The Crossing

Alison Milner

I say, “you are a figment of my imagination.” You say, “I don’t believe you”.

You hunch your shoulders in that belligerent pose I know so well. Your grin reminds me of adolescence, of secrets and small lies.

Your stance is territorial, in the centre of an ancient pack-horse bridge which spans a turbulent river. Stained with peat, carbonated by topography.

A dandelion and burdock Northern English beck.

You are wearing our old, cracked leather jacket, the glazing of our outer selves. Your feet planted firmly in the heavy boots whose soles inhabit ours. Their toughness empowers us. The footprint of who we are, bold and free, before I learn to tread carefully.

It is summer and the air is heavy with a cloying sweetness. The weather is hot and dry, but I see heavy rain, falling like beads from a broken chain.

Sheep graze the sky, drifting wool. White, blobbed with blue paint. Fallowing this field where colour hums yellow and purple hues. I am on the canvas of an impressionist painting and your portrait is drawn incongruously at its centre.

I squint against the searing light, and you fade into the haze. When I open my eyes wide the glare intensifies. You are still guarding the bridge, sketched charcoal-black, figurative.

I walk towards the beck seeding dandelions, the blown wishes of a lifetime. I tread lightly on clover pompoms. I do not want to scatter petals like confetti at a wedding.

 “You can’t ignore me. You can’t cross without me,” you say.

 I do not contradict you, but my legs stride forward. My trousers rustling, my trainers squeaking like mice.

“I wrote to you,” I say, “letters of the mind, tumbling images I couldn’t articulate. Sentences that wouldn’t shape onto paper.”

The flagstone bridge is slippery with spray. I do not slide as I walk through you, cutting your silhouette, onto the other side. Across the water into a field of gold.

I touch the shining silk of buttercups. I glance back at the bridge. It is empty except for a grey heron, fishing for its next catch.

Slender grasses wave in a sea of grey-green brush tips. I caress seed heads furred like kittens’ tails. Run my fingers along plumes which scatter escaping insects.

I stroke the ears of wild grain like a lover, until only I remain. A solitary woman in a wildflower meadow.

Alison Milner lives in Hebden Bridge and is inspired by the colours and contours of the moorland close to her home. Lockdown led Alison to explore internal landscapes; it created blank-page time for her to play with words. She has been published in a literary magazine and two anthologies.