Monday 15 August 2016

The Truth About Sappho: Dartmoor

By dawn, we've packed up and started back. In the twilight, we pass a legion of Roman soldiers, camped out in plain sight. One man is sitting in front of his tent, tending a fire, using his helmet as a cooking pot, hung from a stick frame.

I raise my hand in greeting as I pass by. He raises his hand in return.

Who are you waving to? says Madd. It's the first thing she's said for hours. I say, the guy over there, but the encampment has gone when I turn back to him. Madd is silent, and she will not meet my eye.

About the middle of the morning, we pass a car – a wrecked dark green Morris Minor, miles from any road. I inspect it. It has no tyres. One of its doors has fallen off completely, lies nearby. The bodywork suffers from rust like a bad case of some sort of pox. All of the glass has shattered; the upholstery has mice living in it. I can hear the radio still playing, crackly dance band music from a long time ago, drifting in and out of signal range. The tune ends and a cut-glass announcer says that the king is dead, long live the queen. I sit in the car with the mice, listening to radio shows from the past.

Madd sits on a rock, thirty yards away, her arms folded, her face set. She will not tell me what is wrong.

Twenty minutes after the car, it begins to rain. Only a drizzle to begin with, but within another hour hard enough to pound your skull into pieces. Could be worse; by the time it's really raining, we've reached this abandoned village I've been through a few times.

I don't think it's been abandoned that long. There were people still living there ten years ago, maybe. They're gone now.

There are a couple posts at the end of the village, the right shape and size for a name sign, but there's no sign where that could have got to.

It's not on the map.

It's one of those tiny hamlets, built along the main road. All the houses, about two dozen of them, the shop-cum-post office and the pub, are along the road; there's a chapel, set slightly back, behind a small graveyard. The pub sign says it was just called The Tor – the picture is of the head of a rocky Dartmoor hillside with a cheerful looking bloke holding a flagon sitting on top of it. An old phone box sits next to the pub, one of the red ones. It's the only thing here with a roof; it looks like the rest of the village got stripped by someone looking for lead and vintage slates. Except the chapel. That still has a roof.

We don't go near the chapel – Madd tells me she'd rather be soaked to the skin than go in there. No, she says, and she makes a joke about running into the undead or something.

She shivers as she makes light of it, and it's not the rain. I don't laugh.

So we huddle together in the old phone box for an hour or two. It has all of its glass, but the phone is completely gone. More room for us. The packs won't fit, but they're waterproof and everything's packed in black bags, so that's OK.

We kiss in the phone box, but there is still something wrong. With Madd. Me, I'm fine. She will not tell me what is wrong, denies it when I ask.

Eventually, the hammering on the roof of the phone box becomes a gentle pattering, and then it stops altogether.

The air outside brightens. Now that the rain is gone, it is going to be a beautiful afternoon.