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|Recommended Listening: Make This Go On Forever by Snow Patrol||
As Couples Often Do
Emma Kathryn McDonald
They are fighting, as couples often do. Raised voices through the rain, water crawling up their jeans, they trek on. A walk to clear the head.
They try to stay light-hearted but jokes turn to sarcasm, sarcasm turns to shouts. Anger heats the rain to steam.
No umbrella, they bear the rain like a burden. As they pass the bus stop, where they were chauffeured by the number 20 to their first date, a young woman shields herself from the tension, pulling further into the thick plastic shelter until they are gone.
The roads are busy, typical football traffic for a Sunday afternoon. Cars veer through burst drains, soaking the two even more than they already are. Her dark denim coat clings to her new long-sleeved navy top and dyes her white bra beneath a dull shade of blue, spoiling what should have been a surprise for later. His aging leather keeps him lucky but the pools in his battered and torn trainers keep his mood in the same sodden state as his socks.
They are a couple who love the outdoors. Used to go for two walks a day, spend hours under lazy oak trees, even had their first kiss on a rainy June morning in the school playground all those years ago. But there is no magic in the rain today.
Clasped hands fall free; his hide in his pockets while hers sneak up her sleeves. No more words. Brutal silence, harsher than the shouts. Stubborn, insecure minds go crazy, revising the script, searching for the line that cracked it.
Crossing the last road now, just through the woods then home. She’s almost trotting to keep up with his long legs, scared that if he gets too far ahead he’ll forget her. But all the while, he’s slowing to give her a chance.
The gate to the woods has been left open. As always, the burn has burst its banks and the already overgrown gravel path is flooded. He sighs as he comes to the urban ocean before him. Ankle deep. A glance to the little one as she prepares herself and tries to conquer it. Although angry, he is still a man of modern chivalry. Before she knows what is happening, he has swept her into his arms. A mumble of you don’t have to is ignored. Back to silence. She feels like a burden. He feels cold in his legs and an ache in his arms.
He feels something else. Something he can’t quite put his finger on. Unease settles on the roadside forest. Aware of his cargo, he breaks into a run, aiming for the part of the path which isn’t submerged.
Once free of his watery shackles, he sets her down. Rain pitter-patters on the leafless canopy above them. Huddling together, the drops grow and throw themselves down collars to trickle coldly down backs. He catches his breath and she nervously asks him if he is alright.
Ears pick up more than just her voice.
Everything changes. Off comes his leather to wrap around her drenched shoulders. Why? she asks. Keep you dry, honey. He slips his promise ring – identical to hers – from his wet fingers and tucks it into her pocket. To keep you safe. The little one feels it too now and, as they pass the convergence of the three paths, she sees it, too. Four tracksuit lads. The couple reach the path before the group do but now it means that the boys are behind them. All young, the eldest no more than thirteen – a good half decade less than the silent couple – and all smelling of cheap alcohol.
She reaches for his hand again and this time he holds it tight. A wild shout, heavy with uneducated dialect, explodes behind them, startling her like a gun pointed at a rabbit. He gives her a soothing squeeze, whispering for her not to jump but secretly nervous by how close they have gotten so fast. Coarse laughs echo along with empty, drunken insults. He can see the exit gate and his first priority is to get her back into the housing estate at least.
They turn left at the exit. She hopes, begs and prays that their followers will cross the quiet road away from them and they do. Relief washes over like a wave. Hearts begin to slow and heavy sighs fall from dripping lips.
As the pass the first house of civilisation, something suddenly flies through the air. A glass bottle misses their heads by mere inches and shatters against a wall, partnered by the war-cry of a local gang.
Rage builds inside him as a realisation hits him of how close the glass had come to her skull. Imagination takes hold, painting terrifying images of her; blood pouring from the dark mass of hair; in a coma; in a grave.
Placing a hand on her shaking back, he ushers her round the corner to within sight of home. Run, he tells her. Run and don’t look back. Trembling, she says she can’t. Firmly, he tells her that she must and to wait for home for him, to get herself warm and dry for his return.
Finally, she is gone and his eyes narrow. Off comes the shirt and bones begin to twitch. Creaking, cracking, snapping into place. January rain suddenly finds itself pouring over fur where flesh should be.
A wild howl is let loose on the street. It silences the laughing, drunken boys. When the great wolf pads into view, the youngest of the four pisses himself. Snarling the creature approaches. One of the group screams, grabs the youngest (ignoring the smell) and runs. It is not after those two, though. Only one. The only one not holding a bottle.
As the wolf pounces, the remaining one runs as fast as his wobbling legs will carry his wretched body.
She sits on the edge of the bed, hair dripping onto the pair of his baggy jogging bottoms that she has put on while her jeans are draped over the radiator. Toying with the edge of his old green t-shirt, she waits. Her stomach spins in all the worst ways as she replays the event. She thanks every spiritual power she can possibly think of that it missed him. But still she sees such terrible pictures of him drawing out in her head; blood pouring from behind fair hair; in a coma; in a grave.
Downstairs, she hears the front door open and it makes her leap three feet into the air. Heavy feet squelch up the stairs. In spite of the fact that she knows who it is, the relief is so intense that she cries out and throws herself into his arms as he enters. Too close, they both agree. Far too close. He holds her tight and they bury themselves in one another.
They are crying, as couples often do.
|The Mother||Fairytale Series: Alice in Wonderland: Fallen|
|Flashes: Episode One: Waiting||Flashes Before her Eyes: Prologue|
|Rewriting a Hero...||Flashes: Episode Five: Betrayal|