The Woods Are Mine
Someone was walking in the woods as the train passed. It was autumn and the woods were crimson and brown. It was hot in the train so I opened a window and let the smell of autumn in. The ticket inspector came and checked my ticket. He looked grumpy and bored, not at all like the man in the woods. I had nowhere to go, so I got off at the next station and walked back to the woods. The clouds were entertaining divas. The leaves were sad songs the man hummed along to. I wondered if the man was married. Another train passed heading in the opposite direction. Someone waved at me from the middle carriage, a man walking alone in the woods. I waved back but it made me feel lonely and frustrated. My life was spinning out of control. I had never married and the girl of my dreams had three children to three different fathers. A leaf fell at my feet and I started to wipe it against my cheek. It smelled like leather so I stuffed it in my pocket and sat against a tree. I waited till twilight. I wanted people in passing trains to see me covered in leaves. I thought that might be of interest.
The woods were owned by the Duke of *********, whose ancient castle hangs over the river on the other side. Sometimes I’ll walk the length of the river, stumbling over fallen trees, just to reach the ruined castle. It’s possible I was a peasant in a previous existence but I’ve never been a Duke and nothing can ever be proven. Politics is of no consequence in the woods now, although once it might have been. There is no political answer for loneliness. Under the castle, I’ll eat a sandwich I prepared at home from the last slices of a Warburton’s loaf. I sense the deer sniffing the scented air, getting closer. The Duke who hunted deer is dead now and buried in an ornate mausoleum. Some say he was murdered in his sleep by an angry peasant. I don’t know the truth about that but I want to leave a piece of my sandwich under the castle for the deer. A rainbow drops over the castle into the river. The people of the parish have never been happier, now that the Duke is dead.
Deep in the woods there’s a convent, and a garden in the convent where the nuns walk and pray. I watched them from a distance, imagining we were married. One time I approached and asked the nuns to exorcise my demons. The left side of my body was a dark, damp bog. The nuns carried on rejoicing, unused to men and requests for exorcisms. Eventually I left and lay in a stream to ease the pain in my body. Everything in me was empty and rattled like an old sack of rubbish. I imagined the nuns in a shower of leaves, hoping the stream could bring some uniformity at least. My wet clothes gripped me. A train passed, rattling like an old metallic ghost. Someone saw a man lying in his clothes in a stream like a ghost. Someone else prayed.
There’s a crumbling wall in a clearing in the woods. I sat on top and waited for a train to pass, wondering about the wall. Brambles grew at the foot of the wall and I kept thinking I might fall into them. Some of the brambles had been nibbled by deer. The wall was once part of a storehouse the nuns used when the war was on. I dropped from the wall and collected brambles for my journey. I was travelling back to the war. A train passed full of school kids. Can you take me back to the war, I shouted. The kids waved but some shouted weirdo and perv and some hadn’t even heard of the war. I ate the brambles and drank from a stream but only ended up back at the wall. I sat on top and knew the war was nearer than I could ever imagine.
At sundown I met the man I’d seen from the train. He looked afraid and backed away into the woods as I held out my hand for him to shake. People used to call me Fox and I admit I hadn’t washed for days. My hand smelled of earth and river water and was rough like a rotting leaf. If only he knew how much I’d admired him from the train while he walked alone in the woods. I don’t have any heroes left but there’s a song I like which seems to say it all. It occurred to me I hadn’t eaten since I’d finished the Warburton’s loaf. The only way to make friends of the deer was to leave a trail of food for them. In a wave of bitterness I concluded the man had no clue there were deer in the woods and even if he saw one he’d probably be ashamed of being alone in that environment. At least in my loneliness I could reverence the deer.