Dan's stories · fall/the fall · October

Autumn Days

By Dan Seavers

THE leaves are a blaze of colour this time of year. Autumn is certainly my favourite season to sit and watch. I ask the warden to wheel me over to the window each morning, so I can enjoy the leaves as they rust and flirt through the air like so many lost stars.

I miss crunching through them, kicking up great piles with my feet.

I like the word Autumn. Though I prefer the original, more Germanic name. Harvest, it was. So much more literal.

It’s strange how these recollections come to me. Some days, I can’t even recall the names of my own children, and yet I can remember obscure thoughts like this. My memories have already rusted away at points, and I can’t hold onto the ones I like.

A child runs past the window. A dog chases him. A small, scruffy thing, that barely looks able to hold itself up. The boy laughs as he throws a stick that is larger than the poor animal.

I take a sip of my tea. It is way too sweet and has already turned cold.

A glimpse of colour catches my eye. A lady, the boy’s mother, has joined him. Her sapphire coat stands out against the warm hues of dying leaves. Though it’s her hair that catches my eye. A fiery red so vivid that she may have been Mother Nature herself, stained by the autumnal fade.

She reminds me of someone. A lover? A daughter? A granddaughter? The memories are so faded, that I cannot pin them down.

The warden comes over and I ask for another tea. My lips are parched, and I find the words hard to find, as they blow in and out of my head like so many dead leaves. I rarely talk to anyone these days. I can’t stand the look of pity in their eyes.

The boy kicks leaves in the air. I miss doing that. I would run in the park with my brother, and spray piles of them up in crinkled waves. Laughing with the joy and freedom of youth.

When was it I last ran?

My brother died in the war. Shot down over Lyon. I had been too young to enlist.

I take a sip of my tea. It is stale and cold. A thin layer of dust has gathered on its surface and it makes me cough. It takes me a moment to catch my breath again.

If I see the warden, I’ll ask for another.

A squirrel runs from the tree, and the dog sees it. A chase ensues, but the puppy is easily outwitted. The dog thinks it is just a game, and jumps to and fro, desperate for its master’s pleasure. The squirrel just runs for its life and makes it easily up the tree.

The woman laughs. It’s just a game to them all.

I hear a cry from the other room. Another patient I think. I don’t know many. I’ve heard names said, but so very few stick in my head. And anyway, the patients rarely last long here.

I often hear cries. Often in the night. Those are the worst. They startle me awake and I lie there, hoping my need to sleep outweighs the tautness of my bladder.

My tea is still cold.

The sky is greying. The colours are no longer wild and vivid. A few dark clouds mute them.  It really is just mud and rot. The magic is stolen from me as quickly as a few cold drops of rain fall from the sky.

The woman gathers the boy and his pet. They dash away. The dog pulls of its lead, and as his mother is distracted, the boy runs back to see the squirrel one last time.

He sees me instead, peering at him through my window.

I can’t imagine what he must see. Rot and decay. Grey like clouds and wrinkled like bark. I am but death to see. Several lifetimes away from him. He’ll never understand that I was once him, running so joyfully.

He smiles and waves. I wave back. It hurts my hand to do so.

His mother calls him and he runs away. The clouds thicken, and the rain pours down. My tea is still cold, like a cupful of sky. I spit it out when I taste it, and the cup falls from my hand.

It stains into the claret carpet, turning it black.

My winter is coming.

I wait for it to arrive.

© Dan Seavers 2016

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