Gall by F. E. Clark

Quarantined overnight in an old pickle jar, the growth is sick yellow, shrivelled like a waxy clove of garlic. I hurry to dress: waterproof over-trousers, jacket with the butterfly-patch covering my ex-employer’s logo, baseball cap, wellie boots—none of it quite fits, but it’s all I’ve got.

Secateurs, thick gloves, sack—out into the torrential rain, it had to be today, as soon as I knew I couldn’t risk waiting, but why hadn’t I remembered that my right boot let in water? Why did none of the local shops stock my size of plain, black, steel toe-capped wellingtons? Why couldn’t I get myself together enough to order a pair online? Why does it always have to be raining?

Here, this is where I stop to look back at Lochnagar, often take a photo. Today it’s absent. The horizon crouches on the treetops metres away. A mountain, not a loch, Lochnagar—often things are called one thing but are really another here. I’ve still not learnt them all. Here, this is where I saw a magical creature, perhaps a fawn awakening from where its mother left it sleeping on summer’s morning, and here, this is where you might see the hares.

This is it, I’m to cut and burn each branch with a yellow growth on it—cut, remove, burn. There are many more than I’d realised, perhaps they’ve always been here, I’ve not noticed them before. I took one home to identify it, can’t remember which damn branch it came from.

I owe the blackthorn. Last year I took a pound of black-blushed fruit. Bought the other ingredients, laughed that the supermarket were selling sloe gin more cheaply the plain gin I needed to make my own sloe gin. Through winter I’d shaken the heavy quart jars of deepening purple every other day. Drank the liquor like medicine in the New Year, imagining the purple-red filling my veins, colour after the unrelenting dark days.

I cut and pack, hoping it’s enough to stop the spread of the fungus. Despite the gloves my hands and arms get scratched by the wicked thorns as I fill up the sack of branches to be destroyed. Then, I pull away nettles and sticky willies choking the blackthorn, deep down in the undergrowth the earth is powder-dry— I can’t grudge the summer downpour soaking through my waterproofs.

Cold, I hurry back along the path. I slip on wet bracken—my heart stutters. If I fell here, if I broke something, if I couldn’t get up, it would be a long time before anyone thought to look for me. I get up clutching the sack like a life buoy. Stumble on, out of the wood.

On the road a neighbour passes me in her fancy car. Her eyes goggle out at my sodden clothes, the sack, the state of me. The neighbour won’t offer me a lift or ask me what I’m doing, but it’ll be all round the district by suppertime. They never ask, they just roll their eyes and mutter. Who does she think she is? What does she think she’s doing? Thinks she’s an artist or some such shite? How dare she?

I step on a thorn as I feed the branches into the reluctant flames in the oil drum incinerator. It pierces my already perished boot, deep into my foot. It draws blood. I cry, dark smoke stinging my tears. Sometimes that’s all there is—gall.


F. E. Clark lives in Scotland. She writes, paints, and takes photographs—inspired by nature in all its forms. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominee, her poetry, flash-fiction, and short stories can be found in anthologies and literary magazines. More details can be found on her website,, and she tweets intermittently at @feclarkart.