A Darkness, Curving
She was dead, and all he could do was hold her still warm hand while the cold wind outside rattled the sash-framed window and the bedside light spread its circle of dim light upon the bed. Outside, in the dark of that cloudy night, the Cockerel began to crow. There was an Owl, then and not far away, screeking for a while, and Oswald sat by old Oak bed – beside her now Earthly-lifeless body – hardly breathing, and he was still there as the dull Dawn broke beyond the window and his sister showed the Doctor into the room who, holding to his modern profession, pretended not to notice the folk-charms entwined around the headboard and the small glass bottles of home-made unctions on the dark, old, table where a faded sepia photograph in a tarnished silver frame showed a comely women in a bonnet holding what appeared to be Venetian full-face mask of unsmiling bearded man.
Oswald left them, then, to descend the steep stairs of the old, cold, stone-built Shropshire farmhouse, gather his tweed cap from the peg by the back door, and to wander into the old Dairy that abutted the back of the farmhouse. His three farm dogs were pleased to see him, and he let them out from their sleeping quarters where they fastly ran – as they always did each morning – into the yard and then into the meadow field behind the barn. Oswald himself – slowly now, like the old man he might be in twenty years – walked the short distance to the old Orchard of decaying Apple trees that held the wooden chicken coup, and he was unfastening that door, having removed the long bolt that held it in place – a defence against the Fox – when he remembered he had forgotten the Chicken’s feed.
This had been her job – except for the past weeks of her illness – and an early task she liked, and he returned to the old Dairy to gather a pail full of feed. Then, the chickens freed and fed, he leant on the wooden gate – one end tied to the sagging almost broken wooden post by bailing twine – to watch them as they spread out among the tufted field of grass, pecking, searching. For twenty-five years – for twenty-five years – she had brought love, companionship, and a mostly wordless esoteric understanding to his rural and rather taciturn life.
Slowly the low alto-cumulus cloud, westerly-wind-driven, broke to reveal patches of blue, and once, twice, one of the farm cats came to attract his attention, meowing – from a safe distance – in search of easy food. Then, disappointed, it sauntered off back toward the barn where during the day and sometimes at night it slept among the hay.
Oswald must have stood for a long time at the gate, for his sister came to stand beside him and place her hand gently upon his shoulder. “The Doctor’s gone, and I’ve made some breakfast. He’ll give us the Death Certificate in a few days.”
He turned, and briefly smiled a sad half-smile as the wind caught the blonde hair that has somehow escaped from his sister’s single rather old-fashioned plait. Years younger than him, she had been – was – married, but those recent and few childless years were not kind to her as he, her husband, squandered their meagre earnings every evening at the Inn in the village where they lived and his fists of paranoid jealous fury bruised her body, bleak week after bleak bruising week, while her plain soft beauty was beginning to become gradually broken down.
But here, there was a peaceful calm, and for a minute – more – they, brother, sister, stood together. No words could capture their sorrow, no gesture relieve the sadness and the pain, and so they walked slowly across the muddy yard to sit at the table in that large kitchen. Jane had made and lit a fire in the glass-fronted woodburning stove and they sat, at the Oak table, upon their worn Oak chairs, to eat – to be – in silence.
Their peace, the silence, did not last, and the loud persistent rapping on the front door roused Oswald from his remembering of times past so lovingly, so esoterically, shared.
“Where’s she?” Jane’s husband demanded, before pushing a surprised Oswald aside and rushing along the hall into the kitchen.
Jane sat there, at the table, unmoving.
“You slut!” He shouted, and went to grab her arm. He was a tall man of stocky build, his complexion ruddied by his outdoor working life, and he had hoisted her to his feet when Oswald intervened, grasping the man’s left arm.
“Keep out of this!” Jane’s husband shouted, easily freeing himself from Oswald’s grip.
Oswald took several steps back before saying, “Get out of my house, now.”
“Or what?” Jane’s husband said, turning toward Oswald and smiling, arrogantly sure of himself, of his physical prowess. “Come on then! You stupid little twat! You and your kind don’t frighten me!”
“You didna heed our warning,” Oswald hatefully said to him.
The scars on the man’s face were still visible, but the beating had done nothing to change his temper and he lurched toward Oswald. Jane tried to restrain her husband, but he shoved her violently away and she fell to the floor.
Suddenly, Oswald himself became enraged. This intrusion into his house, the assault on his sister, the man’s arrogance – but perhaps most of all the darkness, curving, growing, within him – combined to transform him in that instant and he became an instinctive animal rushing toward a menacing intruder.
