if you’re interested.”
I sighed and looked at my phone. There was too much glare on the screen to read it properly.
She turned and smiled, enthused. “Circles, as a matter of fact”
“There’s so much to cover on the course.”
“A circle’s just a round thing isn’t it?”
“Don’t you believe it. There’s Chromatic Circles, Archimedean Circles, Schoch circles, Woo circles, Ford circles, on and on.”
“Sounds like some people had nothing better to do with their time.”
She ignored my jibe. Honey-brown eyes twinkled in her pretty face. “Hey, if you draw a square around a circle, did you know the circle will contain 79% of the area of the square?”
I’m sitting in a circle, six women, two men. The room is lemon-yellow. At one end is a table with an intricate display of fresh flowers in a vase, surrounded by a picture frame, cleverly forming a three-dimensional ‘painting.’ On the wall is a wooden plaque with black numbers on it, arranged vertically. ‘Song’ numbers, the word ‘hymn’ being avoided.
A small woman with white hair leads us in a ‘guided meditation.’ “You are walking down a country road. The sun is shining and you feel its warmth on your bare skin.”
How many times has she led one of these, I wonder, taking a quick peek at her wrinkled face. I imagine that when she started, mediumship was punishable under the witchcraft act.
“Then you spot an old pub and go inside. What do you see? What can you smell? You buy a drink. How does it taste?”
My mind quietens, and I visualize myself at the bar of my local pub. No, I don’t want that. Try to think of somewhere different! Now I’m in a pub with dark wooden panels. In the corner an old man plays dominoes on his own, a cap pulled down, shielding his weather-beaten features. I imagine a hand pump, ‘Heart of Stone Ale,’ a picture of a heart-shaped stone on the shield attached to the pump. I take a sip, trying, not very successfully, to imagine a taste.
I’m in a circle designed to improve our psychic powers and our connection to ‘spirit.’ We meet weekly. I ask myself why I go? I don’t know, I just want to.
Then we are guided onto a beach where we use a piece of driftwood to write any negative emotions we feel in the sand – bitterness, jealousy, guilt etc., knowing they’ll be washed away by the waves.
“Now, just sit awhile and see who comes in.” The circle leader turns on sound effects of waves and gulls.
To my surprise, it’s Daisy. It’s been a long time, over ten years. She’s wearing a white dress with a red sash around the waist. Her blonde hair is long, blowing in the sea breeze. I imagine the scent of the ocean. “Hello, sweetheart.”
She smiles and sits down with me, on the sand at the edge of some grassy dunes.
I put an arm around her and imagine feeling the crinkled linen of her dress. I smell perfume, sandalwood? Her soft lips touch mine.
Ten years, ten long difficult years since she went to study for a doctorate in mathematics in the USA, hooked up with her tutor, gave birth to twins, our twins, married him, and never came back.
“Now, it’s time to come back to the room. Wriggle your fingers and toes. When you are ready, open your eyes.”
There’s a faint luminescence in the sky and Daisy and I are approaching ominous dark shapes, widely spaced. We’d left our small hotel early, to drive out to the stones, then a fifteen-minute walk over Scottish moorland by torchlight. It’s June but it’s chilly, although there is little wind.
We reach the first stone, and in the half-light, marvel at its immensity, compared to our small, frail bodies. Perhaps twelve feet high and four feet wide, it towers towards the sky, its surfaces weathered by thousands of years of wind erosion.
To either side, perhaps ten metres away, is a similar stone, and beyond those in the gloom, we can just make out others, set to form a huge circle. Daisy looks at her watch. “Ten minutes.”
“OK.” I don’t feel like talking. There’s no one else – thank God, no bird song, nor sheep even. I walk out into the circle. It’s so quiet. I can make out all the stones now. I turn around and around, in awe, gazing at the surrounding monoliths, all evenly spaced around a perfect circumference. How the hell ….?
A breeze blows on my face, gently rippling the grass at my feet. It’s getting much brighter now. I head back to Daisy, who takes my hand.
“That’s the stone we want,” she says, pointing across the circle.
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, it’s at the western point. We can watch the sunrise over the eastern stone.”
She leads me over the moorland to the designated stone, saying nothing. We stand in silence, watching, waiting. Then an orange glow appears in the sky from the opposite side of the circle, gradually expanding. There is no sound, save an empty wind blowing amongst the ancient sentinels.
Suddenly the brilliant golden-orange disc of the sun starts to rise, casting huge shadows from the eastern stones. I stand transfixed until the dazzling light of the sun appears at the top of the stone. “Wow.” I turn to look at Daisy and, to my astonishment find she has stripped naked. She doesn’t speak, just pulls me towards the stone behind us. Her flesh looks so pale against its dark surface. I feel a vibration from the earth. It’s in the air too, something magical. I feel an incredible sexual energy building in me, like nothing I’ve ever known.
Daisy is practically tearing my clothes off me and we’re up against the stone. She reaches down and inserts my painfully-throbbing member into her. Then I’m thrusting into her, violently pounding her against the stone with an animal passion.
She is groaning, her eyes are white, and the irises have almost disappeared behind her eyelids. I hear her shouting out in ecstasy, then I reach a shattering climax, aware of nothing else for what seems like an age.
Afterwards, we dress in silence. She pulls a flask of coffee out of her bag and a packet of cigarettes. “God, I’m soaking. Inside!” She tucks a tissue into her panties and laughs, lighting a cigarette and handing it to me. “I’ll probably have triplets now!” Then she hugs me and, before kissing my cheek, whispers in my ear, “We’ll always be together, you and me.”
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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