Fragment of soul
The woods are almost silent to the untrained ear but if you stand still and ignore the hum of distant traffic, the forest sounds become overwhelming. The falling of leaves is like slow rain, pattering against the leaves still clinging to branch tips; a squirrel rummaging in the leaf-litter sounds like a much larger animal digging. The smell is the sweet mushroom scent of healthy decay, spicy and slightly erotic; the aroma of damp earth bringing back memories from beyond time when we were animals only.
I walk up the slope and into the grove of chestnuts, the undergrowth retreating into nothing but fallen leaves and a few bare dead plants and the grim green of persistent nettles. In late April this was a sea of blue, and the scent of wild hyacinth intoxicating in the warm spring air; but the bluebells are now withdrawn into skull-white bulbs, and are curled tight in their potential.
Muscles pull. I can feel age creeping up on me, but mostly this is the near permanent pain of a body that got put together ever so slightly wrongly. I know that I must be more and more careful as I age that I put less stress on joints that will bend and let me become circus-freak pretzel-shaped. Distantly I see the cobalt flash of magpie wing and I focus on the bird itself, bouncing on a twig too slight for its weight above the mud of the pond. I wonder if it will fall. It flies to a higher branch and a flurry of leaves drift down and coat the oily surface of the pond.
That’s when it happens, the flash of memory.
I’m holding a fragment of bone, curved like a primitive bowl, and smooth as only countless hands caressing it could make it. It lies in the palm of my hand, bigger and so much more significant than my small hand. I can see the suture lines where the skull bones fused together and I realise that I have always known this, that this skull I hold, broken and ancient, is somehow a part of me.
The curve is delicate, like a vessel made by a skilled and careful potter, and the skull it belonged too must have been a dainty one. None of the hefty brow-bones and bulging lobes that mine possesses. I hold only the very dome of the skull; I cannot see the start of the slope down to eye-ridges or the knobbly temples. You might use this fragment to scoop up spring water with and drink from, a forgotten sacrament that honours both the spring and the soul of the skull’s long dead owner.
I shiver and the images dissolve and I walk on, mesmerised by this fragment of soul memory.