Summerhouse land, p.41
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       Summerhouse Land, p.41

           Roderick Gordon
 

  Damaris did help, although a little hesitantly, and Sam immediately began to shout at the meadows around them. ‘Hey, Joely – tell Curtis I have to talk to him! Tell him it’s urgent. It’s a matter of life and death. Tell him that he got it wrong – that the same matter touching itself doesn’t bring the tree down … it lops the branch off!’

  ‘What tree?’ Damaris asked, even more confused. ‘And I don’t see any spaniels, and why are you yelling at them anyway? What’s the big panic?’

  Sam stopped shouting and took a breath. He wasn’t getting anywhere with this. Then, as he looked at her properly for the first time, he broke into a huge grin. ‘I can’t tell how good it is to see you again. I remember when I came through before and saw you. I didn’t think you were real because you’re so pretty.’

  She looked coyly at her feet. ‘That’s the nicest thing—’

  Again Sam couldn’t help but interrupt. ‘Anyone has said to you in centuries.’

  ‘No!’ she cried, but she was smiling. ‘How do you know I was going to say that?’

  ‘And you’ve never helped anyone through the cliffs like this before. You think it’s …’ Sam began, but trailed off as he tried to recall her precise words. ‘Oh, yes, I remember … you think it’s wild, a bit like giving birth.’

  She let out a cry of shock, although she didn’t appear to be frightened. ‘How is it you know everything I’m about to say … or even thinking?’

  The effort of standing was too much for Sam and his legs buckled.

  ‘Whoops-a-daisy,’ Damaris said, just managing to catch him in time. Her expression became stern. ‘This is ridiculous. You’ve only just crossed through and you’re very weak. Sit down for a while. Anyway, what’s so urgent that it can’t wait?’

  ‘What’s so urgent?’ he replied. ‘What’s so urgent is that I’ve got to do everything I can to stop myself … I mean literally stop myself, because I can’t let anything happen to you again. And we might not have much time.’

  ‘Time is the one thing we do have here,’ Damaris said, then gave a small shrug. ‘Listen, if it’s that important, I’ll help you to the village … though I’ve absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.’ Passing an arm around him, she held him tightly as he drew on all his strength to start walking.

  Damaris was looking askance at Sam as he took each unsteady step. ‘What did you mean when you said we end up together?’ she asked doubtfully. ‘I don’t even know who you are.’

  ‘Don’t worry – you’ll catch up,’ Sam replied, his voice wavering a little. It may have been the close proximity to her after believing that he’d lost her for ever – he didn’t know precisely what it was that set him off – but he was suddenly overcome with emotion. ‘Hold on a moment,’ he mumbled, wiping the tears from his eyes with the sleeve of his dressing gown. He couldn’t stop himself. ‘Sorry,’ he said to her in barely a whisper.

  ‘What is it?’ she asked.

  Sam spoke in breathless sentences. ‘I just fought someone to get back here, to get back what was important to me. And I beat him because he had a weakness. He’d forgotten who he was. He’d forgotten what it was to be human.’

  Damaris gave him a squeeze. ‘Don’t worry. Whatever you’ve been through it’s all over now. And you’re okay now. I’ve got you.’

  Sam looked gratefully at her. ‘You have,’ he said without a shred of doubt. He was on the point of taking another step when he paused, turning to her. ‘But there’s something I have to say to you.’

  Her hair had blown over her face and she flicked her head. ‘Sure. What?’

  Sam took a moment to find the right words. ‘Look, I have no idea what the future holds for us … but when you finally decide to dump me in however many thousands of years it is, can you do it gently this time around?’

  ‘Thousands of years?’ she repeated incredulously. ‘I know I’ve only just met you and maybe I’m being unfair, but I wouldn’t give us five minutes.’

  ‘What?’ he burst out, looking aghast at her unsmiling face. ‘You mean that? Really?’

  She couldn’t keep it up. Breaking into laughter, Damaris squeezed him with her arm. ‘I’m only kidding,’ she said. ‘You act pretty weird with all this been-here-before stuff, but I’ll bear with it. You seem nice.’

  ‘Nice? I suppose that’s a start,’ he said, beaming back at her, then clutched his stomach as he glanced along the cliffs. ‘You know that hamper by the pond just over there – the one that Tom and Vek are probably tucking into right now … could we make a quick detour there first?’

  ‘So you know about that too?’ she asked, then frowned. ‘I thought it was a matter of life or death that I helped you to the village?’

  He nodded. ‘It is, but I really can’t take another cliff hunger.’

  She smiled, and he smiled back.

  Everything was going to work out.

  Afterword

  The hidden land at the end of my garden was first revealed to me at some point during the sixties, and I gave it a name because the dream kept recurring. And there really did seem to be a lost gap beyond the Victorian summerhouse which had to be pulled down.

  As a new decade began and I turned ten, I went to the school with the gray and pink uniforms and there I had a good friend called James. He lived close by in Highgate and would come over to play after school. I remember him as being great fun – full of energy with this big smile. And I remember I was told that he’d become ill, and all of a sudden he wasn’t at school and there were no more arrangements in the afternoons.

  My mother bought him a game and took it to him in hospital with my father. They were insistent that I didn’t accompany them because they said James wasn’t up to it. At the time I thought it was very unfair that my parents were going to see him without me. I don’t know if my memory is correct about this, but I remember being left in the car as they went off. Evening was setting in and all the colors outside became washed out except for the pale yellow light in the hospital windows. I looked at these windows through the railings, not understanding what was happening to my friend. How could anything be so bad that I wasn’t allowed to see him?

  He would never have played the game my parents took him because his cancer was too advanced and he was just too weak. And all my mother and father said when they came back to the car was that he looked terrible, then they didn’t say another word for the whole journey home. A week later they told me that he’d died.

  James should have had the years ahead of him that I’ve had, but his life was cut short by a clump of defective cells in his colon. For that I’m still very sorry, and I often think about him. He’s the reason I had to write this book, and find a place for the ideas and emotions that have been floating around in my head for more than forty years.

  I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never yet suffered from a really serious illness, so when it came to writing about Sam and his disfigurement I drew on the chronic shyness that plagued me when I was his age. I know it’s not at all the same because my shyness wasn’t exactly a life-threatening affliction, although it felt like it at the time. And somewhere along the line it simply left me.

  But with this book I want it to be clear that I do not mean for one moment to trivialize or diminish what those who are seriously ill in the real world endure. And I hope what I dreamt all those years ago might actually be true. I hope that James found his own Summerhouse Land.

  Bibliography and Inspiration

  The Discovery of Witches, by Matthew Hopkins, 1647.

  As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee, 1969.

  An Experiment with Time, by J. W. Dunne, 1927.

  The Coordinate Theory and Human Perception, by Professor George Gordon, 2046.

  Extract from Burnt Norton, Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot reproduced with the permission of Faber and Faber Ltd.

 


 

  Roderick Gordon, Summerhouse Land

 


 


 
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