Gone Away

......Look at him! He sits there as if he's bolted to the chair. His eyes never stray from the telly screen... Though I don't think he actually watches it, really sees it: he just stares at it out of habit - because it's there. There could be anything on that damned box - like the mind-numbing daytime rubbish that's on now - it wouldn't matter as long as pictures, any old pictures, flicker in front of him.
......So thought Mrs Amble to herself as she vigorously dusted and polished. Replacing a gaudy ornament, a relic of a long-ago holiday, precisely back in its original position among its many partners arrayed on the mantelshelf, she stood back to appraise her efforts with a fastidious eye.
......Satisfied, she turned her attention to the wide sill of her front window: a jungle of houseplants; figurines of cute animals and other ceramic whimsies peered from the foliage as she advanced with her duster. Gently picking up a fancifully stylised puppy, she lovingly rubbed its unlikely green body, peevishly conscious of her husband's slumped, silent presence in the armchair behind her.
......What happened to the lively, get-up-and-go man I married; the funny, charming, exciting man who thrilled me and made me laugh and made me tremble with pleasure? He turned into a vegetable, that's what - a statue; a waxwork dummy; a... Oh I don't know! She put back the puppy, minutely readjusted it; then selected an equally unlikely kitten and began to minister to it with her cloth. Give him his due: he was a good provider. He used to work nearly every hour God sent. I never knew anybody so keen on overtime - I hardly ever saw him. I could excuse him being too tired to bother much with me then - the poor dear was always so shattered - but since he had to take early retirement.... Well, he could be one of these ornaments for all the company he is!
......Thus she continued: treating each ornament with equal care and considering her spouse in increasingly discontented vein, her eyes gazing morosely unseeing through the window. Lost in her thoughts, she uncharacteristically didn't immediately spot the activity across the otherwise quiet street. When she did, her eyes focused keenly and her concentration shifted from its previous absorption and locked itself on probably her favourite pastime - that of observing the affairs of others.
......"Looks like the Brownings opposite are going away," she said aloud to Mr Amble, neither expecting nor receiving an answer. "They're packing cases into their car. I hope they're taking those horrible children of theirs with them: the neighbourhood will be a lot safer and quieter without them."
......Her attention stiffened: "They must be going for a long time; they seem to be packing everything but the kitchen sink. My, my! Those suitcases have seen better days. You'd think with all their money they'd be able to afford better than those - talk about shoddy! And look at the way she's dressed - I'd like to think that if I were going away I'd have made just a bit more effort."
......Mrs Amble maintained her vigil, keeping a running commentary of the proceedings to her unheeding husband, until, with a final banging of car doors, the Brownings made their departure.
......"Well, that's them gone to wherever they're going. With their hooligan offspring too, I'm pleased to say - at least we'll have a bit of peace now for a while," she gave in final comment.
......Mrs Amble had no sooner resumed her interrupted dusting than her interest was recaptured by further events outside the window; this time at the house directly adjacent to her own. "Next-door's are bringing out luggage to the car now," she remarked to Mr Amble; stepping behind the cover of a Swiss Cheese plant, mindful that her neighbours might catch sight of her and come to the mistaken conclusion that she was at all nosy. "They must be going away too."
......"I wonder where they're going?" She received a grunt in response; but, as this was Mr Amble's usual form of communication and she was never quite certain whether he was merely clearing his throat, she discounted it. "They never said anything to me. You'd think they'd have mentioned it. If they had, I'd have been pleased to keep an eye on the house for them - I'm not at all sure I will now."
......The pink tinge of insult faded from Mrs Amble's face as she became more engrossed in her neighbour's preparations. They too, appeared to be making ready for an extended absence: "Just look at all the stuff they're taking. I wouldn't have imagined you could fit so much in such a little car: cases and boxes and bags - there won't be room for them if they cram much more in. You really must come and look, Gordon."
