That afternoon in the city you see her upstream, two teenage boys in school uniforms flank her, humping schoolbags. When she gets closer you see she is young, too young to look that tired. She thumbs her phone as she walks. One of the lads fires a great gob of spit onto the window of a shop. She turns to scold him and he gives her the finger as they turn the corner at the end of the street.
In the morning I leave the house with the dogs and her face is in my head as I walk. I come to a blind bend in the road. I see three bags of rubbish dumped in a field, white butterflies dancing around the mess and I know now that she put them there. And in a rush, it comes to me that she is a single mum because her partner is in jail and that she can’t afford to pay the bin charges, so in the night, when finally, the noise of Grand Theft Auto subsides from their room, she knows her boys are asleep and she loads her rubbish into the boot of her partner’s car that’s left rusting in the under-ground car-park. She can’t afford the insurance or tax on it but she takes the chance she won’t meet any guards out this time of night. She’s been doing this for months and when she first started, she said to herself that she would just drive outside the city and find a field and dump it there, but once she got in the car and started driving she couldn’t stop. She drove all the way to the coast, to a seaside village and stopped there in the car-park and got out and walked the dark beach soothed by the sounds of an ocean she couldn’t see. She got back into the car and drove into the hills behind the town and found a blind bend on a small road with grass growing up the middle of it with no houses or life in sight and she grabbed her rubbish and flung it over the ditch into the field. On her way back in the car, she felt new. It was getting bright as she approached the city and she looked in the rear-view mirror and said to the reflection that things were possible outside the life she had at the moment. She felt guilty about the cost of the petrol money but she needed to have this one thing. Every two weeks she’d take off with the rubbish and she said to herself that she could have been spending on worse things like other mothers she knew who drank and smoked and popped pills to escape.
There’s a farmer at the top of my road. He’s a bachelor. He’s in his fifties. I’ve been in his house a few times. He made me a coffee once and apologised because he had no sugar. Doesn’t keep it in the house, he said. He had a jar of fresh honey and I took a spoon of it to sweeten my coffee. Seen too many farmers my age let themselves go, he said, too fond of the pan, he said, old greasy rashers and sausages and fried eggs, fried bread and potatoes, everything fried. Fried food, fried heart, he said. Got to look after the ticker. And the place of his was kept lovely, not like a man’s house at all, nothing fancy, lino down on the floors, but clean and smelling nice and in his sitting room on one wall he had the sacred heart and on the other a whole shelf of movies and when I looked through them I saw Cinema Paradiso and Casablanca and Dr. Zhivago and Gone With the Wind and he wasn’t one bit shy and told me that Casablanca was his favourite movie of all and that he’d seen it over a hundred times and told me then that he watched a movie every Sunday night and to call up anytime if I wanted to get a bit of peace and quiet from the kids. But I didn’t. I went at him instead in my head. I knew by the way the house was, that he wouldn’t like it at all if he was driving along in his tractor one day and he found a load of rubbish in one of his fields, the bags pecked open by crows and crap strewn all over the grass. He’d curse under his breadth then and go about cleaning it up and forget about it again, until two weeks later he finds more bags and two weeks later again and now it really begins to bother him and he goes through the bags and tries to find something that would identify the perpetrator, but there’s nothing only Findus Crispy Pancakes and Coco Pops boxes and Hula Hoop wrappers, not even a shopping receipt. He lies awake at night thinking about it and waits for the two weeks to come around again and sits in the ditch in the dark, waiting for the car to pull up. The headlights sear the hedgerow and the car door slaps and he waits until he sees the bags like the dark sky falling in and he jumps out of the ditch and lets out a roar and grabs the figure in the shadows and is ready to clatter whoever it is when she starts crying and he gets an awful shock that he nearly hit a woman, as a woman was the last thing he expected to encounter on the side of his hill in the dark of this night. And later, back in his kitchen, he puts a mug of cocoa in front of her and offers her some honey to sweeten it and even though there is silence now and I can hear the clock ticking between them, I know one of them will say something right soon but that’s not my concern. I’ve introduced them and that’ll do for now.