It was Sunday. Cracks were appearing on the mountains; they could do with a second coat. The forecast predicted snow again later next week, but it felt warmer. Grey stretched above. Miles and miles of one unsexy shade of grey. It no longer felt like winter, nor did it feel like the beginning of spring. It was a no man’s land. A purgatory between seasons. I unattentively skimmed through a pile of newspapers on the kitchen table. Papers from the right. Papers from the left. All with one objection; to keep the swinging pendulum of disparagement regularly oiled and razor sharp. I pushed them away bored and joined my father in the living room, watching all the goals from the weekend. Every other advert was a betting company warning punters to bet responsibly, then giving 150/1 odds that a cricketer would win this year’s Royal Rumble. Dogs were being sent back to shelters after becoming surplus to requirements. Proving that a dog is not just for Christmas or life, but a lockdown. There was talk of a new roaring twenties once the vaccine had begun to grab the pandemic by the lapels. People seemingly oblivious that all our catered needs now require us to remain in our humble abodes and have done long before Covid-19; Netflix, Amazon, Deliveroo, Just Eat, half-time Dominoes, door to door supermarket deliveries. The moment we’re told to embrace the fresh air once again I’d be willing to bet substantially that a fat slice of the nation will bemoan, ‘You can’t tell me what to do. Fuck it, I’m staying in.’ Following it up with some wise crack about “Eat out to help out” in reference to cunnilingus and once down there they’ll find a dropped southern fried chicken bite, reacting like they’ve just found an unscathed five-pound note in a freshly washed pair of jeans. I wonder what odds the bookmaker would give me on that handsome bet? Perhaps it would be a little too responsible of him. There’s got to be some risk in all of this I suppose, otherwise it’s just seven-day food plans, five-minute planks and rolling away from your lover at 10pm when the set alarm demands silence for the following eight hours. One wouldn’t be totally surprised dare I say if it was revealed in the not too distant future that Covid-19 was created in a Netflix owned laboratory next door to an underground Nesquik bunker who in turn were creating a virus of their own that only their brand of chocolate milk or delicious cereal could cure. How apt that both companies begin with Ne. Neon; the ultimate distraction and allure to the human eye. Flies to an ultraviolet light.
Unfortunately, I haven’t the time for the whimsical ideologies of a conspiracy theorist. For I am an adulterer. An adulterer stood at the crossroads of morality. To my right, the arduous road to atonement filled with virtue. To my left, the bastard’s way out; act as if. I know I should begin wandering down the dusty trail of the former, but I haven’t the endurance or the footwear for such a journey. No, the downward, gentle sloping, shaded road of “keeping shtum” is much more in tune with my adequacy. Guilt has robbed me of a few full night’s worth of shuteye. Eventually I came to realise that moving on from this unfortunate mistake, and it was an unfortunate mistake or blip or whatever it is you want to call it, is the best course of action. It has made me realise how much I care for Faye and selfishly, how good she is for me, and that I will never faulter in such a circumstance again. Not that I can see such a circumstance ever arising again. That is not to say I’m not annoyed with myself for the stupidity and lack of restraint I showed. I’m annoyed that I have only myself to blame. I’m annoyed I can’t part any blame to someone else. I’m annoyed I was conned by that woman, falling into her trap like a gullible farm animal. I’m annoyed I keep playing the scene over and over, cringing. For her it was a simple plan pulled off with ease. Easier than she could have predicted even. A cunning hunter, harpoon in hand, catching feeble minded prey. She knew exactly how to play it. She knew what her husband would’ve done, what he’s probably always done and correctly predicted I’d do the same. For me, it was a few minutes of every dirty thought racing through your mind whilst masturbating. But instead of the nonchalant brush off as the murky waters turn clear once it’s over, there was a looping contrition, adding justly exacerbation every full circle. Her ‘Just leave when you’re done’ remark in a low scornful tone while walking away, adjusting her skirt brought on the reality of that grimy scene in that cold, metallic dungeon. However, all that being said, there may one day come a time when the guilt has ridden completely, and I can enjoy masturbating over the carnal lubricity of that fateful afternoon.
I languidly walked upstairs to get ready for meeting Faye. It was the first time I was seeing her since my slip. Day one on the road to recovery. I felt like an addict stepping back onto the wagon after weekend with Chet Baker. Or a Midwestern American trailer park fresh from a tornado ransacking everything in its path. She already expected something was wrong. There’s no way she could predict what though. An infinite number of monkeys could complete the enitre works of Shakespeare before she could have guessed what was wrong- that’s how utterly ridiculous it all was. Even still, if I didn’t start acting normal again, and swiftly, she’d press me more and more until I surrendered. I looked in the mirror. I’d let my beard grow. Purely because I couldn’t be bothered shaving. And when it grew even more, I couldn’t bear the thought of having to tidy up and dispose of the remnants. But today was the day I couldn’t let it continue. I chopped and hacked away at the thicket until I looked like a pristine choir boy ripe for the picking. Once showered, moisturised, and plucked one or two grey hairs out the side of my head, I looked the part. New year, new me; for the second time in January.
