The Leonard Cohen Waltzing Society for Half-drunk Fuckwits
by Helen McClory
Of course there was music playing the moment we all died. I mean, statistically, somewhere in the world millions of people must have been playing or listening to music, singing or humming under their breath, screaming out lyrics into a packed barn in a field in Denmark. It just has to be true. All those songs at once, discordant, terrible, rising and falling and knotting together and stuck with missed luftpauses and jarring breaks, a piercing rolling soothing scraping falsetto baritone spinto, then suddenly – hush.
But I want to talk about the point before that point. You and I were very much alive tipsy then and even almost young. I slipped almost trembling alongside you. We walked the road over the river, right as the dawn was coming. First as we began the river was black, then it was dark blue, then it was green and swelling, and I could see every fish that travelled down it, the smiles of their beaks, the wakes of their bubbles, and white butterflies looking like paper flitting mechanically overhead dipping to drink and rise again before they were swallowed by fish or water. On the other side, hibiscus flowers burst out and dropped their petals as we walked under them. The river came and went from us, turning, aligning itself to its own idea of distinction. Some of this I may be misremembering. Of course there was a dog or two barking, no sound of lorries yet.
After about thirty minutes of walking and aimless conversation we came to the end of the world. There was an old man there and he was pulling green oranges off a tree and placing them gently on the ground, into a pyramid shape. I felt torn up inside with the poignancy; hand over hand he pulled the branches down to reach the fruit, eyed each carefully, and twisted it off before letting the branch gently return to its position.
“There’s not enough energy,” he said, patting pocked skin, “no will to continue, that’s always our trouble.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. You said nothing, but stood a little aside, looked off into the wood, shuffling with discomfort. Dear boy, we had so much time after the end for silence, you should have said more then. The old man sat on a rock by his oranges and pulled up his guitar. He began to play. I’m not sure if it was for us, or for all of us. He played and it sounded like this ————
I don’t know if you can hear it. Sound not being one to travel in a vacuum. Anyway, he played it, and it was like this ———-, and I sighed, and covered my face.
Then, miraculously, you came over and took my hand, and put your other hand on my waist. I always want to lead in these dances, a relic from when I was the tallest girl in the school, and had to be the boy, when I really wanted to be nothing. The music spun us about in ¾ time. I think, dear one, the absurd is the only way I have to talk to you from this place, the only means by which to broadcast this emergency signal. But, of course, you do not hear it now. Radio waves travel through the dark, but speech from my own lips, words on a page, they just don’t. We danced on a road damp in the early morning. My hair wet. My whole self coming unpeeled.
The end of the world came up gradually with the dawn, it doesn’t matter when exactly. There’s no measuring a time that is gone when all time such as we who could understand it are gone, is gone. How many ways I am trying to find to be still in that dance, in that tissue of seconds that did not happen, that song, played by an old man who had nothing to tell us about the end of the world. I may be misremembering it too, the thing that did not happen. But anyway, all over the world at the end of the world music played, was sung, was fumbled, rejoiced, and then ————
Helen McClory‘s first collection, On the Edges of Vision, won the Saltire First Book of the Year 2015. Her second collection, Mayhem & Death, was written for the lonely and published in March 2018. She is here for you. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart.