Matthew Haines | Fiction

I got a letter from a friend asking for reconciliation. We’d been friends a long time but things had gone downhill recently and I’d lost my temper one night and attacked him under an apple tree. It seemed to me he complained too much, grovelled a lot. He called me up most weeks to get drunk or smoke and we’d meet up and do just that. Then at some point he’d start talking about his life. His parents, his schooling, how lousy it all was. And that was most of what we did.

It was a real waste when I thought back on it. We didn’t get anywhere doing it, we still woke up as unhappy as before, boxed in in our silly and small lives. Sometimes when we got drunk, I said some personal stuff too. Talked about my sexuality. I think he was the first person I spoke to about that. That was unhealthy too I supposed. A short fix to it all. And I had the kind of brain that overcomplicated all I told him and I couldn’t sleep afterwards whenever I said something to him. I felt like I’d spread myself thin after talking to him.

It became burdensome to talk the way we did. And I think any reasonable person would see it the same way and decide we should eventually move on, try something else. But he didn’t. And one night it got too much and I pushed him over under an apple tree. Then I just walked away into the night, didn’t turn back.

We hadn’t spoken since.

I read his letter and it was humble and grovelling. I felt sorry but still didn’t forgive him. You can feel sorry and still not forgive. It was a weird feeling. I was as gloomy about the whole thing as he was. Happiness seemed a long way off, like there was a whole ocean between me and it. I decided to put the letter away and ignore it, go about my life as I had intended before reading it.

I went to a bar, picked myself up a barman, went home with him. He was nice and I spent a few more nights with him in the week after and got preoccupied with the whole thing. It seemed too easy and that scared me a little. He was the first person I hadn’t had to alter myself around. Even with friends, and especially this one friend, I was putting on some kind of illusion. But with the barman, I was me, authentic me, and that was terrifying but also thrilling. Sometimes people get the wrong end of the stick and the real you is lost in translation. But not with him. For a very long time I forgot that letter even existed.

Then another one came through the front door.

This one was more grovelling, there was desperation to it. I was shaking reading the letter. I don’t know what was making me shake, whether it was anger or shame, but I was shaking. Part of me got to wonder why he couldn’t say these things straight up, come to the door and say them.

This time he wanted to meet up. He put a place and time in the letter. The rational part of me said to do the same with this letter as the last one, put it away and forget it. That had worked out last time. But I was in a good place, romantically and otherwise. I could look at the world with kindness, and so I wrote him back and said I would meet him.

The time was the next day and the place was some field.

So I dressed up and walked down long Welsh country roads feeling like a country doctor who could heal everyone just by showing his face. It was six pm and the sky was orange. I came to a wood fence and clambered over it and walked into the field. The grass was sparkling. The rosy air, the fair winds, it was all so wonderful. A mundane kind of grandeur.

There he was standing in the evening sun. He looked the same, hadn’t changed. Sometimes people do change how they look when they’re gone for a while, but he hadn’t. He wore a long and fluttering coat – blue – and a green necktie. His hand was on his hip. I was walking up to him for what felt like eternity. It was a big field. When I reached him we just kind of stood there, said not very much. Hello. How have you been? That kind of thing. It was kind of miserable. But I was willing to put things aside. You had to put things aside and I had the strength to do it now.

“So what did you want to talk about?” I said.

“Well, anything. I just wanted to see you again.”

“Alright, well, we should probably talk about something.”

“Probably,” he said. “I brought a game.”

“What game?”

“Poker,” he said and took off his rucksack to get the poker set.

“We can play poker,” I said.

And he sat down on the grass and I sat down with him and we played for a while. Just straight poker, trying to bluff each other. The grass was sweet-smelling and he spoke loudly with a voice that was youthful and kind. I forgot how sweet his voice was. He took a glistening pear from his bag and threw it to me. I took a bite, got the juice down myself. Then I placed my long fingertips in the grass. We laughed a few times and my knees were bouncing and I started to blush. I started losing a few hands and I felt all at sea.

“You’re cheating,” I said.

“I’m not cheating.”

We went on. It was getting dark, and he put on a torch he’d brought with him to light up the game. There was an occasional car that came down the country road behind, faint engine and hard headlights. We had moths around our torch. Still no one came through the field. Who would come through a field like this at this time of night? I pulled up the tiny spring flowers and shivered.

“You want a beer?” he said.


He put his rucksack in his lap and got me a can. I cracked it open. He took a can himself. The beer was warm but it was nice going down the back of my throat. It was like a summer beer, a young summer beer, maybe one you had at thirteen or fourteen years old. I won a few hands and he sort of smiled at me and then he stopped.

“You like my clothes?” he said.

“You look really sweet,” I said.

He smiled. I put my chin in my hand. We both had burning blushes.

He really did look handsome, blue-veined and soft face and perfect white teeth, and he tossed his thick black hair to one side and his face was almost translucent in the torch. But he was handsome in only a friendly way. I already had a boyfriend and there was no point letting it cross my mind. Still, I felt a deep physical admiration for him – his pale face and magical garments. I almost felt jealous. And I guess he made me ashamed in some ways, to be thinking about him in that way. He was a friend that was all. There was something wrong about it.

He asked if I was seeing anyone and I said I was.

“What’s he like?”


“What do you like about him?”

“I like his dress sense. Very extravagant.”

