Storytelling series B6, modern yarns that convey Bible truths

  1. ‘Kiss and don’t tell’ by Jon MacGregor or –

Be sure your sins will find you out’ (Numbers 32:23)

This well-told piece of autobiographical fiction ends before the final outcome, leaving . . . us . . . wondering . . .

Our Old Testament text does not warn us that we will get found out, but that our sins (literally ‘omissions’) will find us out.

[] A lad in love

I was seventeen the first time I kissed a girl. She had long dark hair and she took my face in her hands and pushed her mouth onto mine. She seemed to know what she was doing; I certainly didn’t. She drew away just as I was beginning to understand what it was that I had been missiong; and told me that she would like to see me again in the evening – that we should go somewhere, do something. She vanished inside her house, leaving me to walk away with the taste of her on my wind-cracked lips.

When the day had faded to black my father was asleep, preparing for another early morning of work on the farm. With the taste of her on my lips and the spark she had ignited in my belly still dancing there, I slipped the car keys from the hook on th wall and got in his car.

I had driven before – pulling trailers of straw and silage along farm tracks – but I had no licence to be on the road and I knew my father would never give me permission. But she had said she wanted to see me, to go somewhere and do something, and I wasn’t about to stay at home with those words in my head and wipe the salt taste of her away.

I wondered why, when I’d been circling her for months, had she waited until now to show her interest? Though I felt puzzled, I had her taste and I wanted more.

I soon discovered that she didn’t want to go somewhere at all, just to sit beside me in the car and drive through the flatness of the landscape, looking down across the fields from the raised-up road, the windows open to the damp rich smell of a summer night in the Fens.

On the edge of Friday Bridge she asked me to stop the car and we kissed for a very long time.

Then we talked about home, and family, and dreams, interspersed with awkward silences. Then she turned to me and lifted my thin woollen jumper over my head, the wool snagging against my tingling skin and giving me tiny electric shocks.

Starting from a point beneath my belly button she traced a curved line with he finger around the edge of my ribcage and over my nipple, down under my chest cavity and up over my other nipple, around the other edge of my ribcage and back down to my belly button – a glorious heart shape burned on to my body by her fingernail. Sometimes, now, I redraw that shape myself, holing to regain that moment. Sometimes now I think of her hair and wonder whi I can no longer remember the way it smelled that night.

I remember the way she watched me as I undid the buttons of her shirt and looked at her breasts. I couldn’t bring myself to touch them, not then, not so soon, and eventually she took my fingers and placed them there herself. I drew tiny heart shapes round the dark. patches, and then pulled her close to kiss her again, electrified by her skin on my skin.

I can remember the touch of her whisper on my face as we told each other things we had never spoken before and asked for extravagant promises we believed we could keep.

And I can remember the way she looked in the rear-view mirror of my father’s car when I drove away from her house, knowing that life would be different now; and terrified that it would be taken away from me. But I can’t rember that way her hair smelled that night; it no longer smells that way.

I drove with my hand on my chest, feeling the burn of her finger there still.

She had told me many things I thought I’d never hear – talking about ‘us’ and ‘we’ and ‘our’ as if some things had already been decided. Driving along that road I realised that something already had, that I would not after all be able to endure a life of solitude as my father had learned to do. I considered it to be an awakening, a welcoming into adulthood.

[] In shtuck.

As I was driving along the empty road thinking about her, oh so suddenly there was a man in the road looking over his shoulder at me, and I was driving at him. I don’t know where he came from; I don’t know why I hadn’t seen him sooner. I didn’t have time to do anything I didn’t have time to take my fingers from inside my jumper, and as the car hit him I was flung forward and crushed my hand against the steering wheel.

As the car hit him his arms lifted up to the sky and his back arched over the bonnet and his legs slid under one of the wheels and his whole body was dragged down to the road and out of sight.

The sound his body made when my father’s car struck him was too loud, too firm. It sounded as though I had driven into a fence rather than a man. It was a thump, a smack. And the sound he made – a sound which is always in the back of my throat now – was a muffled split-second scream.

Then, stillness and quiet and me turning off the engine and my heart rattling inside me.