......But Gordon Amble remained unmoved and unmoving, his eyes fixed vacantly on the television screen. If he heard his wife he made no sign, and she, with a resigned sigh, turned back to the window. Her neighbours, a devoted old couple who had lived in their house for as long as any one could remember, were rapidly coming to the end of their packing. They seemed to be in a great hurry to get away: Mrs Amble was amazed how quickly they'd filled the car, given their age and the amount they had transferred into it.
......Within a remarkably short time the last few items were loaded - to Mrs Amble's mind, strange things to be taking on holiday: a box of groceries; a food mixer; several heavy blankets; a wall clock; a garden spade; even a large first aid kit, and, of all things, framed family photos - all urgently squeezed into any available space, as if life depended on stowing as many household belongings as possible into the overburdened vehicle.
......Finally, there remained only two more pieces of impedimenta to be found room for: the old couple themselves. This was easier said than done; but with much squashing and squeezing and looking uncomfortably cramped they eventually occupied the front seats. The car was started and, surrounded by luggage, the pair drove ponderously out of their drive and down the street.
......Was it her imagination, or, as they had driven past her window, had the two looked directly at her, and, were the expressions on their faces ones of panic? No, more than that: fear; terror; desperation? Or were they just simply concerned that their own baggage might crush them?
......Mrs Amble had little opportunity to gnaw on these questions, for, as she frowningly watched the little car disappear heavily out of sight, happenings of more puzzling proportions were unfolding. The street she lived in was long and straight: it sloped quite steeply up the side of a hill, and a row of closely built semidetached houses fronted by small gardens marched up each side of it. Her house stood in the middle of one of these rows and the big bay window at which she stood commanded an uninterrupted view of the whole street. She had always been of an inquisitive nature, and it was this view that had mainly commended the house to her at the outset of her marriage when she and Gordon had been searching for somewhere to spend their lives together. Mr Amble's objections - that the house was far too old; that it needed too much work; that it was too far from his job - had easily been overruled. The work had been done, and, over the years, the comings and goings of the street had been an endless source of fascination to Mrs Amble.
......Never before though, in all the many hours spent lurking behind the lush greenery of the windowsill like a large animal in search of lunch, had her curiosity been fed such a feast as now. For, amazingly, all up and down the street, as she ascertained by spasmodically turning her head one way then the other, the scenes she had witnessed opposite and next door to her were being repeated at house after house.
......It was as if a chain reaction had been set in motion. First, the residents of one house came out laden with baggage and frantically stuffed it into their car; then another; then another. Soon the whole street was alive with bustling, fevered activity. Struggling under heavy loads, heaving and pushing and squeezing, wiping sweating brows, cursing laggard children, slamming doors, revving engines - at almost every house the same actions were being repeated. The entire neighbourhood seemed suddenly united in just one purpose: to get away, and to do so with maximum haste.
......Mrs Amble swivelled her head back and forth, her eyes wide, her mouth hanging wide. Absurdly, she was reminded of the brand new superstore she'd visited recently for the first and last time: all that rush and push; the two rows of checkouts stretching for miles; the insane scramble to leave the place carrying as much as possible. It was all so similar, even down to the glazed expression on everyone's faces.
......What on earth was going on?
......Behind her, her husband sat on; the hyperactive host of a time-filling quiz show screaming at him from the television set. How could he just sit there when so much was happening so close to him? Mrs Amble turned and looked at him, took a breath to speak, to rouse him from his stupor, to have him by her side - to share something, to be together. She saw only his inert bulk, his blank face - his utter unawareness of her - and turned from him, swallowing the breath.
......I might as well not be here!
......He might as well not be here!
......Who'd ever believe we were once so close? So loving and inseparable? When did we last talk? And laugh? And care?
......She shook her head and rubbed her eyes to clear the mistiness that had momentarily clouded them. The oddest thing about the odd departure of, as far as she could tell, everyone in the street was the astounding speed of it all. Already, the mass exodus was well advanced. Ferocious packing was still being done by some, a few were only just starting, but the majority had finished and were on their way.
