Clear Autumn – a seasonal apocalyptic story…
I wrote this a year or so ago, but thought I’d pop it up on the blog in case anyone should read it…
I’ve been thinking about change recently: how we notice it, when we notice it, what counts in our mind as a change worth noting. The changes in my body seemed only slight, but were obviously the start of some decisive decline. I can see that now. Drawn over the past, the line of change seems so clear.
So it is with all our lives now. There wasn’t a cataclysm or a boom which bust up the party – more of a slowing-down and fizzling out, like a sparkler in a bucket of water. There was conflict, of course, and there were those who did not weather the change – but things have levelled out again, only with less colour, less extravagance. Whatever paints life has lost most of its palette.
Near my home, I walk around the tree-lined streets some days. We used to walk for miles on our four strong legs – young man’s legs – out to the woods beyond the gorge: our hands warm and knitted together as we strode through the unravelling seasons. It’s harder to reach the woods now with the bridge gone – and it would take much more than twenty pence to cross that icon again. Although the television says it’s not a good idea to walk alone, even in the daytime, I cannot just stay inside and watch the endless repeats on the ever fewer channels that move across the tiny screen. It’s less a window on the world these days and more a porthole in a sinking ship. Perhaps the news itself is a repeat – there seems to be no system. There used to be so many channels, catering for every niche taste and sub-group, but they’ve become much less complex, less important. Televisions once grew larger and larger, as if the age of the dinosaurs were upon us again, but became prone to natural selection and began to shrink again. But there was no meteor, just a slow starvation.
The sun seems larger than it should on this bright autumn day. I carefully tread the tectonic plates of the pavement (of which there are more and more) alongside the rows of moulding fossil cars . Everything is out of scale, out of place. Out Of Scale, I laugh out loud, the title of the dinosaurs’ biography. Sometimes I think up the fossils’ Latin names, though I don’t know that ancient tongue, and mix it with made-up marketing words; words which were designed to capture an idea that would capture us. Mondeosaurus Ex. Fronteracus. Rangia Roverius. I loved these creatures as a boy, dominant on every continent. I suppose parts of me are getting older faster than others, dying more hastily, so I walk slowly to be democratic to my body while indulging my boyish mind. I feel like the world, divided in to time-zones: – some entering night, some still clinging to dusk. Dividing in to more and more paving slabs.
As I pass the park the industrious crowd of rabbits barely look up as they consume the green of the grass. They are so numerous now that those few of us that walk past don’t seem a threat. I don’t like it when we have to use them, abuse their trusting nature, but they are plentiful, nearby and easy to catch; so it makes sense. I remember cooking Indonesian rabbit stir-fry once a long time ago, in the early days. How we both cringed at having to cut through the bone of our market-bought meat. It’s necessity now, not novelty. A raven lands in front of me on the cracked slab surface, and we stare at each other. It seems to be listening for something, from me or from the sky, but all we can hear is the leaves.
It was around a week ago I began to notice the change. Not the normal change, a new one: a change in the change. They turned pale, as they have each year, but then continued to turn paler and paler, until they could not be seen at all. They moved through the spectrum from green to yellow and red and then vanished into a range beyond the human eye. They had not ceased to be, but just ceased to be seen, by us, by me. The air around the deciduous trees looks like an inverted heat haze – the transparent leaves make the image wobble, like a dream-sequence or flash-back on the oldest repeats. It took me a while to notice that it’s not just the deciduous trees who have taken this unknown cue to sleep – it’s all of them.
The few people I pass and acknowledge move through the transparent detritus as I do – slowly, uncertainly. The substance of the leaves hit me as they fall, startling me, though their light does not strike my eyes. In the places where the wind deposits them, drifts build and I nearly fall as I walk through them. This is not such a change: my legs are so heavy that it feels as though the air is thick and rotting. But it’s the sound that alerts me to the drifts more than anything else: the crunch and squelch, mixing with the sound of rushing in my ears. Volume up, brightness down. On the colder days, they scrape along the ruptured pavements and shatter beneath my feet. Sometimes carrier bags get caught in these troops of dancing shards, and because I cannot see the scraping leaves, it seems the sound of the bag is amplified; one voice copied and pasted, thousands and thousands of times. A trapped voice, like his – trapped in the call-minder which now has only silence to mind. I catch myself in one of the fractured shop windows and notice how pale I am. Perhaps I will go the way of the leaves – falling, invisible.
I pass the doctor’s surgery, but it’s still the same. I’m running out of the prescription and I have to take more and more each day. It has been locked for a few weeks now. I wonder what has happened to the nice lady behind the prescription counter who always smiled, even whilst shaking, and was always well turned out in spite of everything. I hope she is OK. I hope everyone is OK. I return home and unlock the yale lock, the second lock, the third.
He was there waiting for me, in the frame, with my mobile phone next to it. I switch it on for a few moments sometimes, though it always says the same thing. I allow myself to look at one of the text messages from before, hoping the bars will spring up and the network will appear and a new message will come to me. The signal that meant we could talk. Some sort of explanation. He was lost in one of the storms over-seas – not lost to the world I hope, but to me – and there was little hope of getting back in to this country now. If there is such a thing.
From my well-worn place in the arm-chair (which was red once, but now more grey) I try switching the television on, but it won’t. I stare at the dusty image of two bright faces and equally bright clothes, and remember how our colours deepened. How our passionate red remained, but mixed with all the colours of our years together. All these memories are just compost now. Compost that will feed nothing. In the corner of my eye, I think I see a plane glinting in a blue patch in the sky, but it’s just an apparition, a reflex from before. The apparition of the leaves is real though, and the square of sky in the window shimmers as they pass. It’s like the window itself is trying to change channel, but cannot. This is it now – the only thing I can watch. Everything dying, becoming clear.