Bala

“Don’t be long,” Mum said. “I think it’s going to rain.”

Across the lake, the hills are bright and colourful, contrasted against a sky that is changing with each minute – darkening and roiling, shot through with fierce streaks of silver, it rises and layers, folds upon itself.

Now, sat here, I recall the hills as heathered, brambled, green and purple; were there also glossy rhododendron, gorse, pines and firs? I see the white pixels of distant farms and cottages. My Mum’s family tic, prompted.

“U is for Ulex, more often called gorse.”

We sit here, this same spot, most days. A blanket spread, although it probably looks rather silly and inadequate against the rocky, sloping shore, and we watch the boats and launches, the hardy swimmers, and on some days there is a picnic, the bread stained purple a little from the beetroot. There are things I never touch, tomatoes and celery, although apples I’ll try, as long as Mum can cut the peel off in a long spiralling thread. Slices of pork pie, from which I fussily pick the jelly and cast it away, my nose wrinkling at the very idea of the stuff; my Dad is given the smallest piece. He is only 44, but already two years retired.

The lake mirrors the sky but the surface is starting to crinkle a little. Dad pushes himself out of the chair, his cheeks puffing out as he does so. He struggles. I look away and move a few steps from the territorial spread of the rug and all the things that have made this patch ours for the day. I’m on the edge, hovering.

Dad spends an age getting ready. It is warm but he puts his coat on. Mum hands him his glasses case, a worn red vinyl box that snaps shut with a crack. He drops it into his jacket pocket and stands and looks at the water for a minute. The time stretches. I wonder if I’m forgotten. I move back another step. There is a pathway, a worn and dusty track along the shoreline above the beach. It winds all around the lake, through the woods, where the brown ribs of tree roots gleam in polished age. I have been over there, across the water, hunting adventure and freedom under the far bank’s green canopy. I move steadily towards the path, hoping he will turn and notice me. Hoping he will notice me and hurry up. Hoping he will notice me.

It is the only time I can recall us spending any significant amount of time together on our own, certainly at that age. Perhaps, when we were very little there may have been other times, but I really don’t think that would have happened; Dad worked shifts and we were expected to be quiet or elsewhere when he was sleeping after nights on duty. When he was poorly, the house quiet, the curtains drawn against the sun, we made ourselves scarce.

Later, ten years and more, he took me to the station to catch a train to London; a career decision that had upset my parents deeply. I could barely wait to leave, but the train was late. We sat in the waiting room and listened to the clock tick hollowly between us.

With no preamble he started to tell me about REME, about joining up, about hating his first posting in London, and then taking the train to Elgin a few months later, about building bridges and trying his hand at rowing. I looked down at the gap between my boots and nodded, unaccountably embarrassed by this departure into sharing. He had been stretched and broken and driven down by his illness, and he was old in his early fifties, older than I could really handle.

I was relieved when the train arrived, and I assumed he was too.

Along the beach we walked, picking our way over the cobbles. Dad stepped unsteadily along, and I had to halt several times while he caught up. He was out of breath, and his hands wavered, helping him balance.

The sky is cut in two. The clarity of the light intensifies as the contrast above, grey-black clouds butting against the sunlit vigour of the high summer blue, becomes sharper. Looking around the basin of mountains and hills the still air seems to crystalise.

There is a mystery here, a weight to the light, the hostile beauty of space where weather fronts meet.

Into it, abrupt and startling, a sustained metallic shriek, echoing between the hills. A fierce and solid wail screeching along the lake. We turn and over the water the F4 is banking hard in the middle of an extraordinary manoeuvre. It is at ninety degrees to the water, yards above the surface, so that we are in effect looking down on top of it. I catch it long enough to see the wingtip vortices trailing behind it, before it is away and swiftly righting itself as it climbs, the noise roaring away behind it, crashing past us in a wave of sound that makes me wince. I watch him lift and lift, until he fades into the cloud.

Dad puts a hand on my shoulder, and I stop and look up, but he is looking down and points.

Across the dry, pale fat pebbles and slate of the beach, there is a long straight line, left and right before us. On one side, our side, everything is as it has been for the walk, bright and sunny, dry and dusty; but beyond the line it is dark, the ground marked out in a solid darker landscape. Lurid, thick, darker grey.

“It’s the rain,” he says. “We’re at the edge of it.”

A pale curtain right before us, the air condensed and substantial, and colder, while behind us the bright sunshine.

He looks at me, waiting for the penny to drop, and I’m looking down, watching the line run towards us and the rain soak the front of us, but for a second our backs stay dry. He smiles at me.

3 Comments

Add yours →

  1. Andrew Leon Hudson 8 July, 2021 — 8:49 pm

    Lovely.

  2. Your blog was a random discovery while searching for Histon walks just now. Quality writing I’d like to follow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2021 Al Kitching

A HandPressed Website · The Green Web Foundation · Up ↑