Short, round arms flailed in the humid spring air (the children were very thirsty) and the sound of hurried footsteps filled the garden – they had somewhere to be, after all. A bouncing bob of red hair could sometimes be glimpsed over the thick bushes at the edge of the garden. Laughter shook the lime-green leaves on the oak tree, and it was a child-like laughter that did not quite know what to do with itself. It had no purpose, no cause, no effect. But it was happy.
It was laughter. The children raced and ran around the bench, round and round the blazing fire blazing colors and ever-changing light —- Laughter bubbled at the edge of their mouths.
A voice from the house, and then they were back, arms reaching for the long vines of ivy, knees knocking together, climbing the stairs in a flurry, converging on the threshold in a joyous melee… In a swift movement they tumbled into the house, called for each other, heard the silence, puzzled, turned around… The children paused.
One of them had tripped on a floorboard that stuck out at a strange angle from the parquet
— and vanished.
The heavy wooden door was shutting…
Silence muffled what was to come, smothered possibility and filled the garden with the presence of a hunched figure that occupied the bench.
Her eyes were not quite closed; her mind was not asleep. Copper lashes veiled her vision so that she could not glimpse the dying rosebush, or the rotting bark of the old tree. Instead, she waited, waited for the memories, waited for the children to come rushing back
and trip on that floorboard.
For the stranger to walk through the gate
For their mother to call them back into the house.
For time to begin to flow backwards.
Look, look over the leaves suspended in the autumn heat and look inside the house, through the dust-clad glass of the tall windows and into the soul of this dwelling. Watch in silence; look away. See how its facade crumbles? Wait a little more. Perhaps you will glimpse time present and time past. Perhaps you will out-wait time future. Time tilts.
Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage, through the entryway, into the garden, out –
You passed the wilting shrubbery, went around the rusting gate. You missed him, though he noticed you. His present converged with your future. A man met the phantom of a child; you were deaf to the whisper of a father. But to what purpose should you meet again? He, swaying to a forgotten, silent tune. You, the deaf musician bound to play the flute. Both living in the perpetual possibility of entering Burnt Norton, where time future is contained in time past. He took a step towards the door and stumbled slightly; he had tripped on a misplaced floorboard.
Olivia tries to stand up. She called for the children to go in, heard them run up to the entrance and just as they slammed the door she turned to the mirror and saw herself, ageless and eternal. Tearing her gaze away from the mirror, tearing her hands away from her face, she reached for the doorknob of her bedroom door. She would go down and greet her future visitor at the threshold.
At the still point of the turning world, eternity thickens. Trees change to greening sprouts in the eyes of old men, writing a moment locked away in the book of present time. Fruit ripens in the lapse of consciousness of impatient children.
The garden’s residents, alive with the promise of tomorrow run and laugh and call to each other unaware that their paths are never to cross, but in that one simultaneous moment.