My map was a chronicle of broken things. Dead trees. Fallen fences. Collapsed cliffs and the dead end paths that trailed away from them like tattered bandages. I didn’t need to record the things that had stayed the same, only those that had changed. Only those ruptured by time and careless hands.
Careless hearts too, to pull a kissing gate off its hinges and ditch it in a field.
Mud squelched beneath my boots as I approached the fallen gate. The wind blew a fractured song through the trees, brown leaves rattling for a moment before they were torn away. A one-legged gull watch me from a fence post with hungry eyes.
As I touched the gate, a memory flashed through me. Euan and I had come this way on one of our first dates. We’d stopped at this kissing gate to make sure it lived up to its name. A happy memory once, but now I viewed it through the cracked lens of resentment. I’d left the divorce papers on the kitchen table this morning, freshly torn from the envelope and waiting to be signed. I was working to escape those memories, not sink into them.
With a grunt, I hefted the gate and carried it back to where it belonged. I couldn’t fix the broken hinges today, but I could put it out of the way.
As I leaned the gate against its post, more images flashed into my mind. Memories, but not my own. A small boy walking through that gate with his aunt, basking in the wonders of nature. The same boy but older, swinging on the gate, laughing at the joy of movement and the clatter of wood as the gate hit the post. And now as a teenager with the taste of cheap cider in his mouth, egged on by his friends as he tore the gate from its hinges.
The gate was mourning, for itself and for that boy.
I let it go and took a step back, blinking. The images had seemed so real.
The gull landed on top of the gate and stared at me once more. As our eyes met, I felt another jolt, another rush of memories. The gull as a young bird, learning to find food in what people threw away. Older now, its leg tangled in fishing wire on a river bank, the pain and the blood as it tried to tear free and instead ripped its own flesh. Lying feverish with pain in a treetop, staring at the swollen wound where its leg had been. Learning to balance again, to live without.
I stumbled back, heart pounding in fear. Was I losing my mind?
My boot landed in a fox hole. I stumbled, slid on mud, and fell.
More images. Fences built and broken. Trees grown and felled. The cliff collapsing, inch by torturous inch, into a slowly rising sea.
In this place of memories, the land and everything in it shared my grief. We were sundered from our old selves by sorrow, but bound together in bereavement. I didn’t just cry for me, I cried for every thing on my map, every loss I had touched today.
I thought of that kiss and all the sorrow that followed.
Then the memory shifted. I felt it as the gate, a moment of love that had made this place feel special. For the land, it wasn’t tarnished by tears, but could still be a perfect moment.
Perhaps it could stay perfect for me too. Yes, it was part of my relationship with Euan, but it wasn’t the part I regretted.
Clouds parted, the honey gold of sunlight breaking through grey. I pulled myself up out of the mud and laid a hand on the kissing gate. I thought of all the other times I’d walked this way, alone or in company, in this same glorious sunshine, in the howling power of a gale, in crisp white snow that lay like peace across the land.
And I imagined tomorrow, when I would come back with tools and new hinges.
My map had gotten smeared with mud when I fell. I wiped off the worst of it, pulled a pencil from my pocket, and drew a circle around the x that marked the broken gate. I circled other things too, ones I could mend, places I could put back in order instead of chronicling their collapse.
The gull spread its wings. It was remembering a chip shop down the coast, from whose bins it had eaten the finest fish of its life. It would return there tonight and feast again.
And I would go home to sign the papers and move on with my life. Not everything could be fixed, some grief had to be borne, but we could still live anew, the land and I.
My map was a list of things to be mended.
This one’s for Gwyn of the Crudely Drawn Swords podcast. A tweet about his work inspired me to write about the mapping of broken things.
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By Sword, Stave or Stylus
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