‘Life and soul, Old Dai,’ they said down in the village. ‘Life and soul.’
Old Dai always said funny things. Funny things like, ‘You know what they say – what doesn’t kill you has got the wrong address!’ and everyone laughed, raucously. ‘Life and soul, Old Dai.’
Old Dai was my grandad. I was nearly nine-years old at his side in his front garden when he called out to the stranger – ‘You be careful, that’s proper Welsh weather up there on that mountain. You can die up there.’ I liked copying what he did. We were weeding. ‘They spread otherwise. Like weeds!’ he told me, and he laughed at what he’d said.
Living in his traditional stone cottage at the foot of the mountain all his life, my grandad saw the mountain as his own, and himself as the mountain’s guardian. There were rumours that grandad had been born on the mountainside, arriving unexpectedly early as his mother searched for stray sheep. He didn’t didn’t deny it. And he was right, people did die up there.
The stranger simply grinned and continued on his way, and before he disappeared into the distance up the rough narrow trail that led to the top of the mountain, he turned and waved to us in a casual, friendly fashion, and grandad said to me – ‘Seriously though, boy, the mountain can kill you. They don’t learn.’ And he winked at me, in that matey way people liked.
An hour later, after orange squash and digestive biscuits carried out in his pockets from the kitchen, grandad said to me – ‘I’ve got a quick job to do – won’t take long. You just carry on getting those weeds out by there. Remember how I showed you, so they never come back: above is the life, below is the soul? Get rid, boy, get rid. Remember that, because one day you’ll have to take over from me. Good lad!’
I watched him as he walked out of the garden gate, setting off with his determined loping stride eating up the steep mountain track. I grabbed a weed exactly how he’d shown me to, pulling and twisting at the same time in one quick violent movement so its roots came out with it and it could never ever come back, never spread, and at that moment I knew it wasn’t the mountain that killed people.
Tim Goldstone has roamed widely, and currently lives in Wales between the mountains and the sea. Publishedin numerous anthologies and magazines, from Anti-Heroin Chic to 11 Mag Berlin, from The Daily Drunk to The Speculative Book; with material forthcoming in Tír na nÓg, Provenance, The Mambo Academy of Kitty Wang, among others. Prose sequence read on stage at The Hay Festival. Poetry recently presented on Digging for Wales.Twitter@muddygold