Then they were on the ground, grappling with each other, overturning furniture and chairs, until Oswald with a dark growing strength pinned his adversary down, his fists pummelling pummelling the man’s head and face until his fury, his animal fury, subsided. He got up, then, as Jane embraced him, and they stood together – brother and sister – for what seemed a long time while, outside, the Sun of early October rose into a clear sky and a few cars passed along the narrow hedged-lined country lane that joined the hamlet of his farmhouse to the village that bore her loveless marriage-home.
It was the barking of the three returning dogs that roused them, and she went to kneel down to her husband as her brother stood, with bloodied knuckles, holding onto the back of a chair.
“He is dead…” her quiet voice said.
They sat there at their breakfast table, in silence, for nearly half an hour. He did not explain what he was going to do, and she did not ask, but she helped him lift the dead body of her husband into the hand cart that her brother brought to the back door of the Dairy and watched him haul it away, followed by his dogs, before she attended to the mess in the kitchen.
There was furniture to right; broken crockery to collect, dispose of; blood-stains on the tiled floor to clean and wash away. And she had restored the place to its former neat, clean, appearance – the table set again – when he returned, sweaty, muddy, bloody. She made a pot of tea, and they drank with no words between them until she said, “His car…”
He changed his clothes to leave to drive that car far enough away, and it was a long walk back, over hilly fields, a stream, from the place of its abandonment, so that by the time he returned there was an Undertaker’s van parked where the wooden lane-hedged gate led to the farmyard behind his house. But Jane had dealt with everything in his absence and he was left to stand, cap in hand, by his front garden fence, as the two sombre men discreetly completed the last part of their business, respectfully bowing their heads toward him before Jane handed each of them a gift, wrapped in hessian sacking.
“You must be hungry,” Jane said as she came to her brother to hold his hand while he watched the black van trundle away along the lane.
“No,” he sighed as a wistful desire to have his wife back, alive, assailed him.
“You really should eat something.”
And she went down to cellar darkness to fetch a special-something, glass-jar kept, that she with her old-knowing knew would aid him.
That day set the pattern for their lives together, for he would rise early – as he had done for decades – to begin the toiling tasks of his day while she busied herself with domestic duties. They seldom spoke – for there seemed no need – and he dourly went about his business on the farm, tending to his scores of free-range Tamworth pigs, until the funeral day arrived. It was a quiet affair, as he desired, at the village Church six miles distant, and of the seven mourners present he, in his one suit, of brown Tweed, spoke to only three: village ladies of elderly years who came, respectfully, dressed in black.
“Such a grieving you must have for your Rounwytha,” one of them whisperingly said after a sand-filled coffin had been laid in earth where the ancient Yew stretched forth its branches over old graves in a hedge-lined corner.
“Yes,” he mumbled.
“Come you now,” another said, and touched his hand. “There’ll be another, I know.”
He sighed then as she – outwardly elderly, frail, with a face of former youthful beauty – looked at him with esoteric smile. He felt the old strength there, within her, as it had been within his wife, and as she the elderly passed part forth to be again with him, he was again the land around. For there was a still warm Sun to breathe his – their – world with Life; a Buzzard circling in skies above; a breeze to break by sound of leaves such churchyard silence as then entwined them.
“Jane awaits,” the lady said, “she’s free, now,” and he – as if bidden – loped away to stand beside his fair young sister. The four coffin-bearers, mourners – tough, sinewed – bowed their heads toward him, and Jane acknowledged them with smile. For there would be gifts again for them, as when after one early night not long passed they had met to warn to beat her bully-husband.
It was weeks later on one dry Sunny cold morning day when, after such premonition as awoke her, they had their only reason to return, placing fresh flowers on that empty grave as two un-local men approached them.
“I’m sorry to trouble you,” the taller and older of the men said to Oswald’s sister. “I’m Detective Constable Judd.” He fumbled in the inner pocket of his suit for his Warrant Card. “Shrewsbury CID. Would it be alright if I asked you a few questions? About your husband.”
Jane politely smiled at him.
“When did you last see your husband?” he asked.
“A few weeks ago – on the morning that my brother’s wife died. Why?”
“His employer reported him missing. We found his car, abandoned. You’ve not heard from him since then?”
“You’re staying with your brother, I understand?”
“She has been,” Oswald interjected, “since before when my wife was ill.”
“Did he arrive by car?” the Policeman asked Jane.
“What time did he leave?”
“Some hours before the undertakers arrived at noon.”
“Would you mind telling me why you left to stay with your brother?”
