Amy pulls the latch to. The air between the white high turbines is broke with white jet trails. A calm day. The plastic propellers are barely spinning and the thrum is hardly more than a swarm of insects over the hillside.
Freedom, she says aloud, and finds pleasure in the word.
She wakes to an empty mattress.
George, she calls, George, put the kettle on! I’m going to be bloody late.
Ten minutes to shower. Another ten minutes to eat. A limp, used condom is eyeing her from the dresser ledge. She flicks it into the wastepaper basket with one raised hand.
She rises, showers, and totters down to the kitchen, flicking the kettle on and cursing George.
Seven minutes later, the bacon spitting beneath the grill, she jogs back upstairs and reads the white note he’s left her on the white pillow.
WOULD HAVE SAID GOODBYE. YOU WEREN’T UP.
The bathroom window is open and George is lying below in a smatter of red tiles.
Amy crouches and tries to peer along the soil’s horizon. Nothing is showing.
She walks back around the side of the cottage. She never comes here when she can help it; on the north hillside the rain and wind heave down upon the stone and in the distance she can never ignore the eyesore- the burnt-out, rust-coated barn.
She jogs down there one morning over the fields, out of a kind of curiosity, stepping under the great iron struts into a ruined space. Beer cans and carrier bags litter the shaded thorn-bushed floor and she begins to shiver. Without quite knowing why, she steps briskly back into the sunshine and runs and runs until the barn is no longer in sight.
That night the thrum is louder, almost, she thinks, gazing up at the darkness of the bedroom, deafening.
She dreams of the thorns in the burnt-out barn.
In the sudden hush of the dormitory, Alison Leigh says,
Imagine the Lord chose you to come down upon like that. Imagine one of us was chosen. Say one of us has to carry His child.
Stop it, Alison, says Maggie. Mrs Baxter said to go to bed-
Imagine He chooses you, says Alison, extending one painted finger from the warmth of the duvet to pick her out. And He swoops down from the sky and the window shatters and He comes for you.
Amy does not speak up. Something flashes beyond the open curtains.
What was that? Jenny asks.
Just a plane, says Maggie.
It’s the Lord, says Alison Leigh. Amy turns her head but she cannot make out Alison’s expression. He’s chosen one of us. His will be done.
Ali-son, Maggie says.
Amy closes her eyes. Beneath the inadequate duvet her legs are trembling. The possibility of this thing, she thinks, this divine everything, and I’m chosen- this is awful, this is really awful, and if He’s here I don’t want to have to look at Him-
Quiet, says Alison Leigh, and then, at periodic intervals until Amy finally falls asleep,
For a single second, passing the only mirror in the entire cottage, Amy thinks she catches a glimpse of something horrid in her own face.
Monstrous, she thinks, and her hands begin to shake as she fills the watering-can. Leather skin and eyes that screamed. Yellow teeth- it was monstrous.
She avoids looking in the direction of the mirror for the rest of the morning.
That afternoon she drives into town to pick up some fertiliser bags and a few cans of chopped tomatoes. Walking, wild-haired and dirt-stained, among the tourists and the OAPS, she has the pleasant sensation of being a savage walking among civilised people.
She wakes the next day to find that the water butt has split. Working to the thrum of the turbines, she cleans up the waterlogged vegetable patch and spends half an hour hunting for a hammer and nails in the old farmer’s toolshed. She slices her thumb open, bloody, nailing up the butt, and mutters to herself,
“Freedom,” and laughs, and laughs.
She only checks her mobile once. Her parents, George’s parents, her brother, her parents, have left her messages; understanding, but hopeful that she might come back to London to stay with family for a few months, as a kind of prelude to returning to an independent working life.
Harold never figured out how to use one of those things, says Miss Angie, puffing out her little chin in dislike.
Amy continues to fiddle with the tea-mugs. Miss Angie comes every day now, at four, for tea, her white head doddering like a mess of briar-caught sheep’s wool up the cottage hillpath.
What was your fiancé called again? asks Miss Angie.
George, Angie repeats, fumbling at the biscuit tin. She gets it open.
I’m so sorry, says Miss Angie. Amy arranges two custard creams and a chocolate digestive on a plate and places it before her guest.
The young grow up so fast, Miss Angie says, watching her. Were you hoping to have children?
We’d been planning for it, Amy repeats. A grey hand strokes her hand.
Our little boy was stillborn, Miss Angie says. Try and find comfort in the fact that sometimes these things just aren’t meant to happen.
Amy sits at the table.
It must be hard for you, Miss Angie continues, and her untended nails scratch at the surface of the chocolate digestive. Up here all by yourself.
