:: Article

The Girl in the Grass

By Leigh Linley.

‘Why’d you do it?’
 
‘There was a girl. In the grass…’

I always had the camera around my neck. No one at school bothered me about it; I guess it was my thing. Better than being into guitar music or smoking; not that I didn’t do both secretly. Taking pictures was my public thing. I was the quiet guy who dressed in black, bothered no-one and just took stupid pictures. Suited me fine.   I always walked home from school alone. No-one else lived toward my end of the town; my family were kind of rural; not too far out of the village but remote enough. My parents didn’t know that I hardly ever took the roads home – my route home took place almost entirely under the canopy of trees.  I preferred it that way. I liked walking along the green belt, prowling among the grass and scrub, sneaking through the trees. I was hidden, although I secretly wished I didn’t have to wear a white shirt to school. Something in green would have been better, I guess.
 
In the winter it got kind of scary sometimes; the darkness was total in some places, the twisted trees moving to catch me in their spindly arms as I hurried past. I think this was where my photography bug came from – I got to see the seasons in all their glory and I didn’t stop taking pictures. As winter was heavy and black, summer was green and heady; sometimes the sheer multitudes of scents that would fill my nostrils in spring would make me a little dizzy and I would have to stop for a second to take it all in.  I witnessed life and death, birth and re-birth, all through the lens of my Polaroid. An oak tree; four different colours through the year. A dead bird, snuggled in the equally – as – dead leaves, decaying as if made of sand, eroded by the wind. I snapped them all, the polaroids coming home with me, my little babies, my little mysteries, laid lovingly in one of the many albums I had growing in a leather-bound pile in the corner of my room. When I would look at them, as I did every week, the room filled with the sounds, smells and light of each picture. When I looked in that album, I was there.
 
It was summer when I first saw her.
 
The air was thick, really thick; I was spitting constantly as my mouth and eyes kept getting invaded by midges. My tie was off and in my schoolbag, my shirt sleeves were rolled up. I clambered through the woods and came into the clearing – an old bull-field that was overgrown now. The willowy, yellow grass grew to knee-length but never really got much higher. It was circled by a small, crumbling stone wall.
 
At first I thought it was a piece of torn fabric caught on a long stem; the flashes of white caught my eye as I followed the line of the wall round. Then she stood up, and I instinctively dropped. She looked about the same age as me (fourteen) but was dressed simply, not like a local girl at all. No make-up. No jewellery. Just fair skin and curly hair; hair the same colour as the clumps of dying, sunburned grass that she stood among. I don’t know what she was doing; she just seemed to be slowly dancing, her hands moving in circles, her lips moving only just; a song, a little hummed melody pushed by the breeze over to me. She hadn’t seen me. The sunlight framed her, it caressed her arms and face with blushing colour and held her up for me, ready for me to take.
 
I pulled up the camera, and took a shot.
 
The picture fizzed out of the end of the machine and was immediately placed in my back pocket.
 
I took another one. My mouth was dry.
 
She looked over.
 
I dived onto the dry grass, belly first. When I got up, she had vanished.
 
She was there the next day, though. And the one after that. In fact, I shot her every day for about a month. I thought about her all the time; there were so many questions I wanted to know the answers to, but speaking to her just seemed out of the question, as if she was too delicate, too ethereal for actual physical contact. I didn’t want to reduce her to smoke. She was perfect enough, I guess, in the camera. The air provided her backdrop, the wind pulled her hair out and twisted it around her face, hypnotising me. I was captured. School became nothing to me. I waited all day for that clock to hit three and I was gone, vanished, returned to my natural world.
 
After a while, I wondered whether she knew I was there; whether my covert operations were indeed only a spectacle for her, whether I was playing a part in her play. I would think these things as I sat in my room, poring over the pictures, all laid in a row like a flattened zoetrope. Sometimes I would get hard and stare at my cock, not really knowing what to do but knowing that somehow, in the way the earth spins and ages a tree over a year, this was all linked. It was natural order; my roots violated the earth through the soles of my feet much the same as hers.  She became part of my day, as infallible as the school dinner bell.
 
When she vanished for good, I blacked out for a while. All these years later, I can’t remember too much from this period. I can remember standing in the field, bolt upright, scared of being noticed no more; then my paranoia would swing again and I would drop, crouch for hours, sometimes until it got dark. I would hide there primed, camera ready, my little black eyes shining in the pitch like one of the fear-frozen rats I would seek out along the stream, seconds before the marble would speed out of my catapult and slam into that slick-furred ribcage.
 
Defeated. Defeated I would walk home, defeated I would retire to bed, defeated I would fall asleep with my pillow covered in her pictures.   
 
I grew up, as one does. The seasons don’t look like they used to.  I moved to the city for good and took my camera with me. There are plenty of girls here for me to shoot, whether they know about it or not. My journey to find another like her has led me to many dead ends and keeps me moving across the country with only newspaper headlines detailing someone else’s view of my acts following me. I don’t pay much attention to them – I just look at the pictures, my pictures and I am there again, in the seasons of my youth.
 
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LL: This is a story of childhood innocence and the birth of an obsession. The story is dedicated to Sarah Wickham. For further listening, see ‘Carry Me, Ohio’ by Mark Kozelek.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leigh Linley was born in 1980 in Leeds, Yorkshire. He has held various jobs since his birth, including working in the family butcher’s shop and in a cinema, which was the most fun. his future plans include reading Moby Dick, meeting TOOL and studying Zen -Level Tapas Preparation. He is currently looking for a publisher for his second novel, ‘Preservation’. His heroes are Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Anthony Bourdain and Chas Ray Krider.
 

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, October 14th, 2007.