In the summer of 2002, Granta’s Bad Company issue, which featured work by Milan Kundera, Arthur Miller, Gary Shteyngart and Edmund White, introduced a startlingly new voice: Jon McGregor. In his story ‘What the Sky Sees’, a young agriculture student from Lincolnshire is driving home after visiting his new lover, when he accidentally runs someone over. ‘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.’ Terrified of the consequences this will have on his chances of happiness, the man decides to bury the body and try to live with this secret knowledge, which inevitably takes a toll on his life and relationship. The story announced the arrival of one of the most significant talents of his generation, preceding the publication of McGregor’s first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things.

Ten years, two novels and many short stories later, McGregor returned to this first published work in order to rewrite it from the female perspective. The result is ‘In Winter the Sky’, which we publish today alongside the original story so that readers can compare the two versions.

 

He had something to tell her. He announced this the next
day, after the fog had cleared, while the floods still lay
over the fields. It looked like a difficult thing for him to
say. His hands were shaking. She asked him if it couldn’t
wait until after she’d done some work, and he said that
there was always something else to do, some other
reason to wait and to not talk. All right, she said. Fine.
Bring the dogs. They gave his father some lunch, and
they walked out together along the path beside the drainage canal.
She knew what he wanted to tell her, but she didn’t know
what he would say.

 

What she knew about him when she was seventeen: he
lived at the very end of the school-bus route; he was
planning to go to agricultural college when he finished
his A levels; he didn’t talk much; he had nice hair; he
didn’t have a girlfriend.

 

What she knew about him now: he didn’t talk much; he
had a bald patch which he refused to protect from the
sun; he didn’t read; he was a careful driver; he trimmed
his toenails by hand, in bed; he often forgot to remove
his boots when coming into the house; he said he still
loved her.

 

He was seventeen the first time he kissed a girl. The girl
had long dark hair, and brown eyes, and chapped lips.
They sank low in their seats on the school bus, leaning
together, and she took his face in her hands and pushed
her mouth on to his. She seemed to know what she was
doing, he said later. He was wrong. She drew away just
as he was beginning to get a sense of what he’d been
missing, and said that she’d like to see him again that
same evening. If he wasn’t busy. They should go
somewhere, she said, do something. He didn’t ask where,
or what. She got off the bus without saying anything else,
and went into her house without looking back. She ran
upstairs to her bedroom, and watched the bus move
slowly towards the horizon, and wrote about the boy in
her notebook.

 

Leaving March, where she lived then, the school bus
passed through Wimblington before swinging round to
follow the B1098, parallel to Sixteen Foot Drain, until it
stopped near Upwell. It was a journey he made every
day, from the school where he was studying for his A
levels to his father’s house where he helped on the farm
in the evenings. Where the two of them run the farm
together now. The road beside the Sixteen Foot is
perfectly straight, lifted just above the level of the fields,
and looking out of the window that afternoon felt, he said
later, in a phrase she noted down, like he was passing
through the sky.

 

The girl’s name was Joanna. The boy’s name was

George. He came back for her the same night.

 

In summer the sky is most times blue.
A blue so pure & bright that it hurts to look into it.
A blue so deep that if you look straight up you have to
grab something for fear of falling

in.
The light pouring which pours from out of this blueness
sears
everything it can reach

/ fields of wheat / canals & drains / tarmac roads /

In summer the sky is blue & lifted high

a shimmering blue silence from which

there is no hiding place

(save)              beneath the surface of the land.

 

he   came   back   for                       her
the   taste   of

 

 

like he was passing through the sky

 

 

to go somewhere and do something

 

He has told her this part of the story many times, with
the well-rehearsed air of a story being prepared for the
grandchildren, how he waited until his father was asleep
before taking the car-keys from the kitchen drawer, that
he’d driven before, pulling trailers of straw and silage
along farm tracks, but he didn’t have a licence and his
father would never have given him permission, how he
remembered that she’d said she wanted to see him, to go
somewhere and do something
, that he knew he couldn’t
just sit there in that silent house, doing his homework
and listening to the weather forecast and getting ready for bed.

