This is the little island where I crashed my bike in the moonlight outside of a WWII bunker by the Thames. It didn’t look like this when we were there, of course – it was night already so I couldn’t take pictures. I couldn’t even see with my own eyes. From 8 pm until after midnight we rode along footpaths – torches in hand – from pasture to pasture, through forest paths, through dozens of ”kissing” gates, cycling past sheep-fleecing fences and branches claimed with woolen flags. My bicycle chain blurred beneath me like prayer beads. We rumbled over roots, ducked under branches, and threw moon-long shadows on our laughter.
We followed a path toward the river, surprised by an abandoned cement bunker from WWII. Anyone could be living in there, hiding in there. I sped up past its black windows and rode blind over a fallen tree, lurched, and landed in a bed of stinging nettles with my bike on top of me tangled in my legs. Everything fell from my pockets: my ID, my wallet, my phone, everything. I spread the nettle, feeling for familiar shapes with my eyes closed.
I was certain the malevolent presence in the bunker would be looming over me when I stumbled to my feet but luckily my friend was standing sentry. Pockets full again, we flew from the forest in shock, the bikes’ shocks delightful from ditches to hills to corrugations of dried mud – we flew so fast, we might’ve lost our bodies, might’ve spilled from their empty pockets – back to the field, the middle of the field, far from the forest’s hem, so we could see anything approaching us from my leafy imagination.
I didn’t notice till then the thousand nettle stings rising like pearls on my wrists; burning bracelets that he kissed and rubbed dock leaves, folk remedies and wives’ tales on. The island was ours; each kissing gate and the kisses inside of them, each water trough, every animal call, root, rock, dock leaf and bunker. Even the moon.
Back at the cottage we began exploring the topography of my body, another adventure: twigs in my hair, calves striped red and skirt smudged in tones of meadows and earths, juice of healing greens along my blistered wrists. The forest underlined me, accentuated me, painted me. I feel alive in this little village at 1 am, this unknown village whose dark places left their signatures all over my body, whose kisses still hum around my wrists.