The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes fiction

Angry Words
James Ryder

SLAM…the door shut behind him as he rushed across the bedroom reaching into the back of the wardrobe for the screwed up kit bag located at the bottom. He chucked it to the bed and hastily threw possessions into it from around the room. The shouting from the other side of the door had now stopped, replaced instead by the sound of pitiful weeping.

With the bag full he zipped it up, chucked it over his shoulder, composed himself and stepped back out of the door…she was there, in front of him, curled up in a ball, barefoot, her tear damp hair masking her eyes…she looked up in a final act of desperation but all her eyes were met with was his back as he disappeared down the hall and out the front door.

The bustling street greeted him and it was then that he realised that his plan to leave wasn’t especially comprehensive, in fact, now Thom was outside he realised he had no idea where he was gonna go or what he was gonna do. He had to go somewhere, he worried that if he stayed on the doorstep a second longer he would lose his nerve and go back inside. This would undermine the last half hour of fighting so he stepped out into the street and headed into town. The angry words of the past 30 minutes echoed around the inside of his head as he wandered amongst the crowds. He thought of who he could phone before realising that his phone had bounced off the kitchen wall only minutes before. With this setback in mind he felt that it was best to sit down and access just what he had managed to salvage from the house. His conclusion was swift and not especially pleasing. Yes he did have 5 pairs of boxers and a couple of t-shirts, a sleeping bag and a selection of tat from his desk. He did not have his phone wallet or many of the objects that would generally aid a departure from your home. His pockets contained a leaky pen, a lighter and some loose change.

The claustrophobia of the city was starting to get to him…the ancient winding streets felt narrower…he wanted to get out as fast as possible. The bus depot presented the perfect answer for someone in his limited financial situation, buying the ticket was a little more taxing, attempting to convey to a tired and hot bus driver that you would like to get as far as you can for £4.87 was a major hurdle.
‘So where exactly would you like to go sir?’
‘Oh as far as possible with this’ (he dumps the contents of his pocket in the tray)
‘Yes well that is all very well but you must want to go somewhere?’
‘Oh anywhere will do, can you recommend?’
‘Well Grantchester will get you out of the city, nice place this time of year, punting’

Thom wasn’t really in the mood for punting but grabbed his ticket and sat down all the same. He gazed idly out of the window as the familiar buildings of the city trudged past him as the bus struggled through the rush-hour traffic. Soon the University buildings and packs of cyclists disappeared to be replaced by the flat fields and cows of East Anglia.

The bus driver smiled something between amusement and fear as he stepped off onto the pavement.
The days tea-drinkers and holiday makers were all packing up and heading home…a constant stream of cars pulling out of the tea-room car park…exhausted children already asleep in the back. With no bus and practically no money he decided that the best thing to do was to walk. He looked back over his shoulder at the spires of the distant city, turned 180 degrees and set off down the road, his thumb held at his side in a half-arsed manner. He hoped that there were still enough decent human beings left in the world that one would pick him up.

After an hours walking he decided there wasn’t.

The sun was slipping lazily down the sky as the lights of a slowing car illuminated the road ahead of him…casting his giant shadow on the tarmac.

He waited for the car to reach a standstill before he bothered to turn around; there had been too many false starts that day. The driver was probably late 40’s and wore a grey suit and his tie unbuttoned and hanging down in that ‘I’m now free from work’ way…he cleared the half-eaten McDonalds from the passenger seat.

The introductory chit-chat ceased as soon as the doors slammed and the engine was started…they sat in silence staring at the approaching white lines until Thom remembered that there was one of those un-written laws that if you were picked up it was your job to entertain the driver. As Thom supposed the man did indeed work in the city and was commuting home to one of the surrounding villages and his wife and children. Thom also discovered that the man was not especially happy with this arrangement but needed to provide for his family so ‘what can you do?’ The man also failed to grasp exactly what Thom was doing hitchhiking in the countryside.
‘Well I had a bit of a fight with my girlfriend’, he began ‘See, she’s a designer for a music magazine called Spun, have you heard of it?’
The man shook his head and continued to stare at the road.
‘Well, anyway, they are moving their office to London and she is under the impression that we’re going with them, but I said that I didn’t want to live in a big city and then mentioned MY job, but she said that my job was as a shop assistant so didn’t really count and I said that I was trying to get published but it was hard and she said it’d be easier in London…’
The man was beginning to show some interest, perhaps not due to the quality of the story but perhaps more in alarm of the panicked manner in which it was told,
‘…and so said that maybe you she should go to London and that I should stay here. Then I left. Don’t really know what went wrong there’

The driver agreed that this was indeed and awkward situation to find ones self in. he spoke at great length about his own family and the difficulties of dealing with women and that sacrifices must be made and by the end Thom was in no greater position to decide whether he had done the right thing or not.

