The astringent smell of wet willow leaves filled the air as she pounded along the tow path, and danced in and out of the puddles. The cold spring rain lashed against her face and dripped off the peak of her running cap but the pounding of her feet and the drumming of the rain failed to drown out the music in her ears. Volume up as high as she dared go, she’d set her mp3 player to random and had let fate choose whatever songs it dared on this day. Let the music decide what she did. The one good thing about running in the rain was no one could see that her face was as wet with tears as it was with rain.
Pushing herself to run faster and harder than she liked, the miles added up and while her legs and her lungs begged her to stop, she couldn’t stop running till she finally stumbled and fell.
The fall knocked the breath from her body, and drove grit and filth into her hands as she tried to protect her face from hitting the ground. The chill of the day delayed the onslaught of pain and for a shocked second or two she lay still, face in a puddle, until both the blood and the pain started to flow. That was the point when a steady stream of tears became a torrent and she curled up and howled at the empty canal and beat her bleeding fists on the path.
In a movie, this would be when a kind passer-by would stop and comfort her and take her home, tend her wounds and help her heal. But there was no one, not even a solitary dog-walker, collar turned against the rain, and she sat in an icy puddle and sobbed till her throat was raw. She’d kept all the pain inside, never speaking of it, never allowing it to reach full consciousness and that morning, it became like a ghostly elephant, a ponderous foot pressing ever harder down on her heart. Her usual morning run had already been extended by significant distance and when she dragged herself to her feet, she could feel she’d pulled various muscles and strained her left ankle when she fell. There was blood oozing through her running trousers where the fall had gashed her knees, and her hands were pitted with gravel and dirt. Slowly she turned and started limping homewards, energy and hope spent.
There was no way she’d get to work on time, and she decided that as soon as she got in, she’d ring in sick. She’d run a hot bath and lie in it and…..Her mind wandered to whether it was possible to detach the blade from ladies’ razors. The fall had just released the pain she’d not wanted to acknowledge and like a shattered window there was no way of restoring that barrier between her feelings and her conscious mind any more.
And that would have been the end of that, a body found in a bathtub, friends and family horrified and totally mystified (“She was such a steady girl; what on earth made her do it? No-one can understand it!”) but for two things happening within moments of each other.
The first thing was the wind getting up and slapping her in the face with a slender branch of newly-opened willow leaves, knocking her backwards in shock.
The second was her mp3 player choosing that moment to start playing an old song:
“All around my hat,
I will wear the green willow
All around my hat
For a twelve month and a day
And if anyone should ask me
The reason why I’m wearing it
It’s all for my true love,
Who is far, far away
Fare thee well, cold winter
And fare thee well, cold frost
Nothing have I gained,
But my own true love I’ve lost
I’ll sing and I’ll be merry
When occasion I do see,
He’s a false, deluding young man,
Let him go, farewell he!
The other night he brought me
A fine diamond ring, but he
Thought to have deprive me
Of a far better thing!
But I being careful,
Like lovers ought to be,
He’s a false, deluding young man
Let him go, farewell he!
With a quarter pound of reason,
And a half a pound of sense,
A small spring of time,
And as much of prudence,
You mix them all together,
And you will plainly see
He’s a false deluding young man
Let him go, farewell he!”
The wet leaves seemed to have a life of their own, and caught in her hair and her hat, and she struggled for a moment to free herself from the branch. It felt more like a briar than a willow and she had to break the longest twig to free herself from it.
Staring at the shining brilliance of the new leaves, she felt a shiver starting and as the song thundered on, a queer little tugging began somewhere in the back of her mind. With a rapid twisting, she made a rough wreath of the willow twig, tucking the ends in. She didn’t expect it to stay in the oval circlet but it did and she took off her hat so she could arrange the wreath on that.
Grunting with a weird sense of satisfaction she put the hat back on her head and started to hobble more briskly homeward.