This was around the second month we were together.
She dragged me, with words mostly, and sometimes by the arm, through the small woods of Potter’s Down. These woods sit at the southmost edge of The Downs, Southerton’s main park, and while there are lots of bits of the park that are a little… off… this particular clump of trees and tangled muddy puddles has always creeped me out more than the rest. Local history says that it was once the site of an old burial ground, for people too poor to go in the main cemetery which this overgrown shambles now sticks to the side of like a tumour. The earth took over.
“Come on,” she yelled, grinning broadly at me, “this is my favourite place in the whole city.”
I half-tripped, half-laughed, and kept going. The thick wood gave way to shrubs and smaller trees – not managed, exactly, but with more space to move. There were flashes of grey through the greenery, the isolated edges of the graveyard. Here, it looked like only the larger monuments survived, giving the impression that the statues and crypts that one caught glimpses of had burst up through the forest, rather than the other way around.
It was at one of these crypts that she stopped, and spun around to stand in front of me. A statue guarded the collapsed doorway. It was maybe meant to be an angel, but hard to tell… the face was worn down with age to the softest of shapes, only suggesting the hollows of eyes, the bump of a nose. If it had had wings, they were gone.
When she leaned her weight against it, hand on its waist, a wave of nervous nausea went through me.
“So, you remember I told you about my twat of an ex?” She said, and I definitely knew who she meant. I nodded. “Well, this is where that ended.”
She said it matter of fact, a thing reserved for the hard stories that I never got used to.
“Oh?” I said. Back then, I was still getting to know my way around the relationship. God, I fancied her. She was intelligent, and intense, and cute, and I don’t think I’d ever had sex with someone who seemed so intensely into me. It was addictive. Narcotic. I think I was scared of losing that, but at the time I’d have said I was already in love with her, whatever love means. So “Oh?” was what I said, despite how uncomfortable I was.
“Yeah. So, anyway, he was always a little kinky, you know? Pretty easy-going. He’d have friends over while I was still naked under a blanket in the living room – I’d have to sneak around while they watched football. And he was always a little rough-and-ready, you know? And mostly it was fun.”
It didn’t sound like fun. I didn’t know quite why she would tell me stuff like this. The thought of this guy close to her, touching her, made me feel sick with anger, the need to protect her. Her breeziness put me on edge.
It was a long, confused relationship we had – I should tell you that now – and it wasn’t too nice for either of us. I spent a lot of time thinking I was protecting her from demons, some kind of hero. But the truth is I never, ever felt like I was a good person while I was with her.
“But one time when we were out here… we liked to come out here to have, you know, to fuck. Because he liked the danger of it. We were where you’re standing…” And no, I didn’t like a bit of this part at all, “…and he, you know. Wanted to take it too far.”
“What?” I managed. A cluster of bad emotions climbed up my throat, and I know for sure they made it to my face.
“But, no, listen, it’s okay. Because got out from under, got over here to the doorway, and screamed… screamed for help. And nobody came. But when he got close, too close…” Her hands moved to the statue, her fingers around its forearm. “I got help.”
“I don’t understand.” Although some idea of what had happened was forming.
“This arm came down between us. It hit him hard in the chest and he went flying. And I ran and ran.” That grin again. “And I never saw him again. He left his stuff at the flat, and that was it.” She turned and looked up at that formless face, eyes shining. “Except now I know I have a guardian angel. Angels!” She laughed.
She bounded over to me, before I had a chance to react, and kissed me, hard, in front of the giant.
“We can go now!” She shouted, and ran off into the undergrowth. I stood for a second, looking at her “guardian”, not believing in it for a second. Knowing it was probably something she’d pieced together, to avoid what almost definitely really happened.
Then I followed her. The whole time I knew her, following. With that feeling that we were in the shadow of something heavy and faceless and old, watching us always.
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