He was wearing a white shirt and a red v-necked jumper, and a frayed tweed jacket. His arms were up beside his head, and his fists were tightly clenched. A broken half-bottle of whiskey was hanging from the pocket of his jacket. There didn’t seem to be any blood anywhere; there were dirty black bruises on his face, but no blood. His clothes were ripped across his chest, but there was no blood. I didn’t understand how he could not bleed and die so quickly.

The whites of his eyes looked yellow under the moonlight.

He was an outsider. I can remember looking into his face thinking: I don’t know you, you don’t belong here. And that almost took the edge off it, made what I’d done seem a little less terrible. People don’t often come here to visit; outsiders don’t make their homes here by choice. And people who do stray into these flatlands often get lost, floundering along the roads and tracks from one side of the day to the other without ever reaching the place they’re looking for.

I kept thinking, I don’t owe him anything. If he hadn’t been dead I think I would have been demanding an apology from him for spoiling my evening. What had he been doing, walking down my road, half-drunk, not looking where he was going? Why should I feel bad for his stupidity? I remember I got it into my head that he was probably from Nazeby – as my father said, noting of worth could ever come out of Nazeeby. So, although I felt bed that I had killed a man, I dodn’t feel bad that it was this man.

If I’d been older perhaps I would have been stronger, my thought clearer. But I was seventeen, and I had never knelt beside a dead man before. So I drove away. I didn’t look in the rear-view mirror, and I didn’t turn around when I slowed for the junction. At that stage I began to realise what I had done. I had driven my father’s car into a man, and then over him, and now he was dead. I felt sickness, a watery dread, starting somewhere down in mu guts and rising to the back of my throat. My hands were locked on the wheel; I couldn’t think.

[] Hiding the evidence

But I knew I had to return, that I couldn’t leave him laid out on the road like that with his legs neatly folded under his back. I knew that when he was found I would be found too, and the girl who’d drawn upon my bare chest would not even look me in the eye, and I knew that I couldn’t let that happen.

So I fetched a spade from the shed and drove back. I walked down the embankment to the field below the road and took off my thin jumper and began to dig.

I was used to digging. I knew how to strike and angle, break and shift, break and shift, pile the soil neatly so it can be replaced. The field had only recently been harvested, and the stubble was still in the ground. I laid sections of top soil to one side. I was thinking clearly, working quickly but properly, ignoring the purpose of the hole I was digging.

I dug a hole in the earth until it was deep enough – beyond the reach of the blade of ploughs. I wanted to hurry and get it done, but held back from what I had to do – to . . . touch . . . him.

I could hardly bring myself to look at him, but I would have to put the death I had caused in the hole I had made. I could smell whiskey on his face. I stopped unwillingl;y to touch him, but then I remembered her skin on my skin and her eyes and I knew I could do anything not to lose that, and gripped his elbows and lifted them up to my waist – and kept dragging him until I laid him down beside the hole and rolled him over into it. He fell face down in the mud. I felt bad about that. I picked up the pieces of glass, caught in the moonlight and threw them down onto his back and began to pile the earth onto him – until he was gone – until he was just an absence.

I clenched my eyes shut and bit my lip until it bled. And when I returned to my father’s house, I showered for hour, long after the hot water tank had emptied and I was left standing beneath a trickle of icy water.

[] Marred bliss

I married the first girl I kissed. I was in love with her, and I think I still am, but I have never been convinced that she was ‘The One’ or anything as dramatic as that. I was simply terrified that she would leave and I would never find another girl to draw shapes on my chest and kiss me in the dark hours. So I married her, and ever since I’ve been terrified that she would find out what I did thjat night on my journey back from her house. Why I flinch at the sound of metal on soil, why I drive so slowly at night. She still doesn’t know.

We married before we got the chance to go to university. I had taken over my father’s farm after his heart attack that summer and it seemed to make sense for her to move in and help me.

Now my father, the giant who could pull down trees with his bare hands, the magician who could breathe life into a handful of seeds, just sits in an arm chair clutching a hot water bottle. He refuses to watch television, choosing instead to listen to the radio while he keeps a vigil on the land and the sky. I’m scared that one day he’ll hear my secret coming from the radio.

But he never has done . . . yet. Often I just sit with him and listen to his short creaking breaths, thankful that he is not yet ready to be laid beneath the ground.

