• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 07
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The Lie of the Land

I learned to draw the sky by tracing the line of solid shapes from one side of the page to the other. Separate things became joined, as if earthquakes never happened and cities came ready built. Years ago I remember sitting in a park, somewhere in China, tracing the zigzag line of mountains against the pearled clouds of dawn.
      We weren’t speaking – the hike up the mountain had drained you; you did not bring water, and you refused mine.
      You looked over my shoulder and said, ‘What’s that?’
      ‘The skyline. You know, where the solid meets the air. Who defines what.’
      You said, ‘Negative space. How do you know about that?’
      ‘I did A’Level Art. Kinetics.’
      ‘I just learned that in architecture,’ you said, as if it were my fault you had not been taught this until your second university year.
      You went to sit on a rock a little a way from me, contemplating the red earth at your feet.
      The sky was changing, more mountains appeared and I had to keep redrawing the line. The sky’s blush spilled over the jagged edges and onto my face, I remember wanting to pull the clouds over my head. I was cold. I became aware you had gone.
      The rock you had been sitting on was flat, stratified as if compressed with the weight of you. I was interested in the scars it carried, impressions of the elements. Can bodies leave such marks?
      I made a rubbing with my red crayon. Rock like bark like skin. I thought I would show it to you when you came back. I sat on your rock, and waited. Some Chinese ladies in quilted jackets and sensible shoes appeared, and climbed past me to sit in the pergola-covered viewpoint.


The Lie of the Land

I did not understand what they were saying but as they picked their way down again, clutching onto the scrub, I thought I heard the words ‘good luck.’

      You did not come back. I passed the time collecting strange pinecones, tearing pieces from my toilet roll to wrap them in, and wondering if it would be OK for me to bring them home. I thought you would probably say no. But maybe you would like them, their architectural potential? It started to rain and the clouds covered the farthest mountains, smudging the skyline. I redrew it once more.

At the hostel you were sitting in the garden with that jumbled group who kept us awake the night before. All of you had empty bowls and chopsticks licked clean. 'You’re back,' you said. 'Show us.'
      I gave you my sketchpad. The others were smoking, and downing tea like alcoholic shots. One of the girls was the type who never had a mother to pack her waterproofs, but it didn’t matter – rain only made her skin fresher, her tangled hair sparkle.
      You looked at my lines crossing over each other, a heart graft of many beats, a temperature chart with too many readings traced over each other, vibrations made by the land in the air.
      'You should have turned the page,' you said.