September Writing Challenge: Late Night Thoughts

Every month I ask my Facebook author page followers to give me writing prompts. It can be anything from a visual prompt, to a song title or lyric, overheard conversation, a piece of flash fiction, or a poem. This month I had another wonderful selection to choose from and a non-fiction prompt really caught my eye. Thanks to author Shannon Rohrer for this one!

Late Night Thoughts

Before bed, I venture outside and the air is cool, September saying hello. It makes me smile. Feel sort of giddy like that back to school feeling and the smug comfort of pulling on a favourite hoodie for the first time since the heat came. The sun sets a little earlier every night, dark now by 8pm. I cross the garden, flattening grass that died and came back to life. I think about life. I think about death.

I close up the chickens, then check the field behind. I’ve watched all the sunsets this summer, I’ve seen all the colours spread across that same horizon. I’ve watched the copse darken until it resembles a spiked hedge, jagged edges breaking up the sky.

There is a chill in the air, reminding me to say goodbye to summer. I eye up the woodpile when I go back inside. Will it be enough? What sort of winter lies ahead?

There is a calmness, like the earth breathing out, or perhaps she is holding her breath, bracing herself for what comes next. This summer we torched her. We burned her like never before. For the first time, some of us thought about water. And not having water.

Inside, I sit down to write, the window open, the road silent and dark, the pheasants making a fuss as they settle in the trees that line the lane. Everything goes around and around. The sun goes down, the sun comes up. Summer ends, autumn begins, they merge and overlap, until the first frost bites. We wake up and get up and do the things that make a life. We lie down and sleep. One day we don’t wake up.

I think about death when I climb into bed. I try not to assume another morning awaits me. Like every time I get into the car and wonder if today is the day I die. Because we don’t know, we never know. We take it for granted or is it faith? My car won’t crash. Not me. Not today. There is no death in my rear view mirror, only all the open roads that lie ahead. Paths to choose, forks in the road, possibilities, waiting, potential, waiting. Somehow, we feel like we are always waiting.

As a child, we wait for the school day to end. We wait for summer to free us. We wait for Christmas to excite us. We wait to grow up. As teenagers, we wait to become adults, to taste the things we’ve heard about for so long. To have our turn. Take our place. As adults, we wait for the weekend. We wait for better days, more money, more time. As parents, we wait for babies to be born, alive. We wait for babies to survive into toddlerhood and we sigh in relief every day we keep them safe. We wait for children to become teenagers, so that we can claw our lives back and let them go. We wait for phone calls in the dead of night letting us know they are safe. Then we wait for death.

We wait for aching bones and finding it hard to get on your feet. We wait for our bladders to wake us up at night like clockwork. We look forward to sitting down with a nice cup of tea and a good book. I think about this late at night. What am I waiting for?

I don’t know.

Maybe I have everything I will ever need or want, right now. A home, a partner, children, work, a garden to tend, writing to do. Maybe I’m not waiting for anything anymore. Maybe death hovers, reminding us that it’s always close but maybe I don’t have to wait for death, just keep an eye on it.

Late at night, I think that life is very, very weird. You’re born, you live, you die and ultimately, eventually, you will be forgotten. But that’s okay, isn’t it? Is that the part of death we fear the most? We fear death of loved ones because we can’t stand the thought of losing them. We fear our own deaths because we will cease to exist. Possibly. Probably.

Mostly, I don’t think I mind.

In some ways, I have left things behind so that I might not be totally forgotten. Four children, countless trees and shrubs and so far, sixteen books. Eventually, that will all be gone too. Does it matter? I don’t think so.

Life moves on. From dawn til dusk, from summer to autumn. We have no more right to everlasting life than the leaves drying and curling and floating down to rot on the forest floor, and we are just as much a part of everything. Of life, death and decay.

From Summer to Autumn, From Baby to Boy

You can’t see changes as they happen.

