If they stopped and stood perfectly still out on the moor, the quiet was everything. Maybe it was the rise of the hills around them, she thought at first, that meant all sounds from modern life were absent, but even when they walked up atop the hills the quiet was as deep as the ocean. Only the sound of one or two birds broke the silence.
The trail was longer than they’d thought. They drove out from the city and they parked their clean car by the side of the road. There was one pub and one café and a view of the wide valley and an old arched railway bridge that grasped at her internal organs and made her eyes open wider. She went into the café and waited by the counter. One man stood behind it and one elderly man stood next to her. He had ordered, but when he produced his credit card from his wallet his doubt ran in his fingers and over his brow.
“I can’t remember my pin,” he said.
She looked down at the walking stick he leant on and his used dry face. She guessed his age at around 92. The man behind the counter suggested he go and find his son, but the old man had been doing things for himself all his long life and he could do this. He shook his head and he stabbed at the keypad with his bony fingers.
“Now it’s flashing at me,” he said.
The man behind the counter winked at her and said to the old man. “Well, you’re no stranger to flashing, are you, Arthur?”
Arthur turned to her like an old lion lived inside him, and said, “It’s true, you know, I did go to prison for that.”
She stared at the lion within him and he went on. “Can you believe they used to put you in prison for that?”
She took the take-away teas from the café back to the car and together they walked on to the trail. Six cottages sloped down the hill, their stone walls settled, their wooden doors weathered. Together, they found the trail and they sipped their tea and they pushed their boots into the mud underfoot. Trees like the arches of the railway bridge and a hillside like the slipping away of memory. They walked through until they reached the open moor. Great domes of grass and an old riverbed that was now the place leaves cluster and scattered cows graze. The quiet could collect all around them here. There wasn’t another person. They held up their phones and the absence of a signal made them smile. They had left the city behind. They had walked into the quiet. The old lion slept and waited back there. They knew they couldn’t kill it, they knew they couldn’t always avoid it, but they could choose the quiet.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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