AOIFE INMAN – NOVEL EXTRACT
Moss Grows Here Too
They sat across from each other for a long while, both mute, each staring into a bleak mid-distance of their own construction. It was as if they were positioned within two separate rooms of the house; both seemingly unaware of, or at least disillusioned by, the other’s presence. Grace was turned to face the door of the parlour, her small, birdlike frame twisted in a tall-backed chair. It was a visibly uncomfortable pose and yet she seemed quite content to remain there, mouth moving soundlessly across the pages of the volume spread across the arm of the seat. However she did not appear to be reading; her eyes moved far too fast, sometimes darting around the perimeters of the room as though they had fallen off the edge of the page. Meanwhile, in the opposing chair, Nathaniel was barely visible. His face was enveloped in a stagnant cloud of cigarette smoke, eyes turned towards the empty grate of the fireplace, his expression stoic. Behind the grey shroud of smoke his body had sunk itself into the upholstery of the armchair until his hips and chest were almost fully enveloped in the grey fabric. His posture, stooped and folded in the middle, was unnaturally still; a motionlessness that removed any trace of vitality. Immobility gave his skin a sort of pale, waxy sheen. He resembled a doll arranged for display in the window of some ghastly toyshop of oddities. Only his eyes gave away the illusion of miniaturism. They shuddered every so often from their focus, as if hunting something hidden in the forest green of the hearth wall.
The paint had not always been green, he thought, as he tracked it with his eyes. Another streak of strangeness in the house he’d dreamed of many times. Or perhaps he had never thought to look before, that was plausible as well. Walls, chairs, hands, nails – these were all little things, lost with ease, like pennies in deep pockets. But there was no mistaking the wall’s colour now. It was a deep, thick green, rich and cold, like the moss that coated the trees outside. The colour made the room cold, if that was possible.
That wall and France, they weren’t too dissimilar in that respect, he mused. Both green, both lush, and yet both lacking. Both had been left with a chill that dipped into men’s bones – a cold that hollowed you, despite fires and blankets, despite the warmth of the summer air.
Everything about those French woods had been dank and soft, rotten to the core he’d thought as he’d walked through them. It should have been a joyous moment in some ways. Those trees and the blanket of green turf that rolled out beneath them had been the first green shoots they had seen in a long while. For months his company had lived like moles, burrowing through a blind world of mud and earth. They had slept with their heads tilted onto vertical piles of it. Their only connection to nature, the real, living sort, had been the roots of old trees – long since obliterated – that tickled their ears and dug knots in their backs as they slept. For this reason Nathaniel had assumed that their first taste of woodland would have seemed somewhat sweeter. He had imagined it would have reminded him of home, of an England he still dreamt of, with rolling hills and air that felt sharp – instilled with freshness. But those French woods, like the rest of the damned country, were tainted by the war. It had soured even the French grass; the dew of morning mists had become a damp slurry that penetrated their bones and crevices just as the mud had done. No, the fields were no better than the earth beneath them.
Aoife is a writer and journalist from Oxford. She is currently studying for her PgT Masters in History at the University of Manchester.