Wednesday, March 19, 2008

For a moment there was nothing

At first they thought it was a pair of shoes. An old pair of weathered red converse sneakers slung over the branch as is so common in parts of the city.

The two young lovers had been walking for hours through the acres of parkland and the reddening sun cut low through the grass and scrub. Still talking as deeply and passionately as when they first met the conversation turned circles and found parts of itself attractive, and the broad ranging topics had perfect coherence in the young minds. The bark of the trees beside where they walked crumbled and flicked as he ran his hand along the trunks, lost in laughter and the pretty round face of a girl.

It was she who had suggested they spend the afternoon in the parklands. Lunch was a standard and dismal affair with friends who talked too loud about too little over too much pizza, so it was easy to convince him to take some fresh air. Wandering words turned to sport, politics, cooking and reached even plans to colonize the moon as they warmed each other in conversation like a continuous rubbing of metal. Soon they were malleable and bonding together, finding soft links and unusually perfect negative spaces in the arms and bodies of one another.

He was an apprentice, making boilers most days a week for the port of the shipping town he was born in and had never left. It wasn’t good money now but in a year he’d be qualified and the pay would almost triple. It wasn’t good work either but he took what he could get. In the late summer he took time off to camp with his mother and younger brother. None of them knew where his father was and those who didn’t assume him to be dead reasoned he was as good as. She was a glassy at the bar by the wharf – the nice upstairs bit for live bands, not the front bar where the fat men in faded blues traded sad stereotypes of stories. He was too young to drink there often, but had found a way in to hear music he liked and found her there as a bonus.

They loved each other.

But in the ever darkening treescape things were becoming less clear. Whilst they still laughed and sang snippets of songs they liked over each other when a lyrics accidentally came up in the course of conversation, shadows started to weave between the trees and in the eyes of the lovers. He squared and she tightened, each subconsciously aware of the roles they were meant to be playing here and each just as scared and protective as the other. Nothing obvious, merely the subtle change darkness brings to the minds of those used to working and playing in the light. There was control lost, one more thing to worry about, time and thought taken away from the delicate game of interrelation.

And then there, slung a meter or so back off the track, something hung from a tree branch. It looked so much like shoes! Two heavy sides swinging suspended by something thin and tangled. In the suddenly cold night breeze the sway of the thing caught his eye and she followed his gaze. Intrigued and still buoyant from the last few hours’ ease and warmth he stepped off to the side to see it better. They both stepped to the right and leaned forwards and upwards then as they did at once yelled and jumped involuntarily backwards.

Hanging, by the sinews of its stomach or its intestines, was a cat. A dead cat, slightly rotten and eviscerated beyond immediate recognition. It’s face dropped lowest, torn in half and missing an eye yet it was the eye which stayed in that created far more fear and disquiet. The legs were tangled over themselves, and twisted so that the spine must have been broken many times. On top of all this, the carcass was spattered with bird shit from where roosting birds above had missed the ground.

For a moment there was nothing, there was a marked absence in the ability of their minds and bodies to respond. A sudden and total vacuum wrapped around the scene and tightened. Then, in a wave, she let out a guttural yell and her whole body shook with unplaced, uncontrollable adrenalin. She didn’t let out what is classically a girlish scream though. It was much more a retching and roaring, rising up from somewhere deeper than cinema and literature’s portrayals of fear; it was the sound of confronting mortality and it echoed inside their eyes.

Walking back, out of the park and along the highway shoulder, he could feel the foundation stone setting into place on the wall that would build up between them. A wall so thick and well mortared no hand could get through to stroke that metal warm again. They talked of course, talked about anything, but not the same anything of a few hours before - A forced anything or really more an anything but. The simple thing they had with one another felt complicated. The sun had long set by the time she stepped up the front stairs of his porch to finish talking before she moved on home herself. But they had nothing more to say.

Years later and separated from his second wife (though not divorced, he didn’t get away that easily) he sits at the port authority pub and drinks to forget the lightness of the stories he once told, to suffocate them and to fill himself instead with life and all it entails.

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