May 06

natureBeneath the clouds, the sun produces only a fading, sickly glow.  The City dominates, the masses of concrete, glass and steel, brooding in hues of grey.  Its narrow streets have self-suffocated, enclosed by the tall, hard buildings pushing upward to block what little light their vantage affords.  The calm holds an eerie silence as the rain clouds continue their sluggish advance.

The stillness infects the City.  Cars hold to their positions in meter spaces, only the rare vagrant scuttling its way home through the muggy dim.

Somewhere an electrical circuit is completed.  Without warning, streetlights flicker and cast their dull orbs against the pallor of the thoroughfare below, dominoes of light tumbling in rows along the pavement.

The sky makes its reply.  The first, lone raindrop leaves its home and drops toward the earth, features pulled and stretched as it makes its path through the thick air.  A large, lazy body, it falls loudly onto the street, casting its remains aside.

The second drop falls and lands on the man’s boot.  The foot pauses as the liquid is half-watched running across the waxy surface, and the street answers in echo to the rain’s steadily increasing garble.  The threat of deluge is nearly fulfilled.  He begins his journey through the dingy streets, pulling his overcoat collar up around his neck and buttoning it, nestling his chin in the heavy fabric.  It will be too hot, but it will be dry.

Making his way along the pavement, the scent of the newly dampened street assaults his nostrils, attempting an unsolicited comfort to his mood.  The plopping rain grows into a downpour, each of the drops glistening as they travel through the ray of the streetlights, forming an incessant, slick waterfall. The rain regroups at ground level, weaving through the rocks in the asphalt, fleeing from the stench and dirt of the City, heading for the watercourses.  Small puddles have already formed, trapped in the irregularities of their own miniature topography.

He rounds the corner, his mind juggling accusations.  The cars have begun their exodus.  As he makes his way up the street, they flash from their positions as headlights are switched on, and wipers jolt into their relentless and furious swaying.  His foot lands in a puddle, scattering the liquid around the perimeter.  He watches as the surface tries desperately to reform around his boot, but is ripped again as the leather drags through and lands on the other side.  Left behind, the ripples steady in their oscillation, calming and calling for the droplets to rejoin.  They’ve already begun, winding their way back through the asphalt to the motherlode.

The crescendo of approaching cars incites his thoughts to higher arrogance.  The wet tyre rubber pronounces its staccato hiss as it forcefully peels the fluid from the street, angrily tossing the spray at any vehicle threatening to overtake.  A loud cacophony emerges from a trailing car, and as it passes him, the occupants continue their mindless diatribe, and he turns to look in disinterest at his abusers.  Their faces framed in the windows, twisted with miscellaneous malice, appear to him as frozen gargoyle busts, head and shoulders a graven image in testament to the City’s foul temperament.  Their squawking cries fade into the distance but don’t die, mingling with a noisy crowd of workmen ahead.  Again the offensive sound of crass, loudly spoken words grows in his ears as he nears their site.  The City’s concrete infection spreads its hold upon the earth, pushing forward its boundaries into Nature and fortifying the strongholds.  The minions of the concrete god, dressed in their garish orange coats and hardhats, carry on His work, having poured the grey, insipid molasses onto the suffocating earth, joking and jeering in feigned ignorance of their work’s sinister nature.

A drop of water falls from his nose, and he shakes the rain from his hair.  Walking on, his thoughts refocus. Self-righteousness fuels his strides as he continues through the sodden streets.  Argument and counter-argument pass through his mind, covering all possibilities.

He pictures her cowering in a grotty hovel somewhere, hiding behind a thin and cheaply-papered wall, knowing she’ll be exposed.  Remembering an old shortcut, he turns off the street into a narrow lane, leaving the workmen to do his silent bidding.  Buildings push into the sky behind him, trees are buried in greyness, and he continues on, seemingly unaware.

Sidestepping an overflowing garbage bin, he shudders as a trickle from the rusted guttering above burrows down the neck of his overcoat.  He turns again into an even smaller laneway, and picks his way through the varied refuse, at times crabbing sideways through the barely shoulder-width passage.

