Saturday, August 6, 2016

ALTERNATIVE WAY. A short story By K.D. Knight

A short story
By K.D. Knight
“…man can be indolent while the fox is always industrious.”

Guiltily, as if walls have eyes, Laura makes a note in a leather-imitating diary, the cardboard that is its rigidity poking through at the corners; an unwanted and, until now, disregarded Christmas present. It is November, and ‘Riding?’ ‘Daniel?’ are unnecessary and first entries. Her life has hit the buffers and she is in need of distraction, if not a glimmer of hope. When the invitation was extended it seemed something to look forward to, to return for a day to the pastime of youth. Yet at her heart the tingle of anticipation clashes with the fear of condemnation.
Her Tablet and mobile phone were ‘lost’ during the protest at the Hunt’s opening Meet where she was groped and assaulted by pro-hunt supporters. The police ignored her complaints, though they arrested Dean, her partner, and charged him with aggravated assault and criminal damage. To local anarchists and saboteurs Dean is a hero, a martyr to the cause. Unfortunately, it is not his first brush with the law.
If he knew she was thinking of taking up horse riding again he would be livid with her. If he knew she was intending to go riding with Daniel Fordbridge, on whose family estate the Hunt regularly meet, he would be incandescent with rage. Not that ordinarily he is an angry young man. When not stoned on whatever drug or legal high his friends have given him, or worse for drink, Dean is kind and compassionate. It is his social conscience that sets him apart; his hatred for the upper classes who inherit their wealth, their influence, ‘who allow their money to work for them, who sit idly around in luxury, while conspiring to ensure the poor continue to be trampled upon’. Luckily for Laura, Dean is banged up in prison and facing his second stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
Putting the diary into a cloth bag, her eye strays to the unpleasantness of the squat that is presently ‘home’. It is Dean who calls it ‘home’ and without his presence she can see it for what it is. For a moment she allows herself to remember the night they broke in; the expertise Dean displayed at house-breaking, the joy in his eyes in providing them with a roof over their heads, his pride in acquiring a boarded-up corner shop fitted with all the mod-cons of ordinary, if illegal, living.
The memories, as she stands transfixed by the plight of her situation, ping-pong in her mind’s eye between the never-to- be-forgotten and things said and done that she wishes had never occurred. And as she begins to shed the stoic reserve she has applied to her situation tears of shame and self-pity cascade down her freckled cheeks. The little there is belong to Dean, including the mattress she has never become accustomed to sleeping on, to her hand grazing grimy floorboards when she rolled over in the night. There is nothing of her surrounding her. Without Dean, she is a trespasser.