 

She wonders, now, what would have been different
if he had stayed home that night. She wants to know how
he thinks he would feel, if that were the case. An impossible
question, really.

 

The roads were empty and straight, and there was
enough moonlight to steer by. She saw him coming from
a long way off. Watching his headlights as they swung
around the corners and pointed the way towards her. She
was waiting outside by the time he got there.

 

She hadn’t wanted to go anywhere in particular. She just
wanted to sit beside him in the car and drive through the
flatness of the landscape, looking down across the fields
from the elevated roads. They drove from her house to
Westry, over Twenty Foot Drain, past Whittlesey, and as
they passed through Pondersbridge she put her hand on
his thigh and kissed his ear. They crossed Forty Foot
Bridge and drove through Ticks Moor, the windows open
to the damp rich smell of a summer night in the fens, and
beside West Moor he put his hand into her hair. They
crossed the Old Bedford and New Bedford rivers, drove
through Ten Mile Bank, Salter’s Lode and

 

In autumn the sky is most times white.
A ragged, dirty white.
And you wonder how this could be the same sky but it is.

 

The earth turns thick & hard beneath it.
Winds rip through the clouds and
slashes                           of                                 light
run across the fields and vanish over the horizon and
leave

 

the land as heavy as before.

 

The colours of the earth change.               Westry

Fields & ditches clog with leaves.            Whittlesey

Rivers swell.                                              Pondersbridge

                                                                   Forty Foot Bridge

                                                                   Ticks Moor

                                                                   West Moor

                                                                   Ten Mile Bank

                                                                   Salter’s Lode

Outwell

Friday Bridge

 

If you had stayed at home it
would never have happened.

 

 

We know the seasons are changing mostly by the shape
& colour of the sky.

 

s   t   r   e   t   c   h   e   d       o   v   e   r       u   s       f    r
o    m

 

h  o  r  i  z  o  n                        t  o           h  o  r  i  z  o  n

t h e   l e n g t h       &     b r e a d t h      o f   a   d a y .

 

Outwell and on the edge of Friday Bridge she asked him
to stop the car and they kissed for a long time.

 

Afterwards, they looked out across the fields and talked.
They didn’t know each other very well, then. He asked
about her family and she asked about his. He told her
about his mother, and she said she was sorry. She asked
what he was going to do when he left school and he said
he didn’t know. He asked her the same and she said she
wanted to write but that her father wanted her to go to
agricultural college. She lifted his thin woollen jumper
over his head and drew shapes on his bare skin with the
sharp edge of her fingernail. She watched as he undid the
buttons of her blouse, and took his hands and placed
them against her breasts. There was the touch of her
whisper in his ear, and the taste of his mouth, and the feel
of her warm skin against his, and the way his scalp
moved when she pulled at his hair. Later, there was the
smell of him on her fingers as she stood outside her
house and watched him drive away in his father’s car, the
two red lights getting smaller and smaller but never quite
fading from view in the dark, flat land.

 

He drove home along the straight road beside the Sixteen
Foot, holding his hand to his chest. The moonlight
shining off the narrow water. He was thinking about all
the things she’d said, just as she was thinking about all
the things he’d said.
He was thinking about his father, he said later, and
about how long his father had been alone, and about how
he knew now that he wouldn’t be able to live on his own
in the same way. Not now he knew what it meant to be
with someone else.

 

In winter the sky is most times grey.

 

A dark & bruising grey.

 

The days shorten.

 

The distance between the horizon shrinks.  What little
light
seeps down is thick & lifeless.

 

In winter there’s no danger of falling into the sky

Our bodies anchored to the ground by the weight of the
light.

 

The earth hides secrets.

 

The land is silent.

