This is the place that you have always known, this village, these woods. They remain the same and yet they are forever changed, now you’re not here to sculpt them.
The shop on the corner is still there, but now Liz looks a bit scared when I walk in. The paperboys come to return their bags as I hand over my money for the milk. One of them must be your replacement, but I don’t want to know which one.
The cricket field opposite our house is quieter now, the parties in the village hall are no longer allowed, the village fete that you loved cancelled. I wish I could tell you about the bouncy castles and the face paints and the circus skills, but it all ended when you went away, as if the world knew.
Arthur plays there with his friends now. They roam around just as you used to, but without wheels, or mad-capped schemes or dirt. More sensible I think, more chatting.
Yesterday he got caught in the most horrendous rainstorm which he thought was so much fun – although he had a coat on. It reminded me of the times you tried to catch the snow on your tongue as it fell. Children scoot past on their way to school, their parents chasing them with their book bags.
And now I walk. Not the walks in the book that Dad likes, but by myself, exploring this place I have known for 40 years, but with new eyes. Eyes that are looking for something: looking for you. I climb over the gate and into the woods, but even they are changed. I missed the bluebells this year. Do you remember? The months we spent in hospital were the bluebell months and by the time you were gone, so were they.
But they will be back – and when they are I will go looking for them again, looking for you again, and your taunting face as you run through them, effortlessly avoiding trampling them but looking every second like you might. The muddy bike ramps you found in the woods are still there, but they don’t interest me now. Instead I walk, listening for the quiet. I hear the birdsong, but don’t care what kind of bird it is, and a scamper through the twigs. A rabbit or a squirrel leaps out and I still feel that rush of excitement as I look around for someone to tell. Instead I walk, smelling the damp soil beneath my boots, picking my way through the squelchy bits that you would have leapt over. Instead I walk, further than I have ever walked before, never really sure where I am going and each time, ending up somewhere slightly adrift of where I intended. I find new routes, along with old routes blocked. I walk, looking for gaps where the sunlight can get through.