Walking through fields in September

Short fiction accompanying an exhibition about nostalgia.

He often spoke about the past as though it were a mythical realm untouched by Modernity. He thought of it more as a place than a time; a point on a map; a corner of his own personal territory whose fecund farmland produced an ever-increasing memory-yield.

Even wars involving half the globe provided an inexhaustible supply stories about happy children playing among bombed-out schoolrooms and evacuated cityscapes. He had delivered the Sunday papers on his pushbike in the post-war years, papers that carried full-page funnies and had ‘none of these Travel and Health supplements’. In his stories he was always riding down triple-width, leaf-lined avenues preserved in the hazy amber of dawn in late summer.

I expressed pity for him, he whose future held no hope for a better time, and that only the past could satisfy. He said, ‘I’ve always felt sadness more acutely than happiness, even when I’m reminiscing I’m feeling sadness. It’s always there.’ He told me proudly that he was sad that the past had gone but thankful for the memories, and that made him sad. From anyone else it would have sounded like a confession.

He had Moonlight Sonata – a piece appropriately named with hindsight – on repeat in a cassette player that automatically turned it over to side B, on which he also had Moonlight Sonata on repeat.

He told me once that he thought everyone should be given a week off work in September, for walking through fields. I told him ‘Not everyone lives near fields.’

‘We’ll put on coaches…’

The past is always the past. Ever-present and equal in status, however distant it is from now. Whether it’s remembering the time your mother bandaged your first scuffed knee, or looking through a filtered photograph to the meal you had twenty minutes ago, the past is flexible; editable. The past is there, in an old tin box, oxidised and musty. You can take it out and open it up whenever you need it, and easily reconstruct it to represent the dreams of the present.