I got to worry I might be half in love with him and I closed my eyes for a while in the hope it would go away. I opened them again.

He nodded. Then he went into his rucksack and took out a four-pack of beer and asked if I wanted to drink some more with him and I said yes. It was beer again, but they were bottles this time and he ripped the caps with a bottle opener and handed one to me. We sat down in the dark nighttime grass and clinked and drank.

We spoke some more. His mother was a typist and he said how she was doing, that the work was grinding her down. I looked at him in a kind of sympathetic way as he was saying it. Then he picked up again and he said he had hope things would get better. Then he stopped speaking again. He said he thought what he was saying was stupid and I said it wasn’t stupid at all.

“Maybe we’ve played enough,” he said and put down his cards.

“I guess so.”

“We should go for a walk,” he said. “I used to love when we walked. You’ve got to walk and move because sitting around too much eats you up. We just used to go places. Go forever. That’s why I said we should meet outside, so we could have the breeze on our faces.”

“Let’s go for a walk,” I said.

He took his torch and we walked across the field, going nowhere in particular. The grass was yellow under his torch. We sauntered into low, marshy areas and it felt like we might sink into the earth it was so slippery. We finished what was left of the four-pack on the way and our brains were reeling. He stopped about halfway and started dancing. I’d danced with him many times in years gone by and this time I just stood and kind of watched. He was sprawling like a flying fish. Then eventually I took his hands and joined him. We slow danced with his torch pointed up at the sky.

It was fine at first, euphoric, and we didn’t feel like strangers. We were friends. But then he got kind of miserable, and he stopped dancing and just stood there and hugged me. He hugged me for a long time and wouldn’t let go. When he did let go, he insisted we keep walking with his arm over the back of my neck. I thought it was good no one was coming past to see it. We looked on our last legs.

He tripped on a stone and fell. He cut his knee and I bent to help him but he could manage himself. He staggered on and we had to sit on a bigger rock, almost a sea rock, and I got on my knees and looked at his knee. I held the torch and saw he was bleeding a lot and I licked the end of my finger and tidied it where I could. Then he asked me to go into his bag and I did. He said to look for a plaster. It took me a while to find one and I started to feel bad because he was sat there waiting and his face screwed up occasionally because it hurt. Eventually I pulled one out and put it on. He rolled his trouser leg down and stood again. I felt a great deal of love and satisfaction at having helped him. I felt like a surgeon. And I hugged him. It was just something I had to do and you couldn’t think about it because you’d lose your nerve. He was stiff to start with but eased and wrapped his arms around me.

He went skipping like a wildcat going wherever he was going and again I saw his torch pointed at the sky like he was a crazy person. Maybe he was. There was a majesty in him though. I don’t know if he knew it. He looked like a biblical king. He stopped skipping and came back to walk alongside me. At one point he shined the torch in my eyes and I got annoyed and berated him for it. I stood and stared at the stars and he walked off without realising. I looked up and he was stood far away from me. His clothes looked long and they dangled at his sides like a nightgown. He was proud and baronial. The monarch of this field. We came back together. He hugged me again and there was nothing better in the world than his hug. It made me feel warm. And when he hugged me he was smiling into my shoulder and I couldn’t see it but I could feel it and that made me happy to think of. He let go.

We walked to a spot in the field where it became more of a hill. We walked up the hill with our mouths dry and he talked again about how he’d missed me. How miserable it had been with no one to turn to. I listened dutifully. He had great anxiety at being born and free and not knowing what to do. He said he adored me and he was happy beyond anything to know me.

I felt like the grown-up between the two of us walking up that hill. He was still feeling his way through life and I was coming to a place very like the top of a hill in mine. A summit, a place where you could get a perspective on everything. His judgement was clouded and mine was clear. That’s how I felt. And so I felt it my duty to listen and not say too much because there is no reason in being on high ground if you can’t bring other people with you.

At the top of the hill, we came to a big and sprawling apple tree. We went and sat under it and talked for a while. We stopped and weighed anchor at the top of this hill. Talked about the past, the future. We talked and talked. And we lost track of time talking. He said he felt tired, too tired to walk back home now, and in many ways I was inclined to say I felt the same. I looked at him again and he looked very professional in his sky-blue suit and trousers. He looked glamorous, a fighter. But he was still a boy. The world was big and he wasn’t ready for it. That’s what I thought anyway. And I was sorry for being so small to turn him away last time. I was sorry and maybe one day I’d been strong enough to actually say it.

He started closing his eyes and yawning a lot. We just stared at the stars. Then he gently laid his head down on my chest and I put my hand on his head and felt his hair. I could smell him and his cologne, I could feel the threads in his shirt. I looked at the stars again. Then down the way at the moonlight that went onto the backs of houses and the road that now no one, no one at all, was driving. It seemed like we’d found our own little corner of the universe. Maybe we could sit down somewhere by wild waters and take lunch. That would seem like such a good follow-up to all this.

Life was very precious suddenly. That was the thought I had sitting on that hill and sometimes it takes a hundred thoughts to come to the right one. And again that was a scary thing because life never stayed way for long. Everything we were doing, everything we are, it can’t last forever, everything is taken away. That’s just the way the world is.

He fell asleep on my chest and I could hear him breathing. I leaned back on the tree and fell asleep too.