Only her love for Dean has kept acceptance of her demise at bay for so long. Now though, as she walks the long snaking, tree-lined drive, her conscience is threatening to become a weapon of self-destruction. ‘It is wrong’ a voice in her head insists. ‘It’s a betrayal of Dean and all he believes in; of everything he has railed against.’ Her mother claimed that Dean ruined her, smothered all her good aspects and turned her into a model of himself. He didn’t. He didn’t. “He didn’t,” she finally exhales, sheep raising their eyes to query the relevance of her presence.
So why is the green landscape, even under a grey sky, a pleasant reminder of times before Dean? Even the suggestion that the tractor driver ploughing an adjacent field has recognized her does not deflect from the comforting feeling of having escaped her every day existence. Paradoxically, because he would rather be castrated than tip his cap to the haute monde, she wishes Dean was with her, energizing her with talk of anarchy and sex, quoting Karl Marx and…
“Who are you?” The blunt enquiry comes accompanied by a blur of tweed and a tail-wagging Rottweiler. It is not a question, though. It is a vague warning that unless there is valid reason for her presence on Fordbridge land the Rottweiler will be loosed and her death will be of her own account. When she has recovered what remains of her poise Laura looks to see if she can put a face to the all-around tweed. The dog is seated, his demeanor hinting at delight in seeing someone with a non-threatening outlook on life. “Well? There is no right of way, you know that, don’t you?”
Despite the virulence of attitude between them, lower class and upper class are far enough apart for no cross-contamination to occur.
The elderly misanthrope has no power beyond the duplicitous Rottweiler, even though she is the legal dominatrix of the estate. Unlike her ancestors she has no staff, no shot-gun touting estate manager to safeguard life and limb from the vagaries of the hoi-polloi.
Laura is aware no right of way exists. If she had her way, though, people would have the right to trample over every square inch of the Fordbridge estate and every other ancestral home in the land. Or is that Dean’s opinion? Has she become his spokesperson now he is removed from hostilities? She is about to vocalize the anti-hereditary viewpoint when a male voice intercedes.
“That’s okay, mother. It’s Miss Acton come for a riding lesson. I told you, remember, at breakfast.”
“I thought you said Elton. I thought Cynthia Elton was too old to start riding again. Get your money before you leg her up.” She allows her accusation of untrustworthiness to float with the breeze and potters away, her walking stick seemingly too fast for her feet. The dog reluctantly follows.
“My apologies, Laura. We can choose our friends but not our family. I would shoot every last one of them but they have more experience with weaponry and I would doubtless be the one to end-up in the family crypt.” He laughs at his humor but stops abruptly when he sees indecision spreading across Laura’s face. “I’ll have to get you a hard hat. Can’t have you going about bare-headed. Strictly health and safety here, you know.”
Alone, waiting for Daniel to appear from the tack-room with a selection of hard hats, none of which will be comfortable if even one of them fits, her eyes wander the red-brick courtyard with its clock-tower, its mechanism, after all these years, still in need of repair. Horses and ponies look out from centuries old stables and from somewhere out of sight but close by she can hear music, the movement of hooves upon sand and the soft voice of instruction. The familiarity is a forbidden pleasure, coaxing her conscience to call a truce to hostilities, to cease enquiring why she is not scared of the situation she has placed herself in, why she is not anxious about the type of horse Daniel will mount her on?
“Hasn’t changed much has it? Installed a ménage, of course. Had to, Suzi couldn’t do without one.” He is clutching, almost juggling an assortment of riding hats. “I keep spares. You’ll be surprised how many people come for lessons without a helmet.”
Distracted by the artfulness of her conscience, Laura must puzzle over who Suzi might be and what part she plays in Daniel’s life and why it concerns her? And yet again Dean’s pervasive ideology looms over her and she must wonder how she would explain herself if Dean were to know about her presence in ‘enemy country’?

“Man is a complex beast. He is composed as a set of Russian dolls, his mind, emotions, heart and physicality as connected as they are uniform in their individuality.”
They are riding on a path through a ribbon of trees. It is cool, almost cold. Daniel sits astride a large grey horse, its mane in long plaits as if it is being readied for a show. Laura is on a mare, smaller and stockier, easier to handle. When Daniel was tacking up, insisting that as the client she must allow him to do all the work, she involuntarily found herself comprising an inventory of the destruction she might cause if given the opportunity. The hay-barn seemed an obvious target, and the tack-room. Or the garages of the big house or its large vegetable garden. Yet now, riding alongside Daniel as he tries to entertain her with his intellect and tales of his equestrian life, revenge on behalf of Dean seems like an attack on sanity. But it is what Dean would expect of her, what until a few days ago she might have expected of herself.
“’The Centipede was happy quite, Until the Toad in fun Said, ‘Pray which leg goes after which?’ And worked her mind to such a pitch, She lay distracted in the ditch, Considering how to run.’”
Laura knows he expects her to smile at the old jingle. To gain herself a moment to clear her thoughts she reaches forward to return a cheek-piece to its keeper. But then they are at a gate and she must admire Daniel’s dexterity and horse-control as he leans down to release the catch, urging his horse forward with gentle pressure from his legs and heels, the horse pirouetting around the gate, her own horse walking forward as if the grey is her personal servant.

