The Rye Man

The Rye Man by David Park Page A

Book: The Rye Man by David Park Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Park
smoke now from the house. He remembered there had always been smoke from the chimney and with it the smell of peat, a tight funnel which spiralled back towards the trees and then seemed to hang motionless, trapped in some depression. They walked across the fields from which she had made a bare living by renting out the land for grazing, and from what vegetables grew in the stony patch to the side of the house.
    By now they could see the house was derelict, thin cordons of ivy fanning across the slate roof and black squares in some of the window frames where the glass was missing. A ragged tumble of tall grass and weeds smothered the garden, reaching the top of the broken fence, and clumps of gorse had crept closer and closer to the house.
    After she had been released she had moved away. People said she had gone to England but no one knew for sure. It had briefly passed into the hands of someone else and then he, too, was gone, the land sold and the house left to rot. The wooden door, still the dark red he remembered, sagged inwards, held now by a solitary rusted hinge. They paused at the brick path which led up to the house. It felt as though he was about to step into his past but there were none of the feelings that normally brought, only a powerful surge of emptiness, a kind of trembling inside him which made him nervous and uncertain. Emma moved closer but suddenly he wished she was not there, did not want her to see or be part of this moment, but it was too late now and he had to go on.
    He stepped out with a boldness he did not feel and made towards one of the windows. The little paint left on the sill was blistered and bubbled, flaking away at his touch. Resting his arms on it, he shaded his eyes from the reflected light and peered into the room. Empty of furniture, a light fitting hung limply from the low ceiling and on the fireplace was a fantail of smoke-blackened bricks. He looked at the faded pattern of wallpaper, its corners flapping loose with years of damp, and the black-framed mirror whose silvered surface stared into a cracked emptiness. The mirror in which each day she would have brushed her hair and pinned up the coil of tresses, the mirror where her fingers would have traced the lattice of lines spreading slowly from the corners of her eyes as she searched for signs of approaching middle age. Where, too, her secret slept, waiting to rise up and meet her unbroken gaze.
    He climbed the tree carefully, selecting his hand- and footholds like an experienced climber while the scent of bark and sap swamped his senses and his hands felt sticky with resin. Once he reached the lower branches the hardest part was over and he sat in the fork and rested. His knees bore the crinkled print of bark and he tried to lick the resin off his hands. Above him the canopy of leaf and branch rustled in the breeze, light squinting through the moving mesh.
    His eyes suddenly caught the scuffmarks on his sandals and he spat on them, then rubbed them with the cuff of his jumper. They were still new enough to merit regular inspections from his mother and he did not want to incur her wrath. He knew they had been expensive. They had gone the previous Saturday to Dawson’s in Market Street in a kind of yearly ritual which marked the coming of summer, and Mr Dawson had measured his feet in the metal shoe with the sliding toes, then produced a green box from the steeply-tiered shelves. He had the habit of holding the box in his broad hand and removing the tissue with a flourish to reveal the shoes as if performing some conjuring trick.
    When they were on his feet, Mr Dawson pinched the toes with his thumb and finger to assuage his mother’s concern that there was growing room, and he had to parade the length of the shop, conscious of their eyes on his feet. A serious business buying shoes. He loved the smell of the new leather, the cleanness of the white spongy sole, but above all he loved the lightness on his feet. After the clumpy

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