Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Halloween (-ish) Tale 2017

No scariness in here, this story is inspired by the Samhain festival, and the time of year when one may meet with the dead. No zombies, no ghosts, not even a black cat in here! Contains melancholy only. Read without fear!




Sula In The Garden

When you feel the pull, you'll know.
The first time she heard of this she was an eavesdropping child, not supposed to know anything, wanting to know everything, not able to sit still under the table where it was dim and cramped and toast crumbs stuck to her legs.
Her aunts and her mother would hiss, 'Little ears!'
A warning to each other that a child was in earshot.
Sula smiles.
They knew she was there, of course; she can see the memory on a wider screen now, she can stand where the women are gathered, the tea cups and toast plates dotting the tablecloth, the crumbs speckling random and correlated, like constellations.
They would change topic, ask decoy questions: when shall we go to the park, sister?
And she would know not to ask what they really spoke of, because she was smart like that, a thinker, and she didn’t want to be found at their feet.
Little by little, years crept, and she did not fit under the table. She loitered, needing a drink, a snack, a hug, an opinion on the weather, a fuse for a plug.
Her aunts, then her mother, little by little, began to speak to Sula about the Garden.
Do not seek it, do not avoid it. It will find you. It will happen.
You will know, they said, there'll be no need to ask how. You'll feel the pull.
But your garden will not look like any other, so we cannot tell you more.

She looks at the wrought and rusted gate, paint flecked, gothic: she had always liked those kind of hinges, that kind of old melancholia. It was her gate, but it could have been here for a hundred years, could have seen thousands of people, all those life stories passing through. Of course, a gate would symbolise connection, wouldn't it?
She smiles.
She pushes the iron open, hears it sing. Perfectly pitched hinges.
And the wall, grey granite, gloomy, a walled garden, it is the one she had dreamt of, exactly the one.
'I did know.’
Sula puts a hand to cold stone, and then puts her hand on her cheek, feeling the cold transfer.
‘But if I know, why do I have to be here, to see what I know is here?'
There is a question she forgot to ask.

The hinges sing shut. Mist lays lightly on thick hedges, on thick-mossed paths.
It is neither day nor night.
For a moment she forgets which path to follow. She hears the water, silver toned.

She can hear Aggie: her six year old best friend.
Six and a half years.
Aggie was older - she was - until the boat tipped.
And even now Sula says to herself: did that really happen?
Aggie had a particular laugh, high-toned, pleasant. It's easy to hear.

Sula steps around a green corner, finds the pool she knows is waiting. It is deep, deep enough to reach down, to link up with oceans, though it's flat as a mirror.
'I know you are here, Aggie,' she says: 'should I have saved you? Should I have known?'
I feel guilty, she thinks; I can't help it. I couldn't have known, and it doesn’t matter, I still feel guilt.
When I was six I didn't understand. I knew what death was but you couldn't be dead, because you were just here, we ate ice cream.
But you were gone.
And you are gone.
We can talk to the dead, for ourselves. Our purposes, not theirs - what they had is dispersed.
But Aggie, I do not want to forget. That would be traitorous. I can't get you back, but I will meet your memory here.
Sula feels sun on her face, smells the melt of ice cream. She sits at the pond edge, quiet, till the pull returns.

Many paths: you follow the pull. And if this is your garden only? The paths are things not yet done? A multiverse of potentials?

A patch of grass abuts the hedge, housing a glass case, in which lies a locket.
Ah, yes. Here you are.
Love, rejected.
What could have been - that life!
What I thought that life would have been… Oh, it hurt, to lose.
It used to hurt.
Like I fell, the loss was the falling, the nothingness, the ground gone!
And then landed, bruised.
What felt so fatal, wasn't.
The ground was there all along.
'You,' Sula says, 'you I can let go of. You don't have to come back.'
She feels lighter, and absentmindedly dusts off her legs.
She feels the pull.
One more.

One more but the hedge opens out to a small field of bumped, kempt grass, like a graveyard without headstones. This she did not recall from her dream, it makes her jump.
'Well,' she says, aloud for bravado, 'room for future losses, I suppose?'
Not losses, her mother had told her, not really. You learn, you gain, my lovely daughter, you see. And you cannot really regret a good education, can you?

No, Mother.

Sula's last memorial object is the kitchen table of her own childhood home. Where her aunts and her mother drank their tea and always knew where to find a new fuse for an old plug.

This time, it was me that left. Packed up and left my home. And took this travelling path, and don't know if that was right, or smart, or what will be in this place next year. My mother, my aunts: I think they have this table too, in their gardens, the one the children gathered at.
Aggie was there too. We stole biscuits!
Sula catches a laugh and a sob in her throat together.
‘Next year I could bring biscuits,’ she says, ‘we can have a picnic. Your mother, she gave us a bag of sweets, but we were so greedy!’

Sula recalls Aggie’s mother; they had a table too, and more children: how her heart must ache, and carry on.
Would she have an empty place set? A wild flower, in a beautiful vase?

There is nothing on the table in front of Sula. She is glad of it. She will not forget to call home.
‘To see isn’t always to know,’ she says.
She walks back to the path, the green velvet shadow of a path, trailing her fingers in the dark hedge.




8 comments:

  1. I painted this morning and wrote this afternoon, stopping by here after I hit "publish." I've just read this with an odd sense of deja vu...some fold in the universe, a thread that has woven itself across the miles. This was lovely; strangely haunting and comforting in the same moment. Here's to paths and memories and misty gardens.

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    1. We're on the same weave - and sharing a toast - to paths and memories and misty gardens!

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  2. Lisa, I can't remember reading anything more moving or so beautiful. Just read it aloud to Norma and she was entranced as well. She had a friend die at age 6. Last night I dreamed of my father (1910-1960) who never got to be as old as I am now. I conversed with that young man, and what I said was close to "...I will meet your memory here." Your nearly supernaturally beautiful phrasing has plunged our thoughts deep into another century. Thank you.

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    1. The first idea was a garden of lost loves, and when I sat to write it wrote itself like this - the words came and Aggie had to be six, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's an age when we begin to comprehend death.
      Halloween has always been (to me) a ritual time when the veils between worlds lifted, and I have always liked that. I invite memories to come and guide me. I am glad you dreamt of your father, that's a loving haunting xx

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    1. She's a mermaid now, I think. So her mother's garden has a shoreline. Sadness, alas, is part of life. xx

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