Monday, August 20, 2012

Short story: Autumn's Place

Autumn’s Place

There is a place not too far away from here where the sun always shines and the sky is always blue. At night the moon rises through a clear dark sky speckled with a million stars, all flickering away to some kind of galactic symphony. During the day the birds sing in harmony and at night the fireflies float around in the air, humming along to their own songs. Once in a while voices can be heard across the bay, but most of the time all you can hear are your own thoughts. If you close your eyes and clear your mind you can imagine this special place not too far away from here.

Autumn dreamt of this place when she wasn’t there. It was her haven away from the real world, her spot in the world where she felt like she really existed. Two days of real existence cancelled out the other five days of the week where she felt like she was just another ant building up the ant hill. Alarm clock to work to lunch to smoke break to work to gym to dinner to bed to alarm clock again. The boring cycle of the week days made her want to randomly kick things while screaming until her throat was hoarse. But once Friday came along, she would grab her weekend bag and hop on the subway, knowing full well that within the following 12 hours she would taste freedom again.

The air felt so pure and fresh that Autumn would let it fill her lungs as soon as she stepped off the train. Rain or shine, summer or winter, she would try to never miss a weekend away. There was nothing that the city had to offer her than millions of people, emails clamouring for her attention and a small, box-like apartment where she could never feel at home. Out in the special place she had as much space as she needed, more space than she would ever need. The deer would run across the lawn, chomping on the hyacinth flowers in bloom, and the raccoon babies would hole up beneath the ceiling rafters, keeping warm until they were big enough to venture outside alone, ready to attack the garbage cans that lay around for them to choose from.

On Saturday mornings, during any season, be the roads frosty or glistening with ice, or the air so humid with heat that one felt like one was drinking airdrops, Autumn would rise before the sun and walk down to the bay to watch it slowly come up over the water to the east. The sky would turn purple and then orange and yellow, bruised streaks lining over your head, until it looked like the sky would alight upon the bay, throwing fire onto the water, before the sun broke through the horizon and another sunny day would start. In the evening, she would rush over to the west bay and watch the sun set on the water again, sometimes over fishermen and swimmers, other times over blocks and blocks of ice that were floating about. Even during the winter months the sun rays were piercing and strong, as if nothing could beat the power it had over the place. It was clear that nature ruled the place that had captured Autumn’s heart and had given her the freedom that she needed so much to make it through the week days of her life.

Autumn had chosen a life of compromise: if she had the weekend of her choice she would endure the other five days of the week. She felt that she had no other choice than compromise. There were no shades in her black or white, it was prison and escape and back to prison again. She lacked the imagination or the will-power to make her freedom an everyday occurrence. By accepting what she saw as her fate she gave up on seeking for anything more in life. 

Saturday nights were for lighting the log fire and curling up on the couch with the dog and a book. Dinners would be fresh vegetables cooked into soups and stews and salads over the stove, herbs picked from the garden and tea made from lemongrass and honey. Produce was always purchased locally, from the farmers, or picked directly from the vegetable garden amidst the hibiscus flowers. Autumn’s choice of a book was so very eclectic, but she would always finish at least one during the weekend, another form of escape. Escape within escape, so that what was considered by most to be her real life was completely forgotten for hours on end. What was real life anyway? The job that she hated and that took up most of her days, but that paid the bills and allowed for short getaways, or the life in her place by the bay, away from everything and everyone, where dreams could be dreamt without any guilty feelings?

Autumn would walk down to the ocean on Sundays, never mind the season or the weather, to sit by the waves and watch them crash against the shore. The ocean made her feel serene and energetic at the same time, and helped her collect her thoughts and her doubts together, and make sense of them. There is nothing more powerful than the ocean – it will pick you up and throw you about without fail, and will take anything in that you throw into it, swallowing it whole and throwing it back up miles and miles away, somewhere else in the world. Some things never come back up, they are swallowed forever, and disappear into the earth. Autumn would imagine all of her fears disappearing into the darkest parts of the ocean where no one would ever think of looking for them. Or maybe they were swallowed up by a shark and shredded into a million pieces, never to be found again. Every week new fears and doubts were thrown into the waves, some disappearing, others coming back again, weeks later.

Whereas the ocean was the beginning of all feelings of freedom for Autumn, it also ended up being the end of it for her. Autumn’s life was divided into boxes, all enclosed by one big box; a small box for her city prison, a bigger box for her free life and tunnel boxes that lead the way to both boxes. There was no sign of a tunnel to go outside of the biggest box, it was one that Autumn had forgotten to build for herself. There was no outside, there was just the city and the special place, just a train ride away. A week day life and a weekend life, nothing else, carefully built so that nothing ever felt out of place. Even her freedom was built to last only parallel with the prison life. The ocean would take and take from her, but it would also give her back something that she had not even tried to imagine existed anymore: something outside of all of this.

One Saturday night, on a rare night when Autumn found herself stuck in the office, working on a project that needed to be finished before Monday morning, the rain started to fall. And fall, and fall, and fall. By Monday the rivers had washed up over the borders, and were racing through the lower parts of the city, picking up cars and debris and trailing them along the streets. Television showed scenes of chaotic winds, trees falling and electricity pylons rooted up from the ground, leaving thousands and thousands stranded without power and water. On Tuesday the storm dissipated and the sky became blue again, washed clean of the anger nature had unleashed on the country. Whereas the city had weathered some damage that would take time to fix, Autumn’s special place had been reclaimed by the ocean. Where she had once walked and ran with the dog, watched the sun rise and set, read books and picked flowers, were now only fish and waves and the odd roof and boat floating about before it was dragged into the midst of the ocean. The special place was somewhere down there, among the fears and doubts that Autumn had sent into the water. The ocean had taken Autumn’s self-created freedom but had thrown her something back: the ability to make a choice and a change in her own creation. Instead of living in the self-contained box for the rest of her life, content but not happy, she now had the choice of breaking free. It was now up to her to make this choice.

When one thing disappears another thing is not far behind to take its place.

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