I did not remove my soft green clothes in the spirit in which I’d put them on, and to be able to smother myself in my bed, unclothed, felt a relief. But that was momentary, broken by the persistent whining of a mosquito. I stuck out my leg, hoping that it would just take some blood and move on.
I woke in daylight, steeped in the ugliness of the previous evening. I needed tea, and sat for a long time staring at the pot as I tried to eliminate my wooziness. Then I was staring at Elly’s file and the notebook, with DVD and glasses sitting on the top. They were never intended by her to be inside the house, I reflected, beginning the line of reasoning that would allow me to burn them. I’d considered, as I’d lain in bed, the idea of taking them back outside and into the places where she’d left them, but after the dismantling of the shed, and Jason’s occupancy of the cottage, these places were no longer available. Linda had indeed put the frighteners on me, and I judged myself to be correct about this, that Elly’s things should not fall into the wrong hands. I would dispose of my finds in the most respectful manner possible, a fire. It had to be the right kind of fire, not one of Jason’s rubbish heaps, so I would have to spend some time making it myself. It wasn’t a task that I’d done before. I’d tended ones that Jason had run out of time to see through, and had to leave; ones that had got out of hand from his shear compulsion to keep the flames alive, along with the ready supply of materials to sacrifice to that end. This wasn’t fire for fire’s sake though.
I didn’t in the least bit mind anyone knowing I was having a fire, most people had them this time of year, but I didn’t want them to see what I was burning, so I prepared some ground on the far side of a line of trees at the farthest end from the footpath. Elly’s notebook provided me with the method of its own demise: I read in it about the effectiveness of thistle-down and dead conifer fronds for tinder, on top of pine cones for the building of a hot bed. It flared quickly and needed constant feeding with twigs and cones, until at last it settled into some logs I introduced from the wood pile. I stopped tending it and stood for a while absorbed in the crackles and spits, making steady alterations to my position as the wind changed direction. When the breeze stabilized I rolled a log upwind of the smoke and sat, pulling the canvas bag with Elly’s things across to my feet. It was heavy and dragged the wet leaves from the mud in a pile ahead of itself. Rather than laboriously feed the papers one by one I lifted the bag and lowered it into the middle of the fire. The central log gave way under its weight and the broken ends rolled outwards in opposite directions. They were still burning as I tried to flick them with sticks back towards the fire’s heart which I feared was going out. It looked like a doughnut now, flames circling the bag at the centre. It took a long time for the fire to make its way back towards the middle and start to singe the papers, but once begun it was aided by some spirited, and rather ominous, gusts of wind. I added a new layer of pine cones to encourage the flames. People came and went along the path, some coughing from the billowing smoke that was being sent that way. I was glad that it provided a screen between us so that I could sit in the fire’s ambit and say a few quiet words to Elly: hoping that she would appreciate the sense of this.
The rain was on its way. It took a while to register that the minute sensations on my face were of cold rain rather than hot ashes, since the day had started out clear and dry. I decided that I could leave the fire to itself. The cones had burned through in a flash, and it was waning now. Anyhow, the rain was getting heavier and would douse it down better than I could have done. I would go inside and make more tea then take it to the bath. That was one luxury, a hot bath, that I wouldn’t in the least resent.
By the morning the weather had gone from wet to cold and got me thinking about what I’d need to get away next time, and worrying that I’d left it too long already. I might have to have a stove. It was into December now, and late enough for the chance of severe cold. Then there was the rain, which in truth was probably more of an issue than any other weather. If I got wet it wasn’t obvious to me how I’d ever get dry again out there. How had Elly coped? I couldn’t recall what it was like last Autumn, let alone the one before. They hadn’t been as nice as this one, I knew that much simply from my own astonishment at September’s sunshine and warmth: remarkable weather. Should I use a tent? Oh I didn’t know, and it annoyed me. Maybe I should, and just try it out in the garden for a week or so; see how it copes with the conditions. Actually, I thought, to see how I cope too because I can’t imagine that I’ll feel any safer sleeping in a tent in the village than in some anonymous field on the way to Scotland.
I’d need to get into the loft again to find the tents. The only one it would make sense to use was Elly’s tiny one-man: her pride and joy when she’d made a point of buying it for herself and had gone out on her own with it for a weekend. I couldn’t remember when that was, but a long time ago anyhow. I’d re-waterproof it then give it a go – that was the plan. Eventually I found it and the first thing that struck me as wrong about it was the noise it made. It rustled so loudly that I’d be completely cut off from perceiving anything else, at least whilst putting it up, but more to the point people would hear me from way off. It was getting into winter now, and when I looked around me, the places I’d have judged good for a bivi a few months ago now stood out, the green shrouds gone. I was going to have to rely on wrinkles in the ground or coniferous woods, considerably harder to find than hedges along deeply cropping Autumnal fields. I tried to persuade myself that the bivi bag would be okay after all, but I wasn’t convinced, even against my strenuous wish. I’d have a hopeless time. Even in September my sleeping bag had got seriously wet with condensation, and in rain and cold the same situation would be a whole lot more of a problem. I didn’t need a test run to know that the tent was the only practical option.