I try to shut the thoughts away but the words he says prise open my every defence. I can’t not hear it. He talks about his life, his friends, the plans we’ve made, the things we’ve achieved, places we’ve been. He talks about his grandmother, about my own family history. He claims he’s talked to the bank manager. He shows me photographs of us in the pub, laughing with his mates. One of me in a dress – says I look fit. But he never once asks me how I feel: never imagines that I could be the one in charge.
Breathing heavily but gaining elevation, the tramp up the rocks that have been laid to raise you, the village church and shops shrinking away into miniature, the gentle hum of traffic and chatting tourists silenced, your face burning with the effort, your feet in your socks in a sweat, the faces smiling that have already found the summit, the hope of fair weather, a view, the worries of whether you are fit or unfit, your general health, whether it was really something to embark on, and thoughts of never achieving it, never, climbing up, never seeing, doing it for yourself…
Old Neily was sat by the fire in a rocking chair. His wife was gazing out of the small window into the mist.
Before there were proper tracks you couldn’t even get a tractor up the hills, Neily said. When the mist came down you were so soon lost. The trick was to follow a burn downwards, keeping it by your side. But now there are cars everywhere and nobody walks any more.
He sighed and looked at his son, who had hung his head. The fire crackled.
We’ve kept you here too long, said Neily. It’s time you went.