Forest of Dean

The forest at dusk

     He could not now remember exactly what he'd put in the note. The morning light had not yet penetrated the gloom of their basement kitchen as he'd propped the envelope against the unopened cereal packet on the table. Penny would be sure to find it there.

     Nor could he remember why, later in the morning at the railway station, he'd chosen to buy a ticket for Lydney, although he could remember, word for word, his brief exchange with the booking-office clerk.

     'Sir?'

     'I'm sorry?'

     'I said, where to sir? You've been standing there for ages. Is there anything the matter?'

     'No, I'm all right, thanks. One to Lydney, please.'

     'When are you coming back?'

     'I - I'm not sure. I'll take a single.'

     'Well, it's just that if you were coming back today, it'd be cheaper to buy a return than a single. Cheap rate after nine o'clock.'

     So he had bought a day-return ticket, not because he intended to return on that day, nor on any other, but on the basis of an everyday economics that didn't really apply to him. Still, it showed that one part of his mind must be functioning something like normally. Lydney was clear of the morning commuters as he arrived. Breakfastless, he became aware of his hunger and found a small café whose only other customer looked like a van-driver on his morning break. This man was keen to engage him in small talk.

     'Haven't seen you in here before. You from these parts?'

     'No.'

     'Up here on business?'

     'Not really.'

     'Just for a day out, eh?'

     'Sort of.'

     'We get a lot of folks up here later in the year. The Forest is very popular with visitors then.'

     Excuse me.' Dennis had risen abruptly from the table, leaving a half-finished breakfast and an astonished van-driver, and walked out of the café.

     And he had kept on walking, for mile after mile, for hour after hour. It was the only way he could stop the myriad thoughts crowding in on him; pressing him down, down; mazing around his head until it felt ready to burst.

     Now, as the twilight was falling, he was here, in some unknown corner of the Forest of Dean, feeling something like peace within himself for the first time in months. He had the van-driver to thank for that, he supposed. The word Forest had touched a memory; a half-forgotten remembrance of a happier day in his childhood, when his father had brought him here to collect conkers. Perhaps that was why he had bought a ticket to Lydney, rather than to somewhere else, in the first place.

     But his father had now been dead for two years past. It was after his father's death that his world had started to crumble. There was the job, the thought of which was like a clenched fist in the pit of his stomach.

     There were the bouts of heavy drinking, followed by memory blanks and silences from Penny for days afterward. Then there were the puzzled looks he saw more and more often in the eyes of those he had once counted as his friends. Most of all, there were the uncomprehending reactions of his son and daughter...

     With help from the doctors and a generous supply of 'happy pills', he had regained something like normality. Until last night, that was.

     Their new neighbours had come over for a 'welcome' dinner. They were a pleasant enough young couple, a dozen or so years younger than Penny and himself. It was their first house, and they had grand plans for it, as well as for a garden that had been neglected for years.

     'Of course, we'll have to ask you to stop your dog coming through the fence once we get the vegetables in. She likes to dig around at the top end of our garden. She must have a dinosaur buried there.' The husband, Michael was the name, had smiled as he said this, making a little joke of it. Dennis hadn't realised that he'd risen menacingly to his feet. Nor had he noticed that he'd knocked over his chair as he rose and that the bottle of Spanish white wine was now gurgling its contents over the tablecloth. He was not aware that grains of rice from Penny's especially-cooked risotto were falling from his mouth as he spoke. Each word came out loudly, separately, and with all the force of the pain that had been welling up inside of him over these last months:

     'I-don't-give-a-shit-about-you-or-your-garden!'

     On the way out he'd banged the front door as hard as he could, just to complete the scene. By that time his anger was directed much more against himself than his unfortunate neighbour - if it hadn't been all along. Then he'd walked the streets, only returning home when he was sure that Penny would have gone to bed. A few hours sleep on the sofa, then a note scribbled to Penny, and he was gone. That note... It was a suicide note. He wished now that he hadn't written what he did. He needed only to have said that he was going away. And anyway, he could never have killed himself, especially not in a lovely place like this forest of his childhood.

     It was a beautiful place, all the more so in the twilight hour. The wind breathed lightly through the tall trees all about him. A few yards from where he sat was a large log, behind which he could see outlined the ears of two rabbits, quite motionless. It was a picture of tranquillity. Why couldn't everything be like this?

     He continued to watch the rabbits, wondering when they would move. They did not and, after a time, thinking that they might be asleep, he decided to go over to investigate.

     There were no rabbits there. It was just an effect of the half-light on a misshapen branch. Or perhaps it was his confusion between fantasy and reality. He had been doing a lot of that lately. He laughed at his own foolishness.

     The fingers in his pocket touched the sharp corner of something that was substantial and reassuring. It was his return railway ticket. There might still be time, if he hurried...


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