Place: Steven John

The Dead Dog Tree

We halt our walk for you to look at The Dead Dog Tree. Hanging by sodden, redundant leads, rain- filled wallets of clear plastic with smudged photos of deceased canines. We were going to scatter our dog’s ashes here but never got round to it. I poured them onto the compost heap. I lied and said I’d poured them under the beech tree, but you’ve never let me forget it anyway. You read each card and your eyes well up. Some, you’ve memorized.

The steep embankments of the Iron Age fort encircle golf greens. Patchwork shapes of mown green velvet spotted amongst the wholemeal brown of the thick, long grass. Numbered flags thwacking in the gusts. You’re wearing woolly hats now. The wig made your head hot and itchy. Made you cry when you looked in the mirror. I didn’t tell you it was a faint shade of mauve, not ‘gorgeous grey’. We walk down through the gauges from when stone was quarried here. You loved our thick stone walled house until I told you I didn’t. Until I said it was a prison.

We cross the fairway, a swathe of tiny blue flowers.

‘Forget-me-nots’, I say then try and recapture the words. You take a picture of a tree with your phone.

‘I want to plant one in the garden,’ you say. ‘Somewhere you could hang pictures.’

A signpost by the fallen down dry stone wall. ‘Bridleway, club house, footpath.’ We found a filigree ear-ring in the fallen stone wall in the garden. We were going to take the ear-ring to the museum but lost it. You said it wasn’t lost.

‘It’s returned to the spirit world’, you said.

Spirits have become a fixture since your diagnosis. You’ve hung wind chimes outside the windows so we can hear them come and go.

We climb towards the trig point at the highest part of the fort, walk over the cinder footpaths with arrows pointing to tee and flag numbers. What number chemo session are we on? I should know this, so don’t ask. From here we can see the bright ribbon of river as it bends towards the sea.

‘High tide for a change’, I say. ‘We only ever seem to be here at low.’

You’re sitting on the old metal bench, half buried in undergrowth. You stop here for breath before the short, muddy climb to the top. You aim your phone camera at a pair of kestrels floating on the wind.

‘Things will change after this,’ you say.

We trace our fingers over the arrows in the metal map on the top of the trig point. You run your fingernail along the groove pointing to our village, our house. For me, things have already changed.

You close your eyes. Spread your arms out wide, like wings.

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Steven John’s writing has appeared in Bending Genres, Spelk, Fictive Dream, Cabinet of Heed, EllipsisZine, Ghost Parachute and Best Microfiction 2019. He’s won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a joint record six times and has been nominated for BIFFY 2019. He lives in The Cotswolds, England. Steven is Fiction & Special Features Editor at New Flash Fiction Review

@StevenJohnWrite

www.stevenjohnwriter.com