I told Faye I’d pick her up at eleven. It was already twenty-five past, and I wasn’t even halfway. It was quiet, but not the typical lazy deftness that glides through the seventh day. Patience had begun fidgeting like an unsettled assembly. Everyone was feeling it. It was under the skin, itching the blood. The first lockdown had been a novelty. The second was like living inside a nightmarish giant advent calendar, but an advent calendar all the same. The third was bleeding out from a splinter prick. Faye was expecting me to bring a suitcase to see out the remainder of lockdown with her. I’d packed a few items, but not enough for the potential foreseeable. For some reason packing minimally felt more ethical than taking the kitchen sink. The mind is a peculiar station.
I pulled up onto her quaint little cul-de-sac. It was the only time I’d felt anything but excited when arriving to see her. Was this it from now on? The magic dispersed and an open sewer flowing through the streets on a spring tide in its place? I gripped the steering wheel making the leather casing shudder as I made slow revving movements. A fleeting thought of driving away for good and finding a new home at sea onboard a ship doing some good like protecting whales in severe conditions occurred to me. But I wouldn’t make it out there. I don’t know enough knots. I know my shoelace knot whatever the fuck that’s called, and also tying that knot into a double. Two knots. It’s surely not enough. Plus, chances are I’d get seasick. I once heard ginger helps prevent seasickness, so I could take a few packets of gingersnaps with me. But I don’t know how long I’d be gone and wouldn’t have a clue how many packets to take. I could alwa…church bells rang out from somewhere near grabbing my attention, pulling me back to the here and now.
The whole downstairs smelt divine and light. Like summer. She’d baked a lemon drizzle cake. Of course she had. ‘For the summit. I thought we could have a slice or two and share a flask of coffee.’ she called out from the kitchen. Her contagious enthusiasm any other time would have pulled me into her, wrapping my arms around her waist and softly kissing her neck as she closed her eyes making the sweetest murmurs. Today however it felt like she’d given me case of the clap. ‘Sounds good.’ was all I could conjure flopping down on the sofa, with a disgruntled exhale upon landing. ‘Oh dear. What a performance. Bad night sleep?’ She laughed. ‘Last few nights.’ I answered, rubbing my face. ‘Oh really? You ok babe? Something on your mind?’ Yeah actually. I went round to some hot cougars’ who came onto me to get one over on her cheating husband and I ended up fucking her over her kitchen counter when I should have been photographing her home that she was putting on the market. ‘No. I’m alright. Just work shit that’s all.’ ‘Your boss again or more difficult clients?’ I merely shrugged. ‘Oh, that reminds me,’ continued Faye, ‘my friend Carly has got a job working at your estate agents. She’s going to be working in one of the offices. The Lakes branch.’ ‘Cool. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out.’ I replied with my best effort of a smile.
We’d got the map out and decided we’d walk up Armboth Fell to the east of Thirlmere. I always enjoyed Thirlmere and it’s no nonsense strident demeanour. We turned down the narrow road at the south of the lake. Piles of snow pushed to one side were stubbornly refusing to melt. We approached the first car park we saw; circled and left when we saw the pay and display. ‘Is anyone really going to be out checking tickets today?’ I mulled aloud. ‘Do you want to risk it?’ Asked Faye. ‘I guess not.’ Neither of us had been on the new road since the old one collapsed in the last flood a few years back. Purposely placed boulders now filled laybys preventing anyone from parking for free. ‘Bastards.’ I cursed. ‘They’ll have done this because too many twats would’ve parked, littered and driven off.’ Complained Faye. ‘Bastards.’ I cursed. We drove up the side of the east lake rejecting every National Trust car park; eventually coming across a small inlet that led to a gate that protected an inaccessible, overgrown tractor route into some dense woodland. No one had or was making their way through. A petulant drizzle dissonant to the baroscopic landscape commenced the moment we got out. We hadn’t travelled all that far, but the temperature drop felt proportionate. We had to walk along the road for a mile until we reached the chosen footpath. The conversation was vacant. The sounds of soles hitting tarmac perfomed a dire score. I was in such a trance I could vividly picture every processed thought in front of me. The road, the lake, the trees, the grey, the drizzle, Faye; none of it existed. Faye’s phone pinged. I snapped back into the present. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘I didn’t say anything.’ She replied, ‘You’re not with it today.’ ‘Sorry lovely. I’ll pick up.’ ‘Alright.’ She looked at me with troubled eyes. I smiled and threw in a wink in an attempt to throw her off guard. But she wasn’t falling for it. I was inadvertently handing myself in. Bloodied raised hands above my head. I attempted to converse, but nothing came. Literally nothing. My mind wiped blank. It was a small mercy I could still remember her name. I looked around for inspiration to strike up a conversation, noticing her backpack containing the coffee. ‘Mmm that coffee smells good.’ ‘You can smell the coffee?’ I couldn’t. Of course I fucking couldn’t. ‘Erm, I thought I got a whiff of it but maybe I was mistaken.’ ‘Are you due on or something? Fucking weirdo.’ She answered, scrunching her face.