She rode at every opportunity when younger, before Dean stole her heart and remodeled her to become the woman he had need of. She even rode to hounds, a shame that is her ugliest secret.
“How are your parents these days? We could go into the woods if you care to? Jump a few fallen trees.”
A cold shiver of terror runs like an express down her spine. The mare reacts to the spasm of nervousness by pattering into an uncoordinated trot until innate ability kicks in and Laura calmly pulls her back to a walk, patting her neck and comforting her in a way she feels more in need of than the horse. The idea of jumping thrills her; it is the thought of talking about her parents in which lies the terror.
“The coming-together of the classes has come about too rapidly for society to adjust without conflict. We are like children; we cling to that we know. Hunting people, the devoted diehards like my father and his brothers, are appalled by the prospect of having change imposed on them. They are not bad people. My Uncle Harry has donated millions of pounds to charity over the course of his life. But I dare say when bear-baiting and cock-fighting were outlawed there were similar outbreaks of ‘life-will- never-be- the-same’. If only the Hunt Masters would grasp the present

legislation as an opportunity to secure riding across country for generations into generations.”
But before she can agree or disagree he is setting the grey at the five-bar gate into the wood, no doubt in desire of impressing her, firing images of Dean onto her heart, his voice echoing contempt for everything Daniel Fordbridge stands for. And for a moment she loathes him, too. Until he returns to open the gate, doffing his hat and smiling. “Ma’am. After you.” And long lost emotions trickle upon her heart.

She is pleased to have the hard hat off her head. She cannot remember when she last washed her hair with shampoo and cannot help but think the sweat of exertion is making her smell like the manure heap. A girl groom comes from a stable to take the mare from her and an attack of guilt sweeps over her, as if she had just allowed her social conscience to be taken from her. The girl is young and vulnerable, easy to take advantage of, as she believes she has just done.
“We’ll have a cup of tea and then we can watch Suzi school her dressage horse,” Daniel suggests, throwing his saddle over the door of an empty stable. She cannot decline as tea and a rest is everything her body craves, so she must acquiesce and accumulate more guilt, more sin, to hide from Dean when she next visits him. “There is something I wanted to talk to you about,” he announces, removing the bridle and allowing the grey to find his own stable. “It was something you said when I gave you a lift to the police station, when Dean, that’s his name, isn’t it, was arrested.”
As she waits for Daniel to put away his bridle she spies a 4 X 4 arrive. A large woman in jodhpurs and a hacking jacket removes herself from its leathered interior with the clumsiness of a hippo descending a flight of stairs, advancing towards the stables as in wait of lackeys and a sedan chair, every stitch of clothing giving the impression it is holding back a tidal wave of fat. Daniel apologies and calls for Suzi. “Mrs. Stock,” he informs Laura, suggesting that in their presence has come someone whose monetary value exceeds even a belief in a higher deity. “She’s early. Suzi takes her lessons.”
Laura must witness Mrs. Stock being preened and petted, her horse brought to her, the poor beast held still at the mounting block as she drapes herself inelegantly across his broad back; the unstable pairing make their way to the ménage and whatever fate awaits them. All the while Suzi can be heard praising the chubby hands and wobbly backside of someone who gives the impression she is learning to ride in order to defy the laws of gravity. Daniel waits at the gate smiling shamelessly, his love of monetary reward as evident as the spring loves daffodils. Laura is sickened by the spectacle of a wealthy woman indulging herself with a pleasure she has no right to, a pleasure denied to the more bodily suitable echelons of society.
Forsaking tea, she makes her exit, remembering as she reaches Mrs. Stock’s car that the twenty-pound note is still in her pocket, that today was a paid excursion back to her past, to remind herself of that part of her which Dean denies. As she dithers, knowing Dean by now would be running, not paying being one of his favorite hobbies, Daniel calls to her, reminding her of the cup of tea she cannot now accept. “Well at least she paid you. Not that was the point of the exercise, of course.” Suzi laughs, mimicking his mother and ruffling his hair as she takes her mug to rinse out under the cold tap in the tack room sink. “Your parents may think of you as the black sheep who refuses to play by Fordbridge rules, but the rest of us are rooting for you.”
“We are a family of black sheep. For a while Robert was the blackest of us all. Until my mother warmed to you.”
Suzi is married to Daniel’s elder brother, Robert. The livery yard, the riding school, the equestrian education, is a joint venture, the two of them unified in desire of having dung under their fingernails and fresh air in their lungs. “When she discovered my antecedents are pure council estate Robert was certain he would be disinherited. We were ready to elope to Gretna Green. I thought she would die of heart seizure when you told her you were going to give up the Inns of Court for this.”
He laughs at the memory as she again messes with his tangled hair. “Robert always was the luckiest of the black sheep,” he tells her.