......Three years ago, a royal dignitary had visited the town: a long procession of stately cars had swept importantly past Mrs Amble's house, down the hill to the Civic Centre where an exorbitant reception was held. There were similarities to that occasion now; except that the stream of vehicles passing her window could hardly be called majestic, neither was its progression so graceful, nor did Mrs Amble feel at all inclined to wave excitedly at it as she had the royal cavalcade.
......There was little regal splendour and formality here. Cars, vans, trucks, motorcycles, the occasional caravan, all loaded to overflowing, limped, lumbered or sped past according to their state of repair. Honking, hooting, backfiring, gear grinding, they rolled by with no regard to courtesy or the Highway Code. The street was not very wide, and there was much screeching of protesting paintwork as those with more power viciously overtook the stragglers. Some even mounted and drove along the pavement, so desperate were they to get on their way. Dents and bumps and scratches accumulated on gleaming and rusted bodywork alike. Nobody stopped to complain.
......"I've never seen anything like this in all my life," said Mrs Amble. "Just literally everybody seems to be going away. I don't understand it. It's total madness. You really ought to come and look, Gordon, the whole street's gone crazy. You'll never believe it. Why, I've just seen that nice Mr Scott from number seventy-eight plough down Mrs Grace's new privet hedge. And, as for that thug with the ginger hair from that scruffy house higher up... Well, you'd expect that type of behaviour from him, wouldn't you?"
......Apart from the drone of the television, there was the customary silence from behind her. Mrs Amble tutted peevishly, but didn't turn to her husband, not wanting to miss any of the spectacle. "I wish you'd take an interest in things, Gordon, the world could come to an end and I'm sure you'd still be sitting there in front of that box."
......She did not normally express her discontent of her husband out loud, preferring to believe he was just going through a phase, a mid-life crisis. That he'd been going through this crisis most of their time together, she chose to ignore, in the hope that if she kept her council he might, just might, eventually snap out of it. But voicing this sentiment had suddenly thrust an outlandish notion into her mind. Was the world coming to an end?
......No, that was ridiculous. Yet something was happening, that was certain. Something had persuaded everyone to leave their homes with as many worldly possessions they could muster. But why didn't she know anything about it? She cast her mind back. With half an ear she'd heard the TV news a while ago. She was sure she hadn't heard anything out of the ordinary. A sex scandal involving an MP; a massacre in a remote, unpronounceable African country; yet another interest rate rise... The usual stuff. Nothing about some mad dictator declaring war on everybody; nobody with a finger poised over a little red button in a cosy underground bunker; no air raid warnings; no evacuation notices. Even more unlikely, there had been no mention of a giant meteorite's imminent collision with earth or even an invasion by an alien race. Just an ordinary day.
......This really wouldn't do; she was letting herself get carried away - just concentrate on what was happening outside. The street was becoming quieter; settling back to its ordinary dull serenity. A few people were still hurriedly preparing to leave, but most had already got on their way. The hellbent, headlong stampede of charging machinery had subdued into a more orderly trickle; there was little more than the everyday amount of traffic passing now. Again, Mrs Amble was amazed at the extraordinary speed of the strange and sudden decampment of the entire neighbourhood. Soon, everything would seem virtually normal again; it was already getting difficult to believe that anything had broken the street's mundane routine.
......Yet it had, hadn't it? Even yet there was still plenty of evidence of it. That flighty woman at the house with the red curtains was just finishing her leaving preparations: putting a last case, probably full of make-up and scanty undies, into her fancy sports car, and old Mr Tompkins was struggling at the wheel of his ancient boneshaker, trying hard to get some life out of it. A few people, those who didn't possess cars (Mrs Amble had always attempted not to feel superior to them because of this), were departing on foot - they wouldn't get very far carrying all that stuff. Even the odd bicycle wobbled its way down the street bearing much more weight than it was ever designed to.
