Before a sleepy, disheveled sun even thinks about poking her nose over the horizon, the first calls go out. A cheery wake up song to start a day of industrious productivity. As the sky lightens, first to a dull charcoal, then slowly, persistently, to a stunning, vivid blue, the chorus of melody grows stronger and louder. Sweethearts are courted with flirtatious serenades, and materials are meticulously gathered for the construction of homes in anticipation of future families.
I’m still waiting. As the seasons change and tattered scraps of autumnal leaves lie discarded beneath skeletal branches, I still watch for you. The cold rain slides in miserable drips down the splintered wood of this dilapidated park bench, skirting cracked paint and jagged splinters, to dampen my spirits, but not my skirts. The nights grow longer and frigid, and a wet fog lurks around the naked ankles of the holly shrubs, but my breath takes no form despite the chilly air. I have long since faded from the world, like a black and white family photograph that has felt the gentle caress of too many sunny days as it languished in its frame. No, there is no sunshine in my life now, no gentle caresses. Just the bite of a bitter wind as it rushes past to destinations unknown. Perhaps I didn’t fade at all, but was washed away by time like a child’s chalk drawing on the footpath.
You took my heart with you when you left, but you never came back. As time went by, I slowly grew used to the bleak emptiness of your side of the bed. The faint scent of your aftershave clung to your pillow, bringing a small degree of comfort as I clutched it each night, but now that’s gone too. The memory of your laughter that used to play in my mind as a comforting refrain has been absent for so long now that I can’t be sure if it was ever there at all. As I sit here, waiting, watching, weeping, the sky weeps too and the park feels devoid of life.
Every day became an exercise in fear and hope as I watched from behind net curtains, the delivery boys and girls in their neat postal uniforms cycling up the streets delivering telegrams full of grief and anguish to heartbroken housewives. As youthful legs pedalled hard and the wheels spun by without stopping at my door, I reminded myself that you would come home. Then the following morning the young messengers and I would dance the same macabre dance all over again. No telegram. The relief left me shaking and giddy, but I couldn’t smile. For the next day we danced again.
The newspaper headlines screamed that the war had ended, and strangers in the streets shared shouts of exultation and dizzying dances of celebration. Hope bloomed as I dusted the house and baked your favourite treats. I waited. I watched as husbands and fathers returned with desolate eyes and grim expressions, with scars that told sad tales. Life slowly returned to the neighbourhood, but I waited for you.
Weeds have choked the tulips and daffodils that bore witness to our courting in this very park an eternity ago. The paving stones, where we stood on numerous occasions to share tender moments, are cracked, and the wrought iron fences have fallen drunkenly and lie shrouded beneath unkempt grass. No one comes here anymore. I hear hushed whispers echoing that this deserted little park is haunted. I have seen no ghosts. There is no one here but me. Watching. Waiting.
I brush my thumb over soft leather that I guess a salesman would refer to as buttery. It is a classic brown, less intense than coffee, that reminds me of milk chocolate softened by the sun or the heat of a warm hand. The pages are edged with the tiniest sliver of gold, so that when pressed together, it adds an air of luxury and refinement, but individually is subtle. Each page is crowded with writing. I notice the propensity for blue ink, but there are smatterings of black, green and purple, as if creativity could only be held in restraint for so long. The writing starts off crisp and neat, letters carefully rounded and swirled, but it gains slope and size as the pages go on, as if the words came faster and faster, bursting out of the author’s imagination and on to the page in an increasingly messy scrawl. I know, all too well, how good intentions fall into disarray with time and passion.
She trailed her hand along the wall, feeling the coarseness of the stone bite into the soft pads of her fingertips. Her footsteps echoed, a hollow, lonely sound that spoke of her insignificance and mortality. Quiet, fearful pants turned to gasping coughs as dust swirled up in resentful swarms to protest her intrusion into their shrine to time. Then, without warning, the solid reassurance of the rock gave way to a gaping vacuum that reached out and jerked her in.
She spoke of charcoal lies and black beetle pies, of interstellar flight and the thesis she’d write. She ranted about spiders and how they’re entrapping the nation, and the plight of the seagulls that pillage the waste station. Her long fingered hands flew as she gesticulated admonitions, and used her cutlery to conduct invisible musicians. I watched as three perfectly spherical green peas rolled off the table in a bid for freedom, and I felt a curious empathy with them.