Saturday 20 April 2024

Sample Saturday: Salford Stories, Everything Is Seen At Its Best in the Dark, Neil Campbell, red wine,


Why I chose Everything Is Seen At It's Best In The Dark:


I particularly liked the way a brief moment in time is coupled with enough information about the past to tell the tale of a tragedy and its effects on those concerned.  Particularly Sue. The description of her regular walk and her regular route, through very ordinary surroundings, is vivid in its simplicity and heart-breaking against the backdrop of grief and loss.  The language is uncluttered and used to great effect.  I am always interested in the aftermath of an event, how people cope, how they don't cope.  This particular story flicked that switch beautifully.”

Charlottte Delaney

Everything Is Seen At Its Best in the Dark

Neil Campbell


Sometimes in autumn when the ash trees are filled with red berries there are loads of crows among the branches, and evening sunlight filters through the taller trees, spraying the meadow with golden light. Sue always sits at the same bench near the pond so she can listen to the whispering of the reeds. She’s seen whole families of herons by that little pond. And it is quiet down there in the late afternoon. From the bench by the pond she can look beyond the river towards the high rise flat where she lives. And from the eleventh floor Denis can keep an eye on her too. Denis has always kept his eye on her, but he doesn’t know everything. She has friends on Chiffon Way and Angora Drive, and sometimes she sees them in the Old Pint Pot, but mainly it’s just her and Denis.

To get to the meadow she cuts down the cycle route instead of going via Blackburn Street. She has to be careful to cross on the sharp curve of road. On this occasion a car stops for a stray collie dog that clearly has somewhere to be. Sue crosses and looks up at the apple tree in one of the back gardens down there. She’s never seen a cyclist on the route and the road is scattered with broken glass. She follows the road round and finds herself by the bridge. She looks down at the swans that gather beneath it. The water is so shallow she can see tyres on the river bed. She follows along the river by the backs of houses, looking upriver at the weir that sparkles and crashes. She takes a right and then a left past the new houses, where a woman tending a newly-laid lawn ignores her as she walks slowly by. The people in the new houses don’t seem to know that it is okay to say ‘hello’. Sue thinks of how people are in such a rush these days. She was the same when she was younger, but she has forgotten.

She is not out of breath by the time she reaches the bench by the pond. That is the advantage of coming every day. She concentrates, and listens as the reeds brush together. Then she hears the crows calling out. They fly in pairs above the new-mown grass. How wonderful it must be to fly. It doesn’t matter to them if a lift breaks down. In a matter of seconds a crow can move from the meadow to the roof of the high rise.

When her boy was young, Sue stayed at home with him. When he was a baby he was wonderful, but on some days the flat could feel like a prison and the panoramic views seemed like a curse. Once, when watching the Telly Tubbies, she thought she might actually be going mad. She had nobody to help her. Lee was so tiring in his need for her attention. On nice days, when he was older, they would walk over to the meadow with a football. If they didn’t have the football, Lee would just run headlong into the bushes. Once she thought he was going to end up in the pond, he just ran straight towards it. But he loved the football. She remembered when he dribbled it all the way around the park. Even then he was determined. If he set his mind to something he would do it, and there was never any changing his mind. Denis tried to argue, but Sue just showed support. Sometimes she reproaches herself for that.

The friends who did speak were as bad as the ones who didn’t. She came to think that condolences are not for the benefit of the bereaved. At first, she hated the sight of poppies at the memorial on Chapel Street. She didn’t say anything. Friends said she’d ‘come round’. But the years after that were just a blur of keeping busy. They didn’t mellow her. She thought of all that pomp and ceremony. For her it was a token gesture. And the patterns kept repeating, and year after year they kept sending the boys and girls of Salford overseas.

Sometimes she thinks Lee might still come back. Sometimes she thinks she sees him in the Old Pint Pot, but there are many young men with broad shoulders and black hair. Sometimes she doesn’t remember that he wouldn’t look so young now. She always sees him as he was on the day he left. That day when Denis was so proud, and the buttons were brightly shining, and Sue smiled though she wanted to cry. Some days she sees him everywhere. She sees him in Denis’s face every night and every day, but that is a good thing.

The whispering of the reeds continues. In the vivid light of dusk the outline of the crows seems sharpened. As the day descends, their outline blurs, and soon enough they are flying beyond her sight. She buttons her jacket against the cold and begins the walk back. In the darkness, she can hear the wing strokes of the crows. Looking up at the sprinkled lights of the high rise, she can see a darkened figure in the living room window.

At Adelphi Street she goes right and walks towards the main road. She cuts through the car park and makes her way down the steps and into the Old Pint Pot. She doesn’t see the fusilier on Chapel Street, standing in stone. There are no names of any soldiers on that memorial anyway, and she knows nothing about South Africa.

The pub is filled with students. Sue likes them. And they’ve done up the Old Pint Pot since the last time she came in. They’ve done a good job with it. She sees Ken and Pauline from Angora Drive. She takes her red wine over to their table by the window. From there she can see the crescent of the Irwell, and beyond that, the moonlight shining across the meadow.


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