Time's ruin

Stephen Twartz

My span is defined, not so much by the substance of the years, but rather by the weight of generations, past to present, by an endowment of wonton neglect of those imperfectly loved and an inconstant attachment to the affirmations of acceptance, gratitude and charity.

It seems the story ends where it begins; in the disruptions of the past, the switches of our souls, threads from the stars, always converging on the comfortable path, binding us to the epic journey that seems unstoppable, the distorted remnant of events that no one can resolve. The universe strives to keep it all hidden, until now…

I have a story to share. My part is small in the eternal parade of characters and events, yet I form a link in the chain, I perpetuate the moods and disruptions of the past however distorted. I form a new beginning that radiates its own paths, creates its own course.

As I reach the terminus of my life, I am informed that what I have achieved is a sort of chaos, that my accomplishments are irrelevant against the backdrop of what my descendants have become. It’s like, they say, a terminally malformed snowflake drifting downward to destruction on a warm pond.

What an analogy! Snow is such a rarity now in this changing world. The fragmentation of water from a waterfall against rocks would have been a far better comparison.

I see the house beside a dry watercourse. A rough timber abode low amongst the scrub, green trees laden with fruit, the seeds of destruction already sown into the fabric of a family. The northern, sunny side of the house has a verandah opposite an orchard where a woman sorts olives using a crude windup machine, a small child, a girl, rummaging through fallen dried leaves as the crank handle turns. My inherent memory touches this place and revels in its pleasure. Further along the creek, stables rise, flanked by crudely enclosed yards, once populated by curious, eager horses which are now long gone, no one to tend them or ride.

The stables once rose on stout timber posts, the proud achievement of their maker but now they lean, the roof has fallen, the doors are no longer properly hinged. Over the years, this creation has succumbed, as all things do, to time, worn down and eroded by neglect and the passing of generations. Our frailty is our irregularity, our incapacity for resilience, our fragmentation against the rocks.

I stand beside the dried stream, wondering whether to cross to the house, feet braced for the jump across the smoothed rocks, the tree canopy along the creek burdened with the raucous chorus of birds, the far bank spiked with thistles and dried grass. A man, in his middle years, stout, powerful, walks toward me across a ploughed field, from the main homestead, broad-brimmed hat low against the beating sun, determination in the stride; I am the intruder. I look across the stream, still balanced between commitment to the jump and shelter on the safe bank. Life seems always to present such choices.

The harsh sun is dappled here, mollified by the trees, so it makes sense to stay where I am; let the storm come to me, but I can’t do that; I need to grasp the nettle, suffer the pain, take the beating. I jump.

‘Good afternoon, you are the owner?’

‘Yeah, can I help you?’

‘I’m looking for my old family home. I think this is it.’

‘Might be. Been here a long time. Since before the war.’

It always intrigues me how quickly understanding of our past is diluted, disentangled from memory. Are we the product of the past, with only extant awareness?

‘I think we left here before the war.’

‘That’d be right. Dad bought all this from the bank in the thirties.’

‘Can I take a look?’ He hesitates, maybe because he doesn’t want to traipse about in the noon heat, then, seems to relax.

‘Sure, not much to see though. Mostly a ruin.’

Memory is a strange thing. It seems to rest in silent reserves, to flow forth when the right stimulus is applied, from wells that bear no direct connection with the self. I know this place, with a mixture of sadness and defeat. I believe that I feel an echo, a vibration in the walls that travels to me through the ground; as if a mechanism is switching within me, a clock ticking, a hand sweeping the seconds, brushing away the veil, drawing me into the memory.

‘Yes. I think this is the place.’

‘Amazing it’s stood for so long. Couldn’t knock it over with a bomb. I’d really like to know a bit about who built it all,’ said the man as he scratched his forehead below the sweaty band.

‘Yeah. Think I can do that.’