The clocks have gone back. After school, the dregs of the town are swilled and swallowed back into their homes long before dinnertime. The flags on the pavement no longer shrink under the cacophony of uncaring heels; rather they stretch out and yawn kittenishly. The way home is further than it was a month ago. It is only I waiting at the bus stop on the promenade. The façades of the shops glow meaninglessly, gold fillings in the decayed sore of this stupid town. The day leaves me gaping, a curled dead leaf cocooning nothing more than a languid tube of air. Yet the evening is not silent—is it ever? Bodiless voices adrift on the stagnant twilight air, tenuous skeins unnoticeable at first, but together, homogeneously, they weave and writhe and appear. They really do! The pitch of life is a subtle, but an everlasting one. It will hum, until the Sun swallows us all up.
The bus has missed me. I haven’t seen it, but it will miss me. It will not see me, for I have been swallowed up, by the pavement, by the sheen of rain that falls oh so softly from the heavens. I have faded. I am the plane tree with its twisted arms, weeping under the weight of the ever nearing, ever swooping sky. The portly driver at the window, with his cheese sandwich that his wife has already optimistically put under the grill, needn’t look at the bus stop. He needn’t tame his wild chariot, fearlessly yanking the reins of his foam-mouthed steed to allow the bawdy maiden into his vinyl kingdom. The polyester-garbed matador needn’t don his cape tonight. He may dissipate, a bulging caterpillar making its final, pained lollops towards home. So leave me here, you inconsiderate wretch. Leave me to rot here, at the foot of the plane tree, head resting on the gummy bus shelter. Leave me here, with my bag belching its deadlines onto me, suffocating me, as I watch the hands sweep across the yellow face.
Keats comes. Write about little Autumn, I tell him, the bruised, ugly sister of seasons. “You are not Autumn!,” he cries. He looms over me, a crazed shadow. “You are nothing. You are not art, neither are you eternal!” His face is jaundiced and huge, bony fingers popping at my shivering morsel of meat, he is guffawing, bellowing, shaking with the magnitude of his mirth, and all the time the tails of his scarf are whipping into my face, threatening to take out an eye with their spirals of yarn. And then he leaves, terrified by the burbling cry of baby Aurora, her pomegranate-stained fingers already leaving traces on the leaden sky. He is swallowed up, the final gulp of bittersweet life in this godforsaken town. He is right. I am nothing, nothing but a piece of lurid pink gum on the foot of a plane tree by a bus stop.
—Libby C., 16, London ♦