The Retreat

A short story

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A late migration of swallows circle above and settle for a rest on a nearby beech tree, the young are eager to continue excited by the elders tales of the Africa sun and break away showing off their skills to anyone who cares to enjoy. I enjoy. Gathering back in the tree they briefly discuss their fllight plan and the flock ascends to continue on their long journey south. Air show over I move to the porch to wait for Ritch to collect me for our post lunch walk. Kate and Peter come out of the guesthouse and sit together on a bench near the entrance which has been perfectly positioned for weary arrivals and smokers alike. They acknowledge me with a smile as they pass but there is no exchange of words. I lean against the pillar and wait, the air is clean and fresh, the sun direct and warming filling me with calm.

I continue to lean and close my eyes, soaking in the rays, and smiling inwardly as I listen to the sounds of the others coming out from their lunchtime chores, no one speaking, just the sounds of shoes being changed for boots and the donning of coats, footsteps shuffle past me. I concentrate to see if I can work out which of those sounds belong to Ritch searching my innermost to find a connection, I wait. Kate and Peter are speaking low I cannot, and do not want to, hear what they speak about but find it comforting. I wait. A small flutter of impatience overcomes me, I push it away, there is no hurry I am so relaxed in anticipation of our prearranged ramble. I wait. Eyes still closed I can feel my brainwaves slowing, going into a meditative state, fully aware of every sound, every scent, every breath of air around me. Colours fill my head softly merging behind my eyes, intense in the sunlight which penetrates my eyelids. I wait. The thought crosses my mind that I could wait a long time, what do guys do when you are waiting? Again I push this thought from my mind not to spoil the moment of anticipation, and feel like I could wait forever.

Time has changed; I could have been there for an hour or a minute, no matter. I feel Ritch in the hallway, my body tenses slightly as I begin to bring myself back to consciousness to greet him, I hear him go back up the stairs. I deliberately relax again; this is easy to do when one is happy to wait, when it is already known that the wait will be worth it. Eventually he descends again and this time I know we are in business, I wait until he is by my side and I open my eyes and smile. He is still wearing his red jogging pants now complimented by a pair of black wellington boots. The combination would be odd on anyone else but this guy could look charming wearing a rucksack.

We head forward past the cabin in which I slept, I tell him briefly about my adventures with the inflatable bed, he doesn't quite get it and I find myself asking if he wants to see the bed as if to illustrate the story further. Thankfully he calmly ignores this question, I am not sure we want to go down that road, well not yet anyway.

We both seem to know where we are going so there is no talk of our direction. When we reach the padlocked gate at the bottom of the orchard I head for the hinged end and climb over, Ritch follows and we take up the single track road between the undulating fence free fields. The chatter is quite serious Ritch is asking about me, I am happy to tell him, we do talk a little about him but he is a much better inquisitor and I cannot help but answer all. We continue to follow the man made path and I spot a couple of horses, I intuitively have known they were there. It is natural for me to gravitate towards equine energy like I have built in radar. There is a gate at the bottom of the road, Ritch asks whether we should continue past the gate, there is a sign saying private nailed to the side, I point this out and make a joke about trespassing, it is not a funny joke but we both laugh regardless.

Thoughts of trampling on private property dismissed we turn left towards the horses, I don't think I have mentioned to Ritch that this is going to be our destination and I still don't, assuming he can read my mind. We walk alongside the ditch which separates us from the beasts and I mentally assess whether there is a suitable place to cross taking into account the awkwardness factor of jumping versus scrambling over in front of him. That thought doesn't last long as the animals magnetic draw is too strong, the horses have seen us and start to wander in our direction, no doubt with thoughts of apples or polo mints on their minds.  I am now wandering along the rusty fence trying to figure out if the wire is wide enough to climb through, although my attention has been partly distracted from my companion I really don't want to get stuck on my way through; that would not be cool.

Finally Ritch spots my plan and tries to advise me on ways to negotiate the ditch, I don't actually need his help and decide that I must be dithering so I focus, climb through the wire and jump the ditch without mishap. Landing heavily on the other side the horses that had been expectantly waiting my arrival spook and canter off a few feet. Ritch laughs probably thinking they have been scared off, but I know they are just protecting themselves, following the leader of the pack, if the leader jumps they jump. My horse whispering talents are on full power and the horses wander back over casually to say hello. I have a perfect moment, I couldn't be any happier; sunshine, country, horses and a fascinating escort. After a few moments with the magnificent steeds I notice that Ritch is standing a fair way back from the fence, perhaps we should be going. Now I have to get my way back gracefully, I hesitate briefly then jump landing both feet in the bottom of the ditch and knees on the bank. This is not the kind of graceful I had in mind. I crawl up the steep bank grabbing at the long grass to pull me upwards. What probably takes a few seconds seems like an age, damn. My hands reach the top of the bank and I grab the wire fence to pull myself all the way up, glancing up I see that Ritch is looking off into the distance. Part of me thinks he hasn't witnessed my graceless but I know he is just being polite, turning himself away from the awkwardness.

Back on safe ground we check the time and realise we are already late back, "shit", we are not particularly worried about getting back but aware that we are probably holding up retreat proceedings back at base. As we saunter homeward the conversation turns to my past relationships. I tell him a bit about my marriage and how it ended, unfazed Ritch asks more, I tell him about the other woman, the woman my husband shared his innermost feelings with, the woman with whom he confided that he was dissatisfied with my relationship, the woman I blamed for the breakup. As we approach the gate at our destination Ritch states "they are the worst kind, emotional affairs". This thought in my head we pass the window but quickly lost when the realisation hits me that we are late.

I hate being late, letting people down, but with this man time has no meaning.