When I imagined our new life, I saw green. Swathes of blades in life giving green. The reflected sky almost aquamarine. Shoes discarded, not needed, soles of feet pressed into earth. Unplugging myself from the simulation; reconnecting to Gaia. Some transference would take place that I could not fully comprehend, because I had lost that primal piece, the language of plants scraped clean from my tongue. But like a child I would relearn it, throw myself down, make grass angels with naked limbs while osmosis occurred.
So I indulged in my contemporaries’ warnings and apprehensions with faraway smiles, certain of their jealousy; their existence ten levels deeper in the game.
I did not, even once, picture plastic in verges.
“You’ve never seen rubbish at the side of the road before?” he mocks.
“The side of motorways, yeah. But out here…”
He sighs quietly, then changes the subject.
We arrive at our house. Our unthinkable, impossible house. The guilt-inducing material result of two deaths: his father, my grandmother. Honeyed yellow stone, built by hands who knew nothing of cars nor fridges nor satellites. Complete with land: a sloping field in front that looks over a patchwork quilt of other sloping fields. I take in the view, breathe deeply, taste soil, manure, water, wind; but something catches my eye.
I point and he stares at the gathered clear plastic, wrapping from some large item, superfluous once delivered, thrown away, out of sight out of mind; covered in drops from the last rain which shine in diffracted spears as the sun hits them. He stares right at it and no recognition crosses his face.
“What was it? A rabbit?”
I can’t answer.
He smiles. “You’ll see loads of them. They’ll bore you soon enough.”
He’s right about the first thing, wrong about the second.
Pressed deep into the belly of the night, I can’t sleep. What started off as a distant buzz has grown into an oceanic roar. His snores barely permeate the incessant hum of engines. I look at the map on my phone, note how far away the motorway is, then type in the postcode of our old flat. I draw a radius around those tight streets, the same distance this house is to the M62. I capture endless places in that circle – schools, yoga studios, shops, offices, flats, pubs – all so theoretically odiously noisy; yet I cannot remember them ever disturbing me. Hidden behind barriers of bricks they had been reticent compared to this torturous drone of lorries and night shift workers and catch the last plane home/the first plane out holidayers.
If there is a lull of thirty seconds, of ten, five even, then sleep will claim me.
But the road will not pause to breathe.
The plastic is everywhere. The more I see, the more aggravated I become, my interest sinking into unwanted obsession. It chokes the countryside – neon brights catching the eye with depressing frequency, spoiling views with their lurid display of what humankind chooses to leave behind. I quickly learn why. Why in a tiny villages surrounded by fields with no shop, only a pub (a pub that stoutly refuses to use plastic cups, and allows glass to be taken into the beer garden), there is a steady influx of rubbish. Cars. Vans. Coaches. Day trippers. Delivery drivers. Commuters – travelling from their own sleepy villages and converging beside this one as they inch towards the closest hub of employment.
Like he does, joining the queue four days a week. A single occupant in a car that could seat five. Sometimes I walk him to the gate at the end of the drive that meets the road, and stay there as long as I can stand it, watching all those one-manned cars struggle by, waiting for someone to throw something out of a window. They never do. Perhaps they notice me and reconsider, or simply wait until they slip from my sight.
On weekends we drive, seek out new churches, new footpaths, new pubs; new to us, but decidedly, preferably old. Today we head to a river which we will walk alongside, stopping at some point for a picnic. I try to relax, breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, not fixate on the smell of our car’s emissions that I never noticed in the city. Not fixate on how in order to walk anywhere we must drive first. A flash of reddish-orange pushes through the green, and I peer intently at the approaching verge, eager for the cheerful splay of poppies, resplendent and sun worshipping and insect attracting.
But the reddish-orange stretches wider, dominates the space in too vulgar a dimension for it to be wan, delicate petals. And as my brain makes sense of the image – categorises it into a discarded traffic cone; squashed, laid on its side – vomit rises, slowly enough that I note the stacking singe, that I have time to shout Pull over! that I rush to the verge on our side of the road and smother the paper thin blades of grass and the microscopic community of living beings that call it home with half digested toast and acid laden tea.
Rapid clicking greets me as I step inside the house, and a small creature comes running, claws ringing out on the flagstones, whole bottom half of its body wagging. It’s a dog. He appears behind it grinning. Sort of a dog. But its majestic snout has been squished into its face.
“A pug,” I say.
“French bulldog,” he corrects.
“These dogs struggle to breathe. And have other health complications.”
His grin twists into a snarl before he closes his mouth. “I’ve bought pet insurance.”
“That’s not really the point.”
We go to the local pub, dogs welcome. Ours stands out amid the collies and lurchers and long nosed mongrels.
“They’ll have even less time to attend that field,” a voice says, purposely loud, but when I search for it I find too many eyes on me, and no raised hand claiming ownership.
There have been anonymous complaints about the state of our land. He’s getting tetchy, wanting to hire some of the locals to sort it out, put money into neighbours’ pockets, toe the line, boost our standing, accelerate our being accepted. He listens to what I tell him about my plans to give it back to nature with glazed eyes.
Their perceived knowledge blinds them. Belief of how it’s always been as reliable as memory. I’ve consumed books. I know what’s been lost. I almost wish I didn’t know. Spectres haunt me. I look at the sun and the land dismantles, grows hazy, lets echoes glisten at the periphery – the thorny scrubs, the trees, the flood plains, the wolves, the beavers, the long-horned untamed cattle.
“Would you smell that fresh air!” one calls out, sniffs audibly. The other laugh.
Someone is spreading muck. They’re laughing at us. They think the stink of manure is what bothers me.
I wake to the dawn chorus and hear despair in the birds’ song. I hear what is not there: the thousand cries of joyous celebration that should deafen me, but instead vibrate in quiet gaps. When I look out of the window I do not bask in profusion as I used to when we were the gauche day trippers delighted by exposed landscape. The veil of lies has been lifted, and I see the truth: it is a graveyard out there. Ashes coated in a death rattle of grass.
I walk bare foot across our field, my soft soles butter to the thorns of so-called weeds, my trimmed nails obscenely neat, my exposed ankles free of hair; plucked fowl. My body clothed, too weak and pampered to face the morning chill without its layers of chemical treated cotton. My jumper shedding plastic particles – the wind blows and I see them breaking free like dandelion spores. I taste chlorine in my saliva, the metallic tang of lead and copper, the swill of nitrates from the fertiliser/pesticide runoff. My daily vitamin fizzes through my veins; nature capsuled, served up in space age repetitions.
I am utterly deaf to the trees, to the grass, to the blooms and the roots. The language of plants has been lasered from my tongue, the cut cauterised, new growth impossible.
An epiphany: I’ll leave, with or without him.
Another: We belong in cities.
Kali Richmond is a lapsed video artist currently attempting a closer to nature existence in the north of England. When not cultivating an unruly patch of land and unrulier children, she writes about vulnerability and isolation. Her work will soon be featured in Capsule Stories and Kanstellation.