You only really see it once it’s gone. One moment it’s glorious summer. The grass is dry, the day is long, and everywhere you go it is bright, and green. From the twisty lane, stuffed tight and expanding quickly with ferns, nettles, sorrel and blackberry. To the rows of Oaks and Sycamores, filling the skyline, creating a wall of green, a canopy of leaves. And then suddenly it’s Autumn. The nights are drawing in. The mornings begin to chill. And it’s the same with you. Because there is no straight line between baby and boy. There is no sudden, glaring realisation, only a season of subtle, bitter sweet changes.

As August made way for September, it seemed like the leaves were in a hurry to come down, as was the rain. On the first day of the new Autumn month, we picked leaves up from the lane. You carried them one by one and placed them in the bottom of the buggy. I told you we could stick them to some paper when we got home, to make a tree, and you said ‘yes, mummy’ and ‘deedo, mummy.’ I’m not sure when you will start saying thank you, but I do know you will forever be remembered for saying deedo.

I told you that the leaves were slowly falling from the trees, and you listened and said ‘yes mummy’. Blackberry season is in full swing, the lane bursting with their ripe, purple black colour. We picked some on our walk. You helped me fill a small, round tub, and on the way home, you stood on the back of the buggy and ate half of them. I watched your little hand go in time after time, and when I lifted you down, your lips and cheeks were smeared with purple. You kept saying, ‘one more, one more!’

And I realised how much you have changed over the summer.

My little baby has become a little boy.

Out in the garden you wanted more leaves for your picture. I hung out the washing while you picked them up. Then we stood and watched as the huge sycamore released them, one by one. I picked you up and we listened, hearing the rustle and the shush as each leaf fell in turn through the others, to land softly on the grass. I think we were both amazed by how quickly they fell, by how abruptly Summer must make way for Autumn.

I looked at the deflated paddling pool lying limply over the roof of your playhouse. It’s waiting to be washed and stored away. It made me think of all the long, summer days of bare feet on dry grass, of sticky ice cream faces and water fights.

Already there is a chill in the air first thing in the morning. We await the first frost. The vegetable garden is still producing, but we sense a panic. We marvel daily at the size of the biggest pumpkin and look forward to picking and carving it for Halloween.

After you finished your picture, you helped me make a fruit crumble. Apples and pear and rhubarb and blackberries. The smells of early Autumn bubbling on the stove. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ springs to mind, and yes everything seems full and ripe and bursting with life, determined to beat the Winter clock. To remain outdoors for as long as we can.

This summer made so many changes to you, and next summer will make even more.

You entered the  summer a baby and you left it a boy. You started to say mummy, instead of mum-mum. You decided you didn’t want to wear nappies any more, so now you wear pants like a big boy. And then last week, you decided to go to sleep without being breastfed, something I had once thought impossible! You seemed restless, confused, then giggly. So I suggested we cuddle instead, and we did, and that was…that.

Another moment moved on from, another memory formed. Another time of our lives we will never get back again. I lay there every night after that, holding you tight, smiling while I blinked back tears.

You know all of your colours, even grey, purple and black. You try to count things. You like to point at letters and repeat back what I say. You just want to grow up so quickly! You say you are ‘gig’ because you’re not too great with ‘b’. And you like to pack your little bag and declare that you are going to ‘dool’, like your big brother and sisters.

In a few more weeks the trees will be bare. The lane will be covered with dead leaves and the weather will be colder still. The blackberries will be over and the acorns gathered by hungry squirrels. The trees will look so different, always black and silhouetted against the winter sky, beautiful and haunting in equal measures. Summer will seem like a distant memory, as will your babyhood.

Sometimes the hardest thing about life is that we can never go back. New days lurk without warning, new seasons push their way forward, and we never have any choice but to go keep moving. You can’t ever go back, that’s the thing.

 

I love the change of seasons. The end of something and the start of something new. Now is the time I start to feel the childish tingles of Christmas anticipation. But first there is Halloween and Bonfire Night, and I’m already getting excited on your behalf. So much more fun to be had. So many more memories to make.

I can’t help looking ahead to next summer. Wondering how much clearer your speech will be. Wondering what sort of conversations we will be able to have. Wondering what you favourite toys will be. And it seems impossible! Yet I know it will be here in a blink of an eye.

And it’s always sad, yet wonderful and magical, watching you change with the seasons.