......As she watched the tardier tail-enders setting out in the wake of the initial pell-mell scramble, one realisation was suddenly shouting at Mrs Amble - they were all going in the same direction. Each and every one of them, all sharing that same fixed look of apprehension, all heading the same way - down the hill towards town.
......Were they all going to the same place?
......That was it. Everybody had won a holiday in an enormous publicity promotion. They were always doing things like that. Some companies would give you all kinds of things: furniture, satellite TVs, double glazing, lifetime supplies of dog food - anything - if it advertised their name widely enough.
......But a whole street? That wasn't very likely, was it? Think of how much it would cost. And why hadn't she been selected? Had anything come in the post: one of those envelopes with SPECIAL EXCLUSIVE ONCE ONLY OFFER plastered all over it? No, she would sure to have seen it - she devoured junk mail. There had to be another explanation for all this weird behaviour.
......The more Mrs Amble thought about it the more perplexed she became. Every answer that presented itself to her she discounted as more improbable. She considered the possibility of a huge bring-and-buy sale being held somewhere in town - that would at least account for the rubbish she'd seen some people taking with them - but surely the more upmarket of them would never patronise such an event? A gas leak? No, she would have smelt it (Mrs Amble had a particularly strong sense of smell). An unexploded bomb? The army would be there by now. Subsidence? She would have felt it. Earthquake? The same. She could not accept that if something of major importance was occurring she, of all people, knew nothing about it.
......She would have consulted Mr Amble, but she was well aware there would be no enlightenment there. The opening signature tune of an Australian soap opera was playing on the TV; she'd never be able to drag him away from its latest imported intrigues.
......There was only one solution. She would just have to go into town and find out for herself. She needed some shopping, anyway.
......"What do you fancy for tea, Gordon?" she asked, turning from the window to address her husband. "A couple of nice pork ch..?"
......Wonder of wonders! He wasn't there. His chair was empty, and she was talking to herself. She didn't remember hearing him move - she must have been too absorbed in the events outside. I wonder where he is? Must have gone to the loo. He certainly wouldn't be making her a cup of tea. Not like him to miss what was happening in Aussie land. Oh well.
......She went to the hall to get her shopping bag and coat. Mrs Amble possessed that type of body that begins life voluptuous, but which almost immediately upon marriage balloons. The buttons of her coat seemed to get harder and harder to fasten, and once more she considered the diet she was always going to put herself on as she took a deep breath to fit the last one in its hole.
......The coat on, she picked up her bag and called up the stairs, "Just going to the shops, Gordon. Won't be long."
......There was no reply, but then, she didn't expect one. What there was, though, was a lot of banging about. What could he be doing? Perhaps he was making a start on the bedroom that had needed decorating for so long. Yes, and pigs might grow wings! She shrugged resignedly and opened the front door.
......The phrase, 'a deafening silence', had been employed in a story she had read in her magazine last night. She'd thought it a silly thing to say. How could silence be deafening? It didn't make any noise. Now, as she closed the door behind her and stepped onto the drive, she knew exactly what the writer had meant. It was so quiet it hurt her ears. She had once had a very bad cold that had struck her deaf for an entire day. This was like that, only more so. All the inconsequential, everyday sounds: the perpetual background murmur that accompanies human activity, which by its familiarity goes unheard, had simply stopped. And by its absence it was glaringly, shoutingly loud.
......Mrs Amble put her hands to her ears, rubbed and pressed, took them away - it was still the same. The same complete and utter hush. She felt a moment of fear; almost fled back into the house, then the moment passed. Mrs Amble was nothing if not independent, twenty-four years with Mr Amble had made her so. Apart from that, her inquisitiveness was a powerful thing and she was determined to learn the reason for the sudden collective migration. She couldn't do that in the house. There was no use in appealing for her husband's aid; he would be ensconced in front of the television again by now. It was up to her. Besides, she really did need to do some shopping. With the courage of the obstinately curious, she set off down the drive.
