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|The One Million Stories Creative Writing
Lanyon fell to earth with a bump and found that he could not move. He lay there, more perplexed than in pain, trying to understand what
had happened. So far as he could recall, there had been nothing that day to explain his present circumstances, nothing that might have
alerted him to the risk of a bad descent. The weather on take-off had been more or less perfect – indeed, it remained so still – and
although he had fallen awkwardly, neither quite on his back nor on his side, he was able to follow the progress of the clouds as they drifted
overhead. The air in his nostrils was sharp with life and the grass felt coarse and abrasive; a busy, black-clad beetle struggled in earnest
through its tiny, dense undergrowth along a route that was destined to take it within a few inches of his nose. So absorbed did he fact, be
‘Please follow me; this way, Sir, if you would.’
Lanyon shrugged and sighed. He had little choice but to follow once more in the footsteps of the shadowy figure that had appeared from
nowhere and now addressed him with soft but unshakeable authority. He had not been permitted to stay with the wreckage, not even to
consider the damage. Apparently, there were ‘procedures’ which had to be observed. Then there had been some fuss about documents
which was, he was sure, very proper, discipline and thoroughness both being virtues which have their place in the world. What he
needed, though, was not bureaucracy but someone he could actually talk to. His head was full of questions and some answers would not
‘Just through the door up ahead, if you please, Sir.’
His companion hung back.
‘Aren’t you coming,’ said Lanyon, irritated, ‘and must you keep calling me Sir?’
‘You don’t need me, Sir.’
The man shook his head. His manner was deferential.
‘There you are, Sir,’ he said brightly. ‘Just as I thought; here’s someone you might like to meet.’
Lanyon stepped into the doorway and considered the scene before of him. It was a café, not unlike the many other cafés he had
frequented over the years. There were stained and battered tables and a mixed array of chairs, some of them rickety or broken;
newspapers and coffee cups sat, sticky and abandoned; only a few of the tables were occupied.
‘Do you see over there, Sir, over there in the corner?’ He pointed with his finger. Once again, Lanyon caught the deference in his voice.
‘That’s Mr Nash, Sir. Here every day. He’s chatting with Mr Ravilious. Why don’t you join them, Sir? We’re one big, happy family here.’
Lanyon turned his gaze in the direction his guide had indicated. Two men sat opposite each other, one with his back to the door. The
second man leaned in towards the first with an expression of rapt concentration. He held his hands in front of him in an attitude of prayer.
The man who was speaking – his face was hidden from view – was broad-backed and stocky. He had about him an air of great solidity
and strength. His companion was of a more slender build, with youthful, slightly pudgy features. He had a habit of raising one pale hand
to sweep back the full straight fringe that seemed always just on the point of flopping over his eyes.
‘Who did you say is the man with him?’ asked Lanyon. ‘It seems to me that I might know him.’
But, turning towards his erstwhile companion, he found himself alone. That being the case, there was nothing for it but to engineer an
acquaintance. Nash or not, perhaps one of these fellows could answer some of his questions.
Lanyon realised, suddenly, that he ached with exhaustion; he wanted nothing so very much as a bath and the comfort of his bed.
‘Excuse me, gentlemen, I wonder if might join you?’
He had positioned himself between the two men in what he hoped was a casual attitude, one hand resting lightly on the back of a nearby
chair. The man identified as Nash was making some point to his listening companion.
When he raised his eyes there was a flicker of annoyance before good manners prevailed.
‘By all means,’ said Nash. ‘Do sit down, Mr…?’
‘Lanyon,’ said Lanyon. ‘Peter Lanyon. I wonder, can you tell me, please, where the hell I am?’
Nash’s mouth curved into a smile which was not entirely pleasant.
‘Mansions of the dead, old boy, mansions of the dead. Take it you must be one of us, or they wouldn’t have let you in.’
As he spoke, he gestured towards the chair, an invitation to sit.
‘One of us?’ said Lanyon.
He sat down and crossed his legs, anxious to appear at ease.
‘Some kind of artist is what he means.’ It was the younger man who now leaned forward. ‘We are all artists here. This is our section. It’s
where we get together, a home from home, if you like. I’m Ravilious, by the way, Eric to my friends.’
The man grinned and held out his hand. Lanyon took it and shook it warmly.
‘Ravilious,’ he said, ‘yes, I believe I know your work, I – and yours too, of course, Mr Nash. We are Making a New World, Totes Meer, The
Boars Hill Series - wonderful sense of the living landscape, a most remarkable achievement.’
Nash inclined his head in dignified acceptance of the tribute but otherwise he made no comment. Ravilious, on the other hand, was full of
‘I should say so; marvellous work, such colour and intensity. Almost wish I’d done it myself.’ He flashed a wicked smile. ‘No doubt about it,
Nash, you’ve been a lucky man.’
Nash made a guttural sound, something between a cough and a grunt.
‘Lucky you say? Well, there’s a thing. If my paintings have succeeded at all I should very much prefer to believe it wasn’t a question of
There was a calculated pause.
‘But you and I, Mr Ravilious, we were shaped by forces of which our friend can know little. What were the forces that shaped you, Mr
Lanyon? What is the spirit of your work?’
