This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You

BOOK: This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You
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This Isn’t The

Sort Of Thing

That Happens

To Someone

Like You

 

 

Jon McGregor

 

 

 

 

For Éireann Lorsung,

& Matthew Welton

Contents

 

 

 

PART ONE

That Colour

In Winter The Sky

She Was Looking For This Coat

Looking Up Vagina

Keeping Watch Over The Sheep

Airshow

We Were Just Driving Around

 

PART TWO

If It Keeps On Raining

Fleeing Complexity

Vessel

Which Reminded Her, Later

The Chicken And The Egg

New York

 

PART THREE

French Tea

Close

We Wave And Call

 

PART FOUR

Supplementary Notes To The Testimony Of Appellants B & E

Thoughtful

The Singing

Wires

What Happened to Mr Davison

Years Of This, Now

The Remains

 

PART FIVE

The Cleaning

The Last Ditch

Dig A Hole

I Remember There Was A Hill

Song

I’ll Buy You A Shovel

 

PART SIX

Memorial Stone

 

Acknowledgments

A Note on the Author

By the Same Author

 

 

 

 

 

Back to contents page

That Colour

Horncastle

She stood by the window and said, Those trees are turning that beautiful colour again. Is that right, I asked. I was at the back of the house, in the kitchen. I was doing the dishes. The water wasn’t hot enough. She said, I don’t know what colour you’d call it. These were the trees on the other side of the road she was talking about, across the junction. It’s a wonder they do so well where they are, with the traffic. I don’t know what they are. Some kind of maple or sycamore, perhaps. This happens every year and she always seems taken by surprise. These years get shorter every year. She said, I could look at them all day, I really could. I rested my hands in the water and I listened to her standing there. Her breathing. She didn’t say anything. She kept standing there. I emptied the bowl and refilled it with hot water. The room was cold, and the steam poured out of the water and off the dishes. I could feel it on my face. She said, They’re not just red, that’s not it, is it now. I rinsed off the frying pan and ran my fingers around it to check for grease. My knuckles were starting to ache again, already. She said, When you close your eyes on a sunny day, it’s a bit like that colour. Her voice was very quiet. I stood still and listened. She said, It’s hard to describe. A lorry went past and the whole house shook with it and I heard her step away from the window, the way she does. I asked why she was so surprised. I told her it was autumn, it was what happened: the days get shorter, the chlorophyll breaks down, the leaves turn a different colour. I told her she went through this every year. She said, It’s just lovely, they’re lovely, that’s all, you don’t have to. I finished the dishes and poured out the water and rinsed the bowl. There was a very red skirt she used to wear, when we were young. She dyed her hair to match it once and some people in the town were moved to comment. Flame-red, she called it then. Perhaps these leaves were like that, the ones she was trying to describe. I dried my hands and went through to the front room and stood beside her. I felt for her hand and held it. I said, But tell me again.

In Winter The Sky

Upwell

He had something to tell her. He announced this the next day, after the fog had cleared, while the floods still lay over the fields. It looked like a difficult thing for him to say. His hands were shaking. She asked him if it couldn’t wait until after she’d done some work, and he said that there was always something else to do, some other reason to wait and to not talk. All right, she said. Fine. Bring the dogs. They gave his father some lunch, and they walked out together along the path beside the drainage canal.

She knew what he wanted to tell her, but she didn’t know what he would say.

 

What she knew about him when she was seventeen: he lived at the very end of the school-bus route; he was planning to go to agricultural college when he finished his A levels; he didn’t talk much; he had nice hair; he didn’t have a girlfriend.

What she knew about him now: he didn’t talk much; he had a bald patch which he refused to protect from the sun; he didn’t read; he was a careful driver; he trimmed his toenails by hand, in bed; he often forgot to remove his boots when coming into the house; he said
he still loved her.

 

He was seventeen the first time he kissed a girl. The girl had long dark hair, and brown eyes, and chapped lips. They sank low in their seats on the school bus, leaning together, and she took his face in her hands and pushed her mouth on to his. She seemed to know what she was doing, he said later. He was wrong. She drew away just as he was beginning to get a sense of what he’d been missing, and said that she’d like to see him again that same evening. If he wasn’t busy. They should go somewhere, she said, do something. He didn’t ask where, or what. She got off the bus without saying anything else, and went into her house without looking back. She ran upstairs to her bedroom, and watched the bus move slowly towards the horizon, and wrote about the boy in her notebook.

