Autumn Leaves, short fiction by Pippa Slattery

She woke during the night. Her sweat-drenched nightie stuck to her skin, chilling her bones. Her head foggy and distanced. Whatever had made her wake was important. She knew that. But chasing a dream never worked. She knew that too. It was like running after a mist in the forest, that only rises faster, the nearer you get. 

Her sleepy fingers searched for her pen and notepad under her pillow, and she vowed not to open her eyes, lest the shadows steal what little of the memory she had left. She scribbled something but sleep overpowered her. Not healthy normal sleep. The kind imposed upon the mind from a night of disturbance – leaving her hung over and irritable in the morning. A smell of sweet tobacco on the autumn wind invaded the rest of her dreams.

Multiverses, where souls live in many dimensions at the same time. Not linear. I wait for you.

In the morning, over coffee and a tasteless piece of toast, she read the scribbled words on her pad from the night’s intrusion. She had no idea what it all meant and had no true recollection of writing it. She could still smell the tobacco yet could not place it. 

Her mind still murky, she rubbed at her eyes and temples hoping to return to some kind of normality. She was bothered by her scribblings. And the tasteless toast. 

She showered. She scrubbed at her face and pulled a brush through her greying hair. She applied some lipstick. Not that she was going to see anyone today. But it made her look less haggard. It did make her feel better and she dressed for the day, went and sat by the computer, notebook in hand.

Multiverses, where souls live in many dimensions at the same time. Not linear. I wait for you.

She stared at the words. And she began to write.

I’ve seen these multiverses. Not just in my dreams. I’ve seen them when I walk in the woods. When I sit quietly in meditation or listen to the beat of the shamanic drum. I’ve talked to people about the possibility of past lives and the premise is always that past lives happen in a linear fashion. That we keep coming back to learn the song, or the dance, or the poetry of what it is to be human. Each life a reflection of the life before, bearing the scars and the accolades of what we’ve been and done and the choices that we’ve made. 

But what if those lives have not been linear? What if there is no beginning and no end, no before or after? If we can see those lifetimes from where we sit, what if it’s happening all at the same time?  What if our soul is born into the universe as a simple expression of energy? An expression of energy that wants to understand itself. Not judge. It has no ability to do that. It just experiences itself. Maybe our soul expands out, till it breaks into parts. It breaks into so many parts until it learns all of life’s lessons and then comes back to itself in the fullness of time. And only then can it bring back the song and the dance and the poetry of what it is to be human.

I’ve seen these multiverses. Not just in my dreams. But in the reflection of rain on the windowpane on a dull winter’s day. In the refracted light of a rainbow high above the trees. In the blue orange flames of a fire in the evening. The longings and yearnings that we endure. The if onlys. The what ifs. Maybe we are feeling close to another aspect of our soul that has what we want, what we long for, in another dimension? Can we not feel those other lifetimes in our bones? The lover that we know in our heart exists, but we just can’t find, however many frogs and princes that we kiss. The place we can paint with our eyes closed, because in someplace we walk its earth, taste its fruits, swim in its seas? But we just can’t discover it, however far we travel across the seas.

She stared out of the window at the damp grey skies. The wind was getting up and she huddled closer to the radiator, knowing that its heat could not calm the tide of desire surging inside her. Desire for what? For whom? She’d known this desire since she was a young girl. It was her familiar. A desire for another human being, as though half of her was missing. An ache every morning that she woke, wondering where that part of her could be. She called deep into the night – crying. Pleading. Sometimes pretending gratitude that her wishes had already come true. That was the New Age way to manifest one’s desires. Sit in gratitude for ever and a day and all the gurus and teachers would applaud your mindfulness. 

Well, she wasn’t feeling at all mindful today. And gratitude could go to hell. All she wanted was that part of her that she’d been searching for. Since the day she was born.

She was restless. Her hazy dream from the night before kept nudging at her but her recall was dwindling with each hour. She pulled on her warm coat and stuffed her feet into her walking boots and headed outside. She always thought better when out in the fresh air. Her little corner of the world was beautiful, in all weathers. Surrounded by ancient hills, holding the memories of kings and queens. They’d loved and fought and vanquished for so many years, that the land abounded with the history of them all held in the wind that pushed and pulled at her as she headed for the woods. 

It was calling her, as it always did, when she felt like this. The wind. Its own disquiet mirroring her own. Once amongst the trees, she kicked at the autumn leaves and they swirled around her in concentric circles, herself the centre of their chaos. Burnt oranges and yellow hues rose up around her, teasing her mood. 

