‘Strata’

We’d been climbing for hours. Are we there yet, I called out. Is it time to stop for lunch? Perhaps you didn’t hear me, because you didn’t look back. I was concentrating too: there was no path to speak of. Without watching where you went, I couldn’t guess which ridges to follow and which to ignore.

The stone might have been sharp once, but now it was smooth, and thank goodness, because we scrambled up and down its steep contours like goats on a cliff. Sometimes, it seemed more down than up, but I knew that could not be true. Footholds were rare, and often all that held us to the stone was the pressure of our soles, and the thought ‘please’.

Seams of bulging white quartz sliced diagonally through the slate. It was every kind of purple. Lovesick purple, vicious purple, the lilac of winter dusk and the exhausted colour of jeans that are almost worn through. What are you looking at, you called back at me. It’s only mud. And you were right. When I turned to look at where we had begun, I saw how the cliffs below were cut away, as if the sea had been too hungry to wait. It was mud, it was all mud down there, until, until –

We reached the top. We ate crab sandwiches. You sang a song to me, and it went like this.

A man and his wife went out climbing one day, they set out for the top of a hill. But the hill was a mountain, a treacherous hike that required the presence of skill. They made tracks on the shoreline, they clambered up cliffs and they skidded down rocks on their bums. Their route was the pattern a fingerprint makes and the hill was the tip of a thumb.

That was a good one, I said, feeling very small. Fancy an ice cream when we’re back?