Cold nights and nervous skies greeted him with October. This was where he had left, even if he was still here. The city ached and he longed for fresh memories. The river was ice. The man with the rake felt it flowing around him, though he was dry. This was the suburbs at sunset set in the edge of an improbable city.
There was a new sort of alone, cut from the flesh of the old. It was not the absence of humanity but rather a subtle misalignment that compelled him down the angles of the curving morning.
It wasn't as if there was someplace else to go, if you were nowhere. As a cat all nights were gray. He was much as he had always been, and held some memory of what would yet be. Chasing shadows is easy, given their abundance.
He's gardening, which is peculiar. It's peculiar for him, at least. It's also a strange way to pass time in a desert. Still, things need weeded and general appearances kept up. A gardener is fundamentally an executioner. The thought struck him as he dug thatch out of the crushed rock that composes the lawn. They call this sort of thing a 'xeriscape', which is a Greek word for 'acknowledging the obvious.' It also is a handy way of collecting pine needles, insects (live and and dead) and a variety of nameless fungi. He was wearing a respirator, which gave the entire experience a wonderful Darth-Vader-cooking-meth vibe. If you get a good mask, the air resistance isn't too bad. It's like having a moderate head cold, but I digress.
The tool of choice is an electric leaf blower, but reversed and turned into a sort of vacuum instead. It's the only thing that gets the pine needles out. They've migrated down in between the rocks and no degree of blowing will get them loose at this point. The only thing to do is suck. Suck and dig, and behold the marvelous variety of life that thrives beneath our feet. Also kill it, if you can.
The gardener, like the executioner, encourages some things by sharply discouraging all others. By digging in the dirt, he sees not the finality of death, but rather life as an inescapable principle of consumption and decay. It's a hungry universe, and every speck of dust is a devouring set of jaws. The pigeon in the garden fell to arise again as a carpet of ants. October's leaves shed their green for yellow and then a gray gossamer of spores. The gardener is dusted with earth in tribute to his inevitable raiment. He coughs through his respirator and rakes the stones back to sterile cleanliness. Whoever might yet be here, might yet walk on the dry soil and think of what lies underneath? He peels back the years to address the pure and icy stone. This is the garden.
I suppose it all makes me think of art and life as a subtractive process. I can think of the past, but it's more natural to think of the present and to see the empty places at the table. There have been deaths, but some stars have winked out for other reasons. Some succumb to life in ways less dramatic but just as final. 'Forever and ever' went by quickly for some, and what comes after is a garden in the desert. Blessed? Absurd? A pretense against time and emptiness? No. It's a Sunday morning with a rake.
I'm at the computer now in a cool, shadowed room. I'm writing and and watching a brilliant sunbeam crawl along the rental beige. I'm thinking of winter, and the city I'll be going back to for a short vacation soon. I'm thinking of names and faces long departed, and the nature of memory. I haven't lost much in this life compared to some, but I lost enough to finally appreciate the role of memory. Once I thought of memories as curios and souvenirs, but now I see them as the armature of the present. Some have fled from us, and some have fled from themselves. The calm eye uses what they left to inform something new, though the relationship may be invisible from the outside. This is the garden, overgrown and secret as it may be.