Oswald interjected again. ” ‘Cos he was bad news, that’s why. The drink. The gambling. Not to mention the beatings. Cowardly bastard.”
“I see,” Judd said, revealing no emotion.
“Best thing she ever did,” Oswald continued, “leaving him. Didn’t want go back, neither.”
“You didn’t like him?” Judd asked Oswald.
“Made no secret of it. Anyone from round here tell you that. Many people round here didn’t like that one – always fighting, riling people he was. Came see her that morning – told him to go.”
“And he did?”
“He did. I said to him: my wife’s just died – he knew she was ill, dying, that Jane was looking after her – and he must have had some heart in him somewhere I suppose, for he just up and left, went away, not saying a word.”
“You have not heard from him, since?”
“No, I haven’t,” Jane answered.
“You’re not concerned?” Judd asked her.
She shook her head, but it was Oswald who said, “Why would she? Better off where she is. Should ‘ave left him long time ago.” Then, turning to his sister, “Never knew why’s you married him.”
“I loved him. Least ways, I did, once,” she replied.
“Thank you, thank you,” Judd said to both of them, meaning it. “If you hear from him, I’d appreciate it if you would let us know.”
“Yes, yes of course,” Jane said.
Then they were gone, walking back to their car parked by the low stone wall that bounded the South side of that Churchyard.
“Routine,” Jane said to him, and they did not speak of the matter again either as they walked the miles on footpath and over hill back to the farm, or as they resumed their daily routine, nor at night, their day of tasks complete, when he – tired – went to his room, and she to hers.
So October gave way to cold, damp, sunless November where their trees became barren of leaves, apples were stored away, hedge berries picked for jam, early darkness descended, and there was need of an evening fire in the stone fireplace of the sitting room where they would sit, each in their own worn familiar chair, in silence: she, more often than not reading by dim light of nearby lamp, and he staring into flames. Each Friday would find him alone in daylight hours, for she left to leave him alone with his work, driving his rust-stained car to town, ten miles distant, to buy whatever supplies they needed, while Sunday Dawn would find them together in their silence – in whatever weather – in large-pond field by old Albert-Oak whose fulsome branches thickly sheltered grave of Oswald’s wife. Jane would scatter flowers then upon the leaf-littered grass to say her ancient intonations, grand-mother given, for they and she were of that ancient way which grieved them with that scent of Earth and bade them welcome warm Spring as time to grow and darkening Autumn as time to store, when perchance a certain sacrifice was due as turned that Earth of theirs past seventeen seasons of each life-bearing Summer.
Thus did their routine continue until that late evening three days past the fullness of the moon when such a storm as brought some tree branches down in old Orchard swept across the hilly border land with beating rain. He had been out, securing, checking, fences, pens, pigs, and returned soaked, his left hand gashed by wire. She came to him then, as he – boots, torn waterproofs, divested in the Dairy – stood by wood stove in that kitchen. There was bandage, for his hand, warmth of female fingers gentle on his wrist, and he turned to look at her, holding softly her by arms.
She was smiling as a young girl, nervous, and he so close he could smell her lavender scented freshly bathed body wrapped in flannelette nightdress patterned by small pink flowers. So he yearning moved closer until their bodies touched to feel her breasts slightly lightly pressing against him. He kissed her then, very gently, on her lips, and she did not flinch nor move away and so they walked, bodies touching, yearning, those steep stairs to her room where she helped him, and slowly, remove still wet clothes, as he helped her free her body from warming long nightdress.
No words spoken when he kissed her breasts and when they lay, side by side and naked, for a while, tenderly touching, kissing, before he moved to lie above her to ease her legs apart with his to place himself inside her warmth while rain made sounds upon the panes of bedroom window and wind creaked trees and she eagerly held him, wrapping her legs around his back, and his thrusts sweated them until after long-lasting rhythm she then he groaned to spasm in pure lascivious joyful-delight.
He did not leave her then, but slept – as he knew she wished as storm outside gave way to peace – in her arms under a warming duvet until the light of day awoke them.
There were no words between them, then that Dawn, only kisses, with she kissing him until he aroused again let her lie upon him and guide him into her. He held her breasts to feel their warmth and softness, to kiss each nipple. And when he stopped, she with silent gestures urged him on until his teeth massaged each now protruding one in turn harder and harder as her rising and then descending quickened in pace until her own shuddering desired ecstasy came when he madly-desiring turned her now relaxing body to be below him to be ecstatically within her until that moment of arching back and straining body when all the seed left within him was joyfully drained away to be with her.