......The crunch of her footsteps on the gravel was so magnified in the hollow stillness that she found herself walking on tiptoe. It was with some relief that she reached the pavement outside her house. Once there, she stood and hesitantly looked up and down the street. It was absolutely deserted. The unnatural quiet seemed to hang over her and weigh down on her. She shivered, turned to face downhill, took a deep breath and resolutely began to walk.
......Again, she was acutely aware of the sound of her tread and felt strangely thankful she was wearing soft-soled shoes: the clatter of high heels would have been somehow sacrilegious in the cathedral-like atmosphere. Even so, she walked tentatively, as if in fear of waking someone or something a long time dormant. And as she walked each step took her further into an eerie new world.
......The houses she'd passed so many times before seemed frighteningly changed. To Mrs Amble they had always before provided fascinating snippets of other people's lives, each window revealing glimpses into deliciously private lives. Now she hurried past them without her usual lingering neck-craning, no longer so eager to see past the net curtains of her neighbour's secret routines. The houses loomed emptily, crowded in on her; their windows, darkly vacant, seemed to watch her like the eyes of sentient beings. No longer the observer, but the observed, she warily eyed them, stifling the urge to scamper by like a timid, hunted creature.
......Hemmed in by brooding, menacing houses, the street had lost its friendly familiarity. It appeared longer, steeper, narrower. It was like descending a never-ending sloping tunnel. Each step seemed to take Mrs Amble further from the bottom of the hill. Even the trees in their neat squares cut into the pavements looked alien: not a hint of wind stirred them; they stood petrified, like rows of sentries. The sky too was motionless, and, though clear and bright, was queerly forbidding, as though it might fall down and crush her.
......Mrs Amble knew she had to get a hold of herself. She was getting panicky, imagining things; seeing sinisterness where there was none. Several times she had almost turned and run back home. What was there to be afraid of? The houses were just houses, the trees just wood. There was nothing watching her. There was nothing waiting to pounce out on her. There was only the desolate, empty street and the suffocating silence and the...
......No! There was a logical explanation behind all this. Had to be. And she was going to find out what it was. She took a deep, gulping breath, pulled her coat more securely about her, gripped her shopping bag tightly as if it were a weapon and strode on determinedly.
......With her newly resolved courage, the street regained its natural aspect and, with fresh purpose in her stride, she was soon at the bottom of the hill. On the way she formed a theory that reassured her unease: a super-charismatic American evangelist (they were always American) must have come to town, and everyone for miles around was gathered in the Town Hall caught in his spellbinding eloquence. She had once accidentally found herself at such a meeting and well knew how beguiling they could be. She had been filled with religious fervour for a fortnight afterwards. That the Town Hall was hardly big enough for such an event she chose to ignore.
......At the bottom of the hill the street terminated at a main road, at the other side of which was the town itself. Mrs Amble stopped, dutifully looked both ways and stepped onto the road. She was halfway across before she realised what was wrong.
......The road was totally empty.
......It should be throbbing with traffic. She often had to stand for several minutes waiting to cross. The road was a well-known black spot: the scene of many accidents and the focus of a long ongoing campaign for a safe pedestrian crossing. Now she was able to stand in the middle of the road in complete security.
......Where were all the cars?
......Mrs Amble continued walking, more falteringly now and with a deepening feeling of dread. Soon she was in the heart of the small town.
......Her tightly clung-to self-assurances that all would be explained once she got there, she had to relinquish along with her desperately contrived suppositions.
......She wasn't going to discover the entire population congregated before a silky-tongued saviour or acquisitively snatching up the not-to-be-missed bargains of some unlikely marketing promotion.
......Mrs Amble was the only person there.
......She might have been a part of one of those old westerns her husband was so fond of: where the stranger first sets foot in the ghost town. She half expected balls of dried-out tumbleweed to be rolling about. She wandered forlornly among abandoned buildings: shops and banks and pubs and cafes and offices alike - they were all deserted and lifeless. No use in entering the Town Hall, or the Civic Centre, or the new sports complex, or even St Peter's church. No point at all. She knew what she would find there.