Reaching the adjoining pavement at the end of the laneway, he turns uphill, lowering his face from the chill of the blustering wind which channels down the open street, driving the rain into stinging darts.  Replaying the argument in his mind, he works his legs deliberately up the increasing incline.  This time there’s no doubt that he was right.

He ascends the rise, but wastes no time considering the limited view, which consists only of grey on grey, interspersed by more and more teams of workmen labouring at their newly-assigned task.  He begins to jog, his overcoat flapping behind him.  The rain still falls steadily, and the chilling wetness of his trouser legs begins to be an uncomfortable contrast to the muggy atmosphere.  Drawing from the discomfort, he settles again into his black mood, and as he runs he steels his view by revisiting her every sentence in his mind, making judgements, scoring points.  He sees her again, hiding, pretending she’s right but knowing she’s wrong.  City block after City block passes beneath his long strides, as he weaves his way into the darkest streets.  He slows to a walk again, aware of the thick, wet heat between his shoulder blades, trapped by the overcoat.

Finding the filthy laneway, he slowly edges forward, running his hand along the shadowed wall where a burnt out lamp hangs uselessly.  Reaching the door, he conceals his self-congratulatory smirk and twists the handle, giving the door a push.  It creaks, but sticks, the sagging framework holding one corner firm.  Lurching and shouldering the door firmly, he stumbles into the passageway and allows his eyes time to adjust.

The smell of the house only hardens his mood, and he makes his way inwards, still guessing at the room in which she’ll be hiding.  The stains of rising damp in the walls are now more clear to his vision, reaching to the crumbling ceiling as the greedy fingers of the City’s own appendages.  He enters each of the three tiny rooms, and finds her in none of them, empty other than the hollow echo of his own footsteps.  He leaves the house, slamming the door on the odour, and mulling over options, makes his way back to the street.

He leans against the wall of the building on the corner, considering where to go.  His trousers cling to his calves despite the impossible angle his position imposes on the cloth, and he’s thankful that the overcoat has prevented all but his lower legs from getting wet, not fancying the chafing of wet fabric on his thighs.  The sweat on his back has started to cool, and he knows that he’ll soon feel the clamminess spread.

For the first time since the rain began, he suspects just how wet he’s become.  He pushes himself off the wall and takes a few paces to stand before a large, dirty, shop window.  His gritty reflection almost turns the edges of his mouth into a smile.  His hair is flattened on his head, rain dribbling immediately from his forehead-plastered fringe down over his flushed face.  The overcoat is two-toned, a mix of dark saturation and the lighter shades under his armpits where the rain hasn’t yet reached, and where, he notes, sweat will be soaking through from the other side.  His shoulders are slumped and beginning to ache from the weight of wet material which seems to have lost all shape of its own.  Hitching up the coat, he discovers that his trousers are not as dry as he’d hoped, the coat’s dampness beginning to transfer.

Looking at the window again, his mind snatches at the situation, seizing the opportunity to blame her for his discomfort.  As soon as the idea presents itself to his consciousness, he rejects it, and smiles despite himself.  The absurdity of the idea, combined with the vision of the bedraggled swamp-thing before his eyes, moves him to want to share the humour of the moment with her.  As if for the first time, sheepishly, he remembers their love.  The City feels a tremor.

He turns and walks again, in no particular direction.  Afraid of ignoring his grievance and so losing himself, he weighs it pensively.  The City shakes for the second time, wet clumps of dust falling from old, previously hidden cracks in the concrete.  Still in thought, he stops and turns slowly.

He makes his way back to the rise, walking deliberately but slowly, as though restraining himself.  The workmen are disappearing, scurrying from the shafts of sunlight which are beginning to penetrate the clouds.  As he stands again on the peak of the hill, a new breeze carries the sweet, loamy scent of rain-dampened earth.  He lifts his eyes to the horizon and takes in the first vision of the mountain range towering sentinel over the City.  His certainties droop, and he yearns for reconciliation.  He heads toward the mountains.

