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Autumn Days

—By John Dixon
OCU Graduate Student, The Red Earth MFA in Creative Writing

hear the story as read by the author

The black-bricked chapel at the end of the lane held a bell in its belfry that rang at noon on Wednesdays and twice a day on Sundays. The memory of that bell brings me back. Clover that grew in autumn dew and brown mud that peeked through the dying grass. Fifty degree weather—Fahrenheit, of course, the only proper way to tell temperature—and skies overcast like dim blue fields lined with gray puffs that stretched on forever. There was always something magical about autumn in those days. Whether it was the promise of a new school year beginning or the fact that Oklahoma just quit looking like a sun-soaked green wasteland I never was sure. Maybe I felt like I was back home in the old country, home of my ancestors.

“Clouds Descend” by student Claire Police, Theatre Design & Production Senior

But memories keep like stale jars in a fridge. We try to preserve them, keep them fresh as long as we can before decay sets in. All that we have when we try to open them are odors, fragments of something that once was multi-layered. A sheen of anger over being rejected. A pall of sadness over a forgotten conversation. All these complex memories reduced to feelings, single-key notes.

Then again there are some memories so off-putting that we store them away, freeze them, try to get rid of them forever. We can remember all too well the intricate taste of pain, the sounds of agony, the feeling of despair. We bottle it up to keep it hidden. We try to forget about it, to hope it will fade, but it never was anything appetizing. Rot doesn’t get to set in, because it’s already putrefied at heart.

Amidst the clover and the mud and the blue-tinged sky I remembered something else: the naked branches of the oaks behind the belfry twisting up into the pallid sky like the devil’s hands.

I would not go back there for many years, not until my father slept the sleep eternal.

Time passed and as I grew older, the world moved on. The church was demolished. The house in which we lived was torn down. Bittersweet my memories; but still the ruinous cadaver claws of those ancient trees stark against the horizon, tearing and clawing at the sunset, unwilling to let the sun go without a fight …

I was raised in the city, of course. The untamed majesty of nature, the realness of it, never imparted its terrible wisdom on me as a youth. Though the land was mine in memory, on paper, I could feel that it was not mine in spirit. The land here owned itself, as wilderness does. It crept forth from its origins, roots ever-twisting, seeding naked earth and giving birth to countless creatures of the wild, devouring back which it belched in its own time. Humanity had done a good job at an attempt to control it—hacking it back, slicing it, destroying it. Paving roads so that human feet could cross and crafting buildings so mankind could sleep well in the knowledge that, for now at least, they were protected.

Perhaps, I thought, the day of the funeral. Perhaps this is why man is so wicked to the earth. Because they know, deep down inside, that in the end when Humanity is done, nature will roll over them with its verdant greens and countless weeds and grasses and swallow what they accomplished back into itself, into the dirt.

I watched them scoop shovelful of soil, hand over hand, onto his casket, and watched the sun sink into the bony grasp of the forest, an autumn day so long away from my youth.

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