We wait patiently in a hot summer evening haze, expectant of some event or apotheosis. Everything ripples before us; the horizon, landscape and the cold shells of the old furnaces undulating in this new heat, leaving us drowsy as though languidly awaiting the Rapture. We’re reclined in a pair of old car seats dumped in the midst of a daisy and buttercup sea as all around us, yellows, whites and dainty pinks, Louis XVth greens and platinum silver rays flow like the tides, sweeping and retreating in disorganised order.
She rolls up her skirt, pointing a toe into the heart of the Sun and plunges a small penknife deep into her calf. Blood begins to trickle out from the slit, and I can hear hissing – perhaps from her in pain or from her fluids hitting the hungry vegetation around us. I don’t ask questions though. I just try not to stare too hard at the blossoming crimson below her knee, spreading over her ankle. If I make this a Big Deal, I’ll probably be next.
So I pass her another rolled smoke as she reclines again, allowing one bloody leg to cross the other. I lay back into the creaking old leather instinctively fumbling for a seat beat.
The wind whips around us, eager to join, and I feel her smoke burning my eyes and tongue. Around us everything has taken a day off – birds stand silently in trees, the few clouds remaining stationary in a rich blue sky like ocean liners. She holds up a clawed hand, in the vague shape of F# and tells me, as only someone under the influence of powerful narcotics can, the importance of the chord progressions in Tonight’s The Night by Neil Young. Strumming her hip and making gestures at the air. And then you go dnng dnng dnng ng. Ng nng nnnnnng.
I point out the shadows creeping across our feet like burst oil across a clear sea. The old factories and cooling towers loom over us now, once gleaming bright but now turning orange as the Sun sinks lower. All I hear, other than her words and the wind, is the deep ringing of silence. The buildings around us barely emit a hum, and I can hear every languid flick of her air, every crack of her spine and every crackle of burning cigarette paper.
The evening sets in, deep terracotta, the little black silhouettes of birds now gathering on the ripe saplings dotted here and there. She takes a deep breath and asks me; do you remember your finest moment? I shrug. Beating a one-legged kid at tennis in three sets of 6 love in half an hour? Building a home-made parachute out of old sheets and leaping out of a tree? Scaling the fence into the old factory and finding the cupboard full of glue and pornography that kept us awake and alive for an entire autumn? She waves her hand dismissively away.
“I remember… ages ago… you put on a pair of stupid glasses, jammed some flowers into your jeans and then hid in the toilets of a nightclub for an hour.
Until they played a track by The Smiths and you… just… fucking… emerged, dressed like a Poundland Morrissey, in the middle of the dancefloor, twirling daffodils about like a deranged helicopter, until the bouncers dragged you out and kicked the shit out of you.”
‘Yeah… I was a dickhead back then…’
“Yeah, you were” she smiles. “But you were also brave.”
On misty evenings even machines leave ghosts and echoes. As I sit, surrounded by a damp curtain, I can hear clanks and grinding from mechanisms long since rusted beyond repair. Nothing makes sense in this cold. My fingers and legs stretch out before me, pale grey and barely emitting any light. I perch uncomfortably on brown springs – the leather long since torn or rotted away. Around me dead yellow stalks hiss and scream uncomfortably, whilst at my feet a wide circle of burned black punctures the earth like a missing eye.
I’m on my fourth can. Once upon a time I put a hand on a shoulder, and felt the warmth evaporate my fingerprints, absorbing them into her constellations of freckles. I looked into deep eyes and floated – always floated – even for someone who could never swim.
I look up at the sky these days and it doesn’t feel empty, just overwhelmingly crowded and noisy. I remember the days when I could eloquently scream and cut through the white noise with ease, setting my target for the heart of the Core and exploding with confidence, sparks dancing from my shoulders as my emotions brought down mountains. Now I fumble over broken words that bounce pointlessly away like airgun pellets against a Battleship.
The noises don’t intimidate me anymore. If I hear the grumbling of a ‘78 Rolling Stock Diesel vibrating under these rusted springs, if I see its shape rolling past in the fog, I can pretend that it is meaningless. Just the ridiculous echoes of an old time bouncing off the walls for perceptive ears. Except everything feels so numb now. Nothing is rich anymore. Nothing burns, nothing hurts, nothing excites. When a forgotten past bleeds into a forgettable present, where can one exist?
I finish the fourth can but it won’t be the last. I am too cold to stop now and the dawn is at least another couple of years away. As my feet stamp and crunch into the black soil I have a vague memory of auburn hair smelling faintly of cigar smoke and pollen. One leg raised against the dying sun, blood streaming from a single wound and forming a pool at our feet, as all those whites and yellows, Louis XVth greens and platinum silvers were slowly drenched and drowned in her deep, oppressive red.
Eventually she began to lose consciousness. Even as the smoke rasped my lungs I could tell that she was in a bad way. Her eyelids ashen, her sockets sunken, her flesh pale and old. The blood that once streamed now patted rhythmically on the stubborn head of a Buttercup, determined not to be deterred, unflinching. A deep pool of red formed a circle at her feet. The ground beneath us gargled like a drowning swimmer.
She told me; when I was a kid I was obsessed with Space Oddity by Bowie. I used to listen to that song over and over and over and over again on my little kiddie cassette player. And then, when my parents got pissed off and wanted to sleep, they’d hide my tape player. But it didn’t matter to me. I knew that song. I knew the lyrics. I could feel every vibration of every note in my ears. So I would creep out of my bed when everything was quiet, go to my bedroom window and stare into the night sky imagining that Major Tom was real… that he was actually floating out there in his old tin can, just a dead man perfectly preserved in a vacuum, endlessly orbiting the planet.
I wonder what happened to that girl who didn’t look at the floor but looked up to the sky.
She took another deep drag and lifted her toe up to cover the sun.
What happened to the girl who believed in Major Tom?
I wonder that as well. I wonder what happened to the boy who believed in the girl who believed in Major Tom. There is no wind now, but I still hear the hiss of the dead stalks around me. I remember, only just, when this meadow sang with colour.
I cannot keep the flowers alive with memory alone.
(Originally posted on freeverserevolution, with thanks.)