There was an edge to Nash’s tone that almost caused Lanyon to bristle. Resolving to overlook it, however, he responded with a shrug and
‘The forces of nature, Mr Nash,’ he said. ‘Like you, the forces of nature; and the spirit of my work is, I hope, the spirit of the landscape
Nash narrowed his eyes and looked at Lanyon intently.
‘I perceive,’ he said, raising one eyebrow, ‘that you are not without spirit yourself. Anyway, Mr Lanyon, what kind of painter are you? Not
mixed up with the Americans, I hope? Heard about some nonsense or other that was going on over the Atlantic. All very well in its way, I
suppose, but not my kind of thing.’
Determined not to be baited, Lanyon shrugged again and shook his head.
‘I know one or two of the Americans, of course – and Mark Rothko is a very good friend of mine – but no, Mr Nash, I’m not an abstract
painter – though I suspect there are some I know who would argue that I am. The truth is very simple: I paint my landscapes just as I see
them; perhaps, however, I do see them in a way that others don’t. Nevertheless, with the greatest respect, I would venture to suggest that I
am easily as close to my landscape as you are to yours.’
Now it was Nash’s turn to feel some annoyance.
‘Would you, my boy, would you? Would you indeed?’
Nash straightened his shoulders.
‘And what, Mr Lanyon, makes you think that?’
‘Mr Nash, I suspect we may have more in common than you might care to imagine. Like you, I am open to the spirit of the place and I
have a desire to see into things. Like you, also, I see my task as that of painting the familiar; always the challenge is to find a new
Ravilious came to the rescue then, pulling his chair in closer. His tone announced a change of topic; it was full of bluff good humour.
‘So, Lanyon, what’s your story? You must tell us how it happened. How did you get here, cut off in your prime and all that?’
‘The most bloody stupid thing,’ said Lanyon, his eyes clouding over. ‘Out with the glider; wonderful flying, everything going grand.
Eventually, came into land and must have made some kind of balls up. Wing collided with the top of a tree and that, as they say, was
that. I hung about for a while, of course. To be absolutely frank about things, I wasn’t quite sure what had happened. Then this funny little
chap turned up, appeared out of nowhere.
Seemed to know all about it, said I had to go with him.’
‘Jolly bad luck,’ said Ravilious. His face showed genuine concern.
‘You were flying?’ said Nash, suddenly interested. ‘Are you telling me, Lanyon, that we owe your presence here today to a flying accident?’
Lanyon raised his eyebrows to indicate that he was. He was surprised and more than a little offended to see how Nash laughed. But
laugh he did, most strenuously, though his laughter was wheezy and laboured. He threw back his head and rolled his eyes, ending with a
sigh and a groan.
‘Paul,’ said Ravilious, who also seemed amused, ‘you really mustn’t laugh so. Obviously, poor Mr Lanyon has no idea what he’s said.’
Then, turning to Lanyon, he spoke soothingly, as though to pour oil on troubled waters.
‘Look here, old man, you weren’t to know, I suppose, but Nash has a thing about flying.’
There was a pause in which he grew thoughtful.
‘Me too, actually – ever since I bought it in a Hudson. We went down off the coast of Iceland in 1942. Wasn’t flying myself, you
understand. I was just the observer – 269 Squadron, on a Search and Rescue mission. How ironic is that? My own damned fault, of
course. I didn’t have to fly. Didn’t have to be in Iceland, in fact; all my own doing. I’d fallen in love with the bloody light, begged them to let
‘That’s it,’ said Lanyon, ‘that’s just it. That’s the thing about flying. You see the landscape in a different way and it feels like nothing else.’
Ravilious laughed, his eyes were alight with the pleasure of a boy in a fairground.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I remember the old Walrus. She flew like a duck – and slowly; she was so bloody slow you could stick your head out of the
window. Nothing to match it, of course; the first time, I couldn’t believe it: the clouds above and around you, the coastline below; butterflies
in your stomach and the rush of the wind in your face.
And then I went to Kaldadarnes and suddenly it all ended. I was doing my best work then and I think I could have got better. I wanted to
do so much more but I couldn’t keep my feet on the ground.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ said Lanyon who was genuinely moved by the details of other man’s story.
It was a moment or two before he remembered quite where he was. When he did remember he realised also that he too had been
robbed of his future.
‘I was almost there,’ he said softly. ‘I was leaning out from the edge.’
‘But you flew, didn’t you, both of you?’
Nash’s voice’s voice was angry.
Lanyon was startled but Ravilious didn’t look surprised.
‘For God’s sake, so you paid the price; there’s a price to be paid for all of us. Mine was to live through two bloody wars in a world gone
utterly mad, a world driven to madness by its greed and destruction. By some freakish chance, I survived it all – I should have been killed
at Ypres – but, no, not me, I couldn’t die, I had to live. I was the messenger who howled into the wind. By the end of it all, I was as mad as
they were – poisoned by lies and gas and too sick to fly. Even at the end when I begged their mercy, all they could offer was officialdom.
‘We are making a new world,’ they said. ‘We are making a new world.’
Once again Nash laughed. But this time his laughter was terrible. When at last he stopped, there were tears in his eyes.
‘My ambition,’ he whispered, ‘was always that of poor Icarus, my tragedy and my punishment was that I never got off the ground.’
© Abigail Wyatt
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