WOW. It’s been weeks and weeks since I wrote anything for Magpie Tales. I couldn’t resist the prompt this week because I just can’t go past the autumn colours of a maple leaf. Definitely one of the better things in life.
Here is my story –
Reading by starlight. It can be done if there are no clouds and the curtains are pulled back wide from the windows. It is a soft, diffused light the way honey in a jar looks when the lid is removed.
The sentences sparkle like Christmas. There is a sense of vastness, of the otherworldly. It can take tens of thousands of years for the light from certain stars to reach Earth. How can light so old, that has travelled so far, still light up the words on a page? It is a wonder that is almost unfathomable.
I can read by starlight for hours. I like to think I am Titania – all glorious and regal – but I am probably Peaseblossom, draping myself in moonshine.
The moonlight helps illuminate the pages. In the right setting moonlight and starlight together can mean there is no need for lamplight at all. But moonlight casts shadows.
And shadows remind me of you.
It was late afternoon when the soldiers came. The maples that lined the garden path leaned together like gossiping women; casting arcs and curves on the path like the edges of cloaks. They were losing their leaves and I heard the crunch of them, luscious as potato chips fresh from the bag.
They were older soldiers – stooping slightly as the trees did – but soldiers nonetheless. Their trousers were so immaculately pressed I thought they must have used an entire litre of water in the iron to get sufficient steam. I couldn’t stop looking at those trousers – I had never seen anything so perfectly done in my life.
Your mother was with me on that late afternoon. She visited a lot when you were away. Over there, she called it. She couldn’t bring herself to say Afghanistan. I don’t think she said it once the entire time you were there. It was as if saying it would make it too real to bear.
Your mother fell back against the wall in the kitchen when the soldiers walked in. I had offered them tea and I felt bad to see the state she got in. It was as if someone invisible was pushing her. She knew straight away, but I of course, couldn’t imagine that anyone with such magnificent trousers could be the bearer of news that could make the world end.
You saved a little girl.
One of them, your mother said, her mouth twisting down with bitterness as if a fish hook was lodged there; but a little girl over there is the same as a little girl over here.
They are all worth saving.
I wasn’t surprised at your goodness. That was just the way you were. Putting yourself in danger for someone else.
The little girl would have died if you hadn’t saved her. A bomb would have blown her apart. People being blown apart by things is something a reasonable person shouldn’t have to attempt to conceptualize; it leaves the mind bloated, palpitating. Sometimes the horrors of life creep, heading straight for us like bats out of a cave.
The shadows remind me of you. All those summer nights spent on the lawn under the full moon, counting the ways the silver light fell through the maple leaves.
It was where I first learned the word. Looking at the shadows falling from the maples, filigree patterns given up to the night.
You loved those trees, didn’t you? You breathed them in.
Such colours on cold days. Firelight, clay pots, caramel sauce. The richness of a gentle smile.
I remember you walking barefoot even when the air was cold. I remember the crunch. You pretended to be a drifter; a hero from a Dickens novel with your belongings in a kerchief, thrusting your feet deep into the amber leaves cracking like spun sugar under a spoon.
I saw you, eyes crinkling with pleasure, imagining hours spent walking on leaf adorned country lanes, finding adventures under stones and in the sweep of the wind.
I can’t look at the leaves. Not yet. Some of the colours are the same as the desert. The sand that is burnt again and again by the sun. It might not be, but I think the desert sand is the last colour you ever saw. I want to believe – I pray for it – that you didn’t know it was the colour of sand; that you thought it was a maple leaf, vivid and sweet; following you from home.
So I read by starlight, feeling my way. The starlight is lithe, reining in the shadows. It reconstructs the night. Smearing it. Muting it.
It can’t last forever. Soon my eyesight will give out or I will fall on furniture edged out of place by my starlight wanderings.
Soon I will hear the magpies in the garden, shuffling for bugs, making the leaves brush like crinoline and I will think of the colours.
And I will long to see the shadows on the lawn, so distinct they could be handcrafted.
Soon I will turn the lamps on again. Fill my head with the tumble of colours.
And I will walk, shoes off, on leaves alive with sound.
Like the drifter that used to be.