By sean mcnulty
Imogen turned and looked back at him. She was smiling. He wasn’t sure why. She’d longed to scarper earlier. What had changed? Devin moved a little closer to her and asked: How are you, love?
I’m grand, love. Amn’t I in my windbreaker, sure? Always happy to don it, time or place who cares.
It’s not the little black dress I got you, but all the same, you’d catch your death with that on out here.
I might be the only one who doesn’t catch it with this thing on.
You’re chirpy. Is the brain well?
Glad to be out and about. The house gives me the heebie-jeebies. And I just had a nice talk with Everly there. How about you and her hubby? Did you shake and make up?
I won’t be hitting him a box again, if that’s what you mean.
You’ll save that for the farmer, so.
Sure. If it’s called for.
All that violence. Ech.
Huh. First time you’ve complained about my murderous streak. What has changed?
Nothing. Nothing’s changed. Nobody changes. Just back and forth we go from how we once were and how we’d like in time to be perceived.
Hey. We go back and forth on that one too. Yep. I’m frankly sick to the bone now. This is merely a windbreaker smile. Take our spot of de-egotising earlier. Did it soothe, did it save – my hole it did. I should add I’m speaking only for myself on this occasion. I can’t comment on whether or not you have come to discover your higher purpose yet.
I wouldn’t say that. I tried. But I can’t say I haven’t changed; or that I haven’t been moved somewhat to defend the cause of the hippy, even if you wouldn’t catch me out on the streets with them. I have to respect the two Buddhists. They are mad in the head, clearly, with deranged ideas about sex, and a hoity-toitier crowd I don’t believe I’ve ever come across before, but all that said, it’s admirable the unit they’ve formed together. It’s probably all fucked up, of course, and who knows what will come of it, but from the outside, it seems pretty good.
The coupling? Jesus, come out with it, will you. You’re not talking straight this night.
Okay, right, so seeing the hippies in their habitat has been an eye-opener. It’s been good to get out of my head and see these daft things that we’ve seen. Because I think when we get back to town, I’ll have a newfound urge for the next part of my life to get going.
Now you sound like Elder.
I’m not talking about whatever he talks about. I’m talking about...settling, you know.
Ohhhh. You’re all grown up now. That took a minute. Isn’t it fine talk from you?
Make fun all you want.
I will. And the coupling you’re after...
Thought it was obvious. Didn’t I ask for your bloody hand only a few hours ago?
You did. And during the ides of August, I’ll grant you. Which isn’t a square on the calendar known for bad omens...at least, I don’t think it is.
It’s a good ides, is it?
They both went quiet and continued the downward hike.
It wasn’t long after that Devin began singing:
Loor Numb Bonnie Parker...eh Clyde Barrow
Bonnie and Clyde---Bonnie and Cly-ide.
Imogen didn’t sing along. But she held onto her smile
Twenty minutes it took to reach the basin between the hills of Long Gully and Steever. And in that time the sky had made progress in brightening, though it was some hours away from a full dilution. The stars were still there, telling everything under them night was not over, and they were bold and even more piercing against the sadsack-blue of some painter or other’s sadsack period. Over the bog, a light mist lay, like magic smoke. In Devin’s nose, the stench stayed but it had turned from piss to a stale malodour similar to the bromidrosis he frequently picked up at the house. But now it was all around him. He was confused. He worried that perhaps his oversensitive sense of smell was all this time erroneous, or the result of having a so far unrecognised disorder. Parosmia. Phantosmia.
Do you smell that?
Of course, said Imogen. It’s a bog. Begotten to pong.
Around them, the slime was ubiquitous. Even the footwear designed for such terrain, which some had on, was brought to hardship. One who came prepared yet was victim to a constant whirling of mudflakes about her head was Everly Stewart. This is ridiculous, she said, her wellingtons plop-plopping. There’s nobody down here at all.
We could always pick some berries while we’re here, said her husband.
Don’t be a clod, said Sasdy. They were septic all along.
Devin leaned into a small thicket to inspect the berries.
Careful you don’t get a thorn stuck in you, Imogen warned.
He yanked one of the quag-fruits from a sprig and held it up. It was plump, carmine-toned with thin yellow stripes, like a red devil marble.
I’m no berry expert but it could be of the cran sort.
Not a cranberry, MacKenna corrected him. Nor is it any of the other known berry species you’ll find in the bogs of this country. Check any guide, directory, britannica – you won’t find a thing. Yet.
What is it then?
It’s a bogberry – for now.
It would flourish with a better name – if you have that power in you.
MacKenna paused. He’d glimpsed something on Long Gully’s side of the bog. After motioning to the others where he intended to go, he began to cross over, hopping from one solid patch of ground to another. He finally stopped near a small ditch where cotton and asphodel grew – and how strangely they grew, high, looming over the ruptured sod in the shape of Rorschack’s number 9 inkblot. MacKenna remembered the arrangement of plants well because it had made him think of an old lampshade when first they came here, when first they discovered the bog man. The pit from where they had pulled the body was still visible, now a pool of brown rainwater. The others made their way over.
The Stewarts remembered the shape of two dragons embracing; Sasdy remembered a uterus; Devin and Imogen didn’t remember anything at all, but MacKenna quickly informed them about the significance of the ditch. Between them, they refused to comment on the cotton and asphodel formation.
Devin still had the bogberry in his hand.
Don’t do that! Have you no respect for the dead?
Well, it’s not being a grave at the minute. It’s just a puddle. Ever since yous ones pulled off the heist of the century.
This was archaeology, not robbery. Bodies are exhumed for the purposes of education. Exhibition and betterment. Not for a party’s profit.
Sasdy piped up: I believe you’d have us believe what you know right well you don’t believe. We’ve all seen your private colloquy with Elder wherein his face is all flush like the pope that got the parliament. It’s not lost on anyone that you two have coin on the mind.