We never had children, so we have spent our evening growing closer, talking our way into each other or resting in silences. I’m very glad I took my father’s car that night and let her draw upon my body.

And yet . . . that same journey which took me to her keeps us from ever being one, for we are not so close at all, the secret |I hid in the ground is as much between us as if he were lying in our bed.

Sometimes I’ve tried to tell her, convinced myself that she would understand and forgive. Or would she throw cups and saucers at my feet and tell me to leave? I’m ashamed that I don’t know her well enough to be sure how she would react. I know what a danger my secret is and I think it is safer where it remains . . . buried.

[] A narrow escape

One time I saw a man metal-detecting in the field where my secret is buried. I sat in my car watching him, the sweeps of his scanner like a pendulum, moving towards the place. I wanted to go and tell him to stop, but it wasn’t my land. He’d surely have asked permission; and anyway he was doing no damage so soon after ploughing.

I watched him stop, close to the edge of the field, and dig. I felt that this was the moment I’d been fearing, stored in my dreams. I hadn’t expected it to happen this way. I’d imagined the dead man dragged into the air by the blades of a plough or scooped into the sky by ditch digger – a sudden brutal discovery, not a man with a metal detector easing clods of soil away from his face and hands.

Suddenly I realised that I wasn’t scared. My father would disown me, but the truth would be uncovered –above ground. I got out of my car to make my confession. The bounty hunter just looked at me, unpacked his tools and hurried to his car. ‘Did you find anything?’ I called out. ‘No, nothing,’ he said as he drove away.

I’d been surprised by my reaction – almost disappointed. I wondered if that meant the time was right to tell my wife and accept her reaction.

[] Exposed

And now here I am again, driving down the road that flanks that field for the millionth time – not less anxious, my hands locked on the wheel as usual, my eyes unblinking.

Hullo, the road is busy today; people are driving very slowly. I wonder if there are road works

And then it happens, and my secret is revealed. I see bright lights at the site and men in white overalls standing knee deep in the flood waters, police officers on the embankment and a small white tent on the verge, and two police vans in the road causing the traffic congestion.

I can hardly breathe, there’s a rushing sound in my ears. The policeman waves at me to stop, and I think I recognise him. He walks over to my window and asks me to wind it down.. He tells me we were at school together and I smile and say, ‘oh yes’, and there’s a moment of silence. ‘A funny do this is, isn’t it?’ he says and then I say, ‘Oh yes’, and I know he’s waiting for me to ask him what has happened but I say nothing. There’s a generator somewhere, I can hear its muffled rattle.

‘Yes,’ he says, ‘they found a kind of body floating face down. They think it’s been buried near twenty years. They think the flood water must have disturbed the soil and brought it out. Not much left of it now. I don’t think they’ll find out who it is. How’s the wife? And your father?’ ‘Both fine, thanks. I’ll be seeing you’, I say and press my foot gently down on the accelerator.

What will happen when I reach home? Everything has changed, but nothing has changed. I’m safe – but I’m not safe at all. Each year of holding this secret has eaten away at me. And the truth is now barely hidden at all, straining to break out of the thinness of me which holds it in. And my wife’s awareness of my hiding has made her bitter.

I’m not a religious man, but I know about sin and what it means to carry that load inside you. I made a discovery: the load inside us is not what I thought it was at all. It’s not that I killed a man, not even that I dug a hole and buried him face down and told nobody. My sin is the reason I had for digging that hole. Cowardice. Thinking him an outsider, so it didn’t matter. This is the weight I’ve not known until now. Can a man be guilty of something he doesn’t even realise he’s done? Does a seed planted by mistake still grow?

[] Kiss and don’t tell

The mists of yesterday disappeared now. The air has a chill to it, a dampness; the air tastes salty like I remember her lips tasted that first night. She is walking beside me now – the dog’s running ahead. I feel warmth on my back. I stop; and she stops and looks at me. I let her know there is something that I have to tell her. She moves closer, joins her small hands in the hollow of my back and asks me to tell her. I do so in full detail, in a strong clear voice – and that I am sorry but that I know sorry may not be enough.

And then I am silent.

And she looks at me.

And in that flat landscape, under the arch of pure blue sky, I wait for her to speak . . .

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