The Rye Man

The Rye Man by David Park

Book: The Rye Man by David Park Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Park
grass from the bank and fed them, cautious of their champing teeth, and he teased her about her nervousness.
    Further down the road they came to a bridge which crossed the old railway line and they slipped between the end of the stone parapet and hedge and clambered down the slope leading to the track. The steep banks on each side were a tangled scrub of bush and trees while at the top tall hedgerows disguised the line’s very existence. There were no sleepers, no metal debris anywhere to mark the line of the track, only the raised ridges of grass stretching like steps into the distance. It was a sanctuary for wildlife, birds, and in the soft sandy slopes was sprinkled a maze of rabbit warrens. Probably the fox was there somewhere, too.
    They walked along the line, skirting the marshy stretches where water seeped down the steep sides and soaked into pools of brackish water. In wet weather parts would be impassable. Whole sections had been almost reclaimed by the undergrowth and he had to push a way through, carefully holding branches open like a door so that they would not spring back into her face. Everywhere were secret covens of foxgloves fading into withered shadows of themselves, and festering blisters of toadstools. Sometimes they were startled by a sudden scurrying in the middle of some bush or a bird taking off from a branch overhead and then they had to stop and smile at each other to dispel their unease.
    They walked along the line for about a mile, sometimes having to climb over rickety barriers erected by farmers who wished to discourage trespassers, and once they went under another bridge where the decaying innards of some discarded engine lay rusting under choking tendrils of ivy. When they came to a point where a solid barrier of barbed wire prevented further progress, they climbed the twisting ribbon of path which successive feet had worn to bare soil and emerged in a humped scrub of field.
    They paused to regain their breath after the steepness of the climb and she pulled a burr from his hair. He was not sure where they were and it felt good, as if they were on some childhood adventure together. Walking to the top of the rise they looked about them to gain their bearings and she was talking to him, holding on to the sleeve of his jumper in mock exhaustion, but he was not listening, her words drifting through his senses. Down below, the copse of tall trees, the snake of stream beyond them. The angle where the hedgerows hit the curve of the road. A topography lodged in his memory. But it was the house, the house above all with its slate roof, squatting on the sweep of field under the shadow of the tree, whose pollarded branches clutched the sky like stumps of fingers. His eyes moved slowly from the line of the house to the stone barn and then away again. He crouched down almost as if he was frightened the house might see him, know that he had come back.
    She was looking at him now, asking him what was wrong, her face searching for answers.
    â€˜Maguire’s place – that’s it. That’s where it happened.’
    He stood up and stared at it, his memory and the present fusing in a fleeting pulse of fear. He felt her hand slip into his. There was a tightness in his stomach. He had always known that the return to his home ground would eventually bring him to this place but he had always thought he would choose the time, never thought of it happening like this – unprepared, suddenly thrust at him when he did not expect it.
    The place held them both still and silent. She pulled his hand, inviting him to return the way they’d come but he did not move, did not take his eyes from the house below.
    â€˜I want to look.’
    â€˜Are you sure?’
    He didn’t reply, but started down the slope to where the farmhouse nestled in the hollow. Everything seemed smaller, less solid than he remembered it, the different parts which went to make it disconnected and insubstantial. There was no

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