 

The drains & canals will freeze and be covered in snow.

 

The snow will come fast in the night and
block the roads & drains and leave
nothing
but whiteness
(all lines & textures concealed).

 

The land giving back light to the sky.

 

He was still thinking about her when he drove into a
man and killed him.
First he was driving along the empty road thinking
about her, and then there was a man in the road looking
over his shoulder and the car was driving into him. It was
hard to know where he’d come from. He’d come from
nowhere. He was not there and then he was there and
there was no time to do anything. There was no time to
flinch, or to shout. He didn’t even have time to move his
hand from his chest, and as the car hit the man he was
flung forwards and his hand was crushed against the
steering wheel. The man’s 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.
Those arms lifted up to the sky, that arching back.
The sound the man’s body made when the car struck
him. It was too loud, too firm, it sounded like a car driving
into a fence rather than a man. And the sound he made. That
muffled split-second of calling-out.

 

His arms lifted up to the sky, even his fingers pointing
upwards, as if there was something he could reach up
there to pull himself clear. His back arching over the
bonnet of the car before being dragged down. The jolt as
he was lost beneath the wheels. George’s hand crushed
between his chest and the steering wheel.
Then stillness and quiet.
He lay on his back with his legs underneath him,
looking up at the night. His legs were so far underneath
him that they were most probably broken. George stood
by the car for a long time. The man didn’t make a sound.
There was no sound

 

In spring the sky is all these colours. Spring comes
gradually here.
Broad beans & early wheat break through the surface of
the soil.
Pale green leaf buds squeeze out of dry birch branches
while the sky fades to light grey & white & finally a faint
blue.
The air cleanses itself is cleansed, with by
a warm wind from the south
bursts of sparkling rain

 

The sky lifts away from the ground.              those arms
lifted
up to the sky.
The horizons draw apart
and stretch the sky taut and
space & light flood back into our lives.
that arching back.
This is the time when change
is a daily force:
woodlands smeared green overnight
fields purpled with lavender behind your
back
wives & mothers & daughters pregnant by
dawn

 

This is the time when the floods come
and the ditches and barriers have to be built again,
a little deeper
a little higher
But still, with all this life bursting up towards the sky,
(the earth holds secrets)
(the sky watches)

 

The hills having eyes means nothing here.
The land is level and all we have watching over us is the
sky.
anywhere. The night was quiet and the moon bright and
the air still and there was a man lying in the road a few
yards away. It didn’t feel real, and there were times now
when they both wondered whether it had really happened
at all. But there was the way the man’s neck felt when
George touched his fingers against the vein there. Not
cold, but not warm either, not warm enough: he feels like
a still-born calf
. There was no pulse to feel. Only his
broken body on the tarmac, his eyes, his open mouth.
He was wearing a white shirt, a red V-necked
jumper, a frayed tweed jacket. His arms were up beside
his head, and his fists were tightly clenched. A broken
half-bottle of whisky 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, which might
have been old bruises anyway, but there was no blood.
His clothes were ripped across the chest, but there was
no blood. It was hard to understand how a man could be
dragged under the wheels of a car and not bleed. It was

hard to understand how he could not bleed and yet die so
quickly.
The whites of his eyes looked yellow under the
moonlight.

It was hard to understand who he was, and why he
had been on the road in the middle of the night. Why he
was dead now. It was hard to know what to do. George
knelt beside him, looking out across the fields, up at the
sky, at his father’s car, his shaking hands, the sky.

 

This place I’ve grown up in is                       a landscape
of lines,
a world of              the parallel & perpendicular.

The straightest line of all is the      hard blur of the
horizon.

———————————————————————-
————

A single unbending line which encircles the day.

———————————————————————
————–

When I was As a child I would spin around
with my eyes on the horizon trying to catch the place where
the line turned or bent     but I never could

the mystery of the straight, encircling line.

