A sound reminded me for a moment of friends long lost, and I strained to hear the disinterested voice until it could no longer be imagined familiar, and then passed altogether. And so I continued to wash my plate, my knife, my fork, the single saucepan I had used. I pride myself in cooking a great variety of meals in a single saucepan.
My day was nevertheless disturbed. The time I would usually devote to thoughts of my garden or to the newspaper was spent in idle wonderings, and memories of people and events past. It is fruitless, and yet as the summer leaves turn to brown I often find myself thinking thus. As an annual event, almost, autumn seems a season of regret: the death of the dreams of youth.
It seems to me that many of my contemporaries are consumed by an urgent desire to make recompense for certain of their actions, and to make right by themselves crimes that haunt them from their youth. I have no such wishes. Indeed, unless you can call disappointing unprompted expectations a grave crime against humanity and the world I cannot profess to have any particular wrongdoing to address.
Let me see. My childhood passed as regularly and happily as any other, I suppose, my sister, my neighbour and I being very much together and doing such things as children do. If I were determined to find things for which to make reparation perhaps I could dredge up ideas of incident such as surely must be common to any childhood. To our worrying our mother, playing tricks on each other, indicating the other in wrongdoing. Indeed as I think of it, I remember one such incident.
My sister whose name was, and remains, Margaret, had taken from the floor the green shell that would soon yield a conker to our hands, in the days when this constituted great treasure. Being just a boy I was immediately jealous of the prospect that she held in her hand, and seizing her hands with the small force I was able to muster I attempted to break open the shell, giving no thought to the sharp spines that must inevitably force themselves into her hands. And I told my mother, as the elder and more inclined to be believed, that Margaret had attempted to wrestle this specimen from my hands. She was left crying and sucking the blood from her hands, and I with an unripe conker, which I threw away immediately.
It is just that sort of recollection that leads to nowhere, and is best left alone in the darkened abyss of memory. I am sure that Margaret, if she remembers the event, thinks of it in these terms.
It was my neighbour’s voice, however, not hers, that the moment earlier put me in mind of. I daresay the voice I heard sounded nothing his, but the inaccuracies of old age combined with those of prolonged parting bade me remember, for a moment, his voice. As I am giving names I may well avail you of his, my neighbour, William.
As we grew up, as could probably be expected, William and I were the closest of friends, though, like any others, we knew our differences. And we were young men together, and embarked upon the world in a manner in which young men have throughout history. We fought and worked and studied and idled together, we wrestled and wooed. And as perhaps can be expected from such a prolonged and close acquaintance, William began to woo Margaret, and asked for her hand in marriage.
My crime now, if you will call it so, wasn’t so different to the childish one I had previously perpetrated. Jealous of one and then the other of them, before their courtship went on too long and by means of dropping remarks to either or both of them, I contrived (though, I believed, almost unknowingly) to separate them, and succeeded.
Each of them despaired and wept, then dried their eyes, and like others before and no doubt after them, moved on to new things. And I to new acquaintances, as the old seemed to grow dull. Of my new acquaintances one was a Sarah Hawley, and with her it might be said that I fell in love. Indeed, my young self was convinced of the fact – and her young self convinced, too, that she returned my affection.
In retrospect, it seems unlikely to me that such a thing as love, as it is represented and known to be, exists. It was soon after I had broken from Sarah that I mastered my aching heart, and banished thoughts of loneliness and misery, for such things were in no way profitable. I can only express disappointment that she could not manage, for a long while, to do the same.
As I have mentioned, some men may look back upon incidents such as these with regret and an ambition to repair the damage, but through my life I have aimed to be true to myself at all times and in all things. In that, to myself at these particular times the decisions that I made were the ones that I thought best, and who is to say that I was wrong?
And yet I must admit, that whilst straining my ears to make the sound familiar there was an uncalled for longing in me to see those friends. To hear again the easy laughter of my sister and my neighbour, to delight again together in recollections of secrets known only to us. It is a shame but perhaps inevitable that in this time we see or hear nothing of one another.
I do know, however, of their lives. My sister married not long after we parted ways, though I believe her marriage was not a source of great happiness to her. And William, too, married, and it seemed convenient and comfortable, if not the great romance that so many hearts aspire to. I see no reason that their marriage to each other should have surpassed either of their present conditions.
And nor, indeed, should my marriage to Sarah Hawley have been more felicitous than those. Her, though, I have seen from time to time. She has remained Hawley, I believe from choice, for her charms to attract men into matrimony were not few. She works hard, I believe, at some great cause with which she has found it appropriate to fill her heart and her mind and perhaps her soul. We greet each other cordially, and perhaps she too is glad of the separation for each time we have met and parted she greets me with a warm handshake, and looks deeply into my eyes.
My sister’s hand retained scars for several years, I believe, from the conker shell. They are long gone now, I am sure, but I wonder if she thinks of it ever. Perhaps some would see the incident as foretelling our future separation, but I cannot allow this. Families and people will always collide and drift apart, and there is no reason to think any connection between people any more relevant than another.
I cannot concentrate, tonight, it seems, upon my newspaper. I must join the horde of wandering minds chasing skewed memories, as is the fate of every man. Some might think it sad, but it is inevitable, the autumn of a life, the shriveling and crinkling of what once was fresh. Even in it’s freshness it was learning ways to grow old. Perhaps soon I shall think these thoughts over and over, as though new. It is strange that the newspaper should feel so distant, suddenly.
I should like perhaps to see them, those three, again one day. I should not give them apology or explanation, but should like to see them come too to the realizations that I have come to. Of the irrelevance of life, the triviality of all actions.
And perhaps, if it were the time of year and the procuring of one not too difficult, to present my sister with a conker, fresh from the shell. And if it weren’t too much effort to also give one each to my neighbour and to Sarah.
A fitting gift. One that, left in some corner of some house, will too slowly wither, rot and die.