Don’t you hate it when you’re having a conversation and the other person drops a bombshell, and they know it’s a bombshell but they act as though they were doing nothing more innocuous than commenting on the weather, or worse, when they sneak it in with a whole load of other stuff so you have to replay it in your mind to see if they actually said what you think they said?
“Yes, of course we’ll have to go shopping at the weekend,” Debbie said, hand on hip standing in the kitchen. “Also got to drench the sheep this week – have we got drench or do we need to buy some? I can’t remember. What book are you reading, I saw you reading something new? You know you can’t go back to London, the farm’s too big for me to do it on my own now. What do you want for dinner?”
She turned away and started fumbling with some washing-up. She probably hadn’t stopped talking, but I had stopped listening. I had to, I couldn’t listen and rewind at the same time.
I rewound, and in my mind I heard her voice again, “You know you can’t go back to London, the farm’s too big for me to do it on my own now.”
I felt poleaxed. “Are you serious?” I said.
She turned back, her face a question.
“About London,” I said. “I can’t go back?”
She looked sad. “I’m sorry, there’re too many animals and I’m just not strong enough to do them on my own.”
I go to London—had been going to London—about half a dozen times a year, just for a day or two at a time to see family and catch-up. I like the contrast, plus it gives me a chance to dress up smart with shoes and everything, and talk city speak about business.
“How’s business?” I’d say, and promptly switch off and start thinking about home, because that’s the other thing about London, it makes me miss home and realise all over again how lucky I am. Debbie knows this.
“You can still miss the place and me while you’re here,” she said.
“No I can’t. How can anyone miss something while they’re doing it?”
She shook her head. “You’re such a man.”
I wandered off, determined to be anything but a man. I’d be a child; I wanted to be a child! I felt a tantrum coming on, a really big one followed by a really long sulk.
I could never leave the farm again. Never. I was trapped like a prisoner! A prisoner on my own land. The animals weren’t my friends, they were fellow inmates!
I went upstairs and grabbed a pair of work jeans and a magic marker and set about drawing arrows down the legs, but stopped after the first one and stood staring out of the bedroom window instead.
No more London. I’d never see my mum again, or my brother, or anyone. I loved my pigs and the animals, but the thought of seeing only them for the rest of my life filled me with a sense of loneliness so profound it felt like another being in the room.
Then the being spoke, and I nearly jumped out of my skin until I realised Debbie had followed me in.
“So, have you reached the point where you’re never going to see another living sole as long as you live, yet?”
I didn’t answer.
“We just need to put some systems in place so it’s a little easier for me to do on my own,” she said. “It wouldn’t take much, and then you can go back to London again.”
I nodded, but the childish tantrum hadn’t finished and I wanted to stamp my foot and yell, but I want to go now!