Heaven is for forest bathers

Heaven is for Forest Bathers by

You never thought bathing was something to do in the forest, although you never said.

 

You were just there.

 

Unequivocally there, emphasis on there with your good boots and dirty fingernails and nose pointing down ferny shaded corridors rustling with coal tit and squabbling chaffinch. No reason to consider your wellbeing; your being was perpetually well. Maybe I’m being pettish, here. Maybe I’m threatened by new ways of seeing. Maybe I want to claim it on your behalf, selfishly clinging on, fast as ivy.

 

What they call bathing, you called life. It was never a thing, even when people followed you with rucksacks and sandwiches and children chased you with seeds cupped in palms, asking for their names. Is stripping down to the skin and laying in it, better than a job? More principled? Are they, with their blue hair and skinny jeans, who sit and think in wind-blown branch-strewn spaces, more natural?

 

But I never said anything about principles, or nature.

 

I’m talking about how there was no boundary between you. It was an extension of you, like you dreamed it into being as you walked, crushing leaves in your fingers to see who might be sick or unhappy, breathing in the green stain, assessing.

 

Sometimes in the night, I’d hear you murmur “brother”, your breath smelling like peat. Whenever you came home, I would pick moss from your hair, shake pine needles from your cuffs, laughing “What do you do out there?” You would laugh back awkwardly, never sure yourself, as though it had slipped away like a dream on waking.

 

When they found you, head split like a conker, the tree that had taken you with it was similarly injured, branches morosely splayed. They said it was a health and safety thing, that you had long been too cavalier with your surgery.

 

I said it was a time thing, but not out loud.

 

*

 

The death in service money has quietly appeared in my account, and the smell of leaf mould is fading from your jacket, which still hangs from the newel post like a sloughed chrysalis.

 

I buy myself some new boots.

 

The air is richer than I remember, nutmeg sweet and everywhere a rainbow of greens: olive, lime, chartreuse. My boots take me to where the rhododendrons close behind me until the light becomes pressed, muted. Here is a cathedral of pines reaching up to heaven, where I know you did not go. The felled tree has gone of course, some lug with a Cat no doubt, drag marks clear even to my office-based eyes.

 

And you.

 

I see where the gush of your blood has nourished the soil, where your hands opened and closed like butterfly wings, where your eyelids kissed the bracken in concluding supplication. Your mushroomy outline in drifts of deep leaves; lichens in memoriam.

 

Backed by a choir of blackbirds, bathed in your verdant heart, I will dwell here with you a while.

 

Until my being is well.

 

 


 

 

Amanda Marples is a writer, freelancer and academic mentor from Rotherham, UK. Her fiction has appeared numerous times in Writing Magazine and Normal Deviation, and she was shortlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize 2022. Amanda enjoys upsetting herself with true crime documentaries and banging on about Tourette’s Syndrome which she and her little boy both have. She is currently at work on a novel.

@marples_amanda

 

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Camilla Umar welcomes requests for non-stock library photos or illustrations – contact her via – camilla@cutoutandkeep.co.uk 

 

 

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