This is My October by ICPPD student Elaine Wilbur
The following piece was written by ICPPD student Elaine Wilbur, BA Year 3 (Galway) and we are delighted to feature it on our website.
The rosehips were back. Their blood red piercing in the smoky mist. October always comes
with an exhale. A call to come home for the working man of the summer. The gardens and
fields have given their crops, handed themselves out and are spent. Their colours are their
parting gift. One burnt orange sunset melts into the next. A gentle reminder that soon the
grey solace of Winter will be here.
Thomas wished his mother had left him a parting gift. Some sort of slow decline that would
have allowed him an easier journey into solitude. He planted his feet in the grass at the
place he imagined her body ended, cleared his throat and held his flat cap with two tight
hands the way she would have wanted him to. All the stored thoughts straining to be said
swirled inside but none of them could come to his lips. Lips that belonged on the face of a
much older man. A crab apple fell into a heap of dead sticks and the noise startled two
crows. Silence was something that had become familiar to Thomas and while nature was
making her own tune, he stood wondering if this could be the moment when the goodbye he
would soon say might be the one that would set him free.
The ash trees drooped under the weighty gloom of the country graveyard. The leaves were
disappearing leaving gaps in place of life. Thomas’s life had gaps but they didn’t just appear
when the season changed. They were there for him to wear each day he arose, tucked
somewhere on his thin frame. And as much as he tried to cover it with invisible tweeds and
worn cotton, he knew that his bareness was becoming obvious now. And yet his smile
stayed, steady and faint. The final piece of clothing that let him and others pretend that all
was as it should be.
He had let Kitty go. And there was Daddy who keeled over just after the
first frost. And when the shovelful of heavy dirt had landed hollow on that casket Thomas
knew that the bell had tolled. His life was written out for him from beginning to end. Kitty was
gone. He wasn’t going after her and Mother was left. And in all these years no-one cared
that the smile never reached the corners of his leaking grey blue eyes. Nobody could see the
rip inside of his heart like someone had taken a blade to a sack of feed. From bottom to top
he was spilling out but the smile would stay.
Now that Summer’s shadows were swallowed by Autumn’s milky sunshine Thomas could
feel his smile growing slack. There had been times over this past while where it had slipped
completely. He had spent so many years of his life holding onto distant memories, things he
had stored away ready to be pulled out when he had an ache he couldn’t shift. But now that
his Mother had finally gone and he was left with himself reflected in dirty windows and
streaked mirrors, he started to realise that it was still him, still Thomas. I’m still here he had
thought that morning. I am still standing.
The leaves from the only oak tree in the graveyard were spilling into piles just below the
broken bit of the stone wall. He looked at the black gravestone, stuck in place. His mother’s
rotting body below. There was probably nothing left now except her false teeth. And all the
time he had spent giving her every hour of himself. The gaps that had appeared he had filled
in with her and what he thought was duty and the only version of love he knew. He clenched
the cap tighter and realised that he had reached it himself. His own Autumn. His own
His family tree had started to fall and drop and become the next generation’s compost. But
he was still here, bare and shaky and a little grey at the edges. But he still had life left to give
and he still had shoots that lay dormant. He bent his knee to the damp earth and touched the
etched names that belonged to history now. His hand moved to his rough mouth and he
wiped it with his thumb. Standing again to his full height he put his folded cap back where it
belonged. That’s it now Mother, he said. I’m off. This is goodbye. I have an awful lot left for
He turned and walked towards the creaky gate. The one that needed fixing. Thomas
grabbed it with both hands and caught his breath. The leaves swished in glorious unison and
Thomas let out a laugh that echoed its way along the river. The ending of all that was before
flowing away from the beginning of what could come.