A Game One Climber Played

An excerpt from the award winning book, Deep Play.

I AM LYING in long grass, naked I think, foetal. Warm. It’s so pleasantly warm.
I can hear distant cries. Children playing? I am adrift, going further and further toward slumber. I don’t see but I feel I am surrounded by tall hedges. Insects buzz. Darkness begins to creep over me - my eyes are shut but I can feel it. Still warmth and a smiling comfort. Someone takes my hand - she must be knelt by me. I don’t open my eyes, nothing need be physically gestured.

Then the hand slips inevitably away and I am left in a cavernous night with all the contentedness of a young child dozing in the afternoon. This is it, the most beautiful part of all my life. Utterly final.

“Paul.” A distant voice calls out.
“Paul,. wake up.” Nearer now.
Leave me alone. Let me sleep. Let me go.
“Come on, Paul, WAKE UP My body is being shaken violently. In anger now I turn to scold my disturber. “Why don’t you just…”
… LIGHT My eyes open. Someone has just thrown an electrical appliance into my wet dream and 240 volts are put through me. A blur. It’s too bright for me to see. I want to ask questions (Where am I? What the hell is going on?) But it’s impossible. I am just a single painful thought in a space of white noise. Then somewhere, below me and my thought, a body, I think related to me, attempts to breathe. An implosion of sharp points. The body convulses and is thrown onto its side. Lines, horizontal, vertical, diagonal. Beginning to focus. And colours, too. I gain some comprehension of what I am. And colour! A jet of red pisses out of my mouth and then a deafening sigh. Convulsions follow. More red water. Enormous gasps. Daggers are screwed further into my chest. My chest!

“Paul, you’re in Wen Zawn and you’ve just ripped all your gear. You hit these rocks and then you went in the water. This is Glenn.”

The words swim around in my head looking for a place to attach themselves. They settle in all the wrong places, though anagramatically they make some sense … Glenn Zawn … Hit the sea rocks …“You’ve been wedged under water for about ten minutes. I pulled you out feet first.” Glenn … Gogarth… “Glenn,” I shout but no sound comes.

Again I try to inhale the white noise but my throat will not allow it. Something, stabs and twists. This is it. You’ve done it now. You’ve punctured your lungs for sure. Sleep … Sleep. Yeah go on, go to sleep and you’ll die, you pathetic shit. Is that me or someone else being cruel?
I sob uncontrollably. My eyes focus now on Glenn. He’s trying to solo up the wall of the Zawn. My whole body feels broken. Is it spread over all these rocks.

“Don’t leave me, Glenn.” Still nothing comes out. Like a dolphin I dive in and out of a sea of unconsciousness. I want to continue my sleep, but my slumber is intruded upon.

“Paul, wake up - I’m your doctor and I just want to put this tube up your nose. Swallow as I push it in.”

The sky, the sea, the walls of the zawn are stark white and ugly. The whole world is ugly. The pieces of my life are shaken through a sieve and the finer particles settle around me. My family, my friends, the woman I love. My body shudders in waves. I’m falling again but I can never tell if it’s for the last time.

“Paul, it’s raining outside. Let’s stay warm under the covers. Let’s stay in bed.'
Am I this sad for them or for me? What a profound welling up of all the unfinished stories. The potential fairytale endings or the emotional farewells.

From my right temple blood wicks across my wet face. It’s still raining. My shoulders feel like they’re in pieces. With each tiny gulp of air I inhale more panic. I want oxygen. Another time I slip into blackness.

“Paul, wake up - the stars are out, the weather’s clear. We could be at the base of the Torre by 8.30.”

Pain in back, in pelvis, in both ankles.

Glenn has dressed me in his clothes, but still I have gone beyond the shivers. From time to time the rigidity falls from me as though I am soaked in a hot bath. Then again distant voices laugh and shout. I strain but they don’t come nearer. My imaginary saviours drift away. I am held.
“Paul, wake up.” Glenn is slapping me about my face. “Don’t sleep, it’s dangerous.” Now he’s holding up a piece of frayed wire.

“Look, you snapped a bloody wire. And the tide’s coming in pretty fast.” The bag of bones rattles on the hard, spiky floor. The tide could come in, night could fall, a storm could blow in from the west. I could slip out of my own back door and never return. It’s not a problem for the bones. But it is a problem for Glenn. I hear him shouting. He informs me that five hours have passed.

My eyes hinge open. Above, the walls of the zawn are like the ribcage of some giant animal seen from the inside. The clouds are bent. For a fabulous moment my view becomes the cupola of Madrid’s church of San Antonio, a circular sweep of Goya’s colourful people against dull grey and green. The saint performs his miracle as the murderer slinks off into, the crowd. The livid corpse I don’t see. Over the railing San Antonio beckons to us down here. He waves. I feel important, at the centre of his miracle.

They all wave.

It is a remarkable book. It is a love letter to the mountain, an obituary for lost friends, a Joycean study of a community. Most of all, in its roughshod description of thrills and achievement, adventure and comradeship… it’s an explanation of a way of life.
— Sabine Durrant, The Guardian

Deep Play is available to buy online in hardcover or paperback.