I’m not saying anything new.
The light, the summer light, is losing its intensity. I’ve talked about it a lot; the high calorie light of early August that takes on a sad paleness as the month fades. I’m mixing metaphors, if you’re counting.
There’s a little broken piece of memory that I have. The last day of the summer holidays, a very long time ago. Darkness rising all around, a clear sky and the first hints of cold, right on the very edge of perception. My parents, wanting a walk, and we walked and walked, down silent streets that were the very essence of a Sunday night, all dereliction and longing and the dreadful aura of ironing shirts (my family have very strong views on the horror of Sunday night).
And the stars were coming out, in my memory at least. I don’t know where we went, just that it was somewhere that I’d never been before. A suburban street, a good half hour from home. And we went to see a streetlamp, because my dad worked for the street lighting department. It was a gas lamp that had been converted to electricity, a little shiny white bulb when all the others were sickly migraine amber. We looked at this streetlamp, then we went home again. And I was sad because it was the end of the holiday.
I’ve dreamed variations on that moment for about thirty years. Dreams that end with the feeling that the holiday is now over, and I’ll never see my dream friends again.
That’s my biggest fear and I’m writing about it here and now because writing about it is a way of dealing with it. Saying goodbye to someone and it’s the last time, and you know it. Didn’t someone define the meaning of hell as that precise concept? Does that mean my personal hell is feeling sad looking at a cast iron lamp-post? ‘cause that’s quite on-brand, really.
September is pure magic, but part of that is the understanding that we are giving up summer and the long days. Where I live, I can lie in bed and listen to drunken songs and laughter, the exact same sounds that have been heard on this road for over a thousand years now, perhaps much longer. And they are summer sounds; they grow less as the year grows old, except around Christmas of course. Those late falling nights (and for children and teachers, the long stretch of summer days) are what we give up, our little unknowable sacrifice.
Oh, it’s not like we have a choice, but still we give up on the idea of them. A heatwave in late September feels horribly wrong, because we’ve allowed ourselves to let go of the summer, so that we can walk in colder mornings and under early stars, so that we can burn old wood, because we’ve been doing that on that very road for at least four thousand years.
Remember what we burn? Chipped with paint, fragments of things that fell apart, iron nails, splinters. When August becomes September I can think about the nights when I look down on all the streets and see the maps of bonfires, every single one with an audience; no-one builds a fire and doesn’t let it hold their attention (or if they do, they learn otherwise quite quickly). Every single distant speck of fire is surrounded by What Happened, be it hand-holding, or sadness, or being horribly drunk, or devilish excitement, or tears, or the utterly unexpected catch of the heart when reality gets theatrical and delivers a wild magic that doesn’t equate to explanations or words at all.
I’m not saying anything new, but I have a sadness tonight and that’s a beautiful thing, and I want to watch my summer’s end sadness by the last quarter of this August moon. There will be fires and meetings and perfect frosts, but now is the end of August, a fine night for flying sadness like a kite.