Strings 1

‘dreams jangling with lost connections’

March 2024

In Time

We walked on the treetops from branch to bough, looking up from our flickering feet to scan the sunny fields, the glittering river, the green ponds. We headed for the stone tower, round and clad with rough-napped fists of flint. Our older thoughts were sleeping there, and we hoped to waken them. Some months in the distance was autumn and, further out, winter, but in that moment we had permanent summer. The sky, a high blue dome streaked with faint white clouds, the north-cold sea beyond the mounded dunes; massive, grey, and gently rocking. Our other home. The tiny figure that nodded under water at the shore was a child, a swollen child.

There was much that we could not see even from that clean height. Not all that was within the half-timbered car that barrelled along the coast road, a man at the wheel and a woman in the front passenger seat, dressed for much colder weather, with hats and gloves. Were they headed for or from the past? (We are all headed from the past.) Did they carry arrival on the back seat? Or their remembered dead? Or a picnic basket? Their mouths moved at the same time, making similar shapes, singing or arguing or talking over one another.

The car turned sharp left and accelerated along a narrow road that led through the village and on to the beach car park. They drove without stopping at the pay hut, sped over the gravel and tore into the chicken-wire fence pulling up two poles as it went. The car climbed up a small dune, its wheels spinning as it crested, and plunged onto the strand. The car skittered as they braked and pulled to a halt near the water. The doors opened and the man and woman ran towards the child. The woman fell to her knees to lift the body, the man stumbled and fell in the surf, stood, and helped as best as he could. This is the kind of thing that people will do to rescue a child.

The bloated boy ran in a waddle down the beach. They called and waved then ran after him, catching each a hand as they reached his side. And they walked into the café. A minute or two later they reappeared, eating ice-cream cones, every one. The boy was back to a normal size. They sauntered into the car park, stopping at the hut to hand over some money for the parking and the broken fence.

The clouds remember us now that we see them as persons, passing by, remembering the things below that are persons too, such as trees, foxes, and us—and as much of the infinite as they can know. This is all imagining, of course, as the clouds are processes not persons, and they cannot know themselves or any other thing. We are spirits who also have no reality but spring from the deep fancies of others who suppose that they can know themselves. We are beyond this limited self-knowing, sporting and roiling in non-places, noticing the world as it is and how it might be. That is perfectly clear.

The wave in isolation caught in a glance remains unbroken, lastingly. Never mind what happens after we look away. All moments happen at the same time. The idea of a moment separate from another is a story. Separation is the story, without it all there is one, indivisible and with nothing to tell.

The fields are hours. Land and time labouring, earth worked over and over, fed and fenced, sown and tended, raised and harvested: over and over. People take the substance, take the surplus, from value moved back and forth along the lanes and the highways to markets near and far. This is how what we see and call countryside is made; what is sometimes called nature. Every inch of this nature walked and worked by people in their spans, short or long, across generations, people born here or some other place—all living, working, passing on. We look at the fields and ask: ‘what did they mean by this?’ And most of the answers are lost and much of the answering to be known does not make sense, and the remainders sometimes find their way into the kind of stories called history.

The sun is fierce up here on top of the trees. My companions are by my side, but I cannot see them. They become visible to me only in the shadows. The air is still and close, people will think that time itself has grown wet and thick. If they look up to the treetops, they will see the leaves shiver and the branches dip, and wonder how. The night is far away and coming slowly on, but it will be scarcely cooler in the dark unless a breeze picks up from the sea, pushing over the dunes through the grass and trees to gently stir their bedroom curtains.

A tiny figure is nodding under the water at the shore. A car is roaring down the coast road. The passengers, hoping in time.

DAVID HAYDEN has been published in Granta, A Public Space, Zoetrope All-Story, The Georgia Review, Zyzzyva, AGNI and The Stinging Fly. His book, Darker With the Lights On, is published by Transit Books and was chosen as an Irish Times Book of the Year.