“I can’t believe how warm it still is.”
“No, must be that global warming they’re always on about.”
They roll me backwards and forwards between them, smoothing the new sheets onto the bed with a practised lack of attention.
“The seasons are all over the place. When is autumn supposed to start, anyway?”
The September equinox. It fell on September 23rd this year.
My voice comes out as the faintest wisp of sound and the uniformed nurse looks as surprised as if the pillows had tried to join in the conversation.
“What was that, Mr Peters?”
The equinox. The 23rd.
Even I can barely hear my words.
“I’m sure that’ll be lovely,” she says loudly, patting my shoulder. They tuck in the final sheet corner and bustle on.
I gaze out of the window, where the trees are dancing their green-gold leaves against a cloudless sky. The window is shut, but I can imagine the dry and rustling chatter of the branches.
* * *
I can still hear the deep, hearty crunch of the drifts of leaves I waded through as a child. Golds, reds, browns; I loved the colours of autumn. The gorgeous, glowing scarlet of the acer tree in the churchyard and the shining gloss of a conker newly popped from its shell. I came home with my pockets stuffed with leaves and horse chestnuts, and was soundly scolded by my mother.
“Why are you bringing those dirty things into the house? Look at the mess!”
I gazed dismayed at the crumbs and crackles of dead leaves that lay around my feet on the pale grey rug.
“Get back outside and put all that rubbish where it belongs!”
I trooped dutifully into the garden, heading behind the trees to the compost heap where the gardener threw the grass clippings, windfall apples and raked leaves. I emptied my pockets, stroking my fingers over the fiery colours and trying to ignore the heart-breaking wrench of throwing such beauty away.
The three biggest, shiniest, newest conkers I hid in various pockets and resolutely turned my back on the neat row that now lined the edge of the compost heap. My mother shook her head as I slunk into the house.
I smuggled the conkers up to my room, and in bed that night I took them out to gloat over them. By then they were already beginning to dull, and by morning they were simply the pleasant brown of the table in the dining room downstairs.