–       –       –       –       –       –       –       –       –

(All the) other lines find their way to the horizon sooner
or later
High lines,                             (Years ago, playing in the
connecting lines: telegraph wires   furrows while your
father
railway tracks     watched, you looked up +

 

canals          saw a line of boats gliding
drains          through the sky. The fear
rivers           you felt, seeing those     
boats above your head.)

Low lines,
boundary lines:          ditches          (No hedges or walls
roads           between fields here,
paths           only the ditches + roads.
Ditches to stop the sea
reclaiming what it owns.)

 

He had his reasons, he says. He’s often regretted it, and
he’s often thought that his reasons weren’t enough, but
he thinks he would do the same again.
If he’d been older when he made that journey then
perhaps he would have been stronger; perhaps his thoughts
would have been clearer. But he was seventeen, and he had
never knelt beside a dead man before. So he drove away. He
stood up, and turned away from the man, and walked back
to

 

his father’s car, and drove away. He didn’t look in the
rear-view mirror, and he didn’t turn around when he
slowed for the junction.
I suppose it was at that stage that I began to realize
what had happened what I had done.
That was how he put it, when he told her, walking
out on the path beside the canal after lunch, the dogs
running along ahead of them with their claws clicking on
the tarmac strip.  I suppose.
He had driven his father’s car into a man, and then
over him, and now that man was dead. He felt a sort of
sickness, a watery dread, starting somewhere down in his
guts and rising to the back of his throat. His hands were
locked on the wheel. He couldn’t even blink.
And he knew, even before he got back to his father’s
house, that he would have to return to the man. He couldn’t
leave him laid out on the road like that, with his legs neatly
folded under his back. He knew, or he thought he knew,
that when the man was found then somehow he would
be found too, and the girl who’d drawn upon his bare
chest wouldn’t even look him in the eye.

 

So it was her fault as well, it seems.

 

The lines of this place are sometimes washed out by
floods.
Obliteration.
Water erasing the               (Cornelius the Dutchman +
his
man-made geometry                          army of hired men,
digging
restoring this place                                   their way
through
to the sea it once was.                                       the 17th
century.)

 

Sometimes it will be rain, swelling the rivers until they
break
through
and rush over the fields,
settling across hundreds of acres for weeks at a time,
sky below as well as above, clouds & seabirds gliding
overhead sky above as well as below, clouds & seabirds
gliding overland.

 

Or snow will cover everything, blocking drains & roads,
……….
Mothers forbidding their children to leave the house.
Lost children in the fields.

 

You said you don’t remember your mother telling you to
go out, but you would have been too young
to
remember/to go out.

Sometimes                      the                   fog
will
come          in             with
the
floods                                              and
our           world                will
become
unmappable,                                               alien,
precarious.

                                   I didn’t say you said it was my
fault
He fetched a shovel from a barn at his father’s farm and
drove back to where he’d hit the man. It sounds so terrible
now.
Cowardly? He carried the shovel down the embankment
to the field below the road and took off his thin jumper and
began to dig.

 

He was used to digging. The field had only recently been
harvested, and the stubble was still in the ground
, so he
lay sections of topsoil to one side to be replaced. He was
thinking clearly, working quickly but properly, ignoring
the purpose of the hole. Once, knee-deep in the ground,
he looked up the bank and realized what he was doing.
But he couldn’t see the man up on the road, so he
managed to swallow the rising sickness and dig some
more. And all this time, the sound of metal on soil, the
sky above.
And then it was deep enough. It was done. So long
as it was further beneath the surface than the plough-
blades would reach then it was deep enough, most
probably
. He climbed up the embankment to the road,
wanting to hurry and get it done but holding back from
what he had to do, from the fact of having to touch him,
having to pick him up
and carry him down the bank and
into the hole he had made. The death he had made in the
hole he had made in the earth. He bent down to take the
man’s arms.  He could smell whisky. He stopped,
unwilling to touch him, unwilling to go through with
what he’d found reason to do. They were good reasons,
but they didn’t seem enough
. But then he remembered
her skin on his, and her eyes, and he knew, he said, that
he could do anything not to lose that.

