14th July
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Innocence

She was of an age, his daughter, that made her susceptible to hysteria. Especially when among friends. They were twelve, she and her friends. Their collective ability to raise themselves to dizzy pitches of joy, hilarity, idolatry, rage, shock or fear was – a word never far from their lips – awesome. He was awed by it. Sometimes he saw her as transparent, a glass being with a swirl of chemical reactions surging through her. She was beginning to change, from innocent child to knowing woman: leaving him, in a way; coming towards him, in another. And in doing so she must go through this phase.

But this afternoon she had not been with friends. She had been alone. She clutched breathlessly at the words. ‘There was a man.’ ‘What?’ he said. ‘There was a man, there was a man!’ she cried, beating at him with her palms because he was being too slow and stupid. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘Slow down. Tell me again. What man?’

There was a man in the woods. Where? Where she’d been walking. Where? Up at the end of the farm road, where it went right to the farm, left into the woods. What was she doing there? She wasn’t doing anything. Defensive. Accusatory.

‘No,’ he said, ‘it’s all right. I didn’t mean that. Tell me what man.’

‘He was in the trees.’

‘What was he doing?’

‘Just standing.’

‘Did he say anything to you?’

‘No.’

‘Touch you?’

‘No, no.’

‘Sweetheart, he was probably just out for a walk. Maybe he had a dog. Did he have a dog?’

‘No, he was just there. Why don’t you believe me?’

All his worst dreams flooded in. All his fears. Her fears become his, irrational, fed by schlock movies and tabloid headlines. MONSTER. BEAST. ANIMAL. Those horror stories of girls attacked, abducted, murdered.

‘I’ll go and have a look,’ he told her. ‘You stay here in the house, okay?’

It would be nothing. Still, he had to go, to allay her fear, to allay his own. To see if anyone was in the trees, and what he was doing there. To see if there was a man and, if so, to challenge his innocence.

Reader: Ewan Miller
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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