THE PICTURE By Faymarie Morris.
The child ran helter-skelter along the lane, the puppy scampering after. His stubby legs kept tripping him as he valiantly tried to keep up and blonde pony-tail and black puppy-tail streamed out behind them like pennants.
They galloped through a familiar gateway into an adjoining lane which pointed into the distance, towards the dark wildwood. The child started to slow down which allowed the puppy to race on ahead, but he kept stopping, momentarily, to check the child was following and also to sniff out nature.
There was a family of rabbits that were happy for him to chase them, knowing full-well he’d never catch them, and an old vixen that snuffled behind his ears until he felt, once again, thoroughly cleansed and mother-washed. A pair of nesting pheasants that had been unsure of him until he collected a pile of dead leaves together, with his nose, in a bid to camouflage their nest.
Low autumn sunbeams streaked between the trees as the child stopped to watch a squirrel scurrying up the spreading chestnut tree, his cheeks bulging with nuts. He disappeared. She stood on tiptoe, trying to see where he had gone. The puppy doubled back, wondering what the hold up could be and found the child standing, like a statue, staring upwards.
A strange noise penetrated her brain like the crack of a whip. She stirred and opened her eyes. Where was she? She could still feel the damp woodland all around her, smell Patch’s wet fur and the unmistakable odour of decay. Leaves breaking down, lichen taking hold on fallen tree trunks, mildew, rust, mould and fungal spores that spread like unseen tree roots.
A blinding light flashed in her eyes and she wondered if it was the sun. She blinked twice and could make out another, much gentler light that was shining on the picture of a bright faced child hugging a black and white puppy close to her chest, his tongue lolling idly.
Sitting bolt upright, she clutched at the empty air and cried out. She wanted that joyous, carefree other lifetime, which was much more real to her than this painful, ugly, stiff one.
The pleasing aroma of damp woodland was slowly being pushed away by another, less pleasant smell. Stale, cheap perfume mixed with the warm, acrid stench of fresh urine.
‘Well, she’s done it again, I knew she would.’ A faraway voice said, peeling back the bedclothes. ‘Poor old thing is staring up at that picture again. Wonder who that pretty child was?’
Well, Ruth knew. Ruth knew exactly who it was but they didn’t need to know, ever. Nobody did. Patch pushed his wet nose into her hand once again and she reached out for him. The smell of damp woodland was coming back and she smiled, welcoming it.
Arms and hands were frantically tugging at her, lifting her, unsettling her and then pressing her back down again. She didn’t care what these unknown hands were doing and went sprinting away, after Patch, into the woods. But he was running quicker than he had ever run before. Away he streaked, into the trees where she couldn’t catch him. She shouted his name over and over. Lights flashed in her eyes but she hardly even saw them. All she wanted was to find Patch and suddenly there he was. Up ahead. She shouted his name again and beckoned for him to come to her, but instead, he just stood like a statue, by the chestnut tree, waiting patiently for her.
All she wanted was to smell his damp fur and feel his soft warm pink belly, so she set off and this time she knew for sure that she would reach him. Along the dark tunnel of trees she went, towards him…