Hedge Porn

From the end of the layby, where passing lorry drivers stopped to unscrew their thermos flasks and sometimes spend the night, the hedge ran for a hundred yards till it touched the far corner of a cornfield.

The cornfield, a bright parallelogram of shifting stalks—raspy as stubble after the harvest—stretched to the boundary of a playing field, and the playing field (a ragged, undulating square dotted with iron climbing frames) petered out in a small, gritty path which ran between the back fences of two houses and a bungalow to the village, where the boys lived.

It was five miles from the belching stacks of industry, but the crow flew high and true through clear, untroubled air.

The boys ran wild and free in their innocence.

On Saturdays, armed with shining ten-pence pieces, they raided the village shop’s penny-candy display, its wheezing refrigerator, and clutching rustling white bags dashed for the playing-field, sandshoes tracking brown summer dust.

“Hey!” said the older boy. He was nine.

“Yeah?” said the younger, limber as a kitten, hanging upside down from the crossbar and unravelling a Catherine wheel with his tongue.

“Wanna bomb the field?”

The younger dropped, spitting an arc of black juice onto the dirt, then joined the older boy in a mad pelt for the cornstalks. Inside it was light and shade, brown-green and speartip-dazzle, with a mist of drifting silver particles that lodged in the throat. They whooped and skirled, knocking through stand after stand, till they emerged in a clearing that surrounded a pond. The chirruping stopped, then started up cautiously a few moments later. The younger cooled his toes. The older boy poked at the base of a reed, fingers coming up thick with frogspawn.

From the pond they walked to the top of a shallow hill, where the fields and brick clusters of the village nestled below them, tight as squares of Sunday Battenburg. The hedge, a lithe green serpent, flicked through the patchwork like dark fire.

The older boy eyeballed its length, clapping his friend’s shoulder, and they bowled down the flank of the hill like milk churns toppling from a cart.

One, two—paces, partings—and soon four small hands were prying open the live wicker and wall of leaves to pass through. It was the golden hour, but only one lorry slumbered at the end of the layby, plump as a rat in unoccasioned sun. One signalled to the other (around, behind) and they crept past the snoozing cab, meaning to rattle the driver with handfuls of gravel.

But the younger stopped, the older walking into him.

Stuck in the hedge was a cache of glistening paper, dog-eared, shining with allure beneath a sprig of foliage. In the cab the driver stirred, and one arm hit the door; the window shivered, flashing for a moment like an angel’s sword, then settled.

With trembling hands, sweat breaking out on their brow, they jostled and giggled and reached out to touch.

James Roderick Burns
James Roderick Burns

James Roderick Burns’s novella and story collection, Beastly Transparencies, is due from Eyewear in spring 2023. He is the author of four collections of poetry and a short fiction chapbook, A Bunch of Fives. His work has appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including The Guardian, Modern Haiku, The North, and The Scotsman. He can be found on Twitter @JamesRoderickB, and his newsletter offers one free, published story a fortnight at abunchoffives.substack.com.