It was then that he spotted them, tossed aside, suitably withered; a bunch of flowers which, probably because of the previous handler’s inability to decide which recycle bin they should go into, had just been discarded in any old haphazard fashion. The paper still wrapped them, almost as if they had been untouched, and while withered to some degree they still maintained their form, almost like fake, or preserved, flowers. Their colour even reminded him of a rich autumn, the deep colours after the scented bloom.
„Could love be like this?” he wondered.
Casting any reservations aside he leaned over to pick them up, a twinge in his back reminding him to bend his knees. He grabbed the bunch and pulled himself up with a groan, his free hand grasping the side of the blue ’glass’ bin for support.
He steadied himself, an ever so slight dizzy spell washing over him. He smiled. In the bracing air of early evening, the sun hidden behind the looming hillside stealing away with it the last warmth of this day, the cold air against his teeth, his slightest perversion. He giggled at this. An old man passing with his dog looked on curiously before deciding a ’good evening’ wouldn’t hurt afterall. The dog sniffed close by but decided, if not a threat, neither was he very interesting. The owner called him on, the lean, muscled, brown dog complied and gracefully wandered off.
He took a moment to review the situation. What a picture he must have cut, laughing like a loon with a withered bunch of flowers to hand; a satire of some Shakespearian sonnet, perhaps.
Alive to the moment he decided to take the slow road home, for tonight he decided love was all around him, though an initial urge to sing was surpressed, at least till a better song arrived.
He pressed forward, taking the path parallel to the tramlines as counsel. Away in the distance a motorcar spluttered. Somewhere a dog barked . In fact when listening he realised a lot more of the constant murmuring which is ubiquitous in the city, even way out here in the sleepy suburbs.
He crossed over at the tram stop to the other side of the lines deciding instead to veil himself from the luminous eyes of the roadside houses. Under the cover of the tree line, a guard of honour looming above him, he found pace of footing ,and thought; adequate to take him on in splendour. Negotiating a pavement’s edge where the kerbstone was coming loose, he was slightly startled but his balance was maintained. It did, however, return him from his reverie with a sudden jolt, enough to bring him back into the present and the realisation that he was missing a beautiful evening. The sounds returned, the dogs chorused now, and the biting chill of air…
„What a beautiful evening.” he concluded.
The underpass behind him a beacon to another world, the noise of busy traffic trickling down from the big road further on, and up.
He let the pause end naturally and moved on towards what was without doubt his favourite street in these parts. It was thinly lit, the sharp white fluorescence sparse, potholing the darkness. The shadows leaned in, cut finely at the peripheries, but now a slight moisture was beginning to blur those same edges. Lining the street, houses of different shapes and sizes. A country house here, an apartment block there, bauhaus, gothic, victorian, rustic. A street resplendent in styles, a street for his imagination. He took his time to walk slowly along this little delight, a place away from the often brutality of urban life.
The rumble was lessened here, perhaps by the trees, the buildings; the mystery deepened. The windows, lit up at this time of evening, told stories of homecomings, dining, drinking and TV watching. Beyond those in proximity, the patchwork of lights played too on the hills, their distance tempting further his imagination.
„This could be where my love resides,” he wondered, a warm glow of pointed happiness swept over him. In this moment he was at once sentimental, melancholic, and full of joy.
A car horn sprung him from his delightful trance, his having unconsciously alighted from the pavement. He stepped aside in the blaze of lights, uncertain as to whether he was genuinely angry, frightened, annoyed, or another. He left the pulsating rhythm of his heart digest before coming once again to reason. The car long gone was no longer a threat, imminent or otherwise, and so was inconsequential, unequivocally so. Smoothing any doubts, laying flat all rough edges, he stole away once more into his strolling fantasy, or at least that’s what he had intended to do. The street’s end neared, however, and this would certainly spell choice. Going left and uphill towards the main road brought him closer to reality, to the certainty, while down and across the smattering of bridge brought him coiling around into the unfamiliar, and therein lay the greater possibility. He didn’t tax his mind with probabilty; he had too long a way to go to agree to forge company with that tainted muse. Already then his mind was made up; he would march the night away in search of a fanciful dream. Suddenly the flowers in his hands came aglow…or at least they could have.
Crossing the gulley slightly enlivened by the late rains of autumn, he thought how unimpressive this place really was. His mind flitted then to the banks of the city’s great river. He saw himself falling instantly and hopelessly in love; his jokes working , she being pretty. He would, therefore, be handsome.
The thought clouded as a twinge of nostalgia lurked. He scoured the shadows of his mind, shooing away at the cobwebs of memory, but alas it was within his heart that his torment did truly dwell. This, at least, he wished for, because the alternative was insurmountable.
He imagined her face, this intrusive recollection, then tried to revive his river bank odyssey but this other, she imposed once more. Maybe they could be together; these two worlds; his memory and his imagination.
That’s what she’d told him, that day, evening, night…he couldn’t remember. He could barely resurrect the numbness, though he’d wanted to. Any feeling, even that, brought him closer to her.
Again he wrestled with her image, graven image. He buried her, interred her, and watched her, in horror, sprout and blossom. He rallied throwing instead her tale into his new flight of fancy. A heart rendering story it would be but only until so far as he became over-bearing – had he become overbearing? He shuddered. Her ghost still lingered… The rusty rose heads loomed, the audience in his theatre; his one man play erupting.
He was at the top of the steps before he realised it and again he was forced to clear his mind, trying as ever to find some ’now’ in the midst of the ’weres’ and ’maybes’. Behind him the stairway fell into a semi-darkness, the street light at the foot, sickly, illuminating only his imagination.
„There there be monsters.”
Now it was the other hill’s, his hill as he imagined it, time to shine. Shrouded in trees the street lights traced a sporadic, if linear, route accompanied by the gloss of gaudy buildings and lonely dwellings. The sound of the cars, those cars far off, muffled to a soft caress on his auditory plain. Nearby a gate closing loomed larger. He imagined fear, their fear, those people who had emerged, seeing him, a stranger, looking to their eyes, a little dishevelled in his simple clothing; unshaven face, untamed hair, and generally unattractive demeanour. He imagined more then; perhaps his own lack of worth in light of his stature and his possibly insignificant existence.
A car started, revved, lights flared, a dramatic wheel spin, perhaps a threat, or warning; then he, following in pretended non-chalance the red lights as they bounced to disappearing around a bend, muttered an irrelevant curse. For a rich district the streets sure were shabby; chewed up; laughable.
He moved on seeking the higher road. He wondered on all his travels if maybe tucked away amid the apparent residential, an oasis would appear, but like all corrupted dreams he began to doubt his welcome there. One time he could venture in anywhere, unafraid, unassuming, unintimidating, therefore acceptable. Nowadays he found himself in the muddle of introspection, a horrid place at the best of times, especially when one reflects upon the failures, and with clarity sees the points of no return. Whereas before he could turn a spark into a fire, a frown into a wholehearted laugh, a tired nowhere-pub into the heart of everything, his pain had extended into bitterness and with time he offered nothing to a room other than the misery some places are designed to nurture.
A negative introspection, it drove him often times further into the realm of fantasy which as often as not risked his triggering that which he dared not speak of, not admit to, but which surprisingly till this day still featured prominently in his dreams.
He never willingly thought of her, nor in his moments of greatest defence ever blamed anyone, least of all her, but she had hurt him, he had been hurt. But worse; he had never been man enough to admit his feelings for her. He had loved her. How could he not have, and yet, St Peter-esque, he had denied this love, this festering abomination, rather than lose face in front of the girl he was losing. Hadn’t he even picked her a yellow rather than red rose, symbolising friendship rather than love. Hadn’t he surrendered to banality in light of her feelings. He had tried not to in order to maintain control and instead metamorphisised into the most perfect, most pathetic parody of what he had dreamt he once could have been, and with her.
A dog barked, he skipped a beat and hurried on. An old woman stepped out from a gateway, startling him, and he her. She swore to Jesus, while he just laughed at his own inadequacies, and wandered on, the vanguard in a self-proclaimed, great exploration. This time he vowed to keep his mind in check, to keep his focus. He would endeavour, he announced, to become again the man he had once been. He sniggered, a sly snigger. Hadn’t this been the basis for his previous unravelling! So he’d have to be different, to reinvent himself! He’d tried that too, he was reminded. Everything eventually had returned to the norm. He was no more now than he had ever been before. Still the same itinerant drinker, still imagining around the next corner while huddling close to the past, assuming he was projecting the image of the worldly, downtrodden man struggling against all the odds; optimistic to the core.
He began to find the roads familiar again, and with hunger setting in, his dreams of the perfect watering-hole began to disappear. The withered flowers in his hands were, afterall, just that: withered.