The Beautiful Season
A writer reaches for something new to say about something very old.
She lives in the beautiful season in which everything dies.
Autumn smells like smoke and licorice, except that licorice is whole and warm, and autumn is made of edges sharp enough to cut your breath away. Autumn is damp rot trapped between tree roots, and it's wind that whirls leaves in eddies like a spirit’s passing. There’s nothing new to say about autumn, and yet every year, when the air tastes colder--which feels like hanging upside-down, radiating bronze and shimmering through the veins, as intoxicating as it is dreadful--she tries.
This morning, a jay called six times outside of my window. It echoed; there’s something about the sound that makes the air feel so vast. Too big, in a good way. It hurt my chest, and I hadn’t even gotten up.
I don’t like wearing earbuds outside. It feels sacrilegious.
There really isn’t a way to describe crunching leaves under shiny rubber rain boots. Crackles? Susurrus? Definitely guilty, and I won’t stop doing it.
She works in a building with white floors and the sort of paneled ceiling that looks like popcorn. It smells like printer ink and poorly aged coffee, inexpensive and inoffensive cologne, and it sounds like keyboards and the pa-ding! of incoming emails.
The view from the window, offering a transparent slice of muted and muffled sky, still digs pointed, woody fingers under her ribs until she feels her heart beat too quickly when the sound of ochre leaves, twirling dry on their branches and flashing silver undersides to the sky, whispers through the glass barricade.
She leaves promptly at five.
Her backyard is a small and muddy square of beaten grass, the sod hardened by chill air and cold nights.
Dry grass crunches when she lies on her back.
Her blouse is white with little green flowers, and she hasn’t any coat; she feels dampness creep through her clothing, and the wind draws goosebumps from her bare arms. The breeze speaks of forgotten wilderness, that-which-once-was and that-which-always-has-been, of feral lands lost while the season still presses the survivors nearer to dying. It’s powerful, deserving of melodrama, yet the barest thing she will ever feel.
The sky presses down.
The expanse above unfurls wide over her, cloudless but white with humidity that doesn’t touch the ground.
It’s impossible not to try to describe it. It begs no analysis, demands that she take no effort at all. She knows that she will fail.
And she tries.
The centipedes in the leaf-pile are brown and glossy. Too glossy, really.
What if I said ‘they gleam like a new coat of car-wax, bright and eerily preposterous as if blessed by…’
No. I hate that.
There are shiny brown centipedes in the leaf-pile, and the wood-pile too. They and the mice move when you don’t expect them to; you can watch them, then get distracted by the way the breeze picked up only a few strands of your hair at once on that gust, and the insect or rodent is gone the next time you blink. Into the forest, probably. The tree trunks look so rough, all dry lichen and deep grooves. Feels good to touch, press right to the palm of your hand. I’d live in those crannies, if I was a centipede.
It doesn’t look like there are clouds, but the sky is still changing. It’s grayer than it used to be, over there, by the tree that’s just a silhouette at this time of evening.
God, I love it when the days get shorter. I love it so much that it hurts.
She lies in the grass until the sun starts to fall, and the cold properly sets in. The bugs haven’t died yet, and while they’re well on their way, a few stubborn mosquitos still seek lingering warmth at her ankles.
The trees whisper even after she goes inside.
The wind cuts against the brick of the house.
The darkness is quiet and wild.
Autumn drags itself slowly over the sky.
E.G. RADCLIFF IS A part-time pooka and native of the Unseelie Court. She collects acorns, glass beads, and pretty rocks, and the crows outside her house know her as She Who Has Bread. Her fantasy novels are crafted in the dead of night after offering sacrifices of almonds and red wine to the writing-block deities.
You can reach her by scrying bowl, carrier pigeon, or @egradcliff on social media.