His strides become shorter and faster.  A new urgency holds him, and although he doesn’t understand clearly, he’s aware that his yearning has become almost desperate, sweeping away even his desire to be heard.  He breaks into a run, and the familiarity and ordinariness of his surroundings become riddled with strange scenes as his comprehension is shattered by the recognition of a whole new perspective.  Cracks in the pavement widen, giving way to quickly germinating seedlings, their young seed-leaves unfolding as their stems become more green and thick.  Trees begin to appear in incongruous places, cheerily poking through between the grey blocks which had always been so concrete and full, but which now tremble and crumble, silently fading into nondescript shadows.

Nearing the border between the City and Nature, he looks up to see the storm has rolled over him.  Gazing ahead in his path, he can make out sunlight striking the plains in broad shafts of light streaming from between the lightening clouds.

His pace quickens as the scent of wildflowers rises above the carbon and grime stench of the City.  Finally he breaks into the open and draws a deep breath of loam-scented air.  The ground is soft beneath his feet, each footfall padded by the moss that rises to greet the soles of his boots.  Stopping to remove them, a tingle of delight courses through him at the feel of the moss between his toes.  Taking his overcoat off and folding it over his arm, he starts into a jog for the other side of the clearing where the forest begins.  The blue wildflowers sweep past his knees as he runs through them, following the much-travelled path of the wildlife that now sleeps.  The breeze moves the flower-sea in gentle waves of deepest blue, and it cools him as he slides through the midst.

Into the forest his jog halts, and he strides gently, the magical power of the ancient trees commanding his respect and entrancing his imagination.

Stopping at a small clearing where the ground rises to a mound, he surveys the scene.  His eyes trace the line of foliage down into the valley where the vegetation becomes more lush in the wetter earth.  Finally he makes out the canopy of the massive, old pear tree, its grand and twisted branches contrasting the uniformity of the comparatively straight eucalypts.

Smiling, he makes his way toward it, weaving between the trees.  Just before reaching the pear, he stops and hears the sound of breathing, deep and sure.  He moves around the last few trees.

She lies on her back, one arm to her side, the other bent and draped lightly over her breast.  The sun filters through the trees and reflects the softest glow from her auburn hair, and brings a sweet colour to her cheeks.  The moss cradles her form, and she seems natural there.  He lies down beside her, propping his head with his folded coat to afford a fuller view of her face.  He longs to wake her, but he waits for her rest.

The sun sinks low in the sky, and she begins to stir.  He reaches for her hand and takes it lightly in his, letting it rest again at her breast.  Her heavy eyelids open slightly, and she acknowledges her forgiveness with a sleepy smile.  He takes his hand from hers and brings it to her cheek, the back of his fingers slipping lightly across her pale skin, aglow with the vitality the Nature’s sleep has afforded.  His palm resting at her temple, fingers stroking her hair, he moves closer.  She rolls to meet him, and holding each other, they close their eyes.

And meanwhile, in a dark remnant of the landscape, the spewing, churning, spurning haste of the City rolls once more into full swing, and the remaining buildings spy on him from afar with dark mirth in their windows, holding their silence.

© 01/01/02  M.L. Roberts


  1. Annwen, the esteemed literature critic /

    I greatly appreciate this story. The metaphor and personification are superb – your personality shines through (especially in the parts where it describes the arrogance hehe) and it is an accurate representation of the feelings that you have tried to convey. Using a city to portray anger, bitterness, self-absorption etc was a STROKE OF GENIUS. The scene where the character looks into the mirror to see himself is especially powerful for me – when he realises the absurdity of his arrogance and the city starts to transform. Again, a particularly accurate representation of the aftermath of a fight. The part where he smirks with self-satisfaction was also pleasing – I can see that this has sprung from personal experiences and analysis of your own behaviour.

    I also like that he remains right through the entire thing, and just has to accept it. That’s great.

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