Do You Think Slow Worms Are Dangerous?

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A lovers' quarrel

Walking in silence, glancing at a ruined sky, noting a thriving shepherd penning in a flock, the antics of his dogs, the buzzards wheeling and mewing, they walked along, often in silence, him lifting up his binoculars to check out a bird, the silence never difficult now. He looked at her looking into the soft light that came from the hills. In his element he appreciated his luck as sightless perfumes from endless ages seemed to drift in on them. Her nostrils flared, scenting them, cheeks red from the weather and their walk. In the upper glen, the crisp, cold grasses crunched beneath their feet, the foot-loosened stones rolled hard, the still, long lines of clouds glumped down in frowning darkness on the steel-grey outline of horizon after horizon distancing out, ready for dusk, night and new dawn.

               One afternoon his love pointed out a tumbled wall where moss had withered to a dry ball of death.

               “I found a slow worm there last summer,” she said brightly. Jim looked at her, admiring her. She hesitated.

               “And?” he said. “What else?”

               “Nothing else.”

               “Was that the first one you’d seen?”

               She nodded slowly, staring at the place, “Yes,” and then she added, “you know they sting.”

               “That’s nonsense,” Jim replied. “They’re as harmless as old rope. Any book will tell you so.”

               He noticed she was looking down, obviously very hurt by his remark, pointlessly so. “That’s not true,” she said, sharply. “They do. I know they do. You don’t live in the countryside.” She smoothed her sweater, rebuttoning her coat.

               “They don’t,” he said, more gently, thinking he had been too loud and assertive.

               “They have to be killed,” she claimed, emphatically. “They’re dangerous.”

               Jim was very surprised, turned and looked at her. “You didn’t kill it, did you?”

               “Yes, of course.”

               “How?” She told him but he knew she was lying. “Who killed it?”

               “I did. Now leave me alone!” Pauline, the slow-worm killer, glared at him.

               “Look, I’ve already said they’re as harmless as old rope.”

               “It looked like that after I’d killed it. And don’t tell me that what I say is nonsense.”

               “Don’t kill any more. It’s cruel and ignorant.” He was hoping for an end to the confrontation but Pauline persisted.

               “You have to kill them. You’re the one who’s wrong,” she almost sobbed, moving towards him. “You think you’re always right and you have to tell everybody they’re stupid!”

               He held her, saying nothing, looking out over the silent hills that were crouched below a foreboding sky, and tried to think what had upset her so much. She looked at him, timidly, and began to feel less loyal to that past and even to the idea of ridding the Highlands of slow worms. Their quarrel ended in a kiss and then another. A gentle appetite began to make them think of quiet rooms and Mrs. Harris resting upstairs.

From "After Dawn" a novel to be published shortly on Kindle and CreateSpace

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