‘Kate,’ you say, ‘summer is nearly over. There’s something you need to know.’
It’s August and we’re wearing summer dresses in the beer garden. Purple vines climb trellises and the evening air carries the murmurs of people who are not us and do not matter.
You sit on the bench where John Keats apparently used to while away his hours. You always sit on John although he only has one arm and gives you splinters.
‘Warm days will never cease Anna,’ I say, pulling on my cigarette as if we are still in college where words can keep us safe.
‘Oh, but that’s just it,’ you answer, leaning back on John, letting his one arm hold you, ‘they will.’
You speak of cells, but you are always dramatic. I am sure nothing is wrong, really.
Suddenly it’s September, and there we are again, wearing dresses of muted oranges and gold with cardigans. The vines are withering and I brush fallen leaves away before I sit. You seem fine.
Someone has scrawled ‘wanker’ on John. You pat him, say, ‘don’t worry John, at least your verse survives, even if you did die young, whereas some of us –‘
I cut you off. ‘What will you drink, Anna?’
‘Bring me a glass of mellow fruitfulness my close-bosom friend,’ you say and I roll my eyes and bring you blackcurrant cider that contains all the orchards of England.
We raise a glass to John and we raise a glass to us. Your hand trembles.
Now it’s October and we are wearing coats on top of dresses and cardigans. One of John’s legs has partly crumbled and someone has propped him up with a plastic carton. You sit astride him anyway. I almost can’t look.
And then it’s nearly closing time. All of England drinks its last drops. We pull coats close and talk until the landlord calls time. Then home across Hampstead Heath where swans sleep on silent ponds, towards the house where John once lived that is now a museum for all time.
I say, ‘do you remember Anna, when we would stay out all night, then travel home with the morning commuters? Remember how they would stare? And how the birds called to us like comrades?’
Well, here they are, the swallows, rising into the skies.
‘Shall we watch the sunrise?’ I ask, taking your arm.
But, no, you are tired. And you are thin. I feel it through your coat.
And so, look, now here I am, it is December and my wine is mulled. Our friends are gathered under the bare trees.
Someone has mended John. They have erased his insult, given him a new arm, fashioned sturdier legs and garlanded him with the flowers he deserves.
I understand now, that you saw winter was coming long before I did. But I think of how John said that beautiful things live forever, and never disappear and I really do think that if you were here you would laugh and say ‘see, anything can be remade anew, and always is.’
This piece is written in response to ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats and is inspired by The Spaniard’s Inn on Hampstead Heath. It is dedicated to Cordelia Feldman 1979 – 2022.
Deborah Zafer lives in London with her family and rabbit. She can be found @deborahzafer on twitter and at www.deborahzafer.com. She has only recently been brave enough to start submitting and now has work published or forthcoming in Oranges Journal, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, 3am Magazine, Lilith, Jewish Fiction and Janus Literary.