The Cottage in the Hills
I can’t remember why we chose to run to the cottage in the hills. I can’t even remember how we knew it was there. I just knew that we had to run.
We’d both married too young, and to the wrong people, the sort of people you think you should marry, I guess, rather than the sort of person you’d want to spend a life with. So it’s not really anyone’s fault when it all goes wrong, although blame is easy to chuck around, along with crockery and insults and anything that comes to mind. We’re a small community out here, too, and there are no secrets, not really, so those troubles were soon public knowledge, as was, I suppose, the two of us finding comfort with each other.
And I suppose that would have been fine, too – certainly stranger arrangements have worked, I think we can all agree – but sometimes you just feel something so much, want to be together so much, that you step over some sort of invisible line and then – bam – social convention comes for you. You have to end it, they said. (They being pretty much everyone we knew, with wildly differing degrees of sympathy or anger). You have to let this go, and live the life you have. Nothing good will come of this dangerously obsessive need to be happy.
OK, maybe it was phrased differently, but you get the gist.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, in between the looks in the street and the fiery silences at home, we heard about the cottage in the hills. Somewhere people go to be safe together – somewhere you can be who you are. I can’t remember who said it, or if we read it somewhere, or if it was just a dimly remembered story from childhood. But as soon as the thought of it reached the front of our minds, we knew that’s where we had to go. Just… knew.
We left that night, slipping away from our sleeping partners, into the autumn mists that hung around the village like a funeral shroud. We were driven by an urgency we couldn’t understand, hand in hand, pushing our way through overgrown and forgotten tracks with a surety that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. The familiar was left behind, the fields and hedgerows, and nightlights fading behind us, until we were high in the hills, looking out over a sea of mists, alone together, marooned. Behind us, the past, ahead, the cottage, an orange light at the top of the rise.
As we pushed open the door there seemed to be nothing inside, beside the unfocused orange glow. It was smaller up close, only a couple of rooms, a dresser, drawers hanging slack, a chair, covered in dry flowers, a bed, with only dust and dirt for bedding. Clothes lay on the floor, dozens of them; tangled together as if discarded carelessly and never returned for. The only thing we found in order was a small bottle of wine, left out on the dresser, as if waiting just for us.
But for all the seeming abandonment and decay, we felt safe here, at home here, and so we shared the wine and fell into the bed in each other’s arms, sinking quickly into a deep and grateful sleep.
We awoke in the cottage in the hills to a dawn that sparkled with the promise of new life. In the daylight the cottage seemed cleaner, neater, and fresher. Even the briefest of exploration uncovered new bedding, and changes of clothes; old, but reliable. Outside, the gardens promised food, and down in the shimmering valley the reflective sparkle of water could be made out. We looked across at the other hills, and the other cottages, smoke rising from dozens of chimneys on dozens of peaks, and we held each other, and knew we belonged.