Don’t care; got a top hat
Don’t care; got a top hat
Life is a cliché tale of tragedy — as soon as the main characters are introduced, we realise none of them will make it out alive. Yet, with the promise of continual revelation and the prospect of a plot twist around every corner, life is captivating watching from first to last breaths. Somewhere deep inside, most of us hope life’s protagonist will find their one true love so that their eventual demise is alongside a love everlasting.
Life is a roller coaster so dangerous that many would refuse to ride if it stood before them in their lifetime. For all that the roller coaster is a common allegory for life, it is terribly inaccurate for its failure to capture the acuteness of life’s ups and downs. Maybe take the forces from a roller coaster’s corkscrews, climbs, descents and loops; apply those forces to the emotions, intelligence and physical appearance of yourself and everyone around you; build a track to defy logic and physics by having more descents than ascents, more time upside-down than right way up; and remove all safety precautions so falling from a loop is always a possibility if you slow down too much —build a roller coaster like that and you might have a storybook representation of the ride of life.
Life is a game of chance where you can change your cards at any point and each step rolls countless dice to determine everything, but you never see them land. It is a game of chance that requires as much skill as luck yet some of the best players have succeeded with none of one and even none of both. Life is a lottery that shows you the wining numbers before you buy your ticket but the prize pool is secret and winning might cost you everything.
Life is short because someone decided to count how long it lasts and life seems shorter the longer you live. Introspection and reflection can make the most sour moments taste sweet while at the same time making angels grow horns — add more time for more sugar or bigger horns. Life will be over before you know it but it always lasts a lifetime.
Nothing will have hurt when the curtain falls on life’s cliché tragedy. For all that life is a practical impossibility, life is everything and everything is beautiful.
I loved visiting Grandma. I would have done so more than just once a week if I were able to make the trip without the rest of my family. I knew the way to get there by myself but Mum would not be happy with me riding my bike all the way on my own.
My grandmother’s place always excited me. So many nice old people would smile at me as I walked in with my family. Some would even give me sweets when I smiled back at them or said “Hello”. I think it was because I was always dressed in the best clothes I owned when visiting. Mum made certain that my hair was neat, my collar was straight and my shirt was tucked in. I didn’t really enjoy getting dressed up, but Grandma always told me how good I looked —and I liked that.
We were all sitting in Grandma’s room. Mum was sitting on the edge of the bed holding my baby brother, my eldest brother was sitting in Grandma’s wheelchair, rolling backwards and forwards, and I was on the floor as there were no seats left to sit on.
I looked up when I heard my name spoken. “Aiden won three gold medals in swimming last week, he set two records too,” Mum looked at me with a proud smile.
Grandma, who was lying in bed, smiled warmly and turned to look at me. “Really? Well done, Aiden!” she croaked. “You get bigger and better looking every time I see you. I hope you’re still doing well at school too?”
“Yes, Grandma. Of course I am!” I laughed my reply because she asked me the question about school a lot. I always answered in the same way but I thought it was funny — perhaps she was trying to catch me out?
Grandma turned to look at my older brother. “How’s your soccer going Joseph? Did you score any goals on the weekend?”
“Yes, I scored two goals but our team still lost,” Joseph said flatly. He sounded a little out of sorts.
Grandma looked tired so we sat in silence for a little while before she said, “Aiden! How you’ve grown! How’s your school work going? Are you still doing your swimming?”
I laughed. Grandma was playing the game again. I couldn’t control the giggle in my voice when I replied, “School is great, Grandma, and I won three medals the last time I went swimming.”
Grandma smiled, but the smile didn’t seem to light her eyes like it normally did. She looked confused — maybe I had scored a point in the game? I saw her shake her head slightly before turning to Joseph and asking him about his soccer. I don’t think Joseph liked the game because this time his answer was very short — the first few times he told Grandma about scoring two goals, he had sounded quite proud of himself as though losing the game had hardly mattered.
Grandma congratulated Joseph on his soccer again and looked at baby Sean in Mum’s arms. “He’s adorable. And he’s got your eyes, love,” she said. “How old is he now? Three weeks?”
I heard Mum take a raggedy breath and when she spoke her voice was soft and high pitched — like how I spoke when I knew I had to tell a truth that would get me in trouble. “No, Mum, he’s four months old now and growing up fast.” Mum was crying, a tear fell from her chin to disappear into the fluffy jumpsuit Sean was wearing. I don’t think she liked the game at all and that made me sad. It meant that we were going to be leaving soon.
“Come on guys. Say goodbye to Grandma now,” Mum said. She wore one of her best smiles and it glowed behind the tears streaking her face. “I think she needs to have a rest, we’ll come back next week.”