Accompanying a solicitor, Laura has visited Dean. Seeing him shackled by a system his belief in social justice and fair play cannot defeat, his dynamic personality abused by an authority determined to break his spirit, she thought she would cry. The solicitor advised Dean to plead guilty and offer contrition. But Dean will do neither. He is a martyr; he will never rest until he has made his mark. He asked her to remain loyal to the cause and she said ‘always’, though instinctively she crossed her fingers behind her back when she made the pledge. She has never attended a protest on her own. With Dean it was scary and exciting; proud of herself for being with the man at the center of things, the man who when trouble stirred was a general marshalling troops, the hero of the hour.
Just as she decided not to go on the protest one of Dean’s mates came to the squat to remind her, to ask if there were any special instructions, as if she were now the stand-in commander-in- chief. He was ‘mad for it’, he kept emphasizing. The greater the violence the more chance of getting on the local news, he advised her as he sat on the mattress, smoking cannabis, proud to relate his criminal record. He used to be a football hooligan and now got his kicks disrupting hunts and causing aggro on English Defense League marches. It shocked her that she could feel no affiliation with him, no unification of cause. He wanted to kick and punch, to cause harm to horse and hound; she wanted to end the cruel pursuit of foxes for sport. He was Dean’s mate and that hurt her more deeply than she could fully understand.

The Countryside Alliance have pulled a fast one. The rally, advertised for two-thirty, convened at one-o’clock. It is an open-air meeting, with huntsman in red coats on horseback, hounds and hunting horns. Stirrup-cups of mulled wine are passed to the public, along with leaflets outlining why hunting, shooting and fishing are vital to the economies of both country and the countryside.
It is the country tradition, cup-in- hand, come to the heart of the town.
The conviviality is a red rag to anti-hunt protestors who are late to the party and have no stomach for stirrup-cups. As they move amongst the half-interested audience, first in two and threes and then mob-handed, the police also move in, arresting anyone remotely threatening unrest. ‘Redblood’, the shaven-headed mate of Dean’s, throws the first punch, knocking a huntsman to the ground, before standing on his hunting horn and kicking the man in the stomach. “Why is it wrong,” he addresses the horrified crowd. “To commit violence on a hunter, yet it is okay for the hunter to tear to shreds a living, breathing animal?” It is a fair question, yet he legs it before anyone can answer him, a policeman in hot pursuit.
Petty disturbance spreads around the town center with slow efficiency, cameramen chasing the action. Children, more interested in the hounds and horses than the politics, scream and go in search of parents. But the police are organized and start to arrest protestors in numbers that soon deplete what forces they have managed to assemble. Laura watches in silence. She feels no pride in what is happening. She is an anti, will be all her life. Animals are important to her, as is the propagation of a society without violence. Yet she has witnessed a protestor try to knife a hound. It is a defining moment.
But it is not the defining moment. Above the clamor of disarray, the blunt enforcement of law and order, she hears a familiar voice. Where before the megaphone only broadcasted the rhetoric of propaganda, now a more reasoned voice strives for attention. A starting pistol is fired and for a moment everyone’s attention is centralized. Above a chorus of boos Daniel Fordbridge begins his first speech in defense of an ‘alternative way’, as he refers to his proposed settlement of differences between hunter and anti.

Laura walks home alone. She would like to have gone home with Daniel. They have a lot of catching up to do. When she paid her twenty pounds the past was not referred to, though if she had stayed for tea they might have got round to reminiscing about their Pony Club days. But firing starting pistols in public is an offence and in a spirit of fair play Daniel too was arrested.
She will not be seeing Dean again.
“I ride to hounds. Always have, always will. If I have the opportunity.” She was disgusted when she heard his opening statement. She had almost booed. Yet she suspected something significant was to follow. So she had moved closer, risked becoming involved in the pushing and shoving, and listened more intently. “Broadly,” he continued. “I am in favor of what is known as fox-hunting. Not the disgusting aspect of it. No good human should be in favor of violence, especially to a living creature of noble stature.” It was then she realized that Daniel remained the Daniel of the Pony Club.

She has found herself at the bus stop she waited at all those years ago when she visited her parents. She had planned to return to the squat to collect her meagre belongings but the thought of sleeping one more night on that awful mattress changed her mind.
“How can an activity be stopped, be banned overnight, that gives employment to so many people, and not only those directly employed by the hunts? Farriers, saddlers, harness-makers, vets, garages, hay and straw merchants, feed suppliers?” Still Daniel talks to her, ever distancing her from the views of Dean.
There will be no bus to the village where her parents live until Monday. Not that it matters. They often go away for the weekend. Or they used to. The bus stop is a stone construction, cozier than the steel and Perspex variety, with only the graffiti giving it the feel of something modern. And it keeps out the wind and the worst of the rain.
“At a time when science is proving animals are more intelligent and sensitive than ever imagined, when animals are attaining legal rights to a humane and dignified life, hunting is a beacon of animal husbandry, giving horses an active life, a second life for retired racehorses, show-jumpers, eventers. It is also the best teaching ground for young and inexperienced riders and young horses. In an equestrian sense riding across country is indispensable.”
Dean said that horses used for hunting would be better off in a can. When he talked so uncaringly about animals a depression would descend upon her and she would light up a spliff or open a bottle of whatever alcohol Dean had stolen from the supermarket.
It is as if a hand is reaching out from the ether to pull her back from memories that have no comfort. “I understand and fully endorse the thrill of riding in open countryside, the camaraderie of friends, the evocative sound of the hunting horn and the bray of the hounds. But why is the experience only made whole by the terrible killing of the fox? How can we construct a peaceful, non-violent society when we have Government and intelligent, animal-loving people in wanton desire to kill an animal that is no threat to human life?”
He was, of course, her first love, her only love if it were not for Dean. At Pony Club she adored him, ever envious of his skill in the saddle, his love of horses, the easy way he had with them, even the headstrong and the uneducated. When she was eleven she was scared of him. At twelve she envied him. He was the ‘knob’ from the big house who would be driven to meets by a groom in a fancy horsebox, while she had to hack along busy roads. At thirteen she dreamed of growing up and becoming his groom. At fourteen she would have died just to hold his hand.
“We live in different times. The fox is not vermin. It does not live under the floorboards or spread disease. If the fox gets in the chicken shed, it only proves that man can be indolent while the fox is always industrious. Confining chickens in a shed is abnormal. The fox stemming its hunger is natural. If you kill the fox that kills your chickens he will be replaced by the son. Kill the son and you will need also to kill the grandson. Leaving the chicken shed open is man’s excuse for persecution and defilement of all that puts man above other species of life.”
The road is all but deserted, with only the occasional lorry and taxi to distract her from her thoughts. The houses opposite are darkened, televisions switched off, their occupiers gone to bed. Only one light remains, perhaps on a stairway, and the lady who lives there has stopped going up and down the stairs. Even she has lost interest in why Laura waits at a bus stop where no bus will stop until Monday morning.
“This is not a battle of the social classes, of do-gooders wanting to infect the brutish hunter with sentimentality. The world has changed. Even in the countryside there are more people opposed to hunting foxes than support it. People will always want to ride across country. Farmers and landowners are under great financial strain. Instead of Hunts requesting permission to ride across private land, what if landowners, for a fee, had the Hunts lay a scent and then charge the horse-riding public for the privilege of riding across country. Let us unite and embrace the leisure industry.”   And then he turned to face the Country Alliance, the bristling men in red coats, men and women who think it their right to do as they please. “Protect this activity we call hunting. Let it live for a thousand years. It does more good than harm, doesn’t it? Or should do. How can we live in a world free of violence when you insist on the freedom to kill! To see the hunt in full-cry is a wonderful spectacle. Why spoil it? Why associate it with bear-baiting, dog-fighting and the abject cruelty of man at his utmost depth of depravity? Embrace a new age. Save our privilege to ride across country, as we have done for a thousand years. Adapt. I beg you.”
It was at that precise moment she stopped loving Dean. Or when the enthrallment fell from her eyes. When she realized that no one had thought to bridge the divide; that Daniel was striving to have the saboteur shake hands with the hunter.

It is Sunday morning and Laura has come to her senses. She has returned to the squat to gather together Dean’s belongings to take to him. She needs a fresh start; to bring this rebellious phase of her life to a close. Dean is not wholly bad. He deserves respect. Where would she be if he had not looked after her?
But all is not as it should be on a quiet Sunday morning. The owner of the corner shop is seemingly intent on re-taking possession, unlocking the front door as if it is a new experience to him, the driver’s door of his big 4 x 4 gaping open, the engine still running, as if he fears having to run for his life. “Shop opening not. Soon. Not now,” he tells her in the angry manner of a man in want of being alone.
Dean altered the interior, opening up a fireplace and burning everything made of wood. He did not tamper, though, out of respect, with the alterations the shop-keeper had made to the stockroom in which he housed the family of illegal immigrants, all of whom died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The deceased were buried, the shop-keeper sent to prison, but no one had repaired the boiler. They, too, would have perished if Dean had not rescued the situation; had not carried her to safety; had not returned to the squat to disable the boiler.
Even the police listened to Daniel. They only arrested him after he stepped down from the podium. When she saw what was happening she rushed toward him, wanting to speak up for him, but he only acknowledged her with a smile. It was like when they were school children at the local Pony Club – even then he would only smile at her.
She is hungry but only has enough money for the bus ride home. If it is home. If her mother’s promise holds true. If her prolonged absence has not warped the maternal bond.
But then she remembers the Pony Club and Daniel arriving in his fancy horsebox, with the pretty groom at the steering wheel, always dreaming that one day she might be employed to replace the pretty groom. And it is this old dream that hunger insists she should grasp. Already, as she begins the long walk toward the Fordbridge Estate, a walk far longer than the distance to her parents’ house, she can imagine sleeping in the horsebox if there is nowhere else to house her, of working seven days a week to justify her presence. She is used to degradation; it is second-nature to her. And when Dean is released from prison she can educate him in ‘The Alternative Way’ and Daniel will smile at her as he used to do in the past.

About the Author
K.D. Knight Makes No Bold Claims About His Work. He Writes Because The Need To Write Is His Greatest Need In Life; Perhaps His Only Personal Need. He Believes Only The Reader Can Gauge The Worth Of A Writer; And After Decades Of Writing Without A Readership He Is Now Ready To Share His Fiction With The Public And Suffer The Criticism Of The Only Critic That Matters, The Reader.

K.D. Knight Does Not Set Out To Write As Others Do And His Website Will Reflect His Personality, His Ethos, And Will Not Be A Gallery Of Self-Claim Or Self-Congratulation. Indeed, His Hand Will Be Far From The Page!

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