A LOVER OF LANDSCAPE by Vivien Jones
He comes here often, a pale and silent presence, sometimes walking the established paths and sometimes making his own path through the penetratable areas. He knows that someone once planned this landscape. He can tell by the garden and foreign species that grow unfeasibly large, laburnums that loom fully forty feet high over the pathway with their lemon conical flower heads, points down, dipping under their own weight and a dark wedge of yew trees far removed from any churchyard with their black greenness hiding their overlapping trunks. He tries to find the places where only natural sound intrudes, surprised at how noisy the natural ambience can be, but he sits for hours bathed in tranquillity once he has found these places. He likes to sit with his back to a tree trunk and roll his head back until he is looking up into its mosaic dome, lettuce green or bottle green, black green or gold, with the solitaire dazzle of sunlight piercing his eyesight. He moves his head, imposing the after-image on his altered angle of view and enjoys a black spotted world for a while. He looks around himself intently.
Under its tattered bark, the yew is a meditation of figured wood, wilder than any walnut burr, more orange than any orange. The yews have gathered in stealthy groups and conspire to steal the light from the bench beneath them, which is green in damp protest. Brambles scribble across any empty ground. In ostentatious pink and purple bloom, rhododendrons attempt to domesticate the area but are intimidated by the vigour of the natives and subside, blushing. There seems to him more Rousseau than Monet in this overwhelmed garden, where a sudden kingfisher splits the air in its mad turquoise dash downstream and copper squirrels chatter in the silver beeches.
"I talked to his teacher today" We've not to worry. She says he'll grow out of it. They always do."
"Well, he probably will then. "
"But he says he wants to be a butterfly, and he's eight years old!"
Past the place of chestnut showers there is a single line of well grown beeches. In autumn, when he knows he is alone, he rolls like an ecstatic dog in their knee-deep leaves. He considers that Christopher Wren or God placed these trees for they are a perfection of spacing, a renaissance perspective of converging columns that allow exact Jehovah beams of light, each a triangular ray, to pierce the path rippled by roots below. Squirrels hang about in their rafters spread-eagled on the branches. In moonlight, this part of this place overwhelms him. It makes him feel faint, almost ethereal. The long line of trees leads to a darker doorway of damp laurels, thick sable limbs twisted across each other. Here grow the brief toadstools, rashes of them heat the rotting wood on the ground before succumbing to their own fever. Underfoot the leaves are black and slippery, slightly slimy. He treads carefully here, even though practice has made him nimble.
"There's no problem with his academic work but he's rather introverted. He is perfectly amenable and treats his companions well but he has no intimates, no friends. Have you any ideas?"
"Had you thought about the Drama Group or one of the Sports Clubs? Something where he would need to function in a group. Mind you, he's hardly a problem, is he? Just a bit unusual. The sort of boy who's easily overlooked that turns out to be someone special. "
"Mmmmm. Hope it's a good special then."
Through the wood a shrivelled stream eats its way downward, the water invisible from the paths. Only a darkening and an emptiness betray its course between the reed heads that fan its progress. Dippers skip its length, half under the brown water and fish show themselves when scooping the surface for larvae. No one would want to hunt these fish; they are small, thin and dull; small fish in a small water. The kingfisher does not agree. Belying his regal name, he eats these dregs of the river crop, flying off with their tails still flapping from his beak.
Today is a special day for him. He has looked with careful pleasure on each leaf, each bird and creature as he walked through. He is a gentle man of exquisite courtesy to other people, but he is also a complete stranger to them. He has never had a close relationship with another human being, yet he is not lonely, only alone. Family was a noise in his childhood, long gone; he has for years filled his heart to bursting with days of observing this blessed place and today he is ecstatic with the sense of perfections in design and growth around him. Leaves shimmer in the breath of a breeze that he feels like kisses on his un-kissed skin. He trembles with delight.
"I don't think there's much point in going on, do you? It's been good; I've really enjoyed the things we've done especially the walks, but I feel there are other things we might have been exploring. It's the touching thing. I mean, if you didn't like it, that would be clear, but I get this feeling that you don't mind one way or the other somehow, and that makes me feel... well, humiliated. I can see you don't really understand what I'm saying. Perhaps I want more from this than you do. I'm sorry. "
"It's perfectly all right. I understand. Thank you. Goodbye."
Yesterday, three things happened that decided him on today's venture. In the morning he noticed that he was squinting at his newspaper again, and that this time, squinting wasn't helping at all. He made a note of the fact. Later he was bending down cleaning out the fire and he felt his knees and ankles aching for an hour afterwards. He made a note of that too. Then, when he went for his daily meditation in the wood he saw the small white notice pinned to a board by the gateway. Twenty-four chalets. Outline planning permission.
"Yes, he was part of our group and yes, very committed. Well, perhaps that's not quite accurate. He was completely committed to the environment, perhaps not so much to the group. He went down there every day and sat over them. He took no notice of the rota and we were glad enough to let him do it. We'd no idea when They would come and he was distraught with the fear that they might come when he wasn't there. When they came, there were several of us there standing in a line in front of the bank. The primroses were in full bloom, lemon silk, hundreds of them under the trees.
Yes, I was there. He was the last to run, waiting until the dozer was poised above him and about to drop down towards the bank He looked so resolute trying to lock his legs in place while the bulldozer revved its engine and jerked its body towards him. We called to him to get back but he just stood there, terrified. When it began its slow topple towards him he urinated in fear (no wonder, we thought he'd gone under it! and then he ran. We heard the laughter and the coarse cries of "Bye-bye, primroses. Bye-bye." Then we watched as the bulldozer took the primrose bank in one scoop. We didn't see him for weeks and after a while he just stopped coming."
He thought about these things through the night, dipping in and out of sleep without fretting. In the morning he made his decision. He removed his sketch-book and camera from his rucksack and put in what he would need for today, including the last orange-flecked Cox's Pippin from the fruit bowl.
"l can't believe it he just didn't seem the type. I feel awful. We should have made an effort to be more friendly. Invited him back for a coffee, you know, that sort of thing. He must have been so lonely."
After a while he moves towards the quiet cathedral space and in his thin, sweet voice sings a song, hands clasped in front of him, eyes closed, head tilted back. When he is finished he walks down the bank and pushes his way through the saplings and clutching brambles towards the shrunken river bed. He finds a fallen birch trunk and crosses the wet area and then he is on the rising bank of an island between places where the river splits in two. Trees shroud the island's crown, both crack willow and pussy willow, cherries and rowans discarding leaves and berries underfoot. The sun gilds everything. He sighs, so happy.
He opens his rucksack and bites into the apple. His mouth is full of creamy sweetness and the scent of the apple suffuses his senses. He closes his eyes for a moment, then takes out the small brown bottle and empties its contents out into his lap. Alternating with bites of the apple he swallows the green pills six at a time until he has taken them all. He sets his back against a tree trunk and shuts his eyes again, loving the sun's caress on the lids, quietly letting his slight grip on existence loosen. After an hour, he is asleep and after four hours he will be dead, at one with the breeze, the leaves, the creatures and his perfect freedom.