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On Pitch Lane

by Suzanna Stanbury

I’m not a wasteful person. I don’t even like to spend money on cabs home. Such futile squandering isn’t in my nature. After the clubs close I prefer to walk the city streets, up behind the BRI, knees bent to climb Marlborough Hill emerging onto the flats of Kingsdown not far from home.

I like to walk as the crow flies, where others dare not roam. Luckily Bristol is full of alleyways, steps and parks to cut out any unnecessary routage. The shortcuts always feel best at night, when the shadows are long, the dark corners full of promise.

Occasionally in a club I may meet someone and if I decide they are special enough I’ll take them home with me. They usually delight in walking the back ways, strolling through darkened streets with plenty of opportunities for fumbling in shadowy gateways.

For me the excitement of being caught always adds to the thrill of being outside — I adore it. But sadly some of my conquests have been less than keen to experience the delights of alfresco couplings. As a rule my attachments are short-lived. I abhor the idea of domesticity. Cosy complacency is not for me — such a waste of emotions, energies better spent elsewhere.

An acquaintance of mine, Leighton, has a house backing onto Pitch Lane. This is a cobbled way cutting through diagonally from one leafy avenue to another. Of a night, with only one Victorian street lamp casting any light on the lane, sending a weakly beam onto overhanging tree branches, thick hedges and high walls — it pulsates with gothic intent.

One afternoon Leighton insisted I see his garden. I trailed after him as he roamed around ancient borders, pointing out roses planted by Aunt This and Uncle That. I was fighting back yawns as he exclaimed with delight when a robin landed on the handle of a spade wedged into the dried earth of a flower-bed.

The bird began to trill its heart out with an irritatingly joyous tune. Trying to ignore it, I let my gaze roam along the wall and noticed an archway. A small amount of old wood visible through a curtain of dangling greenery.

“What’s through that door?” I asked in a voice loud enough to send the robin panicking into a leafy horse chestnut, its tiny fluttering body tic-tic-ticking in alarm.

Leighton smiled. He raised an arm and swept away a covering lacework of ivy growth, revealing a solid oak door, riveted with black iron studs hung beneath the brick arch.

“Never locked,” he announced proudly, turning the black ring set into the centre of the door. “No need for it. Just look where we’ve come out.”

His hand vanished into the emerald leaves, disappearing to that unknown world on the other side. A prickle of excitement raced down my spine as we stuck our heads through the green frondery and peeked out.

“It’s Pitch Lane,” he said. “You’d never guess, would you?” The wall was so overhung with ivy, the door so deeply set amongst the densest of shrubbery that it was invisible to the majority of eyes and I had never guessed that a door was set there in the expanse of brick. I thought of all those times I’d passed it by, not knowing. It added another level of interest to the lane for me — something I knew but others didn’t.

* * *

I prefer to remain in control of all that I am, deeply resistant to any threat of losing either my heart or my head. I am aware of course that I am governed by the chemical composition which drives my body. But I prefer to fight it when it tries to overwhelm me.

This state of mind came into play when I became conscious of the fact that one particular relationship had been going on for much longer than they usually did and strangely I’d been content for it to remain so. For a kindred spirit had been found, someone as detached as I.

In order to indulge previous partners, I must admit to feigning normalcy at times to prolong any satisfactory partnerings I’d had in the past. The deeply unfamiliar feeling of compatibility gave me pleasure, and being a little unusual in my general tastes this is a state which had generally remained absent from my existence thus far.

But hubris will always out and my sub-sin of complacency was soon replaced by shocked disappointment when my supposed congeneric match replaced me — coldly, abruptly and most unexpectedly.

An uncomfortable feeling settled around me. I had felt so close to something and now it had gone. As if to taunt me with my failure, I often saw them frolicking in the clubs, lounging around waterfront bars and draped over each other in pubs. When I went for a drink with Leighton to the Three Sugar Loaves, they were disgustingly entwined amidst its modern interior. Stark lighting playing on pale faces and moistened lips. I turned my back on their revolting display, averting my eyes from the saccharine show.

I encountered them again on Cotham Hill, exiting Amphora Aromatics. They were facing me, arm in arm, glancing intermittently at one another as I looked into the sun to burn their image away.

Anyone that could behave in such a sickening manner couldn’t be like me. Perhaps the match hadn’t been symbiotic to my needs after all. Or, an even worse thought darted out of my subconscious, could I have been on the way to morphing into some form of commonality? I expected to feel relief at my lucky escape but the uncomfortable feeling remained.

I couldn’t resist following them out of a club one night. They trailed through Stokes Croft, up Nine Trees Hill using one of my favoured night-routes. It was a clever trail, stolen from me. I felt a usurping of my uniqueness. My shortcuts were mine alone.

Anger has always been an emotion I’ve quelled in the past. It’s too base for my taste, too obvious. I prefer stealth and a calm resolution to any obstacles in my path. Realising I was drawing closer to them, I hung back so as to remain unobserved. When they entered the park by Redland station, I paused, unsure if I wished to witness them engaging in any form of congress.

I walked on down the path, the uncomfortable feeling growing in strength, bubbling up inside me. I watched them curl their bodies onto the ground, safe within a whip-like arc of tree root. The sounds of passion drifted on the early summer air. The taste of some heavy night-scenting blossom was suddenly bitter in my mouth. I stepped behind their tree, so close had I wished, I could have touched them.

I could hear her soft voice whispering to him. And then it cut off. Those loving words and promises of eternal devotion suddenly replaced by a guttural choking sound. Small thumps accompanied the harsh throttling rasps. When the silence resonated in the air I pressed my back tight against the tree bark, enjoying the feel of it pressing into my flesh.

He walked out of cover, her slight body thrown lightly over one of his solid shoulders as if it were no more than a small rug in transit. He took the path towards the railway bridge and when he reached it pitched her body over the white railing onto the track.

Such cool and controlled behaviour. I’d never suspected it of him. I remained out of sight and when he crossed the road, he took the direction they’d arrived from earlier and I knew he was headed home.

For a while I followed him at a distance. The closeness of death hung heavy in the air and I wondered how I would have fared had his hands found my throat and squeezed. But I knew it would never have come to that, for he must have seen in me what I was unable to see in him.

I began to run, skirting round his route, darting into Leighton’s garden, crossing the moonlit lawns unseen by anything but a pair of fox’s eyes. I reached for the robin’s perch and pulled open the garden door.

His figure had just entered Pitch Lane, passing the solitary street lamp. His shadow lengthened behind him until he reached the far extent of the lamp’s amber pool.

I paused, inside the evergreen overhang, breath bated, and when he passed my hiding place I stepped out. The spade made a swishing sound as it came down. The welding welt joining blade to handle impacted with a dull thud to the back of his head. But the blow wasn’t hard enough. His knees buckled but he recovered almost instantly and turned to face me.

“Angelica,” he said. I felt a spark and this time the spade crunched with considerable force into his forehead. He fell backwards and lay still. I wanted to hear the noise again so the spade swung one more time. I stepped under the arch and returned the spade to its well-worn groove so it might again resume its work as a robin’s perch.

I wandered slowly back through Leighton’s garden. The uncomfortable feeling within me had gone. A sharp metallic taste like that of chemical withdrawal filled my mouth and my entire body tingled with an almost post-coital thrill.

Copyright © 2012 by Suzanna Stanbury

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