"AUTUMN" - Lily Fox
The birds swoop low. For a moment they swirl with the leaves, all buffeted and helpless, before they sail off into the emptiness. Autumn never was my favourite time of year. Things just begin to die; feeble, burned out. I hate the ember-ash colours and the unwashed sky; I hate the smell of bonfires and the nip in the wind. I hate the beginning of the end.
They’re calling, the birds, now, but I know that many will die before they reach their migratory home. I can see them drop, exhausted, into the swirling sea, knowing they will die but unable to continue, knowing another wingbeat will destroy them. I can feel their eyelids dropping, their feet curling up in submission. Autumn is death.
I walk on through the withering grass, scuffing up leaves like an overgrown child. They mulch under my feet and smell like worms and rot. I step on over them. I pretend it’s your hair crawling with maggots, a dank dark thing left in the ground to rot. It should be you, I often think, you, who abandoned me when I needed you, you, who claimed to love me – as if you knew what that was.
Your hair was harridan red, all burnished and snaking, and your eyes were dead-sky grey. I still remember the way they glittered when you thought of some wild scheme, when you laughed at my temerity, and really, shouldn’t that have warned me? I should have seen the edge of autumn in your eyes. But I gave you my heart to cradle in your spiderweb hands and how you must have laughed inside. I thought you were the beginning of the world, but you were the mysteries of death. I wrapped you flowers in ferns and sent them to your door and the spheres sang when you kissed me with those cherry-blood lips.
“I love you,” you breathed, and those grey eyes glittered. All I could see was you.
You weren’t so crazy once upon a time, I believe. When I saw you first walking with your friends, there was an innocence about you. Was it me? Was it my submission to you that drove you on and on? Darker things each time, places I never wished to see. I dove the depths of society for you. I saw your grey eyes glazed and your red hair streaked with dirt, sweat, blood and tears (mostly mine) and I still thought you were the most beautiful thing. Even when you staggered up the street barefoot (shoes long lost) and corpse-pale, other men envied me, because it was me that picked you up from under the wheels, the bridge, the toilet, the other girl’s fist, the fire. You’d fall asleep in my arms and I’d see the trace of the girl I first saw in the downturn of your lips, when your breasts rose and fell. I picked the rubbish from your hair and smoothed it down and prayed that you’d wake up and forget it all, and I could build you up anew as a summer princess. But you were ever on the edge of the grave.
I’m home now. You’re not there. You never come. I wonder if you think of me, if when you look over here – I know you pass this area of town – if you regret or weep. I think sometimes you would laugh. I suspect you never changed at all, once you had showered away the memories, like so many times before, that you swept me away in your fire-hair and that was the end.
Oh, there we are, somewhere to lie. Mulch, mulch. I settle back in the dirt and close my eyes. You had the edge of the grave, right enough, but it was me that ended up within.
BIO: Lily Fox is an MA graduate living in London.