We ambled past Deergarth How Island. It was the kind of sight that makes one wish the Lakes was as vast as Canada and that Thirlmere was largely unknown and perfectly preserved. Fantasies of paddleboarding on ripe summer mornings came all too easy. ‘You ever been onto either island on this lake?’ Asked Faye. ‘Never. Not sure why.’ ‘I went to camp on Hawes How Island, the one back there, last summer, but it was filled with too much litter that we picked up what we could and soon left.’ ‘Who are these people?’ I questioned. ‘Just regular folk with normal upbringings and normal lives.’ She replied, ‘It’d hurt realising just how regular they are.’ How satisfying it would be if this wretched virus only picked off people who littered and made calls on speakerphone whilst running on the treadmill in the gym. My fantasises darkened as I pictured myself with mutant powers; the ability to know when someone had abandoned a tent on a mountainside or thrown a dirty nappy out the window of a moving car, and exacting revenge by snapping their ankles or causing a fatal car crash, using only my thoughts and a nonchalant click of my fingers. I wouldn’t, however, want to cause a fatal car crash if there were children onboard. Even if there was a chance they’d grow up replicating their cunt parents; everybody has reform in them. I’m proving that myself. I’d probably keep them close in my mind’s eye, and if they hadn’t bucked up when turning eighteen, I would stand proud on a mountain edge, cape flickering cinematically, a courteous beam of sun highlighting favourable features, and click; their necks would snap as if caught in a snare. Actually, make that twenty-one. Yeah, probably twenty-one. ‘What are you grinning at?’ Asked Faye. ‘What?’ ‘You’ve got this silly little grin slapped over your face. What you thinking about?’ ‘Nothing. Just paddleboarding this summer.’ ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait.’ ‘Me neither.’
The footpath not only steep but treacherous from patches of snow and ice overlooked by the sun made the climb arduous as soon as we left the road. We really should have worn crampons on our soles but weren’t expecting such hazardous conditions. It was difficult to know if we were still on the path at times, not that it mattered; we were just glad to make it safely from one stage to the next. I regretted not wearing a scarf as the blue frosted air took bites from my Adam’s apple. It was difficult to assess how far we’d hiked due to the winding, tedious ascent. Finally, the terrain smoothed like a half-melted white chocolate Toblerone. We looked around. Apart from Helvellyn over yonder every other fellside looked as if they’d been fitted with underground heating. Valleys resembled tensed arms with milk flowing through their veins. The sky appeared to have been pummelled into submission by a schoolyard bully. ‘Feel how cold my nose is.’ Called out Faye. Her eyes watering and cheeks glowing. I removed a glove and gently pressed the outside of my hand against her nose. ‘Your nose needs a tiny quilt.’ I joked. And blew hot air into my cupped hand, covering it. ‘You’re adorable.’ She smiled with a warmth in her eyes that could’ve melted what remained of winter. ‘Well duh.’ I replied, smiling, feeling a little like my old self. My conscience wrapped on the door, but I refused to answer. Flashbacks tried coming through the windows, so I boarded them up. Faye’s phone pinged once more transferring me back to the present. We walked through deep crunching snow that began leaking into our boots. We looked for a path and more importantly a summit. Both had been erased. Fog began seeping in from all areas like serpents slithering into water poaching young prey in difficulties. Minutes later our visibility had deteriorated to such an extent we turned back on ourselves. If it wasn’t for the black silhouette of trees running adjacent to our climb, we would’ve struggled finding our bearings. It soon became clear that the same path we walked up would be too precarious for the way down. Once again the tree line came to our aid. A fence running around the perimeter of the woodland meant we had something to hold onto to as we slipped and outstretched our way back to the road. ‘Thank god that’s over.’ Called out an exacerbated Faye. ‘Yeah, that wasn’t easy.’ I agreed, looking back up at our route down.
I felt flat from not reaching the summit. An unfulfillment gnawed inside from running out of path before reaching the destination. On top of that I felt like I hadn’t sustained sufficient exercise despite my smouldering knees. However, soon enough these adverse thoughts thawed as we sat by the smooth pebbled beach of Thirlmere, on padded covers eating lemon drizzle cake and slurping hot coffee. We both knew there would probably never come a time again when this scene would be so peaceful, so calm. Reflections of the griddled landscape shimmered ever so slightly in the lake. Birds began warming their voices with scales after months of recuperation. You don’t realise how much you miss such a sweet sound until it nonchalantly wanders back into your life unexpectantly. Faye rested her head on my shoulder like she did. Unobtrusive thoughts dwindled. Everything was here, right now. It was difficult not to accept this as a sign of a second chance, so I dreamed big, grabbing it with both hands.