They needed no words and none were said on that morning or on those that followed each of their then every shared night together, and in the days after they began again to be at peace, joyful, slowly at first, and then when – three weeks later – she quietly suggested they be joined on-ground in hill-top field, trees-around, he, somberly, remembering, agreed. And so they did, on coldish full-moon night when body of naked sister warmed naked brother while they entwined brought forth such a wrydful knowing as filled them both to overflowing to bring a warmth to rouse trees from beginning Winter sleep and even soil itself, promising fruitful growth when Sun-warmth came forth next Earthly-solar-cycle, while – nearby as Buzzard fly – a lady with a face of former youthful beauty before wood-fire sat, wrydful, knowing, smiling, knitting baby-clothes.
Winter saw them together, happy, keeping that their silence, until that morning when she awoke, late, long after he had departed to his work. She was uneasy, then, for a while, feeling as she had for days how her body had changed even before the nausea made her, briefly, stand to steady herself. She went to him, then, dressed, as he toiled away, cleaning out one of the many breeze-block pens which at night and during hardy stormy weather held his porcine stock.
“I’m with child,” she directly said.
He was pleased, elated, and went to embrace her – but desisted, given his smelly dirty working clothes.
He came in then to kitchen, following her, and – dirty clothes changed for ones of sister-cleaned – sat with her by lit and warmful stove.
She did not have to ask that obvious question, for he rose to stand beside her to place his hand gently over her womb and kiss her on her lips.
“We’ll be alright,” he said.
“I know, for she – them three – are watching over us.”
He, understanding, smiled, bowed, to return to his toiling pleasing work.
The day was unusually warm, even for that blossoming time of year, and they were in old Orchard sitting Sun-shaded eating Jane’s prepared luncheon spread when he leant over to kiss her fully, longly, on her lips and briefly fondle her body and her breasts, and it was only the barking of the dogs that warned them.
“I’m sorry,” the youngish stranger man said, “to disturb you.” And he smiled a wryful smile as dogs growled and barked and he walked up muddy path from still-open gate.
“Yes?” Oswald gruffly said rising to his feet while his sister – not quite at pregnancy full-term – rested her back against that friendly tree.
“Hi, I’m Jonathon. Jonathon Wistman?” He waited for recognition, and when none came, he added, “The writer. I wrote you a letter some weeks ago.”
“Don’t read letters.” His three dogs came to sit down beside him, baring their teeth at the intruder.
“Perhaps,” Wistman said, turning to Jane and smiling in a knowing city-kind of way, “you may have?”
“Folk-lore of Shropshire?”
“Yes, indeed! Research for my book.”
“Not interested,” Oswald said.
“Perhaps, your sister – ” Wistman began to say.
“Neither is she.”
“But you must know the legends surrounding this place – that wood,” and he pointed to where hill-top field hid, by trees, that sacred clearing.
“I’ll bid you good-day, then,” Oswald said, turning his back on the man and holding out his hand for Jane, who he helped to her feet. She whispered to him then and he – momentarily startled – stole a scything-look at the man, steadied, calmed, himself enough to say, to Wistman, “Join us for some tea, inside, would you?”
Pleased, Wistman said, “Yes, of course. Thank you! That would be jolly nice! It’s been a long walk.”
Jane – as befitted her stage of bearing – slowly led him toward the farmhouse while Oswald followed behind, and the youngish man from the city did not notice him palm a rock from stony path as he did not see Oswald raise his arm to smash the rock down upon his head. The body fell, limply, to the ground where puddles met a few tufts of feet-worn grass, and Oswald struck again as dogs howled and the hot Sun bore hotly down amid the song-bird broken-silence where a Cockerel crowed as a Cockerel crows, and a woman, with a face of former youthful beauty – not far as Buzzard fly – smiled her smile of relief. For there would be no telling now of brother-sister story, rending such darkness as cloaked them.
Oswald did not explain what he was going to do, and Jane did not ask, but she helped him lift the dead body into the hand cart that her brother brought, and watched him wheel it away before she got water to wash away the few stains of blood and bury the rock in the front flower-full pleasing garden. And when he returned – sweaty, muddy, bloody – she made a pot of tea and they sat, in silence, together in their coolful kitchen.
There would be no telling, now, she knew, and they would be free, with others of their kind, to celebrate special rouning when her water-brake and she squatting brought forth from womb that daughter-heiress, there where hill-top field hid, by trees, their sacred ancient clearing.
Order of Nine Angles
119 Year of Fayen
Image credit: The Secret Joy, A Painting by Richard Moult