Cole’s Ride: A Short Story by Rob Mimpriss
That morning Anna set fire to the hearthrug. A little later, Cole set off to Fforest for a job. She stood in the doorway with soot on her jeans, her bare arms folded over her chest, and watched as he tightened his rucksack round his shoulders and checked that his knife was at his belt. ‘Get inside,’ he told her roughly. ‘Try to clean up the damage you’ve done.’ He glimpsed her again as he free-wheeled down the track, standing at the window, still watching.
The snow was just beginning to fall. Two joggers in Lycra ran past him as he turned his bike onto the cycle track. He rode with care, the rush of the river in his ears, and arrived in Fforest as Ceri stepped outside her back door, her hands dark with offal and a dog at her heels.
‘The gilt’s already butchered,’ said Ceri; ‘I’ll do you some meat to take back.’ She let the offal fall as she spoke, and the dog reared, trailing entrails from its jaws as it crouched with the lust for prey on its face. Cole propped his bike against the gate, and followed her into the field. The hog had been penned by the rack where it would be gutted, and Gwynfor leaned on the fence as it put its snout to a bucket, and drank. Ceri turned back, stumbling a little in the rutted field, and Gwynfor watched as Cole took off his cap and unzipped his coat and approached.
‘There’ll be blood,’ said Gwynfor. ‘Whatever you have on, there’ll be blood.’ He was wearing wellies and stained overalls, and he looked at Cole in his jeans and shirt and boots, and the knife at his belt in its leather sheath. The snow had stopped. Golden sunlight faltered at the edges of black clouds. ‘Anna tried to light a fire,’ said Cole, ‘and set fire to the bloody hearthrug. Stupid clumsy cow. All my life I’ve been followed around by stupid, clumsy cows.’
‘I’ll need you to roll him,’ said Gwynfor. A large hammer was suspended balanced from the fence; on the railing was a knife twice the length of Cole’s. Gwynfor mounted the fence and stepped down, and patting the hog about its shoulder stunned it with the hammer. The hog sank slowly on its front, its forelegs buckling, and Gwynfor said impatiently, ‘Now!’ The hog was starting to come round when they rolled it on its side; it kicked a little as the knife went in its throat. Gwynfor stood up, stepping back from the blood, brushing his hands on his legs. ‘You need to be quick,’ he said. ‘That was a crock of shit.’
‘I get you,’ said Cole. His throat was thick with hairs and filth, and he cleared it and spat in the seeping blood. He was growing faint, and he leaned against the trunk of the tree as Gwynfor pulled at the hoist. ‘Okay,’ he said; ‘I’m ready.’
He took off his anorak in the hall, and undid the belt of his trousers with cold, stiff hands. ‘Anna!’ he called. She came, a dumb, frightened look on her face, and hesitated when she saw the dark stains on his clothes. ‘Here,’ he said, and gave her the rucksack. He undressed and left his clothes on the floor, and climbed the stairs naked for his bath.
She had rolled away the rug and cleaned the soot from the floor, and she had emptied out the grate and filled the coal bucket. The fireplace was empty, and the room cold. He was balancing twigs over scrunched-up newspaper when she brought him a cup of tea.
‘You need to wash my clothes,’ he said, ‘or they’ll stain.’ She nodded, watching as he sipped his tea, as he held a lighted match to the fire and nurtured it into flame.