For weeks I planned my walks around her. Ella and I neglected the woodlands. I was noticing less about the woods and noticing more about her. I noted that for weeks she followed a ritual of what clothes to wear for each day, she had a cycle. She wears four different pairs of riding trousers to take Bussy for her walks, two are navy blue and the other two are black, but for Sunday she wears jeans. For five days of the week she wears her black or blue jumpers with her mostly white shirts and the occasional light blue, teal or pink shirt underneath. She has many different walking boots. Most of the time she wears her riding boots, but on the odd occasion, when it isn’t freezing or raining, she wears black running trainers and she runs with Bussy. She runs at least once a week.
Recently though, something has changed with her, she seems to have more of a stride, more makeup on and more skin-tight clothing. She likes to wear her jeans more than ever now. She finishes her walks in the woodlands much quicker and spends more time in the open field at the end of the paths in the lower woodlands.
Another cold morning and Ella and I have left earlier than usual for our morning walk. This time, we take a different path. As we walk through the higher grounds, we enter the lower woodlands and then move into the deeper woodlands.
We haven’t been this deep for some time but it’s still as lonely as ever. These parts of the woods have always seemed so dead. When I was a kid, my foster parents warned me not to come this deep into the woods. I don’t have a clue why. If anything, it’s the safest part of the woods.
The one thing I noticed about these woods is that the pine trees are always bare. The trees are always brown and dead, except for the holly bushes.
I keep Ella on her lead as we wander up and down the woods. Staring through the trees, I can see the lower woods. I see a couple of dog walkers following the dirt paths. The first is an elderly woman walking her Jack Russell, and the second is a man with his German Shepherd.
We’ve been walking for over an hour and I notice the lack of singing from the birds and feel as if I’ve entered a graveyard. The only sound in these woods is the occasional snapping of twigs and drone of the wind. The ground is mostly undisturbed, but something which stands out to me is a path where someone has walked, dragging their feet, shuffling along.
My immediate thought is that it’s the children playing, but children won’t play in these intimidating woods; even if they did come here, they would be running. It is someone careless, probably the drunk. I have often wondered where he comes from and now I know. I follow the path which leads me to a cluster of holly bushes. The holly bushes sit in an oval formation, with a small parting in the centre. An obvious giveaway that it is the drunken man is the empty beer bottle that lies on the ground next to the parting. I turn around and head back towards the lower woodlands to keep an eye out for her.
I check my watch, she’ll come by in around three and a half minutes. I look to the upper woodlands, and see her and Bussy running, but they ran yesterday.
She has her hair tied up, she has her riding gear on but she’s running; she only ever runs when she has her trainers on.
I watch her jog the length of the upper woodlands and past me, allowing me to exit the deeper woods and follow behind her on the path. Ella picks up the scent of Bussy and becomes excited, she tugs on the lead and I yank her back.
We come to the opening of the woods and walk across the wet grass. The sky is cloudless and the sun is out. Although the temperature has dropped, the sun has melted the overnight frost that had given the grass a multi-coloured sparkle, similar to the appearance of diamonds. I notice patches of mud dotted around the field and then I see Bussy running around with the big German Shepherd. I stop walking and drag Ella back. I look across the field to see the woman. She twiddles her hair between her fingertips whilst she speaks to a man. I take a deep breath and continue walking. As we reach the halfway point to the exit, Bussy comes charging over and begins to sniff Ella. The German Shepherd bundles into Ella and sniffs her behind.
“Jake stop it. Where are your manners?” the man shouts across the field.
He nods to me, but I do not return his greeting.
Ella wants to be allowed off her lead but I continue to walk, dragging her behind me.
I watch the woman talking to him. She leans from side to side; she tilts her head and twiddles her hair. She faces him and does not look away once. I look her up and down countless times. Her riding trousers are new, brand new. Usually she has flecks of mud on them, but not today, the fabric is darker than her other pairs. I notice her arse, the back of her trousers are not worn like on her other pairs. I let out a cough, neither of them pay attention. I force out another and in the corner of my eye I see him look at me but she does not turn toward me.
I speed up my pace and leave the field. I don’t know what hurts more, the fact that she’s talking to someone else or the fact she didn’t even look at me.
Walking in the centre of the road, I imagine her with him. They exchange numbers, he goes back to hers and they talk a little more. They get on, he makes her laugh and well, she likes a man that can make her laugh. They organise a date for tonight. After the date he walks her to her door and they share a kiss. He suggests they should meet the next day, to take their dogs for a walk, how about the next morning? ‘Yeah sure,’ she’ll reply. They continue that cycle for a bit and then they fall in fucking love.
A droning noise approaches me from behind. I imagine myself with her, I’m him and she looks at me. It’s me she’s facing and her eyes look into mine. As I imagine looking into her eyes, I’m shaken from my vision by three blasts of noise. I slowly turn around to see a car trying to get past me. I turn away and step onto the grass verge, the car accelerates by.
I get home and let Ella off her lead. She walks over to the towel I have set on the floor for her and she rubs her belly on the floor, snuffling happily.
I go to the wall and look at the photos of her I put up. I can’t give up. I want to go and see her tonight, but I can’t bring myself to see them together again.
I go into the kitchen and reach for the wall cupboards. I hold the cupboard handle for a minute without opening it. I notice individual flecks of dust.
“It’s been a long time,” I think to myself.
I pull open the door and grab the bottle of whiskey. I take the bottle into the living room and push an armchair from across the room to the wall. I set myself down and sip from the bottle.