It’s too hot to walk anywhere; treacle-thick, breathless, thunder-bug heat. The sort that means storms, and that make me itch with impatience.
The dogs have been driving me crackers, but not as much as the children. I’m forced from the house with a lead in each hand, told to come back when I can be nice.
I don’t feel nice. I feel hot and cross and frustrated with the world that demands such silly hoop-jumping. We drift down towards the bottom fields, heading for Emma’s meadow. I mutter and gurn, grimacing smiles at a car that gives me a wide berth.
We reach the bridge and I let the dogs go – they shoot off as if glad to leave me behind. The leaves of the oak are motionless above my head, caught in a bottle-green glass. A couple of etiolated nettles lean towards me, as if to whisper a sting to my ear. I dodge through, run onto the path. The mud beneath my feet has dried into jigsaw cracks; wide enough for a mouse, deep enough for half a flip-flop.
I walk. The corn is still, greyish-yellow; jaundiced beneath a dirty white sky. I force myself faster, dodging fossilised fox crap, not pausing to examine the owl pellets. I know what’s in them.
I reach Emma’s meadow and clatter over the bridge, forgetting to check the position of the cattle. I’m twenty yards from the stile when I remember, but they’re up by the Horley end of the field. There’s a child crying in the caravan field; the fractious wah-wah of an exhausted toddler. The diggers are still roaring around at the sewage works, and I can hear a chainsaw from the village. I slap at a horse fly on my upper thigh; it leaves a smear of blood, and I shudder.
I retrace my steps back to the bridge, and perch on the stile like a grumpy crow. The dogs run to my feet and I tell them to go off, go and play. Just go. The grasses in the meadow are hazed red and yellow now. Dock towers are oxidised the febrile red of iron. They look like sculptures amongst the cattle-flat glass, or the remnants of some once-great civilisation.
Beneath me, the Sor is choked with seeded meadowsweet and grasses, some one-and-a-half-times my height. Hog weed rears everywhere, beige brown. The air is heavy around my shoulders, pressing my fringe to my forehead. If there would be just a breath of wind. The lightest breath. Everything could change.
The child wails on, as does the chain saw.
Pants rolls in cowpat. ‘No!’ I cry, but it’s too late. He’s rolling and rolling, ecstatic, his mouth wide open in glee.
‘You bastard dog,’ I shout, as if into a pillow. He leaps up, capering, showing his haunches streaked green in the freshest splat imaginable. ‘No,’ I cry again. ‘You, you!’
I stagger from the stile, waving my fists as if I’d beat him, but when he lollops up so pleased with himself the fight goes from me. I scratch his silly head, between the streaks. ‘You’re an idiot,’ I tell him. ‘An idiot dog. You’re hard to love.’
We cross the bridge, heading for home. Dora is walking smugly through the corn, drawing attention to her non-rolling status. Pants canters off, oblivious.
I pause to take off my sunglasses, push back my sweaty hair. I can hear a rattle, the faintest, driest rattle. The corn. Moving in the wind.