I walk through Horley, on the Hornton Road. I walk beneath the dark belly of a ley lundai, smelling foreign woods in the Oxfordshire air: hot dust, pine resin. A woodpigeon coo-coo,cichoos above my head. It’s almost dark, goose-bumps rise like velcro teeth on my arms. A car pulls out from Sor Brook Farm, the driver flicking on its lights, not seeing me beneath the trees.
I walk on, watching my feet, my brown toes with dark-red nail polish, slow-moving in the heavy dusk. My once-sparkled silver flipflops are desultory in their sound: slip-slap. Slip…slap.
Then I feel his footsteps, sliding through mine.
‘Where’ve you been?’ he asks, and I hear his tone. Aggrieved. As if I’ve no right. ‘Why don’t you write any more?’
‘I do,’ I tell him. My voice is mild.
‘You don’t,’ he says. ‘Not what anyone can read, anyway. So what’s the point?’
I watch my feet. Slip-slap.
‘So’s that it?’ he says. ‘You’ve finished?’
I stop, pushing my hands down, past my denim shorts, them clumsily back, searching for the too-tight pockets. My hands. Usually so busy: dog leads, children’s plaits; zips, stuck dolly-clothes, un-stuck lego. Shopping bags, wooden spoons, fistfuls of flowers. The keyboard of my laptop.
I pull them free, and look at them. Feel the need in my fingers, the buzz of a strength that was gone, and is now returning.
‘I’ll write,’ I say.
He steps towards me. ‘You did it again,’ he says. He lifts a hand as if to touch my arm, but we both know he never will. ‘You got lost, didn’t you?’
‘No,’ I say. ‘Not so bad. I got tired, this time. Just tired.’
‘So you’ll write?’
I nod. ‘I’m back,’ I want to say, but my words stick fast to my teeth, like too many toffees. By the time my tongue works them free, he’s gone.
I turn for home, and I feel it again, through my bones. The beat of something joyous. The re-starting of an energy that I don’t control but depend upon utterly. The energy without which my world is miserable and beige, everything I love beyond a curtain I cannot draw.
I smile, suddenly, and fling out my arms as I walk. My feet hit the ground with a different rhythm, the old one, with purpose and direction. Slippety-slap, slippety-slap, echoing, repeating: vital and alive.