There are still fields in England so vast that you can walk alongside them or across them—or through them—for an hour or more and feel like you have not moved an inch.
There are fields so vast and remote that you can wander to their very center and scream and bellow and laugh and dance, and much more besides, and no one but the mice and the crows will hear you.
There are fields that are near to nowhere, fields bigger than villages. Fields that feed hundreds of people and accommodate thousands of co-existing creatures and species, from the tiniest tick to the largest deer. Once, grey wolves and brown bears stalked the shrinking copses that grow at their fringes and then tentatively stepped out into the open fields too, but no more; the threat of their size meant they were hunted to extinction long ago.
And there are fields full of stories, century upon century of stories laid over one another, just as the bones of those who once turned and tilled the land and cultivated and harvested the crops, and shared their stories too, now lie rotting deep in the rich soil of a singular cemetery called England.
Into these fields reach the roots of an island. They reach and cling for meaning, for understanding. They are part of the story that has no ending.
Because the fields belong to everyone equally—past, present and future.
And out in the fields on a still summer’s night, when the sky is an upturned mirror and the young crops harbor legions of creatures awaiting the totality of the moon’s instruction, a light breeze lifts, causing a sea of platinum needles to shimmer, and strange things happen.
On this particular night the moon is a signet ring held in soft wax and pressed to the black page of the sullen sky.
On the signet ring is a face, a fat face, the face of the moon, with the butterball cheeks of a cherub. It purses its pale lips and from high up above offers an enigmatic smile upon the field of incipient wheat.
One of the men stands looking at it for a lingering moment and tries to remember the names given to the different maria—those wide areas of the moon that look like seas, but which are in fact vast waterless plains of molten rock. The Sea of Tranquillity is the one most people know. But there are more, many more, and together they form a type of poetry centred around the theme of deep and unending desolation.
The Sea of Fecundity. The Sea of Cleverness.
The Sea of Crises. The Sea of Nectar.
He whispers the words just loud enough for them to become real. He wraps his tongue around them, and they become poetry in his mouth.
There are, of course, he thinks, the other features of the moon’s surface too, such as its mountains and valleys, its craters, marshes and bays. As a boy he knew the names of so many of these different topographical lunar elements, and in fact kept a notebook in which he jotted them down each time he learned a new one.
The Bay of Rainbows. The Marsh of Sleep.
The Land of Sterility.
The Lake of Death.
Licking dirt-dry lips, he repeats them to himself now in a coarse whisper.
There were the names of the constellations too, all but the most obvious of which are now forgotten, for time has passed and his memory has become preoccupied with other things, like the names of girls and songs, and snatched recollections of people and places and parties. New memories have replaced old ones; memories of long warm days of endless potential and the occasional dire night folded shivering and slowly sobering in a police cell. His mind is cluttered with recollections of rhapsodic birdsong and paintings he has done and rivers he has swum; it is a photograph album containing fading pictures of roadsides he has parked up by and made a home from, and woodlands he has wandered, and also made a home from. There are images of bonfires and bottles of home brew in there. People and places, friends and faces. Long nights filled with laughter and fleeting scenes of what at the time felt like a form of madness, and surely was.
As a younger man – before he knew himself better – he went through a phase of walking around the village in a cape with the image of a large eyeball stitched upon it. Several of his haircuts were legendary. These are the thoughts that replace the names he carefully wrote down and which are consigned to an old notebook long since lost.
He remembers the bad things too: fist fights and heartbreak, broken bottles, swinging truncheons and a litany of injustices. He remembers all that. As a boy his daydreaming mind was a nest of twinkling trinkets, and though recent memories continue to replace old ones, each day bringing a new delivery of things to be processed, the strongest and most significant endure. His name is Redbone.
Sensing a distance growing behind him, the other man, whose name is Calvert, stops and turns back to face his friend, who he sees, not for the first time, is standing waist-deep in the young crop, gazing at the cloudless firmament. He allows him half a minute and then gives a short, sharp whistle so accurately delivered that it is as perfect a part of the settling night’s soundtrack as an owl hoot or the curdling screech of distant mating foxes. It is practiced, a sound that belongs. It fits flush into the jigsaw puzzle of their endeavor.
Calvert is wearing sunglasses. The lenses are as dark as burned out stars drifting through infinite time and space, vortices of nothingness.
A brief flash of white light—the same flash that preceded an explosion that was so sudden and so loud he still hears it now, years later, in the wind and sirens and the slamming of car doors and ice cream van music, even in the laughter of carefree children running down the street on uncertain legs—has left him with ocular sensitivity. The sunglasses never leave his face, even at night.
They hide the truth of a person, and he likes that too. Redbone often thinks that were his friend to remove his sunglasses there would be another pair of sunglasses underneath, and then beneath those a third pair, with some eyes painted onto them.
Beneath that, who knows.
Were he asked, Calvert might reply that he sees and feels life as a slug, a seagull or a sheep might: it is simply something that is happening now. Existence is simply there, like a lightbulb or a downpour, until it isn’t, experience occurs until it doesn’t, and the dark-tint of his reality is precisely that: his. There are reasons he feels this way. Very specific reasons.
Moonstruck and drifting through memory, at the sound of the whistle Redbone comes back into being with a turning of an unwashed head, and he sees Calvert and then continues to walk slowly towards him. He moves in no hurry; he rarely does. He likes to let the globe move beneath his feet and do the work for him.
Though keen to press on, Calvert, whose natural pace in all areas of his life is a strident and purposeful march, waits for him. In the milk-colored lunar light Redbone looks at his friend as he approaches him and sees the streak of scarring that runs like an exposed bone along his jawline, then up into a tightly twisted knot of tissue across his cheek and underneath one shaded lens, to just beneath his hidden eye. Tonight it appears lustrously silver; ornate and baroque, almost, as exotic as the surface of the moon itself. It makes Redbone think of the theatrical half-mask worn by a character in a musical he has never seen.
Calvert also wears a beard. The block of ragged hair that hangs like a bib is another obstacle, a barrier, a hurdle that the world must climb over or look beyond in order to reach the man beneath it. The beard is so big and so thick that it appears as if it might be on loan from the props department of a film about gold prospectors and trappers sporting beaver-skin hats.
The beard is so big and so thick that Calvert’s nose looks like a featherless newborn bird in the nest of his face, or perhaps a dormant penis.
Together with the sunglasses it makes for a formidable and near impenetrable visual combination, as if Calvert were a man in search of a motorcycle that he parked three days ago. His is a face that could win poker tournaments.
Redbone does not recall his friend without the scar, without the sunglasses, without the beard; they are all as much a part of him as the unspoken traumas that only very occasionally flash like that brief burst of white light in the wet blackness of his hidden eyes. For Calvert is a human cactus, spiky and self-contained. He draws upon a deep well of resources.
Excerpted from The Perfect Golden Circle. Copyright © 2022 By Benjamin Myres. Reprinted here with permission of Melville House Publishing.