They drove into the half-light of a small village and Thom attempted to explain that this would do just fine. Admittedly it was a completely different village to the one he had named when he was picked up. But once a couple of swift lies were told and a hand shook the matter was cleared up and the man drove off. Perhaps rather happy to have gotten rid of the excitable young man sooner than he had expected.

The village provided very little and even less for someone with no money. A grocers (closed), a newsagent (closed) and a pub (open). Thom considered the idea of sleeping in the graveyard but the years of horror films and zombie movies tripped the paranoia switch in him and he decided against it. A footpath led from the graveyard out into the surrounding countryside and so with few other options he decided to follow it…he had the means to light a fire to keep warm and a sleeping bag to kip in.

He walked the footpath away from the city, around fields and through small patches of woodland…the birds were settling in for the night as the sun finally set. This made navigation somewhat more difficult but he wandered on promising to stop in the next suitable patch of trees. A small thicket presented itself a few hundred metres ahead, it fitted all of the criteria on Thom’s list, sheltered, providing firewood and most importantly not visible from any roads or houses. The one additional feature that didn’t make the list was the concept that maybe someone was there before him. He saw the licking flames of the fire, as he got closer.

It was decision time, did he attempt to sneak past un-noticed or did he bite the bullet and risk meeting whatever man-of-the-woods dangerous tramp figure may be there. The man was neither of these as Thom found out as they shared the fire. The man’s equipment and rucksack were old and had a very used look about them, although not mistreated. Everything seemed to fit exactly and the pots over the fire were spotlessly clean despite the few dents. The man himself was elderly and wrinkled, perhaps 80 even. Thom did wonder if it was wise for a man of his age to be sleeping out in the cold. The old man explained that he did this every 6 weeks or in the summer, left his aged wife and their grown up children and escaped out into the country. He said talking to the birds helped him keep sane.

Thom calmed in the presence of this stranger, his anger and frustration drifting to the sky alongside the wood smoke. For the second time that day he recounted his tale to a stranger, although this time in a far more calm and reflective way…the old man didn’t say a word, he simply sat looking into the fire, listening perfectly, taking in every word and emotion. Emotions he too had felt at some point in his long life.
Thom finished talking and they both sat looking into the embers, Thom waiting for the old man to reply. None came.
‘So will I ever get it’,
‘Get what’ the old man replied.
‘Get this…life, relationships and all that, will I ever work it all out?’
‘ I was once like you’ the old man said ‘I even had that dark brown hair, but yes I was like you, eager to live, to learn, to understand…’ ,
‘And have you learnt to understand, what is the answer?’ Thom interrupted.
‘Do you really think that if I told you it would make you any happier?’
‘Yes of course it would, it would certainly make my life a whole lot easier, why won’t you tell me?’
‘Because you wouldn’t understand’,
‘I'm a Cambridge graduate and you don’t think I’ll understand?’
The old man raised his dark eyes to meet Thom’s. The young mans burning with life and energy, the old mans radiating warmth and knowledge.
‘Well you have already proved that. The thing is, that there is an important difference between being clever and being wise. You can read all the books in the world and you may become very clever, but it isn't until you have lived many, many years on this earth that you start to become wise’,
‘So you're telling me that you know... or not?’
‘I’m telling you that whether I know or not, or indeed will tell you or not, will make very little difference, life is the greatest teacher.’
With this the old mans eyes gently closed and Thom was left staring into the dying fire alone.

Thom awoke the next morning to find the old man gone, his tent leaving only a flattened patch of grass…the fire had left a dark ring of dust and upon a log next to it lie a well used pen-knife with a post-it note attached…the words ‘good luck’ scrawled on the yellow paper in blue biro.
© James Ryder April 2006

James is a Creative Arts Major at the University of Portsmouth

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