No, not at all. The city nearly killed me. It killed George. He couldn’t get a job and his family were making fun of him and it was all far, far too much. I’m just trying to be rid of all that.
Can you hear the wind turbines from your house? Amy asks.
Miss Angie sips her tea and makes a face.
Silly things, aren’t they? she says. They only do what they’re supposed to do every so often. And even then it’s not for very long.
The potato shoots emerge; limp, wasted things, and when she trowels them up the tubers come out as albino malformities that crumble away in her hands. Amy secretly curses the broken water butt and the tide of ancient, bracken water that must have contaminated the soil.
She strides round to the north side of the cottage. The wind turbines begin to spin backwards.
The shock of the change of motion, the ranks of great haloed ghosts saluting her, in a ripple, makes her flinch.
Fresh rain has filled the water butt; a pond skater flickers on the surface. She refuses to turn her head to acknowledge the rusted-out barn in the fields below.
Lock your door at night, says Miss Angie, there’s a man in the fields.
A man? asks Amy. She fingers her new packet of Hobnobs and splits them open onto the little plate.
I saw him lurking out by the windmills.
Windmills- Amy begins, and then understands the old woman’s mistake.
An engineer, she suggests. For the turbines.
Fog drifts from the iron kettle spout and over the stove.
Up to no good, says Miss Angie. Harold knew how to deal with them. He comes in a white van and he stands in the fields as if he’s looking for something. Lock your door at night.
The next day, constructing a wire mesh for the chicken coop, Amy keeps an eye out, but the fields below remain lifeless. The turbines hum like bees.
Unblocking the sink, she finds a neatly folded slip of white paper tucked behind the piping.
SKIN TO SAND
She falls asleep wondering idly considering which household implements a lonelier woman might use to satisfy herself. She wakes with the vague memory of having seen a curly-haired girl standing at the foot of her bed.
This was Harold’s favourite, says Miss Angie. She draws the coin from its casing and slides it across the table. An old silver shilling. I want you to have it.
I really couldn’t, Amy says, without touching the coin, unwilling to let Harold into her cottage.
Harold loved coins, says Miss Angie. You can buy ‘em and sell ‘em, just let me line ‘em up and arrange ‘em into rows and I’ll be happy. That’s what he used to say.
When Miss Angie leaves she leaves the coin behind her, and the next day Amy finds the second note floating merrily in the water butt, the corners tucked upwards like an origami sail.
BONE TO BREAK
She passes in front of the mirror that afternoon and for a second she believes that her arm is splitting from its foundations, like a hunk of rotten flesh that is no longer hers to control.
You know, Alison Leigh says, when the Lord chooses you, you can’t even move. You have to stay quite still, trapped inside, and your body does whatever He wants it to.
You can still think but He controls what thoughts you’re allowed to have. That’s how Mary didn’t remember getting pregnant. So if He wants to, you’ll think less and less and eventually there’ll be nothing there at all and you won’t belong to you any more.
The young grow up so fast, Miss Angie says. I mean, you must be, what, dear, if you don’t mind me asking? Forty?
Thirty-eight, says Amy. I’m thirty-eight.
The third piece of paper has been left in full view on the dresser, trembling to the thrum of the turbines.
SHAME TO SPREAD
In the middle of the night she wets herself, and has to dash the sheets from the bed and into the kitchen in waking revulsion. The damp is deep, and rather than spoil another sheet she sleeps on the far side of the bare mattress like someone lying beside a lover.
The fourth note has been placed on the toilet seat.
She unearths the fifth from the vegetable patch, caught in the prongs of her trowel.
The sixth note is waiting for her on the passenger seat of her car.
Miss Angie grins at her, and beyond that pudgy, jowled face stands pickled skin; unseeing eyes. As she yawns black teeth rippled outward.
Amy gets up and goes to the toilet without explaining herself.
The young grow up so fast, says Miss Angie, smacking her lips, then,
What was your fiancé’s name again?
George, Amy repeats, you old witch, his name was George, George, George, and she swings the iron kettle against the old woman’s head, and screams at her.
You old witch, just die, you old witch, just die-
She lifts Miss Angie, as light as a newborn child, and carries her through the open front door and out onto the hillside.
She steps through the vegetable patch, over the rotten potatoes and over the bare soil where she’s planted leeks and carrots and cabbages.
The turbines and Miss Angie are groaning.
Amy drops Miss Angie into the still water butt and presses her palm against that woollen hair as it thrashes in the water.
She walks back to the south-facing hillside and sits on the grass. The fields are unspoilt and the wind turbines stop.