Free to Fly by Victoria Holt, 2016


No, I don’t want to remember that last walk in the forest near the village where you were born. You so wanted to take me to that tree again, where you and your little brother played, that tree with the low branch that overhangs the stream, that low branch your legs were too short to sit astride—then.

I don’t want to remember our first walk into those woodlands. You helped me up into the tree and we sat on that branch, you behind me, your legs now long enough to straddle the smooth branch, and mine long enough too. We sat, me leaning against you, leaning against you, while you told me how you used to sit there with your little brother and how much you loved him, your little brother who died so young. Below us, the stream chuckled and chortled over stones, and dragonflies hunted—and we were hypnotised into what we believed was love.

‘Let me take you to my sacred tree again,’ you said, all those years later, ‘where I played as a boy with my brother, where we fell in love.

‘Remember,’ you said—

No, I don’t want to remember how you said it, as if you loved me, as if you wanted to go back to when we were young—


No, I don’t want to remember.

‘Remember,’ you said, your voice now rough and the branch we sat astride slippery in the spray, and below us the stream was in full flood and had become a torrent because there had been storms as never before.


I did remember. I couldn’t help myself. It was all so banal, the beginning when, as if hypnotised, we believed we were in love and made love, and married and made children, got them schooled, into jobs, and had no time for each other.

So banal, the slow dehypnotization: the descent of love, the ascent of endurance.

‘Remember,’ you said

No, I don’t want to remember how the children left home, and we had time, we had time—we had to fill time.

When people have to fill time, they go to the pub, garden, or draw, take courses, walk in the country, travel—Oh, I don’t want to remember how much time we didn’t know how to fill, and how you filled yours by looking into my drawers when I was out, reading my diary, discovered my bunnies and my vibrator. And I filled mine, that time you left your phone behind and I discovered that the number you most regularly phoned was the brothel, and I went wild and phoned my sister and shouted, and she said, ‘In a small village, everyone knows who goes to the brothel and when.’ My sister knew because she was friends with Emily, the sex-worker.

I didn’t ask my sister when Emily told her.

Why didn’t my own sister tell me, her own sister?

Why didn’t my own sister tell me?

She told me why.

I don’t want to remember her answer. So banal.


Remember,’ you said, all those years later, ‘Let me take you to my sacred tree again where I played as a boy with my brother,’ and we went, you and I, unspoken our wish to be hypnotised there once again into at least what we believed was love.

And as we walked through the forest, I remembered how we’d sat in that tree—then, straddling the smooth branch, my legs over yours, kissing and agreeing to marriage. Of course, I remember.

But this time you let me find my own way onto that branch and the hypnotism did not happen again. I tried, my back against your chest, leaning against you, once depending on your strength—now feeling nothing, unwilling to remember what I once felt.

No, I don’t want to remember how I moved away, further down the branch. I moved away and, now sitting side-ways on the branch, now once again with legs on each side of the trunk, I turned to face you.

We sat, a foot or two apart, not touching, not talking, all forest sounds drowned in the thundering of the stream turned to torrent.

Then, almost smiling, and as if about to perform a prank, you slid around the slippery branch, as if you intended to hang onto it, upside down, your feet entwined so as not to fall. As if to entertain me you slid, in such slow motion, slid around the slippery branch, your eyes latched onto mine, breathing out and saying, ‘My brother died here. I pushed him.’

And then you were upside down.

And then you untwined your feet.

what I felt as you did that, as if it were both happening and not happening at the same time. You slid the way a redwood falls in a forest, in slow motion. You slid, released the branch, let yourself drop into the torrent. You untwined your feet and got carried away to the sea.

No I don’t want to remember how I sat, fossilised, astride the tree trunk, just sat there through the late afternoon, through the moonless night, through till dawn, through until midday when a pair of teenagers—so like us when we first met, another you-and-me—when those teenagers found me and helped me down and as if hypnotised I let them, and let them lead me to their car and drive me to a police station, and then the police drove me to this hospital, but I never ever spoke or told what happened.


About the Author:

Joy Manné’s work appears online and in print i.a. in The Write Launch, TheDiagram, Chicago Literati, the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2019, Offshoots. She won the Geneva Writers Group prize for Non-Fiction in 2017 and was one of three finalists in the Arkansas International 2017 Emerging Writer’s Prize in Fiction. She lives in Switzerland and on Tenerife.