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The Good Stuff
Short Story
Common Land
by Christine Tothill
Length: 737 words

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Common Land

Where the trees were - there are car wrecks. Arnold leaves the bike propped against the only bush on the common. He doesn’t put his lock on; he has nothing to secure it to. Only the bush, a prickly waving mass he doesn’t want to touch. Arnold, late sixties, is going over old haunts; his memory of this common land is fading and he wants to tick it off. He wants to set the scene; remember it. If he can.

He pulls an old felt hat over his face to take the glare of the sun away from his eyes and squints towards the far end. The end where he took Maisie when they started dating. He remembers their place - their hidey-hole - was opposite the church. He starts to walk towards the place he thinks it is.

Youths on mopeds speed pass him as he walks along the edge of the common; dust and small stones sweep up into his path and he falters, waits for the air to become clearer, easier to breathe. He reaches inside his jacket for his inhaler; he doesn’t use it but keeps a tight grip on it. 

The noise of the engines fades; dust follows the youths, leaving a darkish cloud behind them. Arnold thinks they might be going into the town, to the local pubs, the coffee houses, the pizza restaurants. He thinks they might get drunk and have an accident. He worries about other people because he has no-one to worry about. Not since Maisie passed on.

He remembers the first time Maisie took him to the common; the day they went to the fair. They made a detour back to her home to miss the crowds. She didn’t want to go on his scooter; if they left his scooter, she argued, at her aunt’s house, they could go out the back gate - through the common - to her house. 

They found themselves walking alone under trees, surrounded by bushes and wild flowers. They walked through long grass holding hands. Arnold had only known Maisie a week but they felt comfortable together and it seemed natural, that day, to lie in the grass under the trees kissing and fondling each other. She wore a polka dot dress; it was white with black spots. A wide shiny leather belt held her waist in, and the petticoats - he thought, at the time - got in his way. 

Arnold holds this cameo in his head while he trundles along the path waiting for the church to come parallel with him. 

Two mopeds race towards him; startling him, he can see more than two helmets as he squints in the sun. More than two heads. Legs held out wide from the sides of the machines. Arnold stands still while they approach. Boys with girls on the back of each one, hanging on for fear of falling off. Screams and shouts as they pass him, the girls laugh at Arnold, one of them waves to him. She has a long skirt hitched up to her knees and she is holding on to it with one hand, waving with the other. 

He doesn’t wave back, he doesn’t smile. He’s silent and taken back with the fun of the young. His steps feel heavy as he sees the church across the common. Taking his hat off, he folds it and places it in his pocket. He makes his way to the centre of the common, to the place he thinks they once were. Their hidey-hole.

The path is still showing; gravel and small stones form a zigzag line; he follows it and comes to a dead end, to the wall. He is surrounded by cars. Dead cars, piled high around him.

He sits on the ground, on a grassy soft spot, next to the stack of metal. He scrapes the dirt and grit away from the surface and finds the root of a tree. He stands and looks to the right, the church is there, people are filing out. He sits again and touches the root. He rocks back and forth and remembers their time here by this root, or any old root, doesn’t matter which one.

He sits on the common land by the church he married Maisie in, before they set sail for the north. He remembers, and his heart beats slowly, his breathing becomes easier, as he remembers Maisie.

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