On Samhain

Since men wrenched back the clocks, twilight catches me unawares. The night steals in stealthily, and lands fast. Tonight will be imbued with magic. Samhain- the turning of the year. The going into the dark.

      I watch through the office window, as the soft light casts long shadows,

and fades. Like powder cast into water, dissolving, tinged with melancholy. 

And strangeness.

      Hauling on my rucksack, and tucking trousers into socks, I go out into the sharp air. I smell wood-smoke. A chill fog moves in. The twilight hangs like a fine veil between the worlds. I think about ghosts. Of my wonderful Grandmother, not long gone.

I want to be home before I am encased in darkness, and the army of witchy creatures from all history, swoop down at me.

      I climb on to the bike, and ride for home.  I turn on the lights, but the beam only sharpens the fog, and bounces back to me. Fiery-copper autumn trees are half-seen. Mistaken and morphed. They recede from my eye, like boats sailing away into the mist.

      The silent turning world.

      Now you see things. Now you don’t. Now you see things. Now you don’t.

      Descending the hill, my hands tighten on the handlebars. My Grandmother flashes into my mind. She imprints herself upon me. Her hands snap into position where mine should be. ‘Off we go then’ she says, in the spirit of adventure. And my heart flips over. Tears swell to my eyes silently, softly, achingly.

      I can’t find her at all in the outside world, but she sometimes takes up residence in my body like this. I am not consumed by grief. I am disoriented by it.

It is her absolute presence and absolute absence that confounds me. She is so clear, but when I reach out, I put my hand through clouds.

      Now I see her. Now I don’t. Now I hear her. Now I don’t.

     

      Flying down the mountain to the plain, I see it from far away. The mute, scarlet, swinging blink, of an ambulance light cutting through the fog.

      I freewheel alongside the empty country airfield. Where the airfield ends and a field of maize begins, a helicopter sits like a resting dragonfly, limp winged, alongside the ambulance. There is the jagged remains of crashed glider too, glowing white in the dark. I guess that it came down too steeply, before the runway. Its face is shattered into a thousand pieces across the shorn grass ground.

      A group of silent, uniformed men are standing, quietly, head bowed, as if round a grave.  They shelter a still, prone form from view. A tableau. They don’t move for a long time.

      I bring my bike to a halt, somehow inside the drama. Alone on the deserted road I peer at the scene through the half-light. The smell of newly-turned harvest soil in my nostrils. No one moves. No one looks over. The utter silence roars. 

      It’s hard to get a grip of what’s happening. Slowly, piecing the half-seen together, I realise that the unremitting flashing light of the ambulance is pacing out a death scene. The uniformed men, bearing the sad disappointment of how life turns out in the end, move medical equipment away.  There is nothing more to be done.

      My grandmother’s voice chortles in my ear ‘Well, well, well’. And that small, sharp intake of breath that she used to do, escapes my lungs.

      The men perfunctorily turn a blanket out to cover what they guard. They carry it to the helicopter, its weight causing their gait to roll.  I know there is a person under there.

      My Grandmother’s head, (or possibly it’s my head?), shakes slowly in disbelief. Hers was a proper death at almost 94, not like this young thing, gone at perhaps a quarter of that.

      Now you see me. Now you don’t. Now you’re here. Now you’re not.

      The utter silence roars.

 

      I am lost in other bodies, swathed in death. And all I want to do now is to fly from it. Shake them all off. Turn on the silenced siren to blast through the fog.  That something might reach me.

      Don’t let the light fade. Don’t let the light fade.

      On I pedal. I go fast, fast. In order to jerk myself awake. I want to come back from between the worlds. I try to contact the fall of my feet on the pedals, and my breath. I latch on to beacons of colour. I drink in the amber and gold-sparking chrysanthemums, that wait outside houses. They will be placed on graves, on tomorrow’s Day Of The Dead. My eyes can’t get enough of the glittering citron poplar trees, and the popping ruby berries strung along the road.  

      And when I arrive home I grasp too the bubbling laughter of my son, and the scratch of the pouncing kitten, to bring me back to the land of the living.

      In the evening, at official celebrations of All Hallows, I am delighted to be only with those who still breathe. There is the pulsing, crackling fire. There is sharp cold-slap on my face as I surface from the bobbing bucket, a scarlet apple clenched between teeth, juice sour in my mouth.

     The dead are absent and life blazes. Hypnotised by the flames, I hear, in their dancing flicker, these words-

 

 Live fiercely, while you can.

Hold those you love very tight.

Don’t waste a second on discord.

Set a blaze in your heart.

Because one day, too soon,

A veil will be thrown between you and them,

And you will be gone into darkness.