Jack did not answer. He just headed off down the tree-lined path in front of her, howling, kicking up the autumn leaves in his excitement, setting off a mini-avalanche of soil and stones in his wake. The dog led the way downhill into the shrouded valley, as Angela struggled to keep up with him, a sluggish stream just visible, as a livid scar in the valley below.
‘Jack, Jack.’ She shouted in vain, setting off after him at a run, fallen twigs snapping under her determined tread.
She knew she had to concentrate to get them home safe before dark. She had been distracted, not just that afternoon when she had fled the cottage storming into the forest; getting them lost as she raged at nature. But ever since they had run away, half way across the world to a country that seemed permanently damp, trees sagging under the weight of the Welsh rain.
Angela felt herself losing her balance long before she toppled. Watching as the accumulated leaves on the hill cartwheeled ahead, a reddish brown tornado disturbed by her stumbling feet; her coccyx smacked the ground hard as she fell.
‘Good-oof!’ Angela cried.
The impact forced the air from her lungs as she slid down the hill. Her head bouncing side to side as she slid over the ground, her long hair trailing after her snagging pulling strands from her scalp as she slid on. Her pink cagoule rucking up as she slid helter-skelter down the slope, bare back scraping over twigs and tree roots.
She came to rest in the floor of the valley, her back and head aching. Winded she just lay staring up at the narrow sliver of grey cloud heavy sky just visible among the trees that loomed angrily over her. Their skeletal branches questing upwards for the light, for the chlorophyll that she knew would make the trees burst back into life come next spring.
Cautiously, she felt her belly it was the only part of her that did not hurt. No sign yet that anything had changed since the pregnancy test. In her anger she had left it discarded in the sink, where Bryn could find it if he made it back to the cottage before she returned.
She did not think she had deliberately fallen. Just like the night back in Philadelphia when they had met and she had stumbled into Bryn’s arms by accident; the handsome red haired man had wrapped his strong arms about her and he had been holding her ever since.
When they had married she had just assumed, but doctors, hormones, nothing worked – she stubbornly remained barren. Until they stopped trying, only then did she fall pregnant.
They both laughed at that phrase, falling pregnant a reminder of how Angela had stumbled her way into Bryn’s arms. And all had gone well until the sonogram, until the doctor saying the foetus was not viable. She had been falling ever since.
‘Aah.’ She moaned, levering herself up into a sitting position. She checked her back her hand coming away red, slick with blood oozing from the wounds. But she did not think she was bleeding anywhere else. She did not know if that was a good thing or not.
Angela looked around. Jack stood a little way off, his feet in the shallow stream head dipped, long tongue lapping setting off ripples on the surface of the frigid water.
‘Jack I ache. All of me. I don’t know if I can risk this again.’ Her hand rested on her belly as she spoke.
Jack lifted his grey wolf-like head, his snow white chest sparkling with water droplets and gave a bark. The sharp sound echoed down the length of the valley, in and out of the trees that huddled together shivering in the strengthening wind.
She stood, began walking slowly putting one foot in front of the other haltingly, the aches and pains of the fall making her body feel as if she was learning to walk anew. She started to make her way down the valley searching for the path.
Angela knew what it was she feared most, Bryn’s optimism, his boyish faith that it would be okay. It was like he did not get that losing another baby could tear her apart from the inside. If the fear did not get her first, the what-ifs, that crowded in on her, the what-ifs that shaped things.
Jack had stopped by a tree and was staring back at her expectantly. She realised how blind she had been, because there quite clearly were the letters A and B that Bryn had carved on a tree to mark the path that led back to the cottage. She turned uphill setting her sight on home.