......Aching, echoing emptiness.
......The shops were the worst. Mrs Amble was an avid shopper; she gained an almost sexual gratification from the pursuit. The prolonged, teasing foreplay of fingering through shelves and racks and counters of provocatively displayed goods, the climactic triumph of reaching that must-be-had item and the final release of purchase, fulfilled a need in her that her marriage never had or could. Now the shops spurned her.
......The enticing window displays were still there, as provocative as always, but to look at them was slightly voyeuristic. She could not have what was on show. A few shop doors had been left open, so keen had their proprietors been to get away. Mrs Amble went into a couple but immediately came out upon finding them as deserted as everywhere else. They were dead places without a friendly attendant to administer to her. Most were locked and barred, however, some of them had hastily scribbled notes pinned to their doors. Instead of a reassuring little message such as, CLOSED FOR LUNCH, BACK SOON, the notices bore just two stark, brutal words, words that had all the finality of an ended love affair: GONE AWAY.
......Mrs Amble walked on. The tiny bus station was barren, except for one lone single-decker with OUT OF SERVICE on its destination board. Likewise, the taxi rank. The vain hope of reaching the next town where things would surely be normal was dashed. She found an unvandalised phone box and fumblingly dialled every number she could recall. The receiver was a dead, unresponsive piece of plastic, only static rang in her ear. The police station, where with small-town faith she still expected there to be a fat, smiling desk sergeant to turn to, housed no blue uniformed salvation, only a bare desk. On her way out she paused to study two missing persons posters. How many posters would be needed now? Everyone was a missing person.
......She sat in a small park, staring at the wooden bandstand where concerts were sometimes held, the sole spectator to an invisible performance. How noisy her body was in the pervasive silence: the gurgling of her stomach, the pops and crackles of her ears, the sound of her short, nervous breathing, were loud accompaniment to her unquiet thoughts.
......She wanted to shout, to scream out at the top of her lungs, but was too afraid of hearing her own voice come back to her unanswered.
......She kept the scream inside herself, echoing in her mind.
......There was no one to hear her.
......Only her.
......She didn't want to move from the park bench - didn't know where to move to - but she could not sit there all day. If she did, night would descend on her, adding its own brand of dark emptiness to an already soulless world. It was too terrifying a prospect to contemplate.
......She would have to go back home. It was the only place to go. She hadn't thought of her husband all the time she had been out; now she did. So accustomed to his taciturn, unresponsive presence, presence she only recognised by the space he filled, she had grown to accept him as merely a barely functional household fitment.
......Now she suddenly needed him. Needed someone. Anyone.
......All right, he wasn't much company, and he'd certainly be no use in locating a missing population - but he'd be there. That at least she could count on. Armageddon could arrive early (and it may well have) and he would sit through it, placidly awaiting the next television program. Yes, he would still be rooted to his chair, unaware that she had left the house - unaware that everybody else had left, for that matter. But still there, for all she knew apart from her the only living, breathing human being left on earth.
......Mrs Amble left the park feeling a little brighter than she had for some time. A ridiculous image: that of her husband and she as a sort of middle aged latter-day Adam and Eve almost dispelled the cloud of depression that had settled on her. Just imagine: Gordon with his potbelly, skinny legs and bald head, and she with her... well... plumpish, figure. How absurd! They'd never get fig leaves to fit them. She giggled slightly hysterically and hurried back through the untenanted town.
......The emptiness threatened to engulf her again in the unpeopled streets and forsaken shopping precincts. It was only by keeping her eyes rigidly focused ahead that she avoided populating every corner with imagined phantoms and by humming a weak, nervous tune to herself to drown the dreadful silence that she again reached the main road. This time she crossed the road without a glance in either direction and was soon half running, half stumbling up her own street, her still empty shopping bag clutched tightly in her hand.
