Our Field

by Richard Wilson, from Leeds, West Yorkshire

The footpath rose gently upwards as Susan pushed the wheelchair passed the last few cottages and the stone horse-trough that marked the edge of the village. Despite the effort, her mind wandered beyond this silent task, and she maintained her brisk pace. She had removed her cardigan, unnecessary now the sun had dissolved the last puddles of morning mist, and it hung lazily over the side of the chair, one pink sleeve trailing in the dust. Her father sat inert, staring ahead until something broke him out of his apathy.

“Whose is that?” he asked abruptly, pointing to a dark grey Range Rover, halfway reversed through an open gate, and blocking their path. He pulled his slight frame up in the seat, nudging Susan’s cardigan over the side of the wheelchair and under its back wheel.

Don’t know, Dad,” Susan shrugged.

“What’s it doing on the pavement?”

“Don’t know, Dad.” Susan bent down to retrieve her cardigan. She considered the dirt embedded in the wool and brushed it with her hand to see how easily it might be removed before folding it back over the arm. “We should turn round now; not sure I can get you much further up the hill anyways.”

The lights on the Range Rover flashed, drawing Susan’s attention to a woman squeezing past the car to approach them. Susan watched the woman in fleeting judgements, her dyed blond hair tied in a ponytail, her lightly tanned skin accentuating the creases round her mouth, her skinny jeans, a flash of jewellery. Contradictions unfamiliar to Susan that made her age difficult to guess.     

“Hi there. Sorry. Let me move the car.” She raised one arm in greeting, the other fumbled in a pocket of her padded gilet.

“It’s on the pavement,” Susan’s father commented.

“I know, sorry. I didn’t want to block the road.”

“Block the pavement then. I’ll just wheel myself around it shall I?” Susan’s father folded his arms across his lap. He’d had his say in the matter.

“You’re not wheeling yourself anywhere, last time I looked.” Susan put her hand on her father’s shoulder.

“Just give me thirty seconds, I’ll get out of your way.”

“Its fine,” Susan spoke up. “We’re turning round.”

“Are we?” her father added, unfolding his arms.

“Yes.”

The woman came towards them, Susan tensed in anticipation of physical contact, but she stopped a metre short and smiled openly.

“Hi, I’m Penny. We’ve just moved here, into the Copper Barn.” She indicated a direction up the hill. “Half a mile. You probably know where it is.”

Susan breathed out and nodded, returning the smile. She had spent thirty-five of her forty-six years in the village. “It’s lovely what they’ve done to it.”

“I know, gorgeous. We bought it after one viewing. But I’ll let you into a secret.” Penny paused.

Susan waited half a second then picked up the cue. “I’m Susan. Hi.”

“Hi. Well, we didn’t come here for the barn, we came here for this field.”

“This one?”

“Yes. We’re going to plant a vineyard.”

“In Yorkshire?” Susan’s father interrupted.

“This is my dad,” Susan explained. “Now if you’d said a brewery, isn’t that right Dad?”

Penny leaned forward, putting her hand on the arm of the wheelchair as she spoke.  “I don’t know anything about breweries, but it’s perfect for wine, south facing, just the right drainage. We’re not the first you know.”

“First round here.”

Susan raised her eyebrows at Penny from over her father’s head.

“Digging up the whole field?” he asked.

“Some of it,” Penny replied.

Susan’s father huffed and started to pick at a stray thread on his shirt sleeve.

Penny nodded and turned to open her car door. “Nice to meet you both anyway.” She smiled again at Susan.

The Range Rover pulled out onto the road with a deep roar and quickly disappeared over the hill. Susan remained silent for a moment; her father stared wistfully into the field.

“I’m going to let you go now, Dad,” Susan broke the silence. “See if you can make it all the way back to the village without crashing.”

“No, you’re not, love.”

“One day I might.” She patted her father’s shoulder.

He grunted. “If you do, make sure you aim me at Walter’s roses. At least I’ll wipe the prize-winning smirk off his face.”

 

*****************************************************************

 

Susan picked up the teapot and put her head into the conservatory where her father sat in his chair, TV remote balanced on his lap. “I’m going for a walk, you be ok?”

“Course, love. Cricket’s on,” he replied. “Just top me up first,” he lifted his mug so Susan could take it from the doorway.

Susan steadied the mug with one hand, her fingers locking around her father’s, and carefully filled it with steaming tea. She guided her father’s hand back, letting go only when it was away from his body. “Done,” she announced.

“That was quick, you carrying the teapot round the house with you?”

“Feels like it.”

Susan put the teapot back in the kitchen and left the house, hooking the key in its place behind the ceramic pig in the porch. She took the path over the church meadow and out of the village along the edge of the beck, eventually finding herself in the bottom corner of the field where she could see Penny supervising the installation of parallel lines of wooden poles. Susan clutched a plastic bag to her chest as she watched, her fingers twisting the thin handle.

Penny caught a glimpse of the figure pacing near the corner of the field and recognising Susan from their previous encounter, waved her across.

Susan kept to the footpath which crossed the lower section of the field for as long as she could, before cutting down one of the fence lines, funnelled by thin wire which ran from post to post. 

