On Friday the thirteenth of February all was as it usually was. Indigo could see that when she looked in through the side window as she jumped down from the stile. Murray and Walker were curled up, one on each of the battered hot-plate covers of the long-extinguished Rayburn, lured by Indigo’s Granny’s 24-hour day-light lantern suspended there, in lieu of psychotherapists. Indigo’s Granny had told Indigo all about psychotherapists and even if the lamp didn’t really work like the garlic in the vampire story she thought it must be worth a try. You didn’t want people coming round asking lots of questions. Murray and Walker had been getting on famously since the arrival of the lamp.
Peering under the top half of the stable door, there was Monty asleep on his enormous, oily cushion and the place was in a bit of a mess. It was always in some sort of disarray and although this time the muddy floor was strewn with deep-dark-sharp rose leaves trimmed from stems; the sink, the garden bin and even the compost bin had been emptied, washed, filled with water and dragged in to nurture long, bleeding-heart, red roses, Indigo saw nothing but her Granny’s absence and knew just where to look.
Monty stirred as she stooped, now grown taller, to crawl under the locked upper-stable door; he yawned a smile and rolled to show her four feet in the air, an optimistic tummy and the note written on a scrap torn from a Weetabix packet, strapped to his right-fore paw. Indigo sat on the edge of Monty’s filthy bed and untangled the note with her right hand while paying him his tummy-rub reward with her left. The note began, unsurprisingly: Darling Indigo. New brownies in the yum tin. Help yourself! Now then:
Monty pawed Indigo as she ploughed through her Granny’s dreadful handwriting and although Granny was so odd that she couldn’t be surprising, reading had made her completely forget about Monty’s biscuit. She apologized, picked up the yum tin and yanked it open, eventually and after some struggle, ancient yum being stronger than super glue, took two brownies for herself, tossed two in Monty’s direction and picked out the keys to the Camper Van from beneath the greaseproof layer at the bottom of the tin. Sealing the lid tightly against Murray and Walker who just sniffed cakes and never ate them, except for just once when apparently they’d gobbled up Granny’s famous ‘carniverous surprise’, Indigo slipped out through the open stable door and across the common-land to the pale blue VW camper van sheltering behind the coppice.
Monty, a three year old Dalmatian who had every faith in someone who gave him brownies, however small, padded alongside Indigo and climbed into the passenger seat beside her with the air of a man who knew how to read a map. Indigo, eleven and a bit, although quite good at driving on bridleways, the Ridgeway and stretches of the B3072 when her parents were out of the country and Gran was over-tired, decided against a need for seat belts and turned the key.
The camper van looked back up along the short stretch of bridleway that ran to the right of the house as you faced the common-land, looking out of Indigo’s Granny’s stable door, if ever it were unlocked. The path allowed tractors, sheep and dogs with elderly walkers to go through the gate next to the stile that led to and from the close which once had been nothing but green fields. The bridleway continued in both directions, away from the street, across the common-land and into the pasture beyond and ran the other way too, up and back along the backs of the houses that Indigo walked past in the other direction on the parallel street when on her way to see her Granny.
Moving up along the boundary that separated domesticity from the raw and natural fight for life in the wild just on the other side of the bridleway, one might glimpse from the back the underbelly of the lives occupied by the gardens and houses, strung in parallel lines, sandwiched between farmland and paving, with intermittent street lighting for workers coming home at night and hyphens, painted bright-white, in the middle of the road beyond. It was supposed to be safer, on the paving and under the lights, where Steve puffed, Simon sweated and nasty Annie scowled. There was the familiarity of the round-faced Indian lady’s fudge on the paved side and the guinea pigs further along but you knew the whole story, more or less. Although Indigo was not really supposed to walk along the old path that ran behind the houses on her own, she did and she knew it very well.
The lawn-mower man’s dead brother’s house was bounded at the back by bright, light, tall, thin slats of wood, carefully laid like feathers to overlap so that no crack of sight might escape and show the emptiness of the dark house or its past. Just tufts of craggy grass escaped beneath the fence and paper thin-folded-cans, crunched under Range Rover sheep-men drivers’ cars, bound themselves to nettle roots, twisting into sticky tarmac around fence-post feet. Indigo had strained, closing one eye, squashing her face hard against the cold, resin of raw pine where slats of fencing warp or twist but nothing but a green blur showed itself.
The writer’s house had a rickety broken fence and a bright blue, brand-new gate leading out of the garden onto the bridleway. Here, on the footpath, was a small wooden chair, the sort of chair that folds up and slides into a corner; an old and rusty baked-bean tin, still with some of the green/black label clinging to the rust, full to the brim with cigarette ends, and a huge ceramic pot growing a vine which was perhaps responsible for overburdening the fence. Often there was a mug. But nothing much else apart from the odd soggy cardboard sag-bag of guinea-pig compost. It was the round faced Indian lady that caused all the trouble when it came to the end of the line, because hers was the first house in the close, so that last had to be passed on your way from the coppice, past the street and on to the world beyond.
Indigo was no novice. She’d learnt to drive three years before, when she was just eight and Uncle Neptune had been staying in the camper in the Coppice; he had taken her round and round the common-land and up ad down the bridleway in an unreliable Fored Fiesta that had once been the mainstay of family life, teaching her the basics and talking about fish. She understood only too well that if your Granny’s note advised you to put the camper in gear when you park it since the handbrake was losing its grip, it would be in gear when she started it. She knew she had to depress the clutch otherwise it would stall but what she hadn’t banked on was having to get the thing to grip before she and Monty started to slip backwards down the coppice towards the pasture beyond. Indigo was a bit rusty and had really not done very much driving since there’d been all that trouble over the trip to Cornwall. She stalled, lifting her foot from the clutch and the camper van lurched to halt. Monty slipped over the back of the front seat into the space behind and nudged the fridge-door open, finding nothing but three bottles of Proseco and 4 Picnics. He ate a Picnic and most of the wrapper while Indigo tried again and again to start the camper van, flooding it and her face with impatient tears.
Indigo rolled over the front seat of the camper into the back where she and Monty shared the last two Picnics; she, twisting long swirls of toffee between her mouth and her hand; he pouncing on crumbly biscuits and chocolate falling.