‘Could you drop me off at Stonehenge? Someone is going to meet me there.’

Mark, though a stranger, was the colleague of a friend, and it made sense in these days of car sharing and carbon footprints not to take her own car. Which wasn’t really her car any more anyway.

On the long journey from London Emma sat next to him in silence, taken up with her own thoughts, only occasionally glancing across at him. He seemed content to drive without talking. For a while he played music. Not her sort; this was classical. Vaughan Williams. It was called The Lark Ascending and it brought a lump to her throat. That was one of the few times he spoke, to tell her its name and to ask if she had been to Stonehenge before.

She nodded.

‘This music is just right, don’t you think? The cold dawn light. The clarity sometimes on Salisbury Plain. The silence of mysticism. Then the absolute purity of the song of the bird. It puts everything into perspective.’

He must know, of course, what had happened. Dave must have told him. ‘Emma needs to get away,’ he would have said. ‘She cancelled the wedding. Everyone is in pieces.’

She closed her eyes against the sun shining directly through the windscreen. The glare was making her squint. Groping in her pocket for a tissue she knew he had glanced across at her; he probably thought she was crying.

‘Can you play the music again?’ They were off the motorway now and onto the A303.

‘Sure.’ He reached forward to press the button.

His car ate up the miles. Comfortable. Reassuring. Safe. ‘Do you want to talk?’ he said at last. Again the quick concerned glance.

She shrugged. ‘I couldn’t go through with it. It wouldn’t have been fair.’

‘To you? Or him?’ His hands on the wheel were steady. Nice hands. Strong but with sensitive fingers. She found herself studying them through her tears. ‘To either of us.’ The trouble was she hadn’t just given up the marriage. She now had no home, no car, no future; they had shared them all for a while.

‘Is there someone else?’

She nodded.

‘The man at Stonehenge?’

She nodded again. ‘Are you married?’

He shook his head. ‘I haven’t met the right person yet.’

‘I thought I had. But we were doing it to please our parents; our friends. The whole thing took on a horrible momentum of its own and I kept thinking about Rick.’ She groped for the tissue again.


‘Stonehenge man.’ She smiled. ‘He lives – lived – in Devon. We went out together for a while. With him I felt free. Happy.’

‘Unlike – ?’

‘Unlike Stephen.’

‘Poor Stephen.’

‘He’s pleased. Or he will be. He was relieved when I told him. He didn’t really want this wedding either.’

They drove on. This time she concentrated on the music. It was sublime. Beautiful. Her tears dried.

‘We’re there. Look’

She had almost missed it as they came over the hill, as she had always somehow nearly missed it. The stones were grey in the landscape. Neater. Smaller. Somehow always less than she expected.

He pulled off into the car park and switched off the engine, glancing at his watch. ‘What time will Stonehenge man get here?’

She shrugged. ‘Soon. I’ll call him.’ She turned to him and held out her hand, formally. ‘Thank you, Mark.’

‘My pleasure.’ Strangely it was the first time she had really looked at him. He had intensely blue eyes, a square rugged face; a kind face. She scrabbled for the door handle and climbed out, reaching into the back for her overnight bag. ‘I’ll wander round till he comes.’

‘OK. Enjoy the stones. They’re amazing when you get up close.’ He leaned across to pull the door shut.

She couldn’t bear to stand and watch him drive away. It reinforced her loneliness. With a quick wave of thanks she turned towards the entrance. She didn’t look back.

There was no Rick, not any more. She had had to pretend there was someone to give her the impetus to go. It had all got too complicated in the end. Too much to bear. She had known Stephen was cheating on her. She had refused to believe it, but when his best friend – and best man - Dave, at last told her, it was a relief that it had been brought out into the open. ‘You do know, Emma, what a bastard he is, don’t you. It’s just – I’d hate you to find out too late.’

And she had told him that of course she knew. Deep down inside she had always known. She just hadn’t been able to admit it, not to anyone and especially not to herself.

She bought a ticket and walked through the tunnel, which led to the stones, clutching the handset they had given her which would give her a description of what she was seeing. She pressed the button. Nothing. It was dead. There were a lot of people around, most of them with these machines pressed to their ears. She shook it experimentally. Nothing. Then suddenly she was hearing the music of Mark’s CD in her head. What had he said it was called? The lark. She stood staring at the mighty trilithons, feeling the wind stirring her hair, hearing the swell of the violin in her ears. Behind the stones the sky was a brilliant blue, etched with racing clouds. The sun was already low in the west, sending long shadows across the grass towards her. It was stunningly beautiful


The voice in her ear startled her. She looked round. There was no one close to her. The tourists, all intent on the stones, moved on, stopped, moved on again.


It was Rick’s voice. She shivered.  No. It wasn’t possible. Rick was dead. Rick, the one, the only true love of her life, was dead. He wasn’t coming here to meet her. He had died on a battlefield in the arid mountains of Afghanistan.

