Let it Burn

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  Let It Burn The December air was bitter and stung David’s nostrils as he stepped down from his front porch on to the pavement and slowly broke in to a steady, rhythmic plod. The start of the run was always the worst part he reminded hi...

 

Let It Burn

The December air was bitter and stung David’s nostrils as he stepped down from his front porch on to the pavement and slowly broke in to a steady, rhythmic plod. The start of the run was always the worst part he reminded himself. Judders travelled up through his heels to his knees and spine, but in a few minutes his lungs would begin to warm and soften and he’d soon settle in to a more comfortable pace.

The river road was quiet and orange glints from the intermittent streetlights on the tarmac hinted at the beginnings of a deep frost. He narrowly avoided a large dog shit as he turned to climb the steps of the rusty iron footbridge. Dog shit was endemic around here, but it was the litter that got to David most about this place. The unrelenting trail of polystyrene burger boxes, high-caffeine energy drink cans and tattered bin liners were a sad reflection of a people that clearly didn’t care. Perhaps they once did, when this town had a purpose and place in the world, but if valleys folk were once a patriotic and proud bunch they had no reason to be any more. The crumbling red brick of abandoned industrial units and the grey, drawn faces of the old men sucking hard on limp rollups outside the pubs acknowledged this.

The bridge resonated with each footfall like a dulled gong. On the other side he followed the railway track up, squeezing deeper in to the narrowing valley. Five wind turbines silently spun in the faint remnants of the afternoon light that powdered the sky above the surrounding hills. David occasionally fantasised that one windy day they’d generate enough force to rip the terraced houses from their dirty crevices and hurl them up, deep in to the atmosphere, cleansing the landscape of them.

His pace had started to quicken as he approached a starkly lit railway platform. A woman with putrid blonde hair tottered in towering heels. She strained her drunken eyes and prodded in to a smartphone and her swollen breasts billowed out of her translucent black dress like a split onion sack. He couldn’t tell how old she was. Two wide-eyed and twitchy men in clinging t-shirts and messy tattoos looked on laughing as each of them tucked in to a kebab. David looked away, up the road towards the approaching hill. Straightening his back and opening up his shoulders, the cadence of his legs quickened as he started to climb. His chest burned slightly as his breath deepened. A line of cars and terraced houses banked him tightly on either side as he made his way up the centre of the road. A woman in a pink dressing gown stood in an open doorway smoking a cigarette. The gaudy, rapturous applause of a gameshow audience and the intrusive stench of a ready meal wafted in to the street from behind her. David wiped his streaming nose on the sleeve of his thin, waterproof jacket and inhaled sharply through defiant, gritted teeth, keeping his watery eyes on the brow of the hill a hundred yards or so ahead of him.

At the top, he stood bent at the hips, leaning on his knees and heaving heavily at the side of the road. A carpet of soft white and yellow lights rolled out in to the valley below him and for a moment; he acknowledged beauty. Silhouetted fir trees and faint, warm wisps of chimney smoke eluded to a mystic and serene landscape and a people warm and content and their homes. But beyond the first layer of the night, David visualised the piles of intoxicated orange vomit on the high street pavements, the chains of fat families spilling diesel fumes into the night as they queued in people carriers for fast food dispensed in waxy-brown paper bags, which they’d later discard in the car park. Boy racers would be assembling on industrial estates, thrashing drum and bass from rattling car stereos, and police and ambulance sirens would wail from one pub to the next up and down valley road, depositing their useless loads at overflowing emergency rooms and police stations before relaying back in to the night.

Beginning his descent back in to the valley, David leaned cautiously in to his heels as they thudded on to the glistening tarmac. But as the gradient steepened he began to let go and allow gravity to take over. The weight of his torso teased his legs, urging them on so that they could barely keep pace. He thundered back past the doorway where the smoking woman had stood, through the narrow terrace, the parked cars blurring by. On he pushed, still faster and faster, his rapid breathing matching the rhythm of his pounding feet. Faster still, he rushed past the railway platform as a train exhaled and pulled away.

He could feel his throbbing pulse behind his eyes and still he dug deeper, thrusting his knees higher and pumping his arms like pistons as he approached the crossroad before the iron footbridge. As he got within a few feet of the pavement’s end, he tried to slow himself, slapping his feet down hard to break his stride. His foot slipped awkwardly off the edge of the icy curbstone, turning his ankle over and sending him spilling face-first in to the cold, gritty road. He lay for a moment, still and silent as a wave of intense burning rose in his left ankle and wrist. Rolling on to his back and squinting in the phosphorous-white light of the streetlamp, he looked down to see his knees and palms peppered with grit and weeping blood. He sunk further in to the frozen tarmac as the burning sensation in his limbs grew in intensity and depth, radiating along his legs and arms, spreading throughout his whole body. Absorbing the heat, he lay and listened as in the distance a lone dog barked solemnly in to the night sky. Let it burn thought David. Let it burn.

 

 

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