30th January

In the Middle of the Wood

for Gavin

It is a frightening thing to be lost in the middle of the wood. All your ghosts and fears went there before you, and you thought they were away for good – childish childhood fancies banished by reason and common sense and the need to show the world an adult face. You told your own boys about the middle of the wood, led them there like Hansel and Gretel, but always brought them home again. To have left them would have been a betrayal of everything you were in their eyes: their strong, loving, protective father. But now they are grown and somewhere else, and their mother whom you love so much, you can’t hear her calling you any more. You’re alone, defence- less, a man unmanned. The wind has dropped to a sneer among the trees. And those ghosts and fears crowd in with their mockery and poking fingers.

It was daylight not so long ago, and you believed you’d enough time and stamina to make it. But then the track ran out, the briars thickened and the dark came down like blood. You thought you’d just about get through, but no, some cold malignity had it in for you. It took your map and com- pass, your food, your wine and cigarettes, your clothes and sturdy shoes, and left only yourself to you. Looking around to see where you were, who you were, you no longer knew.

Bits of you are scattered on the forest floor, hanging ragged from the trees. You scrabble about but it’s hopeless, as quickly as you gather them you fall apart again. You’ve never had to do this before – put life back together. You’re a child, you want to cry, you want a hand to hold. The trees hold out theirs, whip them away again. Trust, certainty, the promise of daylight – wiped. Nothing, any more, is guaranteed.

People did this to you and strolled away, ignorant or careless of the chaos they left behind. You are the wreckage of their hard ambitions. I’ve left you messages, but I cannot reach you. I hope we meet again, though, and soon – if you find a way out of the middle of the wood.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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