Mark Howard Jones


He drove past it twice a day, once on his way to work and once on his way home. It lay just off the homeward side of his journey and, if there were enough cars lined up at the red light in front of him, he sometimes sat alongside it.

In the summer, he had the window wound down and he'd lean out a little to stare along its green, leafy length. It stretched for maybe 100 yards and then turned a corner. Very occasionally he saw a rabbit hop into the middle of the path, sit in the dappled sunlight and look towards the road for a second before continuing its journey into the undergrowth.

It always looked cool and inviting in the sticky heat, while it seemed like a shelter from the wind and rain during the winter months.

It was only a path between an industrial estate and a patch of overgrown land near the river but he always wondered what lay around the bend. He'd never seen anyone walking along it in either direction, coming or going.

Maybe it led to the Emerald City. Or an ancient fairy castle. Or a muddy old scrapyard guarded by paranoid Alsatians. Wherever it would take him, he wanted to find out.

It was only a few miles from home and he vowed to drive back there one day and take a walk down that path.


That evening he tried to explain to his wife about the path. He hoped to entice her with its mystery, include her in its promise of hidden prospects and beguile her with its air of tranquillity.

She looked at him briefly before returning her attention to the plate in front of her. "So what's so special about it?"

Although it was unkind of him, he knew, whenever he looked at her now she seemed suffused with a sort of greyness that hadn't been there when they'd met. As if something vital had been drained from her and replaced with nothing.

"It just looks so peaceful and calm down there, you know. It makes you feel that maybe the perfect escape lies down that lane," he said, emphasising his point with a flurry of hand gestures.

His wife glanced at their daughter, spooning peas into her mouth with intense concentration, before looking up at him again. "It's just a path."

He sighed, too softly for her to hear. "But you haven't seen it, Jen. Maybe we should take a walk down there sometime, then you'd see what I mean," he ventured, optimistically.

Jen looked at him as if she was afraid of him, then returned her attention to the plate in front of her.

She has no imagination, he thought. Just as well, though, otherwise God knows what she might imagine he was up to all those nights he was 'working late'.


Three months later, he was promoted and the family moved to another city and a bigger house. Soon his wife became pregnant again and their son, Chris, was born healthy and pink. And there was plenty of room for him to grow in the new house.

He forgot about the path and its promise for a while. Except when it came time to tell his eager daughter her bedtime story. Then he would always tell her a tale of a magic path that led to a strange and wonderful land where unusual and special things happened. He quite impressed himself with his inventiveness and thought once or twice about writing it all down.

But he was no writer and imagined what Jen would say about him wasting his time like that instead of devoting his time to the family or the repairs that needed doing. So he crumpled up the pages in his head and tossed them into the corner alongside all his other ambitions.


She hated the place. Her father had been in here for nearly three months now and the thrice-weekly visits were starting to drain her.

Pulling into the car park, she sat staring at the old hospital. Built in the 1920s, it had pretensions to some sort of reassuring grandeur with its huge windows and its twin-columned portico; a temple of health and healing run by kindly, enlightened miracle workers. But it just looked like death to her. 

The air in the corridors smelt as though it was unfit for human consumption. It was heavy with disinfectant, antiseptic and the odd stale waft of God knows what.

Her father's ward was clean enough, at first glance, but the smell still clung to the place; a clinging staleness beyond the reach of any cleaning product or diligent nurse. Maybe it's just the stench of withered hope, she thought.

She hadn't thought about him by name since he'd been in here. She felt as if it wasn't allowed to have an identity, or for him to be her father. He was only allowed to be a suffering lump of flesh that justified the doctors' and nurses' jobs.

He always greeted her with a smile, if he wasn't asleep, and a cheery "Hello, sweetheart." Yet somehow he wasn't her father. Now there was something missing and she wished desperately that she could find it and return it to him.

She felt like a toy; a doll trapped underwater, tangled in weeds and drowning, but on fire at the same time. The conversations between them, the forced normality, made her want to scream and lash out at someone.

Sometimes she would look at her father, knowing that the thing was eating him away inside, and feel so scared that she could no longer speak. It was eating her away, too.

Her mother, happy in her new life across the water, hadn't come to see him. Someone once said that we live alone and we die alone. But they forgot to add that in between people spend most of their time trying to prove to you how alone you really are, she thought.


It was a summer of wasps and sticky heat, she remembered, when her father had shown her the path.

It was on a trip to see her grandmother. They'd been stuck in traffic and the car was stiflingly hot, despite having all the windows open. Her father had tilted his head back and said: "Look, there it is, sweetheart. Across the road."

She'd raised her head from her book. "What, daddy? What is?"

"The path," he said, quietly, perhaps hoping his wife wouldn't hear.

"Oooh, right." The little girl she'd been had pressed her nose against the glass and peered through the traffic at the unremarkable gap that led off the road. "The one where the prince jumped on the frog to get home and where all the duck musicians gathered to play music for the moon?"

Her father had chuckled. "Yes, that's it," he'd said.

"Look, mum, look!"

While her mother had begun to chide her father for inventing such nonsense, she'd focused on the green leafy road to her fairytale paradise and the colours had seemed to grow more intense by the second. When the car sped away, leaving the path behind, she'd been disappointed that no small figures had emerged from the undergrowth to wave her off.

She'd made a groaning noise. Her brother, who had so far been absorbed in his latest battery-operated gizmo, began to tease her and a fight began. By the time their mother had broken things up, the path seemed like it was a million miles away. And it might as well have been.

She'd forgotten about it then; it became a lost card shuffled into the deck of childhood memories. For years it hadn't entered her mind, either as a direct yearning or even a fugitive wisp of memory.

Then suddenly her father had mentioned it. Towards the end, when the pain had got so bad that the doctors had increased his morphine dosage to such a level that it had unlocked the gates of his mind; then all sorts of things had come spilling from his tongue.

His longing to discover the secret destination of the path rose to the surface of the muddied pond again and again.

She would squeeze his hand tight and pray that, in his mind, he would finally make the elusive journey along its short leafy stretch, before it was too late.