The English Evergreens
I suppose it makes sense that I was the one who first noticed there was something wrong. I’ve always been preoccupied with the past. When I was five, my father walked into our living room and found me bawling my eyes out. “If you die, Daddy, who will be able to tell me about Nanny and Granddad?” And while we all laughed about it years later, I sometimes think we were laughing because we knew it was true. Once my father died, there was really nothing of my grandparents left except a few dusty diaries. On the day you passed, I thought a lot about the saying that you die twice, once when your body gives up and once on the last time someone says your name aloud. It made me feel better. Seeing the internet light up in tribute, I knew you’d live forever.
I did my bit to continue your legacy. You and several others heroes of my lifetime. My kids probably grew bored of it but it felt important to pass down the cultural touchstones of my life. Every night, I’d read them a story. Sometimes it was about wizards who can’t be named and sometimes it was about the apocalypse, gangsters and clockmakers, and a man who dressed up as a tiger. Often it was none of those things. It was about a world that lived on the back of four elephants who sat on a giant turtle. Or a story about an evil ring. Or it was about a man who once he eliminated the impossible knew that, no matter how improbable, what was left was the truth. Every weekend, we’d watch the show about a man and his blue box. And I hope they loved it all, but maybe they didn’t. And maybe that was fine?
But I also played them music. I’m sure I must have played them all sorts but mostly I played them you. With you, I muddled my way through explaining life. We made a heck of a team. You were the lighthouse in the storm, guiding them home, telling them to be who they wanted to be. Mostly, I just filled in the blanks. “No, you don’t have to dress like that to be cool. You just dress like how you want to. That’s the important thing.” “Of course you can change what you want to do! Change as much as you like, just don’t forget what came before.” I think the last lesson was important, not just to my kids but to everyone. When you died, we were always looking back. Remakes and soft reboots, originality wilting like a dying flower. You showed us that it was important to change, to be new, to be different, to be yourself at that exact moment and not a reflection of the past. You didn’t have to apologise for changing, either. You just did because that’s what you wanted. We all needed to see that. But the most important lesson of all, as I raised a couple of metrosexual culture geeks in a Pacific island filled with rugby, was that my kids learnt that I wasn’t much cop at punching other people’s dads.
Even with my eye occasionally on the past, it wasn’t till I was getting on a bit that I noticed what was happening. I think it was when my father died. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember my grandparents. Oh, I knew I must have had them. Everyone had grandparents. But I couldn’t picture a single thing about them. No names, no faces, there was nothing. I even went to dig out old pictures and they had been wiped away, leaving just an empty landscape. It was like a hand suddenly closed around my heart. I kept it to myself, though. If I told anyone, I was sure I would have been locked up inside.
When people did start to notice, though, the world erupted. Scientists were thrown unlimited money to make the problem go away. Churches and mosques swelled with the ignorant and the afraid. Whole history books had been wiped clean. Obscure film reels were found to be bare. If there were no living memories, the Palimpsest went to work. Relatives, cultures, even certain places seemed to vanish before our eyes, leaving us with just the barest notion that they existed in the first place. The churches couldn’t do anything. Neither could the scientists. Slowly, more and more people died and more and more things were lost. The world shrunk. Landmasses disappeared. Centuries departed.
At first I didn’t think it was odd that I was still alive. My contemporaries were dropping all around me, but I had just the slightest idea that similar things had happened to previous generations. I couldn’t really be sure. Anyway, I was too focussed on remembering. I was remembering a lot back then. Loved ones, friends, places, books, films, and of course, you. I was worried that if I didn’t remember them, no one would. And slowly, without me really even noticing, the world grew smaller and smaller unless it was just me alone.
I had a garden and the garden was Earth. Beyond the boundaries of my little home, there was only ocean. Perhaps there was no land at all except from the little patch of earth that I crowned myself king of. There was a cottage which belonged to someone else long gone. I busied myself with the art of memory. I copied out the words of my favourite fading novels. In the garden, I cut patterns in the grass and made bush sculptors of police boxes and pointy-hatted wizards. I could walk for hours among the grassy statues of once famous references. You were the problem. Digital records began to crumble. Vinyl slowly stopped working. I had to teach myself how to play guitar, and while it wasn’t the same, it allowed the spiders to continue to dance to my rudimentary attempts at a tune.
Time marched on and I began to stumble against its relentless speed. It felt as if it was pressing in against my skull, squeezing until my brain crumpled in and I had less room to remember things. There was a day where I began to actively forget things. It was the only way to stop myself from going insane. I started crying that day. It must have been so long ago, but even now I’ll touch my cheeks and feel my lined, wet skin. The only difference is I no longer remember what I’m crying for. I try and tell myself everything is okay, but I’m not sure I believe it.
By the time the starmen came, I was down to only a few memories. They landed in my garden and I raced back into the cottage, hunting down the various scraps of paper and the guitar within the corner. I showed them the book about the world and the elephants and the turtle, and I played them one of your songs. Perhaps they could take you and the Author up into the stars and you two would live together forever. Once they left, though, I fell back into a sea of inky blackness. I had no idea if they understood, if they counted to the Palimpsest. Perhaps, I realised a millennium after they had left, they were the ones who caused the whole thing to begin.
Now, I walk through my gardens and I see boxes, people and creatures and I don’t know what they mean. Even the Author who stayed with you till the end has escaped my memory. I just remember you. The sky about me is blackest black and fiery orange, regal purple and the red of the end. The universe is ending. You made it. I guess I’ve made it as well, but sometimes I wonder if I really still exist. I concentrated so hard on remembering everything important to me that I forgot to remember myself. I think it’s just you here. At the end of the universe.
And yet, there is the hooded man who watches me from the gate. All of time and I’ve never seen him before. He has been there for hours and only now is he walking toward me. I cannot see his face beneath his cowl. There is only blackness.
YOU DID WELL.
“Who are you?”
IT IS NOT IMPORTANT. IT IS OF THE LEAST IMPORTANCE IT HAS EVER BEEN. YOU DID WELL. YOU REMEMBERED THE DUKE. I REMEMBERED THE AUTHOR. TOGETHER THEY LIVED BUT NOW WE MUST ALL GO. BEFORE THE CANDLE IS BLOWN OUT.
“Can’t we… can’t we stop it?”
THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO.
COME, LET US GO.
© James Rowland 2016
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