Monday, 11 August 2014

The Wastage of the Willows – Branch I; Leaf VI

Cold irons bound…

That change had arrived; and looked set to stay. Where the Mole stood, shaking, was once the meadow where he had lived for most of his previous life. What he should have seen, in the distance, therefore, through hedges, past copses, was the silver, twinkling, snaking river where he had first chanced upon the Water Rat; where they had shared so much fun – happy days filled with hampers of lemonade, ginger beer, gherkins and cold meats; where the Mole had learned, eventually, to row the Rat’s boat. But the river had first faded to a trickle, when, somewhere upstream, faraway, it had been damned; then its dwindling remains had been confined in harsh concrete pipes; and, finally, these were themselves buried beneath an expanding, featureless, flat wasteland. The soil underneath the Mole’s aching feet, as a result, was dry and powdery as sand, even after the morning’s showers (no dull roots stirred with the spring rain); the view – apart from the Wild Wood a long way behind him: almost invisible through the dust griming the air – bland, fuscous, parched, lifeless, flat: apart from one monstrous, overwhelming Thing.

Seeing it, looming above him, appearing so all-conquering, so savage, the Mole, as he moved forwards, instantly lost all hope. In its presence, he felt so very insignificant; his previous bravura escaping from him with each ragged breath.

A colossus of a machine – taller than an old oak tree, wide as the Mole’s tunnels had been long, planted on the dirt, harsh and yellow, sharp edges gleaming against the filth – glowered down at him, stomping hard, pushing thick metal columns deep into the ground; deeper than the Mole could imagine, or had known; to where he was conscious moisture still had reign – even if only in the clays where he could, would never have dug, would never have made his home. The water table was much, much lower now, he knew; but it still made building laborious: these piles the toll necessary in subduing treacherous nature; in stamping greedy desires on the unwilling land; in making marks that would take centuries to erase – if ever.

With each descending elephantine beat arose another cloud of arid grit, along with belching smoke, thickening in the Mole’s throat and chest: only stopping, briefly, to position another beam, before resuming its demonic, insatiable lust to overpower all in its path: hammering spikes through the Mole’s heart, as well as deep into the earth.

Wrapping the Badger’s old handkin over his mouth and snout, the Mole turned his back on the monster, and began to head wearily back, trying to rebuild his crumbling thoughts: mulling over, and rehearsing, what he had previously been sure needed to be done to try and put things right; who he needed to talk to; who he needed to convince; what he needed to say, and how. But it all felt so tenuous. “I wish Badger and Ratty were here. They would know INSTANTLY.” And thus the tears returned: his anger fading with his earlier confidence. “Hang being alone. I was ALWAYS on my own, before, and managed quite happily in my own small world; but I know now that a mole is NOTHING in the Wide World without such good pals; without their sensible thoughts to share; their cunning stratagems to put in place. Hang being alone. Hang… being… lonely…. Hang. It. ALL.”

As the Mole stomped slowly back to the wood – his stick thudding into the diminishing dryness with each step, with each word, and with deep heartfelt pain – leaving the wilderness and his crumbling footprints behind, he remembered his prior ideas; how much sense they made; and how much hard work had gone into formulating them; and – although he knew their success would depend on the actions of others, as well as what little cunning he now possessed – his pace began to increase, little by little, as he started to see familiar landmarks, make out companion trees, and therefore regain his self-belief. “I need to do what Badger would have done. It’s no good just shouting and boasting. I need to stand my ground and take control. We did it once before; and we can do it again. But this time, it’s on my head; and my head alone.”

No comments: