in winter

On crisp winter days I like to drive through all the tree-lined streets so I can see hidden pieces of sky. Steel-grey here, arctic blue there and a sun that burns with a cold fury. The naked trees stand limb-like promising a breath of new life. It’s in these moments I see winter’s heart laid bare.

My drive begins slowly; my route indefinite so each sight stands sacrosanct. Yet time plays havoc with my mind as I return everything seems closer somehow. The unfamiliar is now known, recognisable in time and distance.

There’s something distant about winter. It’s that feeling you get lying in your lover’s arms at night. You feel arms holding you tight, hear the beating of a heart, and feel the deep intake of breath, rhythms in and out. And yet you are alone; they are lost in a world of dreams and fantasies where you cannot follow. A distinct journey you cannot share and make familiar, sights that will never be recognisable in time.

At the end of one of these roads I get out of my car and walk quickly, firmly always to the same place. It is the only routine part of my routine. There is a park bench here in-between two trees whose roots are tarred in. The bench is stained with age, at once worn and solid like the wood of these giants that stand guard, protecting it from the world.  The bench faces an abandoned cemetery. Through the broke-down fencing, you can see the crumbling headstones of a children’s garden of remembrance. It is a strange sight; the decay of lost lives.

Yet It is a comforting place for me. The stillness of the cemetery makes strange company in my solitude. Always I find myself waiting for something to happen, for a disturbance anything to shatter the quiet; something to bring a return to life. It is one of those ideas better left unvoiced. What has drawn me here again? Each time I come I vow it will be the last. Vow that this fascination is morbid and unreal a way of escaping the world not embracing it. But mostly I see the graves as a promise of difference- a reminded that life continues even when bodies do not.

Each year I take a rubbing from one of the headstones. I have a decade of stories neatly catalogued and cross-referenced. Lost lives haunt each page. Books of what may have been.

After this communion I make my way to the burning ground where they still light huge wood pyres. There is a spot on a slight rise overlooking the grounds. I sit on the earth feeling the coolness slip into my skin and watch as the fires rise up each burning higher brighter than its neighbour. The smoke turns black at its tip as each atom of humanity returns to the ether.

I come here because there is one grave that is meticulously maintained. Rich red roses line the edges of the small plot. A tiny flame fights the wind for life. The headstone reads Julian Templar 1272 – 1279. It is the winter of 2002.

There is a small note under a stone in front of the tombstone:

The boy walked fluently, a quality not congruent with his apparent age. He moved steadily up the hill paying little attention to the soft rain or the passing cars, his go-cart following in his wake. The child said that the world was his and that he belonged to an order unknown to this age. The sign along the roadside said Fairville. The scene seemed to melt in with the boy’s presence. It was appropriate.

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