An artist and a writer, Kathleen Jennings occupies two worlds. In her story for us this week, the picture she paints of a small town comes together in paced glimpses. It will haunt you for far longer, even after you’ve finished reading.
~ Julian Yap, March 13, 2022.
On the Origins of the Population of Wakeford
Greenfall Guesthouse (as it is now called) has rested on a hill above Wakeford almost as long as that town has existed—we do not, in fact, know which was founded first. Ever since the house’s upper windows were first set into the walls, years before we knew ourselves, we have crowded against the uneven glass and sensed the thin-curled smoke of the little town, the fool’s-gold glitter of the Wake running below it. When the intervening branches are bare as a veil, we can make out the old ford, the new bridge, and the bridges that came after it—beads on a string. By night, there are sometimes bonfires below, sometimes bells; more often there is only a yew-dark peace, gravely quiet beneath the stars.
From Wakeford, trees wash in waves up the slope toward Greenfall House. They roof the steep and seldom-traveled road: beech and oak and ash striding with holly and nettles about their knees, and, as the hill rises, clusters of pines standing in their still pools of rust-red needles. There have been times when the hills were cleared, and times when they were planted, but lately the woods have been left to grow. Only we, watching from above—and an occasional startled rambler following very old paths indeed—can point out the straggled line of cherry trees from a long-overgrown orchard, or the unstable cairn of a covered well, or the mossy marker of a grave far from the boundary of any known churchyard. To newcomers approaching Greenfall, this wall of leaves must look as if it has grown there since the beginning of the world.
But here at Greenfall the woods are drawn into runnels and labyrinths, and diverted around its neat green yard. This has lately become a small lawn, although for long years it has been gardens, and more than once a marshalling point. Now silver-splintering deck chairs recline on the cropped turf, supporting visitors whose faces change like shuffled cards. When they are absent, the ragged cat sleeps there, but it always wears its own face.
We cannot leave the building, but we look down on the grass, which, in daylight, is flounced with blowsy ginger hens. The hedges are frilled seasonally with irises or ice. More than once, brief as a falling star, there has been a tattered peacock seeking refuge from a greater house, finding solitary solace in a scream like empty halls. At night, crisp with moonlight, the lawn becomes as much a road as that to Wakeford, although rather busier. Its nocturnal traffic is soft-footed, and able to see better in the dark.