GETTING OUT

Number 2-0986

Owen wanted to remember the time before he and Daniel had begun to talk about getting out. The period without that central theme disrupting their lives, but it was difficult not to dwell there, especially now. They had been young and of course it was inevitable that they had become obsessed with the world beyond the valleys and the desire to escape this town that, after the mine had closed, was left to fend for itself and yet had somehow managed to cling on.
How old had they been when it started? Owen tried to delve way back and dredge up memories from an earlier time, before the dreams and all the big talk about what they would do, and where they would go. Thirteen, twelve, or possibly even younger, ten maybe, but he couldn’t be sure, not now.
They had started off small or at least relatively so. A motorbike, a fast car, a pretty girl. But nothing they could invent was too elaborate and no prediction they could make for the future seemed impossible. And before long, in their imaginary world, they were jetting across the globe, staying in state of the art apartments in big city after big city. They each had a country mansion with a helipad and a swimming pool and a gym in the basement.
The girls in their school weren’t interested in them and so they populated this other world with the beautiful women they saw on television – pop singers, film stars and models.
Inevitably, the constraints of growing up in a small town (particularly one like this without any purpose) were unavoidable. Gradually reality began to seep in and it invaded their thoughts. By the time they were seventeen, they still talked the talk but their hearts weren’t really in it. They continued to frequent the old haunts but they no longer climbed up into the hills above the town anymore.
It was up there they had played before and most probably where they had first sat and hatched their grand schemes and dreams. But it was down here on the streets that, like a fish thrashing on the riverbank, they had been left to flounder.

Although he didn’t suspect that anything was afoot, Owen was more than a little taken aback when Daniel said,
‘Come on, let’s climb the hill.’
‘No way,’ Owen drawled.
They were sitting on the steps in front of the town hall. Pushing himself up, Daniel moved out into the square and stood beside the old water trough.
‘Come on,’ he repeated, ‘let’s go up.’
‘Why?’ Owen asked.
‘I need to talk to you.’
‘Talk then.’
‘There’s something I need to tell you.’
‘Then tell it.’
Turning, Daniel started toward the road.
‘Come on,’ he shouted, ‘I feel like walking.’
‘We can walk down here,’ Owen mumbled to himself but, standing, he followed.
The path began at the end of the street, just beyond the last row of cottages. The town’s children had always tramped along it, ensuring that it survived down the generations. Owen felt that he and Daniel had already done more than their fair share of tramping.
‘Wait up,’ he yelled. But Daniel, storming ahead, didn’t hear or he had chosen to ignore him. Owen kicked at the path and walked a little slower, if that were possible.
‘Okay,’ he grumbled, ‘wait up there, you’re not going anywhere.’
As Owen reached the top it suddenly struck him that the rolling countryside that greeted them had barely registered in the past, that they had always turned toward the town and looked down at the familiar. Daniel was still out of breath, standing in a half crouch, hands on his knees, gasping for air.
‘You’re out of shape,’ Owen laughed, ‘you need to get some exercise.’
‘I intend to.’
‘Yeah, right.’
‘No, seriously. I have to.’
‘Why?’
‘I’m joining up,’ Daniel straightened up but as he spoke he looked down at his feet. ‘The Army. I’m signing up.’
‘You’re joking.’
‘No, I’m not.’
Owen stepped back and studied him, incredulous. Daniel stared blankly.
‘I have to do something,’ he said at last, ‘and it feels right for me.’
‘Don’t tell me you are really going to do this, Dan. Don’t be an idiot.’
‘I’ve already done it. I’ve enlisted – is that the right word? I don’t know. Anyhow, I’m in, signed up. I leave for basic training in a couple of months and so, like you say, I need to get fit. You could help me with that.’
‘I won’t help you,’ Owen turned to leave, ‘I’m going back down.’

Although after this things between them were stilted they continued to be close. How could they not be after so long? Their fantasising had been brought to an abrupt halt and they had forgotten how to communicate but Owen did ask just one more time.
‘Why?’
‘Because I’m not like you.’ Dan said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m not smart.’
‘Yes you are.’
‘No, I’m not. This is right for me.’
Owen remembered he had said this before, up on the hill and he rolled his eyes.
‘No, Owen, I’m serious. This is an opportunity for me and I’m determined.’
‘Okay,’ Owen sighed, ‘then I hope it works out for you.’
‘Thanks,’ Daniel reached out and clapped him on the back, ‘that means a lot,’ he said.

He adopted a strict exercise regime and, as Owen watched him from afar running up and down that hill he thought to himself, why are you bothering? It really won’t matter. After the training, if you still want in, then they’ll take you.
And he still believed this, that it wouldn’t have made any difference if Dan had been a little less fit and not quite so determined. They still would have sent him out there. He wouldn’t have been denied his moment in the Sun and the Daily Mail. They had published his photograph in the national press along with all the others who had been killed up until that point.
He had come home, after boot camp, and he was different, had grown up and seemed so much more self-assured as if he were prepared for whatever the Army might throw at him. Everyone commented on this, his family and friends, most of the town in fact. They were impressed and proud. He even found time for a special chat with Owen who knew his mother was behind this little pep-talk and that though the advice he gave sounded good Owen couldn’t help but think that Daniel sounded pompous, a bit of a prat.
He hadn’t listened, hadn’t gone back to school and finished his A-levels but after Daniel died nobody bothered him or tried to push him. He had been left alone.
It had been almost a year now and he wondered how much longer it would be before they began again, to nudge and coax and shove him out into the world.

Image by Christine Renney

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17 thoughts on “GETTING OUT

    1. I actually started writing this quite some time ago and I set it aside but Christine’s photo prompted me to take another look at it. Thank you so much Luanne from Mark and Christine.

    1. Yes Christine always manages to find the perfect image for me but this time it was her photo that inspired me to finish the story. Thanks Jana as always.

  1. I think that the true sadness of this srory is in thinking of how many people ‘die’ because of their surroundings, trapped and unable to see a way out. From a social or political point of view I’m sure that this is intentional on the part of governments – after all who in power wants to be challenged – but what a waste of potential. Well crafted, Mark.

    1. You are absolutely right Chris. It makes me angry to think about the young men who never returned from the trenches and those who did but who were forever damaged by the horror they witnessed and sadly none of it has changed. It never will.

  2. Anyone who has ever said that fiction could not be powerful politically has now been proven wrong . This was really amazing . It’s not propaganda it’s really human and that takes a lot of subtlety . Because I am so sick again, they want me in the emergency room but I can’t go , I’m not following really any blogs but yours is one of the three or four I still will. As I’ve complained to someone recently most things I read keep me ignorant and I don’t want that it’s a waste of my time . Thank you for not keeping people ignorant . And I really thought that photograph was an amazing cartoonists ink work. Christine is invaluable I think . I haven’t seen anyone so good at versatility as a photographer before and I’m really happy the two of you not only work together but can be really supportive partners . At least creatively the two of you are far stronger combined and able to reach the audience on two different very important levels so it becomes more visceral . It’s really hard to find fiction that is important while being educational but especially entertaining and you have really mastered the ability to draw the reader in very fast and keep them there and leave them with a million different directions in which they could go as opposed to trying to comfort them with some fake idea about there really being any endings .

    1. Hello to you Heather and may we say we are sorry to hear that you are going through a particularly tough time with your health issues and wish you the very best. May we also thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. Yes, I agree there is no reason why fiction should not be politically motivated and also work as social commentary. I don’t know if you read China Mieville’s work but if not I think you would appreciate his writing and his short stories are an excellent introduction. Take care Mark and Christine.

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