I sit on a bench at the top of the hill looking down over a sea of bracken. Rutting stags bellow across the park, ignoring me, but calling out challenges to each other. The oak trees that line the path up the hill all had their heads chopped off in remembrance of their murdered nine day Queen. Imagine having such an impact on the landscape hundreds of years after your death. I barely make an impact alive.
I‘ve been waiting for hours. He said to meet on the hill, at the largest oak tree in the park. The oak is surrounded by horse chestnut trees, and a troop of indifferent squirrels compete against each other to collect as many conkers as they can. Gathering them all up and burying them so quickly they’re bound to forget where they’ve put them.
He said he loved me but couldn’t leave his girlfriend. Didn’t want to come out to his brother, his mates. That was a year ago. We’ve since grown closer and he said he was ready. Ready to be with me, so here I am, waiting. The wind rises so I get up and walk around to keep warm. The bracken rustles making me paranoid. Probably from the wind but legend has it grass snakes live here.
I walk around the oak tree, running my fingers on the bark. The roughness reminds me of his hands, calloused from his work and the gym. It starts to rain so I stay under the tree and check my phone to see if he’s messaged. Nothing yet. He said he’d be speaking to his girlfriend today, explaining everything. A big step for him. For us. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this moment forever. I think about Anna, the girlfriend. No clue what’s coming, the shock of losing a partner. The betrayal of a friend. He said she didn’t suspect a thing. That makes it worse, I think.
I pick up some conkers. Feel their dampness, freshly hatched from their spiky green cocoons. Full of potential. A squirrel looks at me as if I’m stealing from it. I put the conkers in my pocket and it flicks its tail and carries on its search.
We worked in the same bar together. Lots of drunken late nights and lock-ins meant we got to know each other well and I became friends with him and Anna. After a few months of drunken flirting and a lot of curious questions from him about being gay, we had a kiss after work. Soon after, we started having sex. In the bar after hours, in an alley behind his house. In their bed when Anna was away. My friends say I’m an idiot for carrying on with him. That I’ll only get hurt and break up a relationship. That I’m a homewrecker. I feel bad but love doesn’t follow logic or good manners. I try to convince myself I’m not a bad person, that following my heart has to be the right thing, the noble thing. That my choices aren’t choices at all. That I’m being pulled along by destiny and the heart must have what it wants.
All bullshit of course. I do have a choice and I’ve chosen to sit under this oak tree waiting for a man to destroy his current relationship for me.
He said he loved me for the first time on Christmas Eve. We’d just had sex on his sofa. Anna had already gone to her parents for Christmas and we’d finished work late so I crashed at his. It felt so good, lying there together under a blanket watching TV, smelling of each other.
I get impatient so to pass the time I join the squirrels and collect more conkers. I put them in a pile and start to arrange them into shapes. I make a large heart with our initials in it, in some naïve attempt at wish fulfilment. Cosmic ordering, sympathetic magic. If I believed in god I’d be praying now, but no self-respecting god would grant a queer the destruction he desires, other than his own.
It’s getting dark now so I get up and walk back to the bench and look to see if he might be climbing the hill. Part of me knows I wont see him. I don’t deserve this happy ending. Is it a happy ending if it comes at the expense of someone else?
The squirrels have gone and the deep, echoing boom of the stags no longer surrounds me. I sit on the bench exposed to the elements. I am wearing his jumper and I pull it up to my face so I can smell him, when my phone vibrates. He isn’t coming. He’s made a mistake. I should not have presumed I could take Anna’s place.
I put my phone in my pocket and stare across the landscape. The solid indifference of it keeps me from breaking down. So many of my dreams disappear, my future contracts and becomes as bleak as this place. I am a headless tree. Stunted, in mourning for an irreplaceable loss. I walk home in the rain.