He reclined alone on a bus stop bench, legs outstretched and ankles crossed in front of him. A shoulder bag lay on the bench on one side of him and a bottle of water from which he occasionally sipped sat on the other. He wore a vacant, but welcoming smile and stared across the road and over the field at the glow the setting sun cast above the forest in the distance. He knew she would be here soon. He smiled brighter.
He was at ease in the silence. He called it silence, but it was more an absence of noise than a striking, soundless void. A cicada born out of season sang its lonely song, the fluttering rasp of dragonfly wings rapped with chirps from crickets too keen to wait for nightfall — a chorus singing in front of the orchestral whoosh of traffic from a distant, busy road. He did not think he had ever experienced real silence, but this was the silence he loved.
An irregular hum entered the ensemble and he turned to look down the road that curved away behind the forest trees lining its sides. The hum grew louder, jumping in volume as the bus rounded the bend and its sound no longer had to bounce through trees to reach his ears. It was a familiar bus, one that he had travelled on more times than he could count, and in all those trips at all times of day, not a single person had boarded or alighted from the stop where he now stood — that was the reason he had chosen this place. The bus, indicator flashing, slowed to stop in front of him and its door opened with a hydraulic hiss. He waited.
He had been certain she would come, but it was that special kind of certain, the certainty that hid its confidence behind semi-transparent clothes of insecurity. He smiled broadly as she stepped onto the skirt of the weathered road. She wore her own smile now and he embraced her warmly, placing a kiss upon her lips before stepping back.
“You look beautiful,” he said. He could not have been more sincere even though his eyes had yet to leave her face.
“Don’t start with that, please,” she was looking down at her feet but still grinning — he could see colour rising in her cheeks. He knew she did not like him to see her blush, but sometimes he could not help himself — she was beautiful. He embraced her again and kissed one glowing cheek.
“Sorry, my bad,” he replied, knowing well as he said it that his roguish smile would betray the lie. “I’m glad you made it though. I was worried you might not see me at the stop. The next one is quite the walk away.”
She gave a short laugh, “I had my nose pressed so hard to the window for most of the trip that I think the old lady beside me thought I was licking the glass! There was no way I was going to miss seeing you.” She looked up at him with a quizzical grin, “Care to tell me what’s going on yet?”
“Did you do as I asked?” he picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder, grabbed the water bottle and offered it to her.
“I did. Well, I tried to,” she shook her head at the proffered bottle. “It’s not easy to sleep during the day just because someone requests it, you know. I think I got a few hours in here and there, but mostly I read and did nothing.”
“I guess we’ll see if that was enough, huh?” He reached down and intertwined his hand with hers. Her fingers closed around his and he felt a warmth course through him. It always surprised him how wonderful he felt when he held her hand, but he kept that to himself and said, “We should probably make a move.”
After a cursory glance in both directions — he laughed inwardly at how firmly some lessons from childhood had hung on— he started across the road and into the field. This was the beginning of it. He lived and breathed her and had done so for longer than he had ever acknowledged it, but that did not mean he was sure of it at all. This kind of thing — walking into an unknown — seemed to make her uneasy, and meeting him at a secluded entry to a national forest no doubt had her wariness peaking. He squeezed her hand reassuringly as they crossed the last stretch of grass before the forest.
“The colours are so pretty,” she said before they moved underneath the canopy. Her head was turned to the sky and looking at the brilliant orange streaks of cloud above their heads.
“Hold that thought,” he said. He had found the path through the trees weeks beforehand and had walked it numerous times that day to clear away debris. A light breeze rustled the treetops above and the forest seemed to sigh as the two of them crossed the short distance to the clearing he had spent half the afternoon preparing. “The view is better from here.”
He heard her gasp softly and stalled to counter her missed step. The reason for the thinning trees could be felt underfoot — a flat, rocky outcrop atop a ridge that overlooked an evergreen valley, and in the distance, the last crescent of the sun was falling below the horizon. A blanket, two cushions, a battery powered lantern and a picnic basket sat a few metres from the edge. He was glad to see that there was no ant trail leading to the basket.
“Every good date must include dinner, right?” He let go of her hand and knelt down on one of the cushions to open the basket. He pushed the lid back to reveal a handful of takeaway containers, utensils, some plastic cups and a couple of bottles. He had thought of bringing plates, bowls and glasses, but practicality had won out in the end. There was wine too, and even though he was sure she would not partake, he knew she would not mind if he did.
“Oh my god,” she almost fell onto the other cushion before immediately shuffling it closer to him. He smiled and wrapped an arm around her, turning to gaze across the valley to the golden horizon below.
“Everything tastes better like this,” he said while switching on the lantern. He removed lids from the container selection and poured a couple of glasses of water and a couple of glasses of iced tea from the bottles. “There’s one of these almost every day and so rarely do we appreciate it.”
“A picnic dinner?” she asked before taking her first bite.
“You know I mean the sunset,” he said between bites from his own container.