The Bastle House
Emma looks at the moorland as faces fly by. The alpacas are in the middle of the field. She watches as they drift back, their bodies leaving slanted shadows on the white land under yellow sky. The westerly wind drifts down off the moorland and across the South Tyne as faces fly the other way. The giant ash tree shines above the Bastle House. The sun falls behind the barn with the thatched roof. She sits by the opened window listening for the alpacas. Crows and gulls drift across the blue and black shapes of the sky. Lights come on at Partridge Nest and Willimoteswick, and up at Shaw’s.
She goes to the bathroom and locks the door behind her. Water trickles slowly from the tap. She comes back to the window and the moon is shining across the white land, further magnifying the glow. The moorland is glowing, all glowing, the whiteness radiating up and off the ground and glowing, lifted by the moon that hurts her eyes. It is so sharp that she thinks if she points to it she can cut her finger on its curve.
There is a knock on the door, a knock from before.
‘I looked from the train,’ says Tom.
‘Well I didn’t see you.’
‘Obviously not. Anyway I’m here now. Have you made anything yet?’
‘Why didn’t you just walk?’
‘I didn’t feel like it.’
They sit at the old table in their old seats, diagonal to the other with empty place mats opposite. The bare branches of the ancient ash shudder and the westerly slips in through the old windows and stones. Tom splashes gravy across his turkey, drops dollops of cranberry sauce on the side. Emma pushes vegetables around.
The crumpled tree sparkles in the corner, green pins scattered beneath. The tilting angel only has one eye. They turn on the TV and watch a programme longer than usual and less funny.
‘We might as well open them now,’ says Tom, and Emma simply smiles. She gets up and walks to the kitchen for wine as he rips shiny wrapping.
In the morning he opens the curtains. The view is smudged and bloated by ice. He waits for hot water then washes his face in the sink. The water starts to fill the bowl. Water bubbles from the plughole in the bath. He rubs his face on the damp towel; hangs the towel over the cold radiator. He is preceded by his breath.
Opening the curtains downstairs he lets in the sunlight and the draft. The room swells from wine and cigarettes. Emma is a motionless mass under her sleeping bag. He nudges her backside with his foot and she grunts.
He waits for hot water in the kitchen. He stacks the small pile of plates, puts them in the bowl, squirts Fairy Liquid on them and puts the red bottomed glasses in among the suds. He puts on the radio and hears of a casualty in Helmand Province. Later that day there will be a funeral in Wooten Basset.
As the water sinks out of the bowl downstairs, he takes the hot water from the kettle and pours it into the sink upstairs. Reaching down to the side of the radiator he turns on the tap.
He goes to the pound shop in Haltwhistle for some caustic soda. Comes back and pours hot water on it, watches as the white grains smoke. He pours that into the bathroom sink.
Emma is upstairs. She looks from the open window. The alpacas have been moved to another field. She sees shapes, off white compared to the fields. The sheep have lowered themselves on to their knees, and their heads are buried so they look like headless lumps in the field. The South Tyne is black. The westerly wind batters the ancient ash, shaking some of the carbuncles from its branches. The fences around the white fields shimmer in the sun as much as the fields themselves.
Emma moves back to the kitchen, opens the oven door and feels the heat on her legs. She takes the lid off a pan to let steam out. The kitchen window is a clouded glow. She pulls down the pink blind and puts on the fan.
They sit at the table and eat. Two voices that filled the silence are gone. There isn’t as much as a bark in the house. She’s made a curry and Tom watches as she slides it around her plate. With his Nan bread Tom mops the plate as white as the fields.
Late evening. The coal rages like melt water. Tom’s eyes blink open and closed. In an opening he sees the firelight shining on Emma’s arms. He closes his eyes completely for a few minutes and they begin to congeal. He sits upright and blinks into the fire. His body is shaking as though there was no fire at all. He wipes his cheek, gets up and walks over to her, takes the glass from her hand and puts it on the table. He rolls down her sleeves. He bends and struggles to lift her, stumbles over to the couch and lowers her as best he can.
He goes upstairs and walks through the rooms, the white fields glowing through the windows in the moonlight. He closes the curtains of a musty bedroom, switches on a lamp that goes off again almost immediately.
*Neil Campbell was born in Manchester, now studying for a PhD at Northumbria University. Short story collection, Broken Doll, published by Salt. Poetry chapbooks, Birds, and Bugsworth Diary, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. Short story, Barren Clough, in the anthology, Murmurations. Short story collection, Pictures from Hopper, forthcoming from Salt.