For it was the middle of June and the sky was a murky grey; not the grey of silver linings but the grey of rain and winter, frost and decay. The city was dull and the people were harried; rushing, bustling, heads down, umbrellas up, don’t look don’t look, eyes on the ground. The red scarf around her neck was a noose and society the hangman – will he slacken? Or will he continue to pull tighter, tighter, choking, choking, like that day in autumn all those years ago; she could feel her brother’s hands still there, the purple bruising her neck, but no; no – that was over now.
The sidewalks watched with pleading eyes as they were crushed – their soul, their spirit – with the thousand marching feet to an unheard and unrecognised rhythm, the 9 o’clock drudgery. She walked from street to street, city block to city block, passing bus stops and parks, a green so garish it gouged her vision. The city may have been sprawling but to her it was a cage. The soaring surrounding buildings were the walls of her prison, the faceless windows the guards who kept her there. Are we not all prisoners? So was her mother’s excuse – stop, don’t go back there – but now her brother was one and she was too; they all were – her mother of drink and her brother of brutality and stone walls and iron bars, and she of the memory of a blustery autumn day beneath the tree by the river.
She tramped along in the middle of the crowd, being knocked on either side by strangers, as though they had a vendetta against her – you mustn’t take these things so personally, darling – but it was personal, mother; no rage can be that unfeeling, no malicious glee – a young boy’s specialty – can be that uncaring. The woman next to her wore a coat, and from the corner of her eye she noticed the colour, a blue so vibrant it stood out in all its vivaciousness and regality. The woman had a coffee in one hand and a handbag clutched tightly in the other. She looked at her watch, the weight of a deadline and office politics on her shoulders.
The crowd stopped as one before a pedestrian crossing, shifting from foot to foot, toes tapping, hurry up, hurry up. The scarlet blared and the traffic jolted to a stop on command, ordered by the flicker of a light to halt its momentum while life passed by in front of it. The bitumen crunched beneath her boots, she could hear it over the sound of traffic and horns and lives being lived without her. A man with a poppy-red rose in his lapel – why poppy? Those brave boys and stronger women wouldn’t be proud, the gutters are trenches strewn with rotted memories – the man walked past and glanced at her, fiddled with his rose – a canker bloom, a truth gone sour, a rose by any other name would still smell as bitter. He was gone. So was she.
She stepped onto the curb, tried to rid herself of the melancholia which had transmitted itself from stranger to stranger in that crowded mass, but it seeped into her pores, her very essence, all that she was and ever would be. She looked into the shop windows, the soothing therapy of materialism, but all she could see was a giant Rolex watch, trapped in a single everlasting moment. The mannequins in the window stared at her blankly – as blank as her mother’s face had been as she begged for her to understand, to listen, but instead she took one last drag of her cigarette, just as she would years later outside a courtroom surrounded by photographers – did she have a comment? An excuse for the despicable being she called a son? The question hung in the air like smog, or maybe it was just her disdain rising from the cigarette in tendrils, along with her health and whatever emotions she had left. However, she hurried along. She had somewhere to be.
The clock struck eleven. Chiming; chiming; chiming – would it ever end? It struck for an eternity, while life withered and time continued to take its victims, the ultimate executioner – tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. The past will cut short the future; cut it with the sharp blade of disappointment, an intake of breath like a dagger through the windpipe, the bottomless pit in her stomach a heavy emptiness. The words lapped against the inside of her lips; she wanted to shout them into the void but didn’t; no-one would hear or care.
She merely kept walking, no destination now – did she even have one before? She wandered aimlessly, losing track of time, putting one foot in front of the other, occasionally looking up only to look back down again when a stranger glared at her – how dare she raise her head? How dare she attempt to face the world? She couldn’t take it; she ran, and ran, and ran, eventually reaching a park bench just as the time reverberated through the city. Midday. Here she was, standing in a foreign land on the other side of the world; she was no-one and nothing and so everyone and everything.
SARAH RANDALL is a young writer from Melbourne, Australia. She completed her Honours degree in Literary Studies from Deakin University in 2015. Sarah also received her Bachelor of Arts in Professional and Creative Writing in 2014. She has previously been published in Imagine Journal, and was nominated for the Judith Rodriguez Prize. Sarah currently contributes to Avenoir Mag and Lip Mag.