The watery sunshine bounced childlike off each leaf and she half imagined faces of the sidhe, the wood nymphs and the fairies, in each reflection; fallen twigs crunching underfoot as she walked. She thought she heard her name, called from a long way away. She walked faster, the colours of the trees moving with her, as she headed for the lake.

When she reached the water, she found her favourite rock and sat, curled up to keep herself warm. The old fairy tree sheltering her back from the pursuit of the wind. The flat weathered stone was surprisingly warm, laid out as it was, catching rays of the sun. 

She wondered how many people had sat here over the millenniums of time. Who else had taken shelter from the weather here? Who else had laid their hands bare upon its ancient skin over the calling of the years?  

‘I have,’ she heard the chattering of the birds around her say. And then she heard his voice, ‘and me too. Before, and now again, today.’ 

His voice rang through her in a resonance that spoke to every cell she owned. She would have held her breath until she realised it was already still. Each sense she had swelled in natural echo to that voice she knew as his. She tasted the memory of him on her lips. She heard his gentle whisper in the quietening of the wind and felt his touch raise hairs along her neck. And then she smelt the lingering sweet tobacco smoke, honeyed on his breath and her recollections from the night before came back to her. 

Her heartbeat flapped its tiny wings inside her chest. She looked down then onto the surface of the lake, hardly daring to believe the shadows there. The ripples on the water did not obscure what she knew she saw. The rock she sat on, rose up in deep reflection of itself, and there she sat staring down, with the old weathered tree at her back. 

But beside her, instead of empty space, there he was, in deepest contemplation of her face. His features just as she remembered them, the squareness of his jaw. The deep brown eyes that always bore deep into her soul, and his tender arms embracing her, in reverence; just like before. 

She closed her eyes and yielded to his familiar touch. She laid her head upon his chest and listened to the beating of his heart; the twin to what lay in her own breast. For a while, all was quiet and still, except the rhythm of the two. She felt as young and as beautiful as she had ever known herself to be.

But as with all things from this world, life’s experiences are short-lived. Neither of them had any cognizance of how much time they had embraced. Everything, including the hours themselves, had stood still in honour of the meeting. In reverence of the holy wooded place. 

They had talked long and deep into the shadows of the day. And danced. And sang. The poetry of their lives enfolded in the beauty of the woods. Somehow, through their love, they had managed to tear a doorway into both their present worlds; hers and his. Both worlds, where the other did not exist. 

And someone, somewhere had allowed this consummation to take place. And for the fullest day they had shown each other glimpses and remembrances of other times and other places. Other worlds and distant lands, where their love still takes place. Lifetimes of togetherness. And times of loneliness – like this one, where they’d failed to meet. One part of both their souls entered these places, alone and sad. Leaving an eternal cry inside them both. 

But as they talked, they also laughed and slowly realised that, without the experiences of the longing, the experiences of their love would not be as exquisite nor profound.

‘I feel nothing here without you, except deep emptiness.’

He held her close, his voice ringing like a song thrush.

‘I feel the same way too. But, remember the love we share throughout those other times. Throughout those other spaces. It won’t be long, my love, my heart, until we’ll join at the fulness of the day. Then each part of each of us will come back together, returning to our whole.’

With those words of his, the world began to dim. The ripples grew more vibrant on the lake yet the trees around her stood unearthly still. The wind lifted its voice again and beat against her face and the doorway made between the worlds, consumed him. His reflection gone. Her senses with him. 

She sat, feeling the pathos of all things. Feeling the heartbreak and the longing, still. 

But she smiled as she rose to walk back through the woods. Tobacco smoke suspended in the air. The autumn leaves still played around her, then fell, leaving a carpet of gold at her feet. The woods were her blessing, the trees her friends. 

She could feel them beginning to settle for winters coming. The sap had fallen, and the fungi round their roots had let go their spores and dug their heads back down into the soil. The lichen wrapped liked woollen blankets around their bark, for warmth. 

She would visit daily, leaving nuts out for the squirrels before their hibernation and collect a few sweet chestnuts for her fire. She loved this slowing of the year.  

Her grumpy demeanour of the morning, full departed, and with a memory to cherish dearly, she found herself back home. Back over to the woods she took a final look. She had met somebody today, of that she knew.

About the contributor

Pippa Slattery runs Steeples Writers' Group in Nenagh and has had short fiction published in The Galway Review, the Tiny Seed Journal and the anthology Opening Doors. Her story Rag Doll was shortlisted for the Kanturk International Arts Festival. Pippa starts an MA in Creative Writing at UL in September.

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