Tuesday 29 May 2012

Autumn Leaves

Dorothy Davies

Cold tea

Ellie studied the pattern made by the golden leaves which had drifted from the multitude of twigs and branches on the ancient horse chestnut trees. Ever year Nature created a carpet to walk on, every year the pattern was completely different.  Yet no one seemed to notice, no one seemed to appreciate the talent, the artistic flair shown by the different designs.
Autumn leaves.  In Autumn everyone leaves.  She shivered suddenly as a cold breeze played with her hair and tinged her cheeks with colour.  Everyone leaves. In Autumn her father had left, walked out of the door to go to work and never came back.  Left them bemused and concerned; then afraid and finally desperately lonely.  No police ever came to report a body; no visitor mentioned his not being there.  It was as if he had never been.  Like Autumn leaves, he had come and gone and few had mourned his passing.  Ellie remembered the aching loneliness more than the sorrow, if she had experienced that emotion at all.
            Her brother had left in the Autumn, with back pack of books, writing pads, pens, pencils, all the paraphernalia imaginable to study.  Virtually no clothes, she recalled, only books and writing things.  She had commented on it at the time and had nothing in return but raised eyebrows and a look which said ‘don’t be stupid.’ So she didn’t.  She let him walk away to University without so much as a hug or a kiss on the cheek or a wish for his future.  She had not been on his wavelength at any time during their joint lives; a goodbye would not have made any difference to the way she felt.
            They were two then, two people in a house made and furnished for four.  Two people who managed to avoid speaking about the things which mattered, the way they felt, the loneliness they endured, the hollow holes in their lives, but instead spoke of late mail delivery, the quality of the food in the local supermarket, the fact that next door were playing their music loud again, even though they had complained.  Several times, in fact.  Trivial talk.  Light talk.  As light, as ephemeral as the Autumn leaves which fell, rotted, became one with the earth and enriched it.  Their talk would not enrich anything, it added nothing to their lives, to their understanding of life and how to live it, their need to overcome their inhibitions and talk of pain and hurt and suffering and emptiness.
            Autumn was an aching time of sadness, melancholia, withdrawal; the windows full of Halloween trivia, as trivial as the talk which sometimes passed for companionship.  Autumn was a time of sharp frosts, of rich scents of bonfires, of fruit, the true Harvest Home, the season of richness and of ending.  Autumn was a time of dying.
            Her mother had died in the Autumn.  One day she had sat down in a chair, complained of not feeling well, touched her head theatrically as if in a silent movie melodrama – and stopped breathing.  Ellie had, for the longest time, done nothing.  She had watched the life empty out of a body and depart and she stood and did nothing.  Did not dare to touch the hand, the arm, the shoulder or the face for fear of drawing the life back, for she knew, without being told, that the life had wanted to go, that since her father had walked out of the door and not returned, life had become as melancholy as the season itself, but lasted all year.  Only when she grew stiff and her legs ached with standing did she move to the telephone and dial the local surgery, repeating the information to the bored hassled impatient receptionist.  Yes, she would wait for the doctor to come.  Yes, she would wait for a call.  No, it was not a problem.
            Only then did she sit down, tucking her feet under the chair, hands in her lap and stared at the person she had called mother but for whom she had no affection whatsoever. Somehow that had dried up, fallen from the branch of family life that was her, drifted to the ground and become compost which, sadly, had produced nothing. At least the Autumn leaves produced fungi and new shoots for wild creatures to sustain themselves.  Ellie felt she had been unsustained for many years.
            When the men came and took the body away, leaving her with nothing but memories, Ellie blinked a few times, looked around the room and began to catalogue in her mind that which she would keep and that which had to go.  There was much to do, so much to do, but she did nothing but look around the room and make her decisions.  That would go to the charity shop, that would go to the antique dealer, that would go –
            Ellie walked on in the glorious Autumn sunshine, aware of the colours, aware of the brightness of the day, watching other people enjoying the weather, envying the thickness of their padded coats, their boots, their hats and scarves and gloves. Such things she had once and had no longer but the memory of their warmth, their comfort, their sheer – pleasantness, had stayed with her. It was a day for walking and many were doing just that.  No one glanced at her as she passed them, absorbed in their own lives, their own words, their own memories.
            Ah, that word.  Memories.  They came with the ability to cut, to hurt, to heal, to please, to fill the heart with joy.  There were few of the latter and many of the former.  Why was life like that, why was it so hard to find the good in life and so easy to remember the bad?  Surely the golden days should stand out, days like today, when the weather was perfect and the carpet freshly laid for all to see and admire?
            Everything has to end.  Everything has an end.  Ellie had reached the end.
            She walked and the Autumn leaves were not disturbed by her passing over them.

Dorothy Davies lives on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England.  There she works as an editor, writer and medium, channelling books from the rich (and not so rich) and famous from all eras of history, ancient through modern.  Her novels are available from Amazon. She edits and features in Static Movement anthologies.

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