Short Story // A Step Back in Time
A row of great sycamores stood to attention at the roads edge. Their great canopy of leaves draped over the lane-way starving it of the morning sun. I’d barely jogged more than twenty minutes; and yet decades had passed since I’d last stood there.
I stopped in the middle of the road, my arms outstretched, my head thrown back. It was the quietness that first struck me. The leaves rustled as a light breeze stirred the branches. A faint tinkle of water came from a nearby stream as it flowed over, and polished even further, the little round pebbles that lined the bottom.
I felt a pang of guilt as the clack of my shoe on the road broke the perfect quietness. A bird chirped, then another one, and I stared hard into the bramble. I stepped closer. Branches rustled and wings flapped in a flurry of activity, and then they were gone. As a boy, I fancied myself as a bit of a Huckleberry Finn, but the years had obviously washed away those skills. I was but a bumbling giant, a fish out of water in my own backyard.
As I strolled, I ran my hand through the tall grass. The dew, still thick on the cobwebs, felt cold as they passed through my fingers. A scent came to me on the breeze, a wonderful infusion from the flora and fauna around me. I inhaled and the cold air filled my lungs. It was morning and the sun had just appeared over the rim of the valley.
It had been a hard year. My father and I had always been close. He had hoped I would one day come back and settle down at home. I think, in the back of my mind, I too felt this would happen, but with him gone now there’s nothing to come back for. The mourners had meant well, but I needed to get out. All those strangers and their questions. How long have I been away? When had I last seen the old man? I’d felt the dark shadow of depression reaching out for me again, I’d kept it at bay for years, but it had seen an opportunity, a weakness on my part and it was seeking me out. I’d eased my way through those who had sat up for the night to mourn him and made my way to the back door and once outside I took off.
I was breathing hard from the effort and it was in those long breaths that the smells of my surroundings came to me. It is true that our sense of smell is powerful enough to summon the deepest of memories, for in that instant, with my eyes closed and my lungs filled, images of snotty nosed boys, scraped knees and wet feet filled my head. Forgotten faces came back to me, Benny, Lefty and Shortcut. We’d tumbled down grassy hills and struggled to the top of the tallest trees together. We were inseparable, and yet I have no idea how many of them are still alive. I reached out and cupped a broad leaf in my hand and fingered it between thumb and forefinger. I stared at the coarse, calloused hand that held it. I was looking into the palm of an old man’s hand, not the soft pink hand of a boy.
I plucked a yellow mayflower from the grass, held it to my nose and drew in its scent. We’d picked these as children and ate them, just for the novelty of eating something wild and forbidden. I picked off a petal with my tongue and held it in my mouth. It was tasteless; but then they always were. I threw back my head, laughed and turned back for the house, comforted to know that a part of my past, and of those I shared it with, sat waiting in our old haunts, ready to remind me of who I was and where I’d come from, a world full memories and light I could draw on to fend off the darkness,
Now that I’d discovered this portal into my childhood I promised to treat myself more often.
Joseph McCloskey was born and raised in Donegal, he has been writing for a decade, has had some short stories published in journals and a few rants published in letters to editors. He describes himself as ‘sentimental by nature and loves stories that can draw an emotion…I write about people and places I know and understand.’