The rain hurled itself from the heavens, down, down, down upon the huddled tourists. A break in the weather approached, the dark clouds parted to let a burst of clarion light. A canary yellow fisherman’s hat kept erosion at bay. Grey straggly hairs dripped down dispersed with dabs of red Viking heritage. Jim Wilkes’ piercing blue eyes emitted a radiance of security, of calm and a haven of stories that would evaporate into the early hours. Steam rose from the group of 7 victims who had been politely following Jim for the last 3 hours. Despite the unkindest of weathers they had been listening intently to every nuance of his thickened accent. The subtle words about the history of the land they encompassed kept them engrossed. Well all of them except one, Jim couldn’t penetrate the thoughts of the man at the back of the crowd. There was a distance, a quarry of worry being excavated Jim thought.
It was February and this was no place for semi-drenched foreigners. Jim bellowed out
‘Back to the minibus, let’s get you to the hotel and sample some of our local delights. I’m sure there’ll be a lovely hot pot and a roasting fire to bring your bodies back from the dead’
Jim ruffled the hair youngest member of the group, an 8-year old sniffling boy who clung tightly to his mother’s arm.
Hanging back the silent man moved ever so slowly towards the minibus as one by one the travelling and frozen bullets were loaded. Jim saw this as his opportunity to try and make contact.
‘Hey…Lad?’ he enquired.
A small noise emitted from the stranger. He was wearing a cream Burberry trench coat, there was a dark stain about 2 inches long on the lapel, a green scarf hung noose like around his neck and he wore a raggedy trilby that had one side bent out of place. Two buttons were noticeably loose and swinging in unison.
‘Hey…you ok, son? You haven’t blinked or said a word at all'
Jim put his arm around the shoulder of what seemed like an empty shell. ‘Why don’t we get you back home? Hey? We can have a drink and you can tell me all about it. I mean sometimes we all need a stranger to talk to right? I know I do. Believe me, the stories I could tell you. Also Eleanor, that’s my wife you see, she’s selective with her hearing these days’ Jim let out a belly laugh but kept a keen eye on this stranger’s response.
The man shook his head negatively to indicate that he would be refusing the invitation.
Jim persisted ‘Listen, you can share with me? What’s wrong lad? I might be able to…’
The man interrupted, his voice was monotone, his face pallor and when his mouth moved the lips stuck together with dry bleeding skin. The teeth behind were stained, well what teeth remained were discoloured. Scents of damp filled Jim’s nostrils. His eyes were dark and anchored to black bags. Through the mixture of nicotine, blood, dry skin and what Jim though smelled like port came the words.
‘I don’t know…I just don’t know’
Then he moved in closer to Jim’s ear and whispered
‘I am not something that can be moved
You have to spread me out
softly born from your womb.
In the recesses of my body,
stories like me breathe on dusty shelves in libraries.
My skin is there to be read.
My spine longs to feel your finger run over it’
The man glided past Jim and took his seat at the back of the minibus at least 2 rows behind everyone else and proceeded to open up a sodden paperback that was sleeping in his inside pocket. The minibus grumbled into night and chugged along winding lanes on its way back to the village.
The gate yelped shut, black peeling paint exposed amber rust. The silhouette of Jim’s frame moved down the path to the overgrown lawn. Children from the local neighbourhood used to play jungles or dungeons and dragons in the unkept thicket of the Wilkes’ Garden, yet in recent decades they had all grown into adults themselves and moved to different parts of the country. Decaying and balding tennis balls half buried beneath the undergrowth, their fur worn down and now part of the earth like hidden mines waiting to snare a victim. A few discarded concrete blocks ready to catch an ankle and confectionary wrappers snared in the spindly green web danced morbidly in the moonlight.
At the bottom of the garden a small clearing came into site, a bald receding patch of burnt out grass. Jim bowed his head and looked directly at a makeshift cross that grew out of the soil. Made out of Elder branches and bandaged together with twine. The cross began to sway as the wind began to howl and the sound of waves from the nearby ocean quickened. The corresponding mirrored sky darkened.
A tear glistened in its pocket and the same singular tear drove down the perimeter of Jim’s face and off his cheek before disappearing into the soil beneath him. The etched memory slept by the tomb, the words engraved in stone
‘Our little miracle.
You await us in Heaven’
Charlie ‘Tiny’ Wilkes
12.11.1959 – 27.11.1959
Another shadow formed behind Jim’s lone and desolate figure. A pair of hands enveloped Jim’s big bulbous belly. Eleanor Wilkes spoke calmly, measured with love.
‘Come back to the house, Jim’
Jim blinked and cupped his hands around his loving wife, nodding slowly he agreed to return.
‘Jim, there’s a man here, he didn’t say his name but said you were expecting him’
Broken from reality in this moment, Jim tried to recall any appointment he had made, his brain now clicked and whirred into overdrive.Eleanor entwined her fingers with his.
‘Yes, a man, he’s wearing a trilby that looks like its been sat on and I noticed his jacket is missing a button or two.’
Jim spoke the word slowly and looked distressed at his loving wife with his lightning blue eyes.
In the background the wind gathered momentum and a sea of violent whispers broke across the horizon.