Blue and the King’s Head
I couldn’t go to her burial. I didn’t see the body.
She had run out on the moors, the skirts of her blue dress trailing, her feet bare. She left tracks through the heather and footprints on the mosses. It was foggy that day. Where she stepped, the dewy beadwork on the grasses was torn and scattered. The earliest spring petals were strewn.
At the earliest sign of spring these last years, E– came calling and we walked on the moor. She loved to climb on the rocks, cutting her feet but emerging standing at the top, her cheeks pink and the wind whipping her dark hair.
“Come up to me!” she cried, stretching out her hands.
But I waited on the ground, shaking my head.
She hadn’t come home by nightfall. The search party returned with a bundle wrapped in a sheet the next day. They said she fell from the King’s Head. They gave her a Christian burial.
But she’s still out there. I don’t venture out, because I feel her. She’s drawing messages with a stick in the lichen, singing back to the skylarks, rolling in the new clover.
“Come up to me!” she cries in my dreams.
From my study window, the moor is a riot of color: red, yellow, white. Young hares frolic at noon and the fox sweeps by at dusk. E–’s escapade wears on me. Sometimes I think I see a patch of her blue dress, but it is a flower blown in the breeze or a songbird after a mate.
She still calls to me in my dreams, and I wake hot with fever. Once, I threw open my window and shouted into the pitch, “Leave me! Climb your damn rocks alone!” Then I fell to weeping and clutching her photograph.
I’ve prohibited the housekeeper from entering my study or coming into my quarters at night. She doesn’t whisper when she tells the stablehand, “I think the master’s touched.”
I take my meals alone. Some days I glut and call for them to slaughter another chicken. Others I leave all untouched, or toss it into the fire. As the fat crackles and the meat burns, I close my fists.
The heather has turned the whole world beyond my window lavender and green. I’ve allowed the housekeeper to let the fire die down and air out my rooms during the day. But I sleep with the windows latched, and when I wake sweating, it is from the late-summer heat.
“You must eat,” the houekeeper tells me, knocking at my study door.
“It’s the heat,” I say. I lean heavily into my chair.
I don’t hear E– as frequently in my dreams. Some days I have to stare at her photograph to remember the way her hair fell or the corners of her lips turned.
With my father’s walking cane, I circle the courtyard by the stables. The stablehand has grown tall and gangly. He reaches for my elbow when I stumble, but I brush him away. My shoes scuff on the bricks of the courtyard. So like an old man. If I set foot on the moor, will she return to me?
When fall comes, I cannot play the game any longer. The first chill is early this year, bending down the necks of the grasses. Everyone in my household becomes ill. If E– were still alive, surely she would not be hiding in a cave on the moors, nibbling flowers and patching her blue dress with cottongrass and rushes.
The summer’s caprices have resulted in a deficit. To keep the household fed, I sell all of the horses but one. I have not ridden since the spring.
The housekeeper no longer suggests I take walks outside. Instead, she scolds and throws windows closed when I forget I’ve left one open.
I give her leave to visit her sister for a few days in October. The house is silent once the fire consumes itself. Wrapped in blankets, I sit at my study and stare at the brown expanse. E– does not call me. I whisper her name.
Out of a delirium, I find that I am in my bed and the doctor is nursing me.
“Oh, master!” the housekeeper cries. Her hands crush mine. “We nearly lost you!”
I close my eyes.
The winter has passed with me hibernating like a bear. The doctor stayed for the first few weeks, and then came out occasionally to check on me. I hardly left my bed until a fortnight ago.
The blue of the sky peeked out, and I remembered a message that came from E–’s household to mine.
Let us meet on the path next clear day and walk together, my love.
It was so like the blue of her dress.
I have been regaining my strength while the chill seeps out of the air. On the next clear day, I know it is time. The housekeeper sees me dressed in my walking suit.
“Why master, don’t you look dapper,” she says. Then her smile fades. “You going to pay respects?”
I have not been to E–’s grave.
“Yes,” I say. It is a suitable pretense.
The way to the moors and the church starts the same. At the fork, I shed my shoes and walk as she did, feeling with every step mud seep between my toes. When the rise of the hill hides me from view, I take off at a run. My joints are stiff and I am fast winded, but I feel closer to her: I am tracing her path.
I vault bushes and startle a few last plover, winding my way erratically to the boulder we called King’s Head. The stone is slick and dark. I taste a stain with my tongue, wondering if it is her blood.
My clothes tear as I scramble and fall up the rock face. My palms and soles are bloody. At the top, I straighten triumphantly, step out on the part she called the nose and look out over the brown, blotchy hills, the jagged cliff below.
“I have arrived, my darling,” I whisper.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Jen. Check out Audrey’s answer to this prompt next Monday.