I remember telling you I was getting set in my ways. ‘Too much of this,’ I said, ‘and not enough of that. We should go on a journey.’
‘I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth,’ you said. ‘I’ll follow in your footsteps as if you were famous.’
‘I am famous,’ I said, ‘but only among two or three people.’
‘That’s enough for me,’ you said.
‘I’ll look after you,’ I said.
‘Thank you,’ you said and we set off.
We headed north, using a compass that came free in a packet of cornflakes.
‘How will we know when we get there?’ I asked.
‘I’ll know,’ you said.
You wore your jungle hat and your flower festival wellies. I wore my survival kit. You looked like a garden in summer. I looked like one in winter.
By the time we got to the edge of the city it had started to snow.
‘Now I can follow properly in your footsteps,’ you said.
We came to a pinewood, with trees planted so close and rising so high and straight, that nothing grew between them. Normally you can hear birdsong and the wind whispering high up and far away. That day, all we could hear was our own footsteps, crunching on dead pine needles. It grew dark as we walked deeper into the wood and the snow piled up on the canopy above. We started to sing The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, but our voices leaked into the ground, so we sunk into silence. I wanted you to hold my hand, but the trees made us walk in single file.
Suddenly they were flashing by us, as if we were flying through the wood. Up in the canopy, ice-maidens were singing, though the birds stayed silent. Then we were outside, the wood flying off, shaking itself like a wet dog, showering us in a flurry of snow. We watched it disappear over the horizon, hurtling through a black and white rainbow, leaving in its wake a plume of scarlet smoke. The snow fell away, leaving us the wind, a meadow thick with hoarfrost, and low clouds hurtling by.
We were alone in the meadow, except for a massive pink sofa. I helped you up. The sofa was warm and dry.
‘If you look after me, you said, who’ll look after you?’
We slept for a time like cats, our limbs curled around each other. You purred in your sleep. When the light began to decay we knew we had to move on. My compass whirled as I held it out, then twisted my hand until it pointed me due north across the frozen meadow. You trod in the slightly famous footsteps I made in the hoarfrost. The compass gave off a steady incandescence, enough to guide us once the light had gone. To keep us going we plucked and ate the hoarfrost. It tasted of whatever we wanted it to. You had caviar and champagne; I had bacon sandwiches and tea. We never tired and never felt the cold.
After many days, or was it weeks? we found ourselves back at the sofa.
‘Do you think this is the ends of the earth?’ you asked.
‘This may be one of them,’ I said. ‘I’m sure there are many others. Up there.’ I pointed to the clouds. ‘Over there.’ I waved my arms across the meadow. ‘Back the way we came. You should know,’ I said. ‘You said you would know when we got there.’
‘I know,’ you said. ‘But I wanted to make sure you did too.’
I realised I didn’t believe you, and that was when you started to fade. I tried to hold you, but you became ever more insubstantial, my hands clutching at air.
‘Who will look after you now?’ you asked, as you flattened to the merest outline. Then there was nothing left of you but a whisper of champagne breath, condensing into ice fragments and carried away on the wind.
Colin is seventy three, married, with grown up children and has lived in Liverpool for many years. Publications include two poetry collections in print and short stories on-line and in magazines and anthologies. He’s had plays performed in and around Liverpool.
He cycles everywhere and cultivates a quarter of an allotment. He is a long-standing member of the Dead Good Poets Society and co-runs a regular Story Night at The Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool.
Facebook: Colin Watts
Twitter: Colin Watts @FentimanW