I wrote this for the podcast Every Photo Tells. I don’t know if they will podcast, but here it anyway… It’s not my normal upbeat story, but that’s what this photo inspired.
The road was much as I remembered it.
Unsealed, windy and lined with patchy bushes with bare branches that scratched against each other. Occasional trees cast long dark shadows across grey stones, as it ran up ungently into the hills. No, nothing much had changed in the fifty years since I had last travelled that road.
I could remember clearly the first time I had followed those tight curves up into these hills. It was on a day much like this, with clear blue sky’s, cloudless and with only a gentle breeze that carried the tang of the sea that lay at the end.
I was driving the car, my black ford, my window wound open to the air and the wild opportunities that the day presented. Tabitha, my girl, was in the passenger seat, her legs tucked up under her as she knelt facing me. An open bottle of vodka cradled loosely in her hands, from which she occasionally took long swigs, between singing and laughing.
I can see her eyes, dancing with the trip, her short cropped hair blowing in the wind as it streamed through the windows. She would pass me the bottle and I would take long drinks, feeling the course liquor flow down my throat.
Today I felt only dry heat and dust, threatening to drown me. I had picked up a branch at the start of the road, and used that as a walking stick, a crutch against the aching of my joints. Stopping I fetched out a flask, filled with ice cold water, and tipping it back I tried to ease my throat. I mopped my forehead with a hanky, and stretched my back.
I could feel a familiar tightness in my chest, an ache that sent quivers up and down my side. I carefully took a bottle of pills from a pocket, and tapped two into my hand. I closed my eyes and waited for the ache to pass, and though it did it was replaced by an ache that had stayed with me for more years than I cared for.
It was a funny thing though, that even though I was probably at my loneliest, and my body trembled at the exertion, I still felt peaceful. Opening my eyes, I peered up the road and realised that I was nearly there, that I could see the corner just ahead.
I wearily picked up my feet, and concentrated on that corner, willing myself to continue. The pain and tiredness probably made it seem longer than it was, but it seemed to take forever to climb that last incline.
At last I stood, peering down over the edge of the corner. In the distance, over the top of the green forested valley, I could see the glittering light of sun as it reflected off the sea. A deep blue, that kissed a lighter blue and swam in a silvery haze. Below me a dense green brush, that harboured birds whose songs filled the air, and my objective.
There was no clear path down, and I expected none. This road was little used, despite the beach that stood at it’s end, and there was no reason to descend this bank. Well there had been no reason in fifty years. Fifty years to the day in fact.
At last I cast my stick away out into the scrub and sat down on the edge. I started to inch my way down the slope, scrabbling amongst rocks and weeds. Soon the road and heat was lost to me as I was swallowed by the cooler green of the bush. Sticks, and stones poked into me, thorns scrapped my skin, but they did not cause me too much discomfort. I already had enough aches and pains that my mind easily discarded the new ones.
It took my a quarter of an hour to descend the twenty meters. I found easily enough, even though it was overgrown with trees, and vines and covered in moss. My old black ford, my trusty first car, my freedom wagon.
It lay where it had last stopped, and where I had last seen it. This little remote valley was too far from anywhere for anybody to bother bringing equipment to hoist it out. The wrecking company that had been tasked with the job, had kept putting it off until it was forgotten in a pile of old paperwork, long since lost when they had gone out of business.
My hands shook with weariness and nervousness as I patted the cool metal. Flecks of sunlight slipped through the foliage showing the windows gone and nests long abandoned that had been made in the decaying leathers.
I eased around to where the drivers door should have been. Peering around I could see it poking out of the detritus of fifty years of nature. Bending down I could see that all that remained of the seat were rusty springs.
Settling in behind the wheel I still sighed in relief, despite the springs digging through my trousers and into my flesh. My legs had begun to tremble with the effort of the walk and climb down. I could hear my heart pounding in my chest, and the tightness that had my breaths coming in gasps. That familiar ache was back again, stronger than ever.
I patted at my jacket pocket and pulled the bottle of pills out. I had trouble opening the bottle, as my hands had gone into great trembling spasms. At last I had it open, and I spilled some pills onto my palm, spilling them on the floor of the car, and my trousers. I gazed at the pills for some time, as they swam in front of my eyes that blinked from stinging sweat.
I thought I could hear her voice then, she was singing the song we had sung as we came up the road. I closed my eyes recalling that last stretch of road.
Her hand had been playfully placed on my thigh, teasing me, as she put the bottle to my lips. The song had started again, as we had it on continuous repeat. It had been Tabitha’s favourite song.
I have a band of men and all they do is play for me
They come from miles around to hear them play a melody
Beneath the stars my ten guitars will play a song for you
And if you’re with the one you love this is what you do
We had laughed, and sang together, not a care in the world. Just us, the day, the car and the road.
Then the car had lost control. No, that’s not right, I had lost control of the car, and it had skidded spraying stones and then over the side down the bank. Flashes of the green, heat and noise tumbling down the bank. And then blackness and pain. A long pain.
With a sigh, I opened my eyes, my breaths coming even more laboured than before. I gazed at the pills, and tears mingled with the sweat. I never intended it to end like that back then, and today I did not know what I had intended.
Something seemed right though, and I leaned my head against the steering wheel closing my eyes, listening to the breeze in the leaves, and the birds. I fancied in the distance I could hear the crash of waves on beach.
I could hear her clearer then, still singing our song, beneath the stars my ten guitars will play a song for you.
Copyright Michael J. Parry 2010