The Great Rising

One night, tired of her parents’ talk, Joyce crept unseen out of the house. She had sat for what seemed like hours, listening to what the grown ups of her family were saying. None of their talk about governments, work, worries or plans was at all interesting. And when she had tried to mention something really important, like her friend’s white rabbit that had recently given birth to eight babies – or how she could now walk the whole length of the orchard wall without falling – they told her to “Be quiet dear.”

She hurt so much inside when they spoke to her in that way that she felt as if she would just shrivel up like a dry leaf. She was certain that was what had happened to the Bear in the front room who was now used as a rug. Grown-ups must have kept on at it about, “You must chew with your mouth closed – Don’t roar so loud – Why won’t you answer when I speak to you? – Don’t be such a fool.” – And so on and on until it couldn’t stand living any longer, and shrivelled up into a rug. Now it couldn’t feel anything anymore, because it didn’t even twitch or move; not even if you stamped on it. Joyce had tried it several times.

So much did she feel this was true tonight, that before she crept out of the house she lifted up the flat head of the Bear, looked into its staring glass eyes, and held it close for a few moments. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I do love you really, even though I jumped on you; and even though you never speak to me.” Then she put his head gently down and went out silently.

Even though it was night, it was quite light out. A full moon made everything look bright and still. Joyce could see perfectly well to walk down the steps from the door to the sloping garden. For a few moments she stood leaning on her favourite rock, wondering what she was going to do now she was out. It wasn’t really a wondering. More like a looking inside herself watching all the things she wanted to do come to mind, and seeing which one was the most interesting.

For a while it seemed like a good idea to see if she could walk the orchard wall in the dark. She walked left, passed the vegetable garden, across the lawn, to the orchard. “Maybe,” she thought, “One day I will be able to jump the gap where the gate is, instead of having to scramble across the gate top.”

When she got to the wall, however, and stood there ready to climb up, she felt a little bit frightened. Not about walking the wall, but about the orchard. She could see where the moon cast a deep black shadow from the wall, like a pit. And the orchard looked so quiet and still she could almost feel it. She was scared that if she did stumble, she might fall down and down into that black pit of the wall’s shadow. Even if she didn’t fall it felt like trespassing. Not that she could see anything, but it wouldn’t be trespassing into anything she could see. It would be a disturbance of that thing she could feel, a disturbance of the orchard. So she just stood and looked over the wall at the shadows of the trees; at the feeling.

She had watched it for quite a long time before she suddenly realised that there was another head beside her own, looking over the orchard wall. Then her body became quite rigid with fear and she couldn’t move. She screamed, but all that came out was a small “Oh!”

At this the great hairy head turned towards her, and its deep voice said, “Quiet in there tonight isn’t it? Of course it gets a lot noisier when the blossoms come out you know.”

Joyce was still unable to move. Bat she did manage to say, “It’s… it’s, the Bear.” She said it more to herself than anybody else, because she was trying to convince herself it was true. Meanwhile the Bear looked back at the orchard; and after what seemed a long pause, Joyce eventually managed to say, “How ever did it happen?”

The Bear sat heavily down and turned its enormous head towards her again. “You felt sorry for me, and dropped a tear on me,” it said.

Joyce didn’t feel quite so paralysed by fright now, and managed to stammer, “D.. d …did I really? I didn’t know I was crying.”

The Bear didn’t say anything. But after a moment, gently licked her face where the single tear had left its mark. Its tongue and breath were very warm on her face. Without quite knowing why, Joyce stumbled forward and hugged the Bear very close, just as she had done on her way out of the house, and began to cry, as one cries when a friend has been found who had been thought lost forever.

This time she cried many tears onto the Bear’s deep coat, and found herself saying, over and over, “Oh Bear, I am so unhappy.” This was strange, because she had not really felt unhappy until then. But perhaps what she really meant was that she had not known how lonely she had felt among the grown-ups until the Bear had come along.

Meanwhile the Bear did not seem to notice all this, but from within his own quiet watched the quiet of the orchard. When, after a few minutes, things had settled down again, he said, “I thought you had come out to watch the great rising.”

Joyce was still very close to him, and although he had not moved, she felt he was also very close to her. “I don’t even know what it is,” she replied.

The Bear mumbled something deep in its chest about “People!” and “Not knowing about the great rising?” and eventually, “I better take you myself. It’s not even my job,” he grumbled. Your Fairy Godmother should have done it just before you were seven. But I suppose they shut her out of the house.” And before Joyce even had time to ask him what he meant about the ‘rising’, ‘Fairy Godmothers,’ why ‘before seven’ and who had shut her out; the Bear had started ambling back across the lawn. Joyce managed to catch up and cling onto his fur with one hand just as they passed the vegetable garden. She did manage to ask him what he meant as they went by the house, but he only grunted or growled, or whatever it was. After that it was all she could do to keep up as they went down the steps to the gate, onto the road. Then down the very steep slope of Home Lane to the main road, and then at a trot to the beach. Fortunately nobody was about, but if you know that road at all, from Home Lane to the sea, you will know that there are very few houses, and seldom if ever anybody about, except in the holiday season. So they reached the sea without meeting anybody.

