Life in Season – Autumn is part two of a four part series. Please click here for part one and here for part two.
Your Father rests in Johnson Cemetery, next to his father and his father before him. At the time, death was heavy on your mind, and you too hoped to be buried there, beneath the fresh grass, amongst the daisies and daffodils. Every Tuesday you went down and cleared the autumn leaves from his grave. You spoke to him, told him about the new poets you’d discovered and the new poems you had read. We are Seven, by Wordsworth, was one you studied, hoping it’d help you with the loss; you couldn’t find the strength to subscribe to its optimism, no matter how many times you read it. You were above ground, Father was beneath it.
One night, the Bartholomew kids vandalised the graves, you knew it was them. The joints by the tombstones, the sneaker prints in the dirt. You spent the day picking up empty soda cans, empty beer bottles from the empty, reckless youth. That evening, you followed the eldest one home and threw a stick through the spokes of his bike; he hit the ground hard, the gum flew from his mouth, a tooth bounced into the gutter. You grabbed him by his shirt and threatened him; he shook in fear, he soiled himself and you left him there to weep.
Your mother found out. You knew she would, she had to know where you were, every second of every day. She faced a toothless, limping boy with an angry Mother at her doorstep but they couldn’t force an apology from you. In an attempt to extinguish your anger, she seized control of the house and soon, your life. Overnight, poetry was eradicated. “It’s not good for you,” she said; she threw away your literature. Anything in rhyme or prose was thrown on top of the casserole and beetroot salad you didn’t eat, stomped down by a heeled shoe and hurled into the Sunday garbage truck. You found a cross above your door and a Bible on your bed; it went straight into the bottom drawer. She never found The Masque of Anarchy, hidden underneath your mattress, along with a couple of Playboys, but the house was void of books and art in an attempt to tame your iconoclast persona.
It was a mystery how Father, kind, sweet and gentle, managed to marry this woman. You knew she never liked the way he read to you each night when you were younger, but never thought it would go to this length in his passing. You never accepted her as blood, despite holding the same build, the same eyes, the same frown. You held your atheistic views whilst she had her Christian values running through her veins, five generations thick; they were fierce, they were strict.
You joined the army at the age of eighteen. Whilst sat at the back of the bus on Ronaldson Avenue, your bag between your legs, you saw Alice Meadows sat the on edge of the fountain. Her pink dress made her shine like a flower amongst the hard, concrete buildings. She waved and you waved back. “Goodbye Alice,” you said, through the thin sheet of glass.
You sat next to Patrick Wilson on the journey. He introduced himself; “I’m Patrick, I’ve got a nervous disorder.” You shook his hand, his sweat coated your palm. He explained that joining the army was the only choice for him. His family had very little money and this was his only future, to fight for his country. You lied and said you had the same reason, but deep down you knew it was to escape your mother and her regime. A lion cannot be caged.
You found your tempo in the rigorous routines. Making beds, cross country runs, weapon assembly, orientation, survival trips in the woodland. You felt as if there were a small stone inside of you and it grew with each drill, with each order, to become a hard, masculine boulder. You were the only one who never flinched when Sergeant Angus spat in your face. His booming voice at the end of the night was oddly calming, and it switched you off. “Lights out, cadets!”
You stuck with Wilson during the training. He admired you, although at the time, you didn’t know. You shared jokes and stories from your childhood. Wilson had it rough, but he never let it get him down. He was cornered by Adam Pear and Edgar Mow down by the creek on a morning run. You fought them off; they never laid a finger on him. The thrill of the fight excited you, throwing punches, blocking fists. That boulder inside you shattered the glass cannons of the young boys. You felt strong, you were strong.
But Wilson feared the world of combat. He kept saying to you he wasn’t ready, that there wasn’t a man to emerge from within, nor would there ever be one. On Christmas day, you found him in the lavatory. Blue face, blue toes. For the first time in his life, Sergeant Angus spoke with kindness and sympathy as he tried to calm your tears and soothe your senses. “I’m sorry, cadet. It’s never easy and it never gets easier. You’ve got all of us with you. We’re a team.” He spoke like Father did; he looked like him, with an anchor moustache in a perfect trapezoid beneath his nose, and emerald eyes. However, his words never repaired your broken shell. Time slowed to an andante pace, and it halted when they couldn’t get you out of bed. You signed the papers, you packed your things, they sent you home.
Your room was different when you returned. The Bible sat on your bedside table, the cross above the door was bigger, and the curtains were a bright beige instead of the juniper you liked. They were horribly thin and let through the sunlight.
You tossed the Bible onto the floor, pulled out a cigarette and you hit the whiskey, hard.