Feral

The rose cut his mouth. Sitting on a park bench in his lunchtime break, he’d pondered the urge for a good half hour before he leant over the warning sign, grasped the vibrant pink bud in his fist and yanked back. The flower uprooted from the bed in a flurry of mud, the stem snapped and he shoved the plant into his gaping maw. 

He chewed the soft petals, inner stamen and woody stalk in hungry gulps, heart beating loudly in time with his jaw, before a stray thorn sliced the inside of his right cheek. The stab of pain thrilled him; this petty act of rebellion was the most exciting thing he’d done all year. Wide eyes darted around the park for any voyeurs catching the illegal act, but no child pointed, no ladies screamed, no wardens rushed forward. 

He couldn’t taste the flower anymore, just his own salty blood, but it was still a sensory rush. So much better than the tired prawn mayo sandwich, cheese and onion crisps and sugary orange juice of his regular meal deal. Now the park felt alive – the air was fresher, trees and grass glowed richer in hue.

A drop of blood fell from his chin onto the gravel at his feet. Looking down at his shoes and socks he yearned to tear them off, sling them in the hedgerow, scrunch the stones between his toes, allow bite to his soles, run through the moist grass, keep on feeling.

A rustle in the bushes made him jump. He turned and saw a grey squirrel staring up at him. Their eyes locked as he continued chewing. This is how animals ate, he thought – instinctive and wild. 

“You don’t know how lucky you are,” he said to the squirrel as the flakes dried in his throat. The animal replied by darting into the undergrowth, continuing the daily forage. He watched it reappear up a tree at speed, jealous of the nuts it may find.

THEY WEREN’T EMBRACING THE WILD, THEY WERE REDECORATING IT

“So this is our breakfast here.” Several times he refused the video call from his old school friend before finally accepting. It was as good and bad as expected.

They had done the dream; school pal and wife upped sticks and bought land on a Pacific island, plan being to build holiday villas for executive guests – those willing to pay king’s ransoms for stripping to shorts and bare feet. With only sea, sun and sand to worry the view, paradise lay in simplicity.

He watched them eat exotic fruit on the beach as they chatted across time zones. The tanned couple experienced the randomness of nature daily; hordes of crabs regularly invaded their shore, swarming the dunes with clicking alien insanity.

Although a great source of food, they were worried the deluge could rattle prospective clients. True nature was burnt skin, stubbed toes and broken nails, but luxury patrons wanted their wilderness with fluffed towels and ceiling fans.

“We have better broadband here than people at home,” said his lounging chum. “Less people, so more bandwidth. Can watch Netflix whenever.”

They weren’t embracing the wild, they were redecorating it. When the call ended he stared at the tapioca wall of his flat. The ideal may be tarnished, but their life was still better than his.

JUST BE. BE WILD

He was not alone in discontent. Friends, colleagues, family, everyone filled their shrinking homes with natural elements – wooden floors, wicker chairs, log fires, Scandi throws – tactile objects that inspired a sensual reconnection with the Earth. 

That was the contradiction of their lives – a potted plant could not fill the gap all working hours were spent widening. They were still stuck in a box, with extra glazing to dull the fumes and drone of the city outside – the noise they helped make.

Like many, he had his log cabin cliched fantasy. Seeking the bliss of isolation, he would build his own home in a woodland overlooking a gentle brook, with rocking chair on porch and hound at feet, birdsong and rustling leaves the only neighbouring traffic. In his dream, trusty pooch Rufus dug up the foundations and the shack slid down the riverbank, collapsing into the water in a tsunami of splintering wood and hope. 

He didn’t need analysis to understand the destruction of the cabin represented fear, nerves and cowardice. Real balls were needed to escape. Most preferred to grumble in discontent than face the terror of failure. In real life, he didn’t even have a dog. It would be unfair to make another animal live as poorly as he.

If he was stuck, the solution came easy. Perhaps it long festered, but took the impulse of eating a flower to finally bubble up.

Assuming he couldn’t escape to the wilderness, then why not bring the wild to him? It was so simple. Strip himself down to basics – become as squirrel, fox, badger, wolf, ape. He would shun the trappings of civilisation and ego that cloud minds with fear, depression and envy. Instead, he would become a creature of animal purity and base instinct.

Just be. Be wild.

“Do it,” he said to the wall. The angry thrum of his neighbour’s stereo was the only reply.

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