 

She’d made him do it, then.  That was how it had
happened.

 

These same floods that obliterate bring life to the land,
make
our soil the richest in the country.
At ploughing time the smell of the earth hangs in the air,
a smell like apple bruises and horse chestnut shells.
A smell of pure energy.

Your father claimed this ground
would grow five-pound notes
if you planted a shilling.

Flatness        |         straight lines        |        a man-made
geometry.
The sound of metal on soil       //    the sky above
This is the landscape you I we grew up in.
This is the landscape which grew us which made us.

 

 

The sea wants to be here. we shouldn’t be surprised
when
will give            to that
Our engineering     gives   way before the sea’s desire.

 

                                You didn’t say that.  That’s not what
you said
He gripped the man’s elbows and lifted them up to his
waist. He backed away towards the embankment and the
man’s legs unfolded from beneath him, his head rolling
down into his armpit, his half-bottle of whisky falling
from his pocket
and breaking on the road. He didn’t stop.
He kept dragging him away, away from the road, down
the bank, into the field.

 

She’d said, when he finally told her all this, that she
wanted to know it all. How it was done. How it had felt.
So now she knew.

 

He laid the man down beside the hole in the earth and
rolled him into it. The man fell face down, and he felt
bad about that
, about the man’s face being in the mud.
He went back to the place on the road and picked up the
pieces of glass. He threw them down on to the man’s
back, and then he took the shovel and began to pile the
earth back into the hole.

 

He threw soil over the man until he was gone, until
the soil pressed down on him so that he was no longer a
man or a body or a victim or anything. Just an absence,
hidden under the ground. It was only then that he looked
up at the sky, dark and silent over him, the moon hidden
by a cloud. He drove past her house in March again, and
then back to his father’s house. He put the car-keys away
in the kitchen drawer, and the shovel in the barn, and he
stood in the shower until the hot-water tank had emptied
and he was left standing beneath a trickle of water as
cold as stone.

 

So now she knew.

 

to name these places
The words we’ve been given   by our ancestors     have
no poetry.
Our waterways are called drains,
not rivers or streams or brooks or burns:
Thirty      Foot
Drain
Sixteen    Foot  
Drain
(and the closest to grandeur, this)        Hundred        Foot
Drain

our farms named for anonymity:    Lower              Field
Farm
Middle           Field
Farm
Sixteen            Foot
Farm

 

People don’t come here because they’ve been
People are not drawn here by the romantic sound of the
place.
People don’t much come here at all, and so the landscape
remains empty and
retains its beauty and

 

the beauty of this place is not in the names but the shapes
the flatness    /   hugeness    /   completeness of the
landscape.
Only what is beneath the surface of the earth is hidden
(and sometimes not even that)
and everything else is made visible beneath the sky.

 

They were married before either of them had the chance
to go to university: his father retired early, after a heart
attack, and he had to take over the farm. It only made
sense for Joanna to move in and help. George had been
there when his father collapsed: he’d heard the dogs
barking at the tractor in the yard, and gone outside to see
his father clutching at his chest and turning pale. He’d
dragged him from the cab into the mud and begun
hammering on his chest. I didn’t want to lose him to the
land as well
. He’d beaten his father’s heart with his fist,
and forced air into his lungs, and called out for help. She
was there with him. She rang the ambulance, and
watched him save his father’s life, and decided she
would marry him. She can remember very clearly,
standing there and deciding that. He still thinks he was
the one who asked her.
When she remembers it now, it’s always from a
height, as if she can see it the way the sky saw it: George
kneeling over his father in the mud of the yard, shouting
at him to hold on, the dogs circling and barking.