The two women smiled at each other. Penny saw Susan looking at the fencing and explained. “The vines are coming in a couple of weeks. If we’re lucky we’ll catch some sun this summer and be well established for next year.”

Susan nodded and held out the plastic bag, something heavy inside dropped and the bag swung with a rustle. “Welcome to the village.”

“That’s kind of you.”

“It’s jam. I made it.”

“Thankyou.” Penny took a step forward and took the bag from Susan. She fumbled with the twisted handle. “Maybe I’ll open it later.”

“Raspberry, last years of course. But fine to keep if you don’t open it.”

“2020 a good vintage for jam?” Penny asked.

“I suppose.” And then because she was a little embarrassed about coming all this way to hand over a single jar, she added, “there’s a fair every August. Committee will probably come begging for sponsorship, you being new to the village.  Thought I should give you warning.”

Penny nodded in appreciation. “I’ll keep that in mind. I’ll happily provide some wine for prizes but won’t be until next year.”

“2022 vintage.”

This time both women nodded in unison.

“Sorry about my dad yesterday.”

“No problem,” Penny shrugged.

Then Susan said something she hadn’t expected to come out with so forthrightly. “I probably owe you an explanation and it might sound a bit weird.”

Penny tilted her head slightly, looking at Susan intently. “Go on,” she added encouragingly.

“Thing is, we scattered my mum’s ashes in the field.” There, she had said it.

“This one?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” Penny wasn’t sure what to say, she looked down at the carrier bag in her hand which danced in pendulum twirls.

“It’s your field,” Susan continued. “And it was three years ago. It’s just Dad sees someone digging and … I know it’s silly.”

“It’s not.”

“Anyway, I didn’t want to not tell you.” Susan looked at her feet, not sure what else she had to explain.

“Show me.” Penny put her arm out and gently brushed Susan’s elbow.

“What?”

“Show me where in the field.”

“Oh, ok.” Susan pointed to the top of the hill, “up there.” 

“The thing is, Susan,” Penny explained as they walked side by side up the incline, “wine isn’t about grapes. Not really. It’s all about where it’s grown. It’s a product of everything that makes up the life of this field.” She turned to face Susan. “If you get what I mean.”

Susan giggled. She hadn’t expected to, today. “So, Mum’s part of it?”

“In a way, yes. Does that sound a little morbid?”

Susan thought for a moment. “No.”

 “Did she like wine?”

Susan nodded

“What kind?”

“White.”

They arrived at the top of the field where a horse chestnut tree stood watch, wide branches sweeping their shadow over the two women. They both looked at the tree and then turned round to look down the field.

“You can see the top of St Joseph’s through the woods.” Susan pointed towards the stone tower, crenelations gasping for breath among a thick canopy of trees. “Here, this is it.”

“It’s a good spot.”

Susan stared at the outline of the trees in the distance. “Mum grew up here, in the village. She climbed this tree with her friends, they buried the names of boys they liked on slips of paper in the ground beneath it. She always called it ‘our field’. Her and Dad, well you know. She called me her little ‘Chestnut’. Only later, when I was older, did she tell me why.” Susan blushed at the candour of her mum on that one occasion.

“I get it. This, this field is part of you, your mum’s story and now we’re another chapter in its history.” Penny casually wiped her eye with the back of her sleeve. 

Susan turned back to Penny. “I should go, check in on my dad.”

“He’s welcome to come into the field at any time you know.”

“Thanks, but I’m not sure he will.”

Penny nodded. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Hope so”. Susan emerged from the shade of the tree, the sun pressed down on her back and each step through the field felt sure and solid.

 

**********************************************************

 

A week later, Susan found a single sheet of folded paper resting on her doormat.

“Dad, did you hear the post?”

“No. Anything exciting?”

Susan said nothing, her hands trembled as she opened the paper.

 

Susan, I was thinking about what you said. If you can make it, meet me at the tree at 2,

Penny.

P.S. the jam was lovely.

 

Susan glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall. She had a couple of hours.

The time passed in hollow minutes until Susan made her way to the field. All the posts were in, a hundred or so lines traversing the field, waiting for the vines. Penny was a distant figure under the chestnut tree. As she got closer, Susan saw there was a bench placed at the edge of the canopy of leaves, facing down the field.

“I hope you don’t mind?” Penny asked timidly.

“Mind what?”

Penny pointed to the centre of the bench, to a brass plaque, golden in reflected light. Susan stepped closer to read it, eventually lifting her hand so it cast a shadow in the right place.

Our Field.

Susan turned away to squint into the sunlight, blinking in its brightness. “It’s Perfect,” she said.

“Good. Now there’s something you might be able to help me with?” Penny sat down and Susan joined her, the plaque between them. “I’m trying to think of a suitable name for the wine. Any ideas?”

Susan surprised herself with how easy the joke came, how comfortable she felt sitting here. “Well, you are in Yorkshire now, so how about ‘Mal-by-ec’”

Penny spluttered. “How long have you been thinking that one up?”

The shadow of the horse chestnut moved across the bench, and over the field; history, love, pain, and fear all mixed with the sound of the two friends laughing.

END