There is no regret, only memories, some bittersweet, some funny. He looks back and smiles, all the time listening to the breeze blowing through the bare branches of the trees. He sees the present, but his reality is in the past, although he no longer reads it as the past, rather as a possible future, or, better, a transition between futures. The present, the spectacle, he does not care much for, there is nothing there to inspire him, to make it worth more attention. In a strange way, he’s immune, to the air du temps, to the vagaries that pass for real in most people’s daily lives: he’s sheltered, wrapped, in voices, melodies and faces that are no more, but still more alive to him than the background noise “they” call now.
She observes his decline, but admires his energy, the way he polishes wood, cleans his boots, prunes the bushes, looks after the car. There is more, but she’s careful to spare those moments, those fragile bridges to the couple they once were. She observes him, does not let him out of sight too long. Best for her, is when he is at his desk, surrounded by Beethoven or Mozart, writing one of his weird and lofty stories. Then, his mind may be far away, but his cherished body is there, visible, close to her, she knows he’s not going to disappear, through the mist. Yet she cares about where his mind is: what would she do if, one morning, he did not recognise her? What would happen to both of them if he lost his sense of time, his sense of humour?
He took a last look at the now empty apartment: between those walls he and his companion had spent some very happy hours, but also known doubts, and even fear. Times were changing, now was the right time to go home, to retrace their steps. Looking for his lost dream had been the goal, and he had failed, in some ways. Looking across the avenue, out of the bay window, he did not concede defeat. The task remained incomplete, the story unwritten. His search would continue. He would miss this place, the city, the tree-lined streets, the vast parks and the lakes. How beautiful the country was, there, on their doorstep. Yet he aspired to escape, to hide from the beauty, to a different world of silence, and peace. He knew she was happy to go back, to her friends, to her garden. Life would be simpler. He drove carefully out and took the direction of the Autobahn. They had a long road ahead of them, landscapes they knew, places where to stop on their way. His wife was smiling, on the radio he overheard news about election fraud and forbidden demonstrations. In the past year they had not paid much attention to what was going on, elsewhere in the world. At least he had not, perhaps she was more attentive to the voices, out there, to the ripples that did not reach him. She switched the radio to classical music. The landscape was changing, they were leaving. He would drive for another hour, and then his wife would take over: they were organised, relaxed, thoughtful. He thought of their journey, back to the city from the west, three years past. Then the landscape had been frozen, the trees delicate structures of glass. He’d hoped then to discover the truth, the elusive reality behind the dream. But it was not a complete failure, contact was made, he could still hear far away voices, from a past that may have been his, theirs. His wife would soon be driving. Suddenly he was relieved: they had made their move, it was not the end of their search, only it would have to be done from a little further away. He smiled at the thought of their long rides along the Oder, the endless forests, the small villages nestled in the hills. They would go back, later, he was sure of that.
The place, their place, was so familiar, ramshackle, a little dusty. He walked to the bottom of the garden, inhaled the now moist and cool air, the small hollow was overgrown. He thought he would have to install a fence at the back, to guard against foxes and stray dogs. He laughed: this was so different, in its suburban quiet solitude, the city was far away. They would start clearing the brambles and dead plants, empty the shed of rubbish. They now had plenty of time, to plan, to decide, to work and shape the place the way they wanted. There was no rush. They would take the time to unpack, to clean the house, to make this space liveable. A place where to love, and write again, he thought. His wife was walking toward him, handed him some tools. Pruning was the word. He would have to prune, go back to bare essentials. He wondered about the gnomes, the small people, were they still around, or had they followed him to the city, and lost their way? He smiled at the idea of furtive shapes haunting the large avenues at night, perhaps hiding in the parks. No, he was sure they were still around here, spying, mocking, planning their next trick. A grey heron flew by, majestuous. It was getting dark, he must have been dreaming awake. His wife had gone back to the house, downstairs was lit. He would start working tomorrow, spend some time in the garden, then inside. As he started walking toward the house he heard a familiar chuckle. There you go, he thought, they are here all right, the mischievous lot. He would have to fix the outside light on the terrace. So many little and not so little tasks awaited him. He was looking forward to the evening. And the day after: the beginning of a new year.
After Winter, Spring will come. Remember: our ancestors knew of far worse times, starvation, wars, plague – the real one – when darkness came over the world. They resisted, often silent, always with hope in their heart.
Don’t lose hope: the seeds are there, there will be Spring, goodwill, and peace.
Her voice was calm, and her friend understood she was merely stating a fact. She too had thought of the omen in the last nights, as they both laid, enlaced, on the soft land, under the moon.
They looked at each other, in silence. Evolution is about that, she thought: we live, we prosper, we ruin the land, and then we have to accept: someone cleverer than us will take our place. In a cloud, without a word. Gaia is always right, in the end.
I listen to the sound of the cascade, and to the birds and other creatures, deep in the woods. Time flows, as if diluted in the icy waters of the stream. Is it an illusion? Or the harsh reality of our impermanence? Will I remember this instant, on the other side, beyond time, when I myself have returned to the primordial dust? Or is there nothing, just the blank canvas of another story, as yet to be written?
We will live another sunset, another night, another dawn. The world is old, but we are still young, and we are learning, to deserve this world, to protect our children, to fight greed and its evils. The beauty around us will teach us respect, for Earth and her Creator.
At long last, then, we may be admitted, among the other creatures who share Earth with us, forever and ever.
They stand, silent, immobile, or so it seems. It looks as if time never flows, as if, for them, there is no beginning, and no end.
But there is. Their role is to bear witness. So they listen, observe, remember. One day, perhaps far into our future, even past us, even after we have gone, they will report, on this evolutionary incident.