by Cath Barton
On that day the woman woke, heard the dull thud of rain on the skylight and turned over in bed. The picking up of the perpetual trail of things left by the man and the boy was never done. The work in the garden was never done either, the constant weeding and watering at the end of another hot day; now the rain would bring out marauding snails. But she was alone in the house; for once she did not have to get up. The woman craved a space for herself, though not like this, not after the shouting and slamming of doors the day before and hardly time to do more than insist you will take care, won’t you as the boy refused a hug and ran to the car.
On that day the forecast was for rain across the country, heaviest in the west. People who had arrived on campsites in Wales the previous day were stoical. The main thing was to have got away, probably the last chance they’d have before the end of the summer. They expected rain in Wales and they all had plenty of food or would, at any rate, make do. Some of them would, they said, swim in the sea, or the river at the bottom of the field. It was warm, they said, swimming in the rain.
On that day the man who had told the woman to have her ruddy space, slammed the doors behind him and driven west for the weekend, was woken early by the rain on the canvas, but the boy had woken earlier, was lying on his back reading a book.
‘We’ll go onto the mountain. Okay, Harry?’
The boy nodded, though he would have preferred to have stayed in the cocoon of the tent, to have carried on reading. The man pulled on his clothes, ducked out and fetched what they needed. He had been on plenty of wet camping trips, knew that the only way to keep things dry was to stow them in the car. He stuffed a packet of pork pies into his backpack. And two apples. Checked their water bottles were full.
The cloud was low on the mountain. It would lift, the man thought. The sun just needed to break through and everything would change. The boy would brighten up when he saw the views over to the Beacons. The man remembered the first time he had seen the line of the mountains, the chiselled edge of Pen y Fan, the deep shell-like texture of Fan y Big. The boy was eight; it was time for him to have his own experience.
On the way up the lower slopes they met two women who had paused to draw breath, the older one mopping her face. They talked, as walkers do; the women asked where they’d come from, if they were going far. ‘Just a loop,’ the man said; the boy kept his head down, said nothing. The first rumble of thunder came soon after they set off again. The boy stopped and shivered, even though it wasn’t cold.
‘Come on, it isn’t cold,’ the man said. The women were not far behind, but couldn’t have seen them turn at the pass; the cloud was too low. They couldn’t have seen the boy fall, and the man’s calling out was lost to them in the next thunder crack. They carried straight on through the bracken, faster because the rain was getting heavier and they were, in any case, going downhill, and wanting to get off the mountain.
Where the path went down into the wood there was the wall of an old sheep fold.
‘It’s the nearest thing we’ll find to anywhere dry,’ the older woman said, and they pulled out their sandwiches and drank their tea, raindrops splashing into it. Others came past, two more women, caught out by the failings of the weather forecast, and two men who hadn’t heard any weather forecast at all; they’d been camping, no, not in the bothy, it was closed, but they’d been dry enough, and they were headed down now, headed for fish and chips and a dry car to steam in. They all laughed together in the rain, knowing it would pass.
The woman at home felt a jolt at the exact moment the boy fell but she thought it was something in a dream and shook it off, got up, fed the cat and made herself a cup of tea. Got back into bed and fell asleep again. The noise was in her dream, a buzzing of bees in the summer garden, before the rain, but then it was there beside her, her phone vibrating.
There was interference on the line, the sound kept breaking up.
‘Hang on, I’m walking to where there’s better reception,’ the woman said. She got out of bed and pulled the curtain. She could see from the disturbance on the surface of the pond that the rain had started again. She laughed. ‘Is it raining with you too?’ She had not understood what the man had said, had confused his stutters with the static on the phone line.
‘Put Harry on, let me ask him,’ she insisted.
And only then heard the man’s words properly.
On the following days the rain did not stop. The water butts filled up in people’s gardens. The vegetables which they had tended so carefully through the days of heat came to nothing; the ones which were not eaten by slugs and snails started rotting on the plants. The campsites in the mountains emptied and people returned to the cities and prepared for the new term. It was the end of summer. It was like this every year. They would forget, would plan camping trips again the following year, get rained on again, carry on, ever optimistic.
On the following days the man and the woman turned away from one another in the bed, ate their meals in silence, went through the motions. Until even that was too much and he left one last time, taking just a small bag of clothes and a photograph of the boy, squinting into the last of that summer’s sun.
Cath Barton is an English writer living in Wales. Her prize-winning novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Rarebyte. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, is out in November 2020 from Louise Walters Books.
Connect at https://cathbarton.com @CathBarton1