The tide was going out, and the Bear did not stop until they had reached that part of the beach beyond the rocks, where the sand begins. He stood for some time looking about, sniffing the air, then sat down.

In her hurried scramble over the rocks and pools Joyce had managed to get her feet wet, and as usual, a strong breeze was blowing. Despite her hurried trot with the Bear, she was already beginning to feel cold. After all, she had no coat over her woollen dress. She began to wonder what it was all about, but didn’t like to ask the Bear again. Then, as if he knew what she was thinking, he said, “Shh. We have to wait; it is only beginning. If you are cold, come in close to me.”

This she did, sheltering close in to the Bear against the wind, but she was still cold.

As she waited, watching the sea uncover more of the sand, she began to wish she could think of a good reason to go home. Everything had happened so quickly. Only now did her doubts have time to speak to her.

‘What was the great rising? Was it dangerous? Was the Bear really tame? Wasn’t it bedtime anyway? Mummy really would be cross. She should never have crept out.” All these thoughts and more came to worry her, yet there was something else also. Despite the scariness of it there was also an excitement. The farther the tide went out the more excited and expectant she became. It was almost as if she expected the sea to reveal or uncover something she had never seen before. Every few moments she would glance again at the waves falling back from the sand, searching to see if the waves had left something from the deep stranded on the beach. It was only her excitement and searching that kept her, when her fears would have run her home.

It was not from the sea that the unexpected came however. Something made her look back to where the sea wall ran along the road. At first she didn’t see what had made her look, for it had stopped among the shadows. Then it stepped out and began delicately walking between the rocks to the sea. Joyce recognised it almost at once. It was one of the ponies from the field near Chapel Cottage.

Her first thought was to wonder how it had got out, and what it was doing on the beach. Then she decided that she must try to drive it back, or call somebody. It stood for a moment among the rocks looking out to sea. It shuddered slightly, then whinnied as if calling, making a strange thrill of excitement rise in Joyce. Then it began to walk forward again. Joyce was just about to shout and drive it back, when another movement caught her attention. This time it was a strange horse. It stood at the top of the other slope to the beach, the one nearest Home Lane, sniffing the air nervously. Yet before it could decide what to do, another horse pushed past it, clattering down the cobbled slope, neighing and whinnying. It ran and danced among the rocks, down to the sea, and suddenly its excitement spread to the others making them eager to be in the waves.

Almost before she could recover from these first surprises, there were yet more horses, and more and more besides, calling and playing on the beach. From that moment on it was difficult for her to remember all that happened. She was uncertain whether she ran off from the Bear, or whether the Bear had left her. But she ran down to the sea and splashed in the waves, laughing at the ponies playing and calling in the water. They pushed and kicked and jostled each other; ran and swam. The wind blew their manes and tails out like wet streamers, and the movements of their bodies were beautiful. Even the way they stood and trampled on the water and called out to sea was like a wonderful dance; and Joyce vaguely wondered why she didn’t feel cold as she took off her clothes to run and splash in the water as they did. She caught the tail of one and it stabbed the sand with its hooves, rushing them along the beach, only to stop suddenly deep in the waves, and call and cry, and then roll and thrash in the water, to rise laughing with a roll of wild eyes, showing their whites, and shaking the high held head.

On and on they played until the sand stretched away from the rocks; and Joyce splashing amongst them, caught the mane of one as it swam near, and clung to its back naked. Rising from the waves it cantered the beach, untroubled by Joyce upon its back. Feeling its body beneath her it was as if they were a part of each other. The horse her speed and strength, and she its heightened joy. A fire seemed to burn deep inside her body, and rush flames of warmth down her legs, and up into her arms and head.

Stopping, the horse sniffed the wind and called eagerly, listening, with its whole body held poised, as if waiting a reply. Then tossing its head it scrambled through the narrow gap of rocks to the next beach, where already other horses stood or played. Something had called them, and was calling them now, for they stood waiting, or swam out into the waves. For as Joyce’s mount entered the sea again, before her gaze, clear in the moonlight, there rose from the waters the lovely shapes of the horses from the deep. Up out of the waves they rose and shook, stamping and breathing heavily, rearing and thrashing their limbs in the shallows.

Then the horses from the land met, mingling with the creatures of the deep; and Joyce smelt the sweet smell of their breath, and knew the feeling of them. She knew also the meaning of the great rising. For she saw for herself, one of the mysterious things the great waters hide, and what it is to be a live creature among living creatures.

It was this she tried to explain when her mother found her fast asleep on the bear rug, quite without clothes, and clinging to the fur of the mat. Her mother smiled at her sleepy talk of horses and waves, bears and the deep sea. But she never could explain the seaweed in her hair.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved