Cowper’s Fluid

The crow walked through the grass, carrying something in its beak, some things, small, a collection of them, squinting, orange. We stared at it, and it at us. Finding a tuft of taller grass, a patch of better soil underneath it perhaps, the crow bent and planted tiny orange objects into the white shoots below, then skipped up and waddled back, looking around, before taking to air on wide black wings and perching atop a lamppost. A little greybeard’d dog was being walked by his elderly friend. She had a brace around her left knee, with a cane, not moving fast, but a sling in her hand for throwing the ball. The dog had the ball but was not fetching, not retrieving. ‘Get the ball,’ she said. The dog looked at her, looked at the ball—‘Get the ball! Fetch!’ the dog nudged the ball with his nose, opened his mouth as though yawning, then nudged the ball. She shook her sling at the little dog who went to get the ball, fooled her, yawned. She stumbled, cursing the mutt and laughing, waving the sling about. ‘Get the damn ball!’ She shuffled to the ball, tried to wrap the sling around it but the dog moved his little grey jaw over it, and she cursed him again, laughing. Now that she had the ball back, they continued their slow walk homewards, giving the little dog lots of time to stare at her for the ball, to wag his tail and greet strangers along the way.
    She was stroking the soft white underneath of my forearm, upturned to the caw of the crow, unpainted nails absent-mindedly tracing ovals. As she did so, I pawed the jean of her thighs, and we watched the crow, watched the little dog. At the end of the town that faded into a village, into a trail of window-fronted bungalows overlooking the sea, we had found a bench in the middle of a green. Behind us was a tree with pale leaves and a grey trunk. It was a warm morning and then a warm noon. A flock of gulls hung in the sky as though above a crib. The physical silence of months’ texting had ended; at first with a grab of the hand and then a kiss at a curve in the sea defences where no-one could see. People were walking past the bench, often, even at the farthest tendril of the village, but with just enough distance that they were of no concern, could not see the movement of a hand. It was a fine day; warm, something about ‘winds from Africa’, sunlight bouncing off the sea, one of those February days when you think spring is here.
    ‘Listen to this guy!’ A man dressed in a zipped-up thick coat, skiing gloves, dark sunglasses and an earpiece, came from nowhere with a booming voice, one half of a conversation loud enough to make it across the Channel. His arms and legs swung around in wobbling circles, propped up by clothing unsuited to the heat; still he talked on, every word carried by the breeze and causing the birds to turn their heads.
    She laughed—‘Did he just say “cauterise”?’
    ‘He did. What’s his friend done? I only know when you. like, cauterise a wound.’
  ‘ “I’ve accidentally chopped my arm off. What should I do?” ’
    ‘ “You need to cauterise it.”’
  He sat on the bench, his legs spread, regarded the sun, rested his arm up the back, talked loudly some more, we watched, then he stood up and walked, arms and legs swinging, back the way he came.
    She licked my neck, sighed too; put her lips to the mound of bone behind the ear, slid hands up my thigh. Paused, smiled, looked out and the smell of warmth carried across the water. ‘As soon as this goes down, we’ll go get something to eat.’ She paused then put her nose underneath my jaw, stuck her tongue out and ran it down to the base of my throat, had these hot pops of breath against my skin there. I shook my head—‘Okay then, let’s go.’
    We doubled back into the village, down a sleepy road of toasted bungalows, bare branches overhanging the path and seagulls lingering in a front garden, leaping up to surprise her, fingers clenching mine. Everything was peaceful and we the only people down the lane. The fish & chips shop was doing its Saturday lunchtime business, people congregated in the small car park out front, masked or otherwise, leaning on a full skip or a metal gate, all eyes turned expectantly towards the open window at the side from which a large man with tattoos took and called out the orders; the smell of frying oil in warm hazy air. After our order was placed we stood aside, musing on how much the neighbours hated fish & chips, her head on my shoulder, her hands toying. Ten minutes later, a warm paper bag of many sweet-smelling paper packages was handed to me by a muscular ink-stained bough protruding out the dark restaurant.

    The paper wrappers were squeezed between slats in the picnic table so that the wind, which had picked up and become cold, would not blow them away. We ate, and I glanced nervously towards the sky to check for gathering gulls. Strangers from afar drove to just there, opened the passenger door for a dog to bound out, become leashed and then tug its way toward the sea, its hair blown back. Everywhere were dogs just happy to be alive and running! When I returned from the dustbin, I sat next to her, facing the opposite way and for a time we sat and talked and silenced. I warmed my hand into the recesses of her coat and jumper. There was layer upon layer, my fingers finding the final vest, that could be swept across her belly. The weather had dropped. My penis had drilled a route through stiff denim, up and down which it grew and shrunk at her beck, precum matting the hairs on my leg, running into my underwear, through my pocket, into the tissue I kept there, the tissue I pulled out and smiled at, keeping quiet. She looked at the time and where had it all gone? We moved down to the beach, and along, through all the puddles that had formed in the sand washed to the shore, so tired of winter wind and snow, little streams running throughout, gurgling only in tremors of the light. It did not feel like I had walked that route so many times, did not feel that she was interrupting a tradition or routine, a walk chartered through heartbreak and repair, but, because of her, it all felt new and as though it had no meaning at all, that the lockdown that drove me looping the neighbourhood had never taken place, and we, if anything, were just two people walking together.
     Her laughter in front of me was new, too.
    Watching the high-tide pier bring down the last of the sunshine as she went to urinate before her long drive home. She came out, walked along beside me, then, in blind clumsy fumbles her beautiful hand found mine, interlacing.
    At the house with the dogs that always bark at me, and I reflected that she was going. They had barked before and she at the other end of the line, asked—‘What’s that?’ The dogs clambered up the back of the sofa, both of them staring at me, big brown eyes, barking, yet I would trust them to run up and sniff wetly the tips of my stroking hand. The dogs did not come to bark as she and I walked past, and, having taken the longest route, we were back at her car. We said our good-byes, first in reassuring sounds of ‘Soon… soon’ and then in the morse code of peck’s dot and tongue’s dash. My eyes lifted up as an old couple on bicycles came swinging round the corner, grinning bashfully at our display. I broke away, eyes shifting. Again, the laugh I had not heard before. She got in the car, got the map, and I walked away, looking back .