Thursday, 25 April 2013

'On a Hill' by Michael Whitehouse



I

The events of the past several days have both shaken my understanding of the world, and left me with a disheartened and perplexed disposition. Yet I feel that I must organise these events in my mind, that I am compelled to structure the terrible things which I have seen so that I may understand them better, so that my mind may be at rest - a need to quantify just what took place.

 It was entirely by accident that I met one John R———. It was Spring, and the early crocuses were faring well against the last frozen constraints of winter’s grip. I was researching an article I was writing for a publication which was, shall we say, less than reputable, when I found myself at the mercy of a small Highland village for the evening.

The whole ordeal was frustrating and tiresome to say the least. I was supposed to be back in Glasgow that night to type up my notes and brush off the fog which often accompanied my writing assignments. Being stranded in a tiny village with one street and a pub inn, which looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the dark ages, was not my idea of home comfort; especially after a few weeks of constant travel, interminable interviewees, and more than one restless night in a dingy bed and breakfast.

There had been a small subsidence one town over which had made it impossible for the local bus to continue onward and, more importantly to me, carry me to safety. Following several phone calls as I attempted to procure alternative travel arrangements, it became apparent that I was going nowhere until morning. The sleepy pub inn which was affectionately entitled The Laird of Dungorth - looking like it could fall down on top of me at any moment, complete as it was with warped wooden rafters and a clientele who appeared just as creaky - would have to be my home for the night.

After speaking to the owner, a tall, peaked man in his fifties, I was kindly given a small room upstairs which clearly hadn’t been slept in - or cleaned - for some time. Still, the people were nice enough and after some basic but enjoyable local food, I sat in a cosy arm chair by an old open fire in the bar, deciding to kill the boredom with a few pints of local beer and a bottle of wine. The flames danced around before me, and as the evening drew in and the numbing of alcohol took effect, I actually was quite content - almost glad to be in such rustic surroundings. The village may have been somewhat bleak, but against the cold winds outside and a darkening sky, the inn was not without charm.

I’m not sure how long he had been sitting there, hypnotised as I was by the heat from under the mantelpiece and a few glasses of red, but it became apparent that I had been joined by another guest at the inn. He sat across from me in a broad and frayed armchair on the other side of the fireplace, sat there gazing at the flickering flames.

He was curious in disposition. Outwardly he appeared to be relatively young - probably in his early thirties - but his persona was swamped in a fragility which one would normally not expect to see in a man of his age. His face glowed in the firelight, carrying with it worry and lines which betrayed an inner turmoil; his eyes defocused, glazed over and his hands trembling slightly as he warmed them by the burning embers.