William visits us twice each week, on a Tuesday and a Friday. He brings milk, cream and cheese, from a dairy at a farm on the other side of the village. My mother says ‘he’s not quite the thing’, but he is always polite and respectful: touches his cap when he bids us good day and farewell. He is profuse with his thanks when my mother hands him the two shillings, and adds, ‘there’s a threepenny bit for yourself William.’
I have no idea how old he is, but I have never seen him near the school. He is taller than me, but exhibits no sign as yet, that he has begun to scrape a razor over his chin. On the rare occasions I catch sight of him in the village, he is alone, and seems intent on his mission: head down and walking at a brisk pace.
I encountered him one Saturday morning. Having been set a project by my teacher, I visited the lake, two meadows beyond the Hall. Walking slowly and quietly along the pathway, I looked up and there through the reeds and mace, saw William seated on a basket, fishing rod in his hands. I waved, but he was not distracted.
I made my way around to him and as I approached, spoke his name in little over a whisper. He looked up, smiled and cast his eyes back down to the bulbous, scarlet float which bobbed on the surface of the water, some five yards from where he sat.
‘Any luck?’ I asked, again quietly.
His head shook furiously, but he did not turn towards me.
‘What bait are you using?’
He proffered a tin containing a wriggling of white and cream maggots, red and brown pupae, amid a modicum of sawdust.
‘Well I hope it improves,’ I said and carefully slipped away to rejoin the path and continue my circumnavigation of the pool.
My task was to visit a ‘stretch’ of water - an apt description, as this morning the surface had an apparent elasticity - and write either a poem, or a composition, about what I saw, heard, smelled or touched. Taste had been steadfastly ignored, as no doubt Miss Robbins was nervous, lest one of her pupils ingest some poisonous plant material.
When I reached a point almost opposite William’s position, I sat on an old stump, took out my notebook and pencil, and screwed up my eyes, the better to contemplate the view. The sun was concentrating its rays on burning through a thin layer of cloud, creating a pale, but warming spotlight, on a clump of reeds to my left. As I wrote, I was distracted by a clumsy heron, who flew unconvincingly up to his ramshackle residence atop a swaying sycamore. In profile, I spied a fish without his beak, as he delivered the sustenance to his partner.
Above the surface of the water, insects were dancing, St. Vitas style, to the hum of wasps and a distant tractor. I heard a ‘plop’ as no doubt a small mammal chose a watery pathway, to avoid a two footed creature who was trespassing on it’s beat. I closed my eyes, the best to use my nose, but little arrived, except the sweetness associated with warming grasses and accompanying vegetation. I changed to my ears, and on concentrating, located a myriad of birdsong. Alas, though I had been trained by Collins, it was my eyes only that afforded recognition.
I stood, meaning to continue my journey and observed William. He was now standing, his rod uplifted and the line taut, seemingly attempting to drag him from the bank. I ran back to where he was and grasped him, around the waist, as he teetered on the edge. The line broke and we fell, me on top, and we rolled into a bed of nettles. I scrambled to my feet.
‘Are you alright William?’
He looked dazed, his face bright red, his right hand still gripping the fishing rod. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘thank you Gloria.’
BIO - Roger Noons began writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay, for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts, then began short stories and poems. He occasionally produces non fiction, particularly memoirs from his long career in Environmental Health.
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