Thursday, April 22, 2021

The White Arrows by Graham Crisp

“Have you seen those over there? They weren’t there yesterday, were they?” Melanie was bending down tying up the laces on her white training shoes in preparation for her Sunday morning run in the company of her long-time boyfriend, Rory.

“What weren’t?” asked Rory, as he exhaled loudly whilst simultaneously stretching his arms out wide.

“White arrows,” replied Melanie, “Over there, fixed to that wall, they seem to be pointing to something.” Rory looked up and straightened his white T-shirt. “Are there orienteers or some other weirdos around here, ‘cos that looks like one of their markers?

Melanie shook her head. “Dunno,” she replied.

“Anyway,” continued Rory, “I’ve got an idea, let’s follow them, it’ll make a change from our usual route, what do you reckon? You never know they might guide us to some hidden treasure or a haul of buried cash.” Rory was grinning widely.

Melanie raised her eyes upwards and stamped her feet onto the ground saying, “Hmm, you and your fantasies; come on boy, let’s go. I’ll race you.”

The two set off running silently, side by side, crunching their way down the gravel path that ran alongside the Church of the All Saints, four athletic legs stepping briskly down towards the lane that snaked its way out of the village. The sun was poking through the white wispy clouds, breathing a cool heat down onto the undulating hills.  Head down, Rory flicked his right thumb in the direction of another of the mysterious white arrows signalling the pair to turn right into the direction of the wooden copse.

They dutifully turned and followed its message. Their hips brushed together, their matching lycra leggings sparked natural electricity. As always, an air of unvoiced competitiveness encircled their twice weekly run.

As the path narrowed, Rory slipped in behind Melanie. “Look there’s another one over there,” he panted.   Rory gently dug his index finger into the small of the back of his girlfriend, noting that a damp patch of sweat was forming on the cloth of her yellow running vest.

They carried purposefully on, with Melanie taking the lead. Another arrow was pinned to a broken stile and pointed them deeper into the wood. Sharp bracken, angry nettles and common ragwort hung over the chosen track, snapping viciously at their bare legs. Undaunted, they shifted sideways and lightly sprang up and over these natural obstacles. The pair quietly enjoyed the luscious green scenery as the morning sun twinkled its brightness through the flickering leaves.

Concentrating hard on her running, it was a few moments before Melanie realised she could no longer hear the rhythmic heavy breathing of her running partner. Slowing slightly, she quickly looked over her shoulder expecting to find a red faced puffing Rory close behind her. But as she lowered her pace, all she could see behind her was an empty trodden path leading backwards out of the thicket.

Melanie came to an abrupt halt. There was no sign of him.

“Rory? RORY? ……. RORY?”

Melanie’s voice was unnaturally high pitched. She stopped, bent forward and inhaled loudly. “OK joke over, where are you?” Only the lonely call of a wood pigeon answered her question. Coo cooing its reply.  The quiet stillness of the summer echoed loudly into her ears.

Melanie straightened up and leaned against the trunk of an oak tree. She looked around earnestly trying to seek out the comforting figure of her boyfriend. Instinctively looking up, she noticed another of the white arrows pinned to the truck of her tree. However, this time it was aiming down directly in the direction of where she stood, right over her head. She shuddered slightly and brushed a bead of sweaty hair from her forehead.

“Look stop messing about, this isn’t funny, please come out, I’m getting scared.” Melanie was now shouting as she stepped away from the tree, her eyes flicking quickly from side to side. She noticed that her voice was now starting to croak. Sweat dripped from underneath her arms. An unnatural tension started to grip at her insides.

She was just about to retrace her steps back to where Rory had disappeared, when a volley of noise erupted behind her as she felt two arms grabbing her waist, flinging her to the ground. Melanie responded by letting out a piercing scream that rattled around the tree tops as she wriggled and squirmed in an attempt to free herself. With one mighty effort she managed to turn herself over to face upwards. As she looked up at her assailant, she felt the grip on her waist slacken.

“Did I make you jump?” A smiling crimson faced Rory was gazing down at Melanie’s ashen countenance, his nose about five inches from hers. Steadying herself, she was just about to let loose a string of obscenities at the beaming Rory, when he suddenly dipped his left hand into his leggings pocket and pushed a small square black box into her hands.

“Open it,” he commanded.

Melanie pushed Rory away and raised herself gingerly up into a sitting position, brushing down some dried leaves from her vest and leggings. “Look I don’t know what you’re playing at, Rory, but you are seriously starting to hack me off ……. And what’s in this box?” She frowned as she flipped the box over in her hands.

“Just open it and you will see,” Rory was now sitting cross legged his hands flat down on the path. Melanie looked accusingly at him, with narrowing eyes. She flipped open the lid of the black box and peered inside.

The diamond ring was set on a bed of beige silk cloth. The sunlight caught the angle of the gem stone and it sparkled invitingly into Melanie’s face. “What’s this?” She looked down at the ring and then across to Rory who was nervously rubbing his hands together. He replied quietly, “What’s it look like, Mel. It’s an engagement ring.” His voice was now nearly down to a whisper.

“Will you marry me?”

Melanie gathered in her thoughts. She kept looking from the ring, which was now being held between her finger and thumb, and back to Rory, trying to make sense of everything.

“Was it you who put those arrows up then?” She asked. Rory silently nodded. “I wondered where you disappeared to last night,” she added, rubbing her chin. Rory jumped up and said cheerily, “I thought it would be nice, you know, romantic even, some mysterious arrows guiding you down to the very spot where your life will change forever.” Rory looked sheepish; the expression on Melanie’s face was telling him that this probably hadn’t been such a great idea after all.

“You can be a right idiot at times, Rory, but Christ this must be your finest hour,” Melanie raised herself and faced the crestfallen Rory. “You drag me all the way down here, disappear and then leap out at me like a bloody raving madman and you expect me to be grateful? Romantic? Do me a favour, pal, I was flippin’ terrified.”

Melanie hesitated for a second. Speaking softly, she replied, “Anyway the answer is yes. ……… But pull another stunt like this and I’ll tear your arms off.” Melanie was trying hard to be angry, but losing the battle. She smiled. Rory heaved a huge sigh of relief and gently punched the air.

Rory bounded towards her and threw his arms around the now relaxed Melanie. He kissed her hard on the forehead.  She tasted salty. “Thanks Mel, I’m sorry I just thought that ……..” Melanie’s grimace stopped him in mid-sentence. She held out her third finger invitingly and Rory slipped the ring over her joint. It fitted perfectly.

In silence, they began to jog their way back out of the wood hand in hand; an unseen warm bond had enveloped them.

“So when do we start planning the wedding, then eh? “ Rory glanced across at Melanie, “I was thinking, I could use those little white arrows to guide our guests to the venue, it would be sort of profound don’t you think so?”

Melanie stopped in her tracks pulling her hand away from Rory’s. Her face told him everything he needed to know.

There was a moments silence between them as they carried on.

Rory looked directly at her, “You did say yes, didn’t you? I mean about marrying me, not the arrow bit.”

© Graham Crisp

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