 

And now this giant of a man sits in an armchair clutching
a hot-water bottle and watching the sky change colour
outside. He refuses to watch television, listening instead
to the radio while he keeps watch on the land and the
sky. He claims to take no interest in the running of the
farm: he signed everything over to them almost
immediately, and has rarely offered an opinion. But she
knows that he watches. She has seen him looking at a
newly ploughed field from the upstairs window, or
running a hand along a new piece of machinery in the
yard, or lingering by the kitchen table while she does the
accounts. She has seen the faint smiles and nods which
indicate that he is well pleased. She hopes that George
has noticed; she suspects that he has not.
When the dawn comes
when the first light slides in from the east
the sky is the colour of marbles.
A thin, glassy grey.

 

Everything is dark away to the west,
silhouettes & shadows clinging to the last of the night,
but at the eastern edge of the horizon there is light.

And If you have the time to stand and watch,
you can trace the movement of the light into the
morning.
The lines of fields & roads creeping
towards you and then away to the west
until the whole geometry of the day is revealed.
And The water in the drains begins to steam & shine.

And you’ll notice The workers start to arrive,
stepping out from minibuses and spreading across the
fields,
shadows crouching & shuffling
along the crop-lines lines of the crops.

 

Sometimes, when George takes his father his evening
meal, his father will talk about something he’s heard on
the radio: a concert recording, a weather forecast, a news
report. Often they’ll just sit, and George will listen to his
father’s short creaking breaths, thankful to have him
there still. She doesn’t sit with them at these times. She
reads, or deals with paperwork, or goes back to her
writing, waiting for George to reassure himself that his
father is well.
They’ve never had children, and this has
They’ve never talked about it, and yet

 

In this way, their lives together had settled into
something like a routine. He was up first, feeding the
dogs, bringing her a cup of tea, eating his breakfast and
leaving his dishes on the table. She dressed, and dealt
with correspondence, and waited until she heard the
radio in his father’s bedroom before going to help him
dress.

 

Caring for his father had taken up more and more of their
time over the years. His health was poor enough to
justify moving him into a nursing home. There was one
over in March; she had a friend whose mother was there,
and had heard good reports. But it was obvious that his
father would refuse to go. And she had been unable to
find a way of bringing it up with George. There were so
many things she was unable to bring up with him.
Sometimes it felt as though they only related to each
other through talking about work, about the business. As
business partners, they have been close, communicative,
collaborative. All those good words. In the mornings and
the afternoons, they worked in the fields.
That wasn’t
really true. It might have been true once, in the very early
days, when they’d had to work

 

When the mid-morning comes
the sky is the colour of flowering linseed
a pale-blue hint of
the full colour to come

 

Sometimes there will be clouds, joining together to form
arches
from horizon                   to                     horizon
stretching
tearing
scattering patterns across the fields.

 

Sometimes these clouds bring rain,

 

and the sky will darken
But the rain will pass
the sky be brighter                          clearer

 

The workers more visible,
returning to their trays & boxes after the rain,
lifting food from the ground,
sorting
trimming
laying down
moving along the line.

 

Occasionally one will stand, lifting cramped arms to the
sky before returning to the soil.

 

Those lifted arms, that arching back.

 

hard all the hours of daylight to try and pull the business
out of the hole his father had dug it into. There’d been no
money to employ extra labour, and they’d had to do
everything themselves. There was less land then, but it
was still a struggle and they were always exhausted by
the time they found their way to bed.
But things had changed, gradually. They’d bought
more land, secured more grants and loans. Diversified.
And almost without noticing, they’d stopped being
farmers and become managers. Most of the field-work
was done by labourers hired by subcontractors, people
they never spoke to. George still liked to do some of the
work himself – the ploughing, the ditch-digging, the
heavy machine-based jobs – but there was no real need.
For the most part they spent their days on the phone, or
filling out forms, buying supplies, dealing with inspectors,
negotiating with the water authorities. Discussions about
drainage and flood defences seemed to take more and more
of her time now. The floods seemed to be coming more often,
covering more land, taking longer to drain. Maybe we should
switch to rice
, George had started saying, and she wasn’t sure
whether or not this was a joke.