......A creeping presentiment that grew with each solitary step made the lonely hill stretch up and up endlessly. It was like going the wrong way on a down-escalator; every step seemed to take her further from her house. By the time she eventually reached it and put her hand on the front door handle the presentiment had become a foreboding. She swept into the house - and saw what she had already foreseen...
......Her husband's empty chair.
......Only the television stared back at her, still switched on but silent, its screen showing some words of information. She ran to the kitchen, then to the hall.
......Only her own voice rang back hollowly down the stairwell.
......She dashed up the stairs, went into every room. Doors and drawers hung open; clothing lay strewn and cast aside. Everywhere the signs of indiscriminate, hurried packing. Nowhere a sign of Mr Amble.
......Hurtling back down the stairs and out the front door, she saw what she had missed in her panic to get into the house. The garage door gaped wide open. The car hadn't been out for months. She'd almost forgotten they possessed one. It must have taken some starting. Yet it was gone.
......She went back into the house and slumped into a chair. Then instantly got up again. It was Gordon's chair, moulded by long usage into his shape. It was like stepping into a dead man's clothes.
......But he wasn't dead. It was worse than that. He was gone.
......Gone away. Like everybody else.
......No goodbyes. No nothing. Just gone.
......Much more than lonely: completely alone, she stood in the middle of the room and looked about her. The television glared back at her, still bearing its mute message. The words on the screen, not comfortingly advising of a temporary, soon to be remedied, interruption to normal services, were a final amen. Two words, in white on black, words she had read so many times that day. Two icy cold, conclusive words:
......GONE AWAY.
......She reached out to switch off the set. As she did so, the screen flickered, faded, and then went blank. She dropped her hand. No need to press the button. No thought-numbing images would play on the dead glass tube again. No need either to try the radio, or the lights, or anything else man-made and man-powered.
......They were all gone.
......She went to the window and looked out as she had so many times before on the street. So many houses. So many houses, all the same. Had all the lives lived in them been as meaningless as hers - as empty? Had all their occupants merely existed from day to day, not knowing why but doing it because that is what everybody else did? Because there was nothing else to do?
......Sad, purposeless, useless lives.
......So many houses. How long would they last, now that the people had gone? How long before they crumbled to rubble?
......The gardens would become overgrown to begin with. Slowly but surely, the hedges and plants and grasses and trees would creep up and undermine weakening foundations. Roots and tendrils would force through rotting doors and cracking windows. Wind and rain and weather would do the rest. Long before that, the street surface and pavements, unmaintained, would soon fracture and crack and become fertile ground for seeds.
......And not just in this little street, but everywhere, the same slow process would take place. The cities would take the longest, but even they, big as they were, would eventually disappear as nature reclaimed them. Brick and stone and metal and tarmac were no match for time. And there would be lots of time.
......Yes, it would take a long, long time. But gradually, oh so gradually, wherever people had been there would only be memories. And, with no one to remember them, memories don't last long.
......Mrs Amble unlatched the window and threw it open, careless and uncaring of the ornaments that fell and smashed. They meant nothing now - it was hard to believe they ever had. The air was clearer and cleaner already. She took a large lungful, though she knew it wasn't for her. Birds started singing and the sun broke through.
......She took one last look up and down the street. In the past when she had stood there looking out, she had felt comfortable - now she didn't. She felt she was spying. It hadn't mattered before when it was only people she was watching - she was one of them. It was different now. She didn't belong there any more. Now she felt she was the one who was being watched. It was a patient watchfulness, but it was also resentful. She was an intruder. It was time to go.
......She sighed and turned from the window. She didn't close it - there was no need. She stood a moment and glanced around the room at all the senseless symbols of her life. Soon they would all crumble and rot.
......She sighed again, and then went heavily but calmly upstairs.
......Mrs Amble began to pack.

Copyright Scorpio Tales 1995. All rights reserved.

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