She sat down on a bench, staring at the huge stone blocks. Jackdaws fussed and chattered around them, launching themselves into the air, bickering, flying in circles, enjoying the wind, showing off to the crowds. She put the handset down on the bench beside her.

This was their place. They had met near here when Rick was with the army, training on Salisbury Plain. Here he had told her that one day he would come back to marry her.

Two years after he died she promised to marry someone else. Someone she knew she didn’t love.


She could feel him near her. She kept her eyes fixed on the stones. Their timeless strength and power was all around her. 

Emma, move on, love!

She bit back her tears.  She had forgotten his voice, that lovely gravelly voice with the soft Devon burr. 

This was stupid. She shouldn’t have come here. What had she expected would happen when the memories kicked in? And now she was here, what was she going to do? She was here without a car. Alone. She looked round. Everyone was staring at the stones.  No one else had heard his voice; there was no shadow to see.

She stood up and walked on round the path, her eyes fixed on the stones. A rope barrier kept people from the centre of the circle. It was empty in there, but for the birds. Empty and full of silence and long shadows and she was just a tourist like everyone else, staring and looking and wondering.

She realised suddenly that she had left the handset on the bench. She turned back guiltily to look for it but it had gone. Someone else must have picked it up. She sighed and resumed her slow perambulation round the path. It was strange, she thought idly, how everyone walked this path anticlockwise. An unwinding of dreams.

She paused again. There in front of her was a figure she recognised. Mark. He was standing staring at one of the outlying stones, his shoulders hunched against the wind, his hands deep in his pockets.

‘I thought you had gone.’ She paused beside him.

‘I had. I went down the road, round the roundabout and came back.

‘For a reason?’

‘It occurred to me that if your friend didn’t come, you might be stuck.’

He didn’t look at her. He seemed lost in contemplation of the rough surfaces of the stone.

‘My friend isn’t coming.’

A party of French school children moved towards them.  They were chattering, gossiping, giggling. A few even looked at the Henge. One or two paused to take photos of it. Most didn’t seem bothered; boys and girls, interested only in each other. They parted to walk either side of Emma and Mark, then they were gone.

‘Kids!’ Mark looked at her at last and grinned.

‘I never asked you where you were going,’ she said. ‘I was so wrapped up in myself.  I’m sorry.’

‘I’m going down to my cottage. In Somerset.’ He paused. ‘If you need a bolthole for a few days you are welcome to come with me. No strings. Spare room. Time to think. I can offer an open fire with apple logs, nice food; music of what might be described as a classical nature.’

She smiled. ‘I liked your music.’


‘Rick’s dead,’ she said. ‘I don’t think I ever really believed it before. I mean, they brought him home and I went to his funeral and everything, but – ’ She took a deep breath, facing him. ‘We were going to meet here again one day.  I suppose I thought, after Stephen, maybe he’d be here...’

‘And was he?’ Mark’s voice was gentle.

She nodded. ‘Just a whisper.’

‘And was he at peace?’

She stared at him. Stephen would never have asked that; never have understood. ‘Yes, I think he was,’ she answered after a moment.

‘Then maybe you can be too, in time.’

They were still standing side by side, staring down at the stone. Another group of children went past.

‘Stephen was a terrible mistake.’

‘So Dave said.’

‘Dave is supposed to be his friend!’

‘Dave is a realist. And an honest man. He didn’t like what Stephen was doing to you.’

‘So, Dave suggested you give me a lift?’

He grinned. ‘Indeed. He knew I lived in this direction.’

‘He’s a bit of a meddler, isn’t he.’

Mark laughed.  He had a nice voice too, she realised, low and calm and reassuring. ‘He is. I think he will have given Stephen a piece of his mind by now, and told your parents you were well out of the marriage, and told Stephen’s parents they should have brought him up better, and probably told the caterers they had the wrong menu and the vicar that the church was in the wrong place!’

She found she was laughing too now. ‘And the bride? Did he pass on any advice for the bride?’

He turned away, studying the great stones behind them. ‘I think I’ll leave him to tell you that himself, next time you see him.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘They’ll be closing this place soon, leaving it to its dreams and memories.’ People were beginning to make their way reluctantly back towards the tunnel under the road. The jackdaws were returning to their roost. ‘My cottage is another hour or so from here. Can you face a bit more driving?’

She nodded. ‘I’d like that. It’s kind of you.’

‘I usually put on Elgar when I get near home,’ he warned as they started to walk ‘Quite loud. For me his Enigma Variations are wild moorland music which lifts the spirits.’ 

She shook her head. ‘I suspect I could get to like it.’

‘You will.’ He grinned at her. ‘I hope. If you don’t, tell me and instead we’ll sit and listen to the river running over the rocks at the foot of the garden.’

She glanced at him. ‘I think I could get to like that too,’ she said.


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