 

All of which meant that when he announced that he
wanted to tell her something, and that they should take
the time to walk out along the path beside the canal after
lunch, it was no real interruption to the running of the
farm. Down in the few

 

 

 

When the noon-time comes
(when there’s a moment of stillness and silence)
the sky is the colour of the summer noon:
a blue with no comparison
the pure deep blue of the summer noon in this
place.
No clouds
no movement
you hold your breath and turn and follow the circle of the
unbending horizon line
                            horizon’s circle.

 

Celery &
spring onions &
leeks &
lettuces &
fragile crops which would be ruined by machinery.

 

fields which weren’t yet flooded, the workers carried on,
their backs bent low, and she was able to stop him and
put her hand to his chest and ask what it was he wanted
to say.
In the evenings, he often spent time in the barn,
fixing things. She would spend that time walking
backwards and forwards from the house to the barn,
offering to help, and having that help warmly but firmly
rejected. He was unable to admit, even now, that she was
better than he was at mechanical jobs: repair, maintenance,
improvised alteration and the like. Her father had been a
mechanic. It was natural that she would have an ability in
that area. But still, he found it difficult to accept.

At the same time, he found it difficult to have
sufficient patience with, or tolerance of, the writing she
did. She had only ever called it writing: he was the one
who used the word ‘poems’. But whenever he said it –
‘poems’ – it was with an affected air, as if the pretension
was hers. So, for example, he might come crashing in
from the barn late one afternoon, with his boots on, and
say Would you just leave your bloody poems alone for
one minute and help me get the seed-drill loaded up?

There were five other places he could have put the
bloody in that sentence, but he chose to put it there, next
to ‘poems’. This is an example, she would tell him, if he
was interested, of what placement could do.

 

When the late afternoon comes
(when the light is only beginning to fade from the
day
fall)
the sky is the colour of a freshly-forming bruise.

 

The workers are slowing their pace
pausing more frequently  to savour
the warmth of the soil in their hands
aware now of the slight chill in the air
waiting
for the word that the day is over.

 

–       –       –       –       –       –       –       –

                                        What placement can do.

–       –       –       –       –       –       –       –

 

When the evening comes
(before the embers of the closing of the
day)
the sky is the colour of your father’s eyes.

A darkening, muddied blue,
hiding shadows
turning away.                          Awake, still;
alive, just;
but going.
Going gently.

 

The workers have left the field and collected their pay,
measured by the weight of the food they have gathered.

 

The marks of their footprints are fading,
dusted over with soil blown in by a wind from the sea.

 

Once, he says, he saw a man metal-detecting in that field.
He was driving past and saw a car parked on the verge, a
faint line of footprints leading out across the soil. The
light was clear and strong, and the man in the field was
no more than a silhouette. He sat in his car, watching.
Twice he saw the man stoop to the ground and dig with a
small shovel. Twice he saw him stand and kick the earth
back into place
, and continue his steady sweeping with
the metal detector. He wanted to go and tell him to stop,
but there was no good reason for doing so. It wasn’t his
land. The man would surely have asked permission, and
anyway he was doing no damage so soon after harvest.

 

He wondered what the man thought he was going to find,
he says. He had a sudden feeling of inevitability; that this
would be the moment when the body was found, the
moment when everything could be made right. He
thought about going to fetch Joanna, so she could be
there to see it as well.
He’d been living like this for years, it would seem,
lurching between a trembling silence and a barely
withheld confessional urge. When he thought about it
later, he realized there was no reason why a man with a
metal detector should find a body. But that kind of
logical thought
seemed to crumble in the face of these
moments.
He got out of the car, and waited. The man in the
field looked up at George, and George looked down at
him. Ready. The man packed his tools into a bag and
began hurrying back to his car, stumbling slightly across
the low stubble.
Did you find anything? George asked. 
No, the man said, nothing.  And he got in his car
and drove away.

 

                                            What he thought he’d find.

 

There is no history here.

 

No dramatic finds of Saxon villages.
No burial mounds or hidden treasures.
No Tollund Man.
Only the rusted anchors our ploughs drag up,
left when these fields were the sea.

 

 

 

Those rusted anchors have been sunk in the soil
ever since before it was drained,                and sometimes
the turning of the earth brings them closer to the surface
and sometimes
it will sends them further down.

 

Buried out there at the edge of the field.Butyouwerethere

 

The sound of plough metal on soil, the roar
of stones & earth.

 

As he/it Tumbles further down or is hauled to the
surface.

 

break the flat surface

 

This is the way it happens, in the end. This is the way he
describes it, when he tells her:
He was driving, he said. There were bright lights,
and men in white overalls standing in the water
. There
were police officers along the embankment and a white
tent on the verge. There were police vans in the road. A
policeman was directing the traffic through from either
direction. The men in white overalls were doing something
with poles and tape
. He could hardly breathe, he said. There
was something like a rushing sound in his ears.

The policeman waved at him to stop, and walked over to
the car, and asked George to wind the window down. He
reminded George that they were at school together, and
George didn’t know what to say. A funny do this, isn’t it,
the policeman said. George thought the policeman was
probably waiting for him to ask what had happened
but
he didn’t say anything. The policeman told him anyway:
they’d found a body in the water. The farmer had seen it.
They were assuming it had been buried for years, and
that the flood water must have disturbed the soil and
brought it out. There wasn’t much left of it now. The
policeman said he couldn’t imagine they’d find out who
it was, and then he asked after the family and said he
should let George get on. George said that his wife and
his father were both fine and drove slowly into the fog.

 

That field.  In that field.  Down by that field.

 

The floods have come, again,
the road like a causeway
across the sea.

 

 

 

T h e   w a t e r   s t r e t c h e d   a s   f a r   a s  t h e   h o
r i z o n
t h e
h o r i z o n
l o s t
i n                                     t h e
t h i c k
f    o    g.

 

Telegraph                    poles                            dotted
across                the                              water
like                           the                              masts
of                               sunken                      boats.

 

 

The cars marooned.                                          High & dry.
Piercing  red  lights  suspended  in  a  long  line  through
the fog.

 

Later, he drove into the yard and the dogs came barking
out to meet him. He sat in the car for a moment, too
weak to open the door. Joanna could see him from the
kitchen window. She stood and watched. She wondered
what was wrong. The lights of the house were clear and
warm, spilling into the foggy night. He got out of the car
and walked to the house, pushing the dogs away, and she
came to meet him in the hallway. He looked at her and
said that they needed to talk. She said it would have to
wait until she’d finished some more work, and he said
there was always something else to do, some other
reason to wait and to not talk. He said they couldn’t go
on like this, it had gone on for too long, they were young
when it happened, they were older now, time had passed,
they needed to bring things out into the open and deal
with the consequences and stop trying to hide what it was
doing to them both. She looked at him. It was the most
she had heard him say for a long time. It didn’t fit. All
right, she said. Fine. Bring the dogs.

 

He served the meal she had prepared for his father and
took it through to him.
They found a body in the field down the road, his
father said.
George nodded, and said that he’d heard.
Can’t think it was anyone from round here, his
father said.
No, George said. I shouldn’t think so.

 

The mists of yesterday have disappeared,

 

the sky reflected clearly in the flooded fields

 

the sky reflected clearly in the flooded fields.

 

 

 

The day is broken           open & clear:

 

 

the great ship of Ely Cathedral
just visible
across the water.

 

 

 

Photograph by jurek d

Jon McGregor | Podcast
We’ll always have Paris