Leaving March, where she lived then, the school bus passed through Wimblington before swinging round to follow the B1098, parallel to Sixteen Foot Drain, until it stopped near Upwell. It was a journey he made every day, from the school where he was studying for his A levels to his father’s house where he helped on the farm in the evenings. Where the two of them run the farm together now. The road beside the Sixteen Foot is perfectly straight, lifted just above the level of the fields, and looking out of the window that afternoon felt, he said later, in a phrase she noted down, like he was passing
through the sky.

The girl’s name was Joanna. The boy’s name was George. He came back for her the same night.

 

He has told her
this part of the story
many times, with the well-rehearsed air of a story being prepared for the grandchildren: how he waited until his father was asleep before taking the car-keys from the kitchen drawer, that he’d driven before, pulling trailers along farm tracks, but he didn’t have a licence and his father would never have given him permission, how he remembered that she’d said she wanted to see him, to
go somewhere and do something
, that he knew he couldn’t just sit there in that silent house, doing his homework and listening to the weather forecast and getting ready for bed.

She wonders, now, what would have been different if he had stayed home that night. She wants to know how he thinks he would feel, if that were the case.
An impossible question, really
.

The roads were empty and straight, and there was enough moonlight to steer by. She saw him coming from a long way off. Watching his headlights as they swung around the corners and pointed the way towards her. She was waiting outside by the time he got there.

She hadn’t wanted to go anywhere in particular. She just wanted to sit beside him in the car and drive through the flatness of the landscape, looking down across the fields from the elevated roads. They drove from her house to Westry, over Twenty Foot Drain, past Whittlesey, and as they passed through Pondersbridge she put her hand on his thigh and
kissed his ear
. They crossed Forty Foot Bridge and drove through Ticks Moor, the windows open to the damp rich smell of
a summer night
in the fens, and beside West Moor he put his hand into her hair. They crossed the Old Bedford and New Bedford rivers, drove through Ten Mile Bank, Salter’s Lode
and Outwell, and on the edge of Friday Bridge she asked him to stop the car and they kissed for a long time.

Afterwards, they looked out across the fields and talked. They didn’t know each other very well, then. He asked about her family and she asked about his. He told her about his mother, and she said she was sorry. She asked what he was going to do when he left school and he said he didn’t know. He asked her the same and she said she wanted to write but that her father wanted her to go to agricultural college. She lifted his thin woollen jumper over his head and drew shapes on his bare skin with the sharp edge of her fingernail. She watched as he undid the buttons of her blouse. She took his hands and placed them against her breasts. There was the touch of her whisper in his ear, and the taste of his mouth, and the feel of his warm skin against hers, and the way his scalp moved when she pulled at his hair. Later, there was the smell of him on her hands as she stood outside her house and watched him drive away in his father’s car, the two red lights getting smaller and smaller but never quite fading from view in
the dark, flat land
.

 

He drove home along the straight road beside the Sixteen Foot, holding his hand to his chest. The moonlight shining off the narrow water. He was thinking about all the things she’d said, just as she was thinking about all the things he’d said.

He was thinking about his father, he said later, and about how long his father had been alone, and about how he knew now that he wouldn’t be able to live on his own in the same way. Not now he knew what it meant to be with someone else.
He was still thinking about her when he drove into a man and
killed him
.

First he was driving along the empty road thinking about her, and then there was a man in the road looking over his shoulder and the car was driving into him. It was hard to know where he’d come from. He’d come from nowhere. He was not there and then he was there and there was no time to do anything. There was no time to flinch, or to shout. He didn’t even have time to move his hand from his chest, and as the car hit the man he was flung forwards and his hand was crushed against the steering wheel. The man’s arms lifted up to the sky and his back arched over the bonnet and his legs slid under one of the wheels and his whole body was dragged down to the road and out of sight.

BOOK: This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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