Artwork: John G. Bowles, Forest Dene, 1963
A short, dream-like parable, The Geography Trip trails volumes about redemptive power in its meticulously crafted, featherweight prose.
by Melissa Langford
Ruth, you’ll be with Bryony, said Miss Forster.
Ruth searched for her partner among the crowd of eager children, and caught Bryony’s cold, scathing gaze. She walked over to her, dragging her walking boots through the thick mud. The teacher’s voice strained amidst the sound of thirty giggling girls: Okay everyone, listen up … Ruth was handed a map and compass, which Bryony immediately snatched out of her hands, scratching her skin with her jagged fingernails.
The children began their journey. Bryony studied the map and blundered off in no particular direction as Ruth trailed behind, dreading the next few hours. Before long the path became obscured by the untamed foliage; the trees were dancing in the wind, trunks groaning. The damp earth and fallen leaves mixed with the smell of pine, and she could hear the far-off peaceful sound of running water. Hurry up! Bryony’s sharp voice rent the stillness of the forest and she quickened her steps to reach her.
Ruth grew irritated and tired; the path had dwindled into dank verdure and they were hopelessly lost. She could see the sun beginning to set beyond the trees, blue-black watercolour-clouds on the darkening sky. A light shower quickly became a pitiless downpour. Marching through the darkening forest, the biting wind smarted her face. Within minutes she was soaked through. The undergrowth thickened. She heard her coat tear as it caught a thorn.
The forest began to clear, and she saw the reddish moon gleam in the calm water of the lake. Bryony shouted, gesturing to a tree. Ruth couldn’t hear her above the rain and watched as she pulled herself up its branches. Lightening cut open the sky and lit up the forest, thunder shook in the distance. A branch snapped, a fatigued lurch. Bryony’s scream filled her ears as she fell, shattering the surface of the water in a million shards. Gasping for breath, arms waving, she cried for help. Ruth grabbed her rucksack and threw it into the water. She grasped it, pulling herself to the edge of the lake. Ruth held out her hand and she took it, hauling her out of the water. In exhaustion, they fell to the ground. They lay in silence. The rain had stopped and both fell into sleep.
She woke to singing birds and the touch of morning sun on her face. Sitting up slowly, she saw Bryony languishing in the warmth, her eyes glinting, and a smile breaking across her face.