His silhouette casts a tall shadow on the bridge in the fading light. Fallen leaves kiss the ships below. Their autumn-burned colour mirrors the flecks of gold in his eyes. He puts his hand to his mouth and then remembers he doesn’t smoke any more. As a stark-white swan passes below, he wonders if it, too, has lost its mate. As if sympathising with the swan’s furious underwater paddling, he starts to pace restlessly. He absently pats the empty wallet in his back pocket.

He could just bring all his old camping stuff here, and winter with the birds, hoping maybe she will arrive with them. Yet the migratory route they have taken is nothing compared to the gulf of time and space between his split trainers and her restless shoes. Is her hair turning grey too?

A new apartment block towers over the riverbank. He looks up at the penthouse, and his eyes travel downwards as if each floor marks a layer of hierarchy in his world. His eyes linger on the steps leading down to basement area. He forces his hands into the pockets of his jacket, which is the colour of midnight on the water. He knows what that looks like. He has a catalogue of shades in his mind, if his memory was still reliable he could have visualised a 24/7 time-lapse of this bridge. The shades have got a lot dimmer recently.

He suddenly wonders when he last ate, or what it would have been. It feels like his stomach isn’t even inside his body any more. He glances at the road-marking on the bridge. “Give Way”. He wonders if it’s there to describe his feelings. A passer-by stares at him way too long, until he realises it is because a low moan has been escaping him without him really being aware of it.

“Are you ok, sir?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure she is, thank you.”

“Sir, your legs are shaking.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. If they stopped, well…that’s when I would worry.”

“Please go somewhere warm, sir.”

“That is precisely where I am going. Can you tell me which way it is?”

His breath plumes in front of him and he is transported to another place, a hazy cafe, full of cigarette smoke, caffeine and poetry, and barely containing the majesty of her personality. Clinking cups and that familiar smell of ground coffee, and oh, the brightness in her eyes, the sunniest day in mid-August, the glitter on the water, that was her shade.

The passer-by has his phone out. The one-sided conversation fades in.

“Yeah he must only be, like, fifty, but he seems so lost…bit of a beard, deep blue coat…yeah he is pretty tall…no I don’t think he’s wearing one of those…he looks like he last ate a week ago…oh, you do, do you? Are you going to send someone? …Great, I’ll wait with him then.”

How rude to stand there with his phone out.

“You know, I met her before phones took over this planet. We could talk for days, we didn’t need those things or the…cables…wires…screens…”

He suddenly feels tired, exhausted in fact. He lowers himself unsteadily onto the bench, and as the passer-by quickly comes to sit with him, he could swear he felt her touch on his shoulder, reaching across the gulf.

Desert Rose

“You just don’t understand, it was blooming! That’s, like, once every two years! You have to get it back.” His eyes darted around the room as if seeing after-images of all the burglar’s steps.

“Sir, with all due respect, your apartment is half-burned out and your front door is split, and you want us to… find your cactus?” the policeman said.

“Yes! I can’t be more clear on this. You have to find it. Do you have any idea how old it was? Who gave…” the tears suddenly welled up. Damn this policeman, could he not see the obvious value of such a cactus? “Do you hold anything to be universally sacred, officer?”

“Well…I have a wife and ki-”

“Yes yes, but what about the things that really matter? The deep things of the earth?”

“Please understand, sir, that with our limited resources we simply cannot-”

“Helicopters. I want helicopters on this. Right away.”

“Sir, please…”

“You, detective, are being completely unreasonable. I thought with all your training you would be prepared for such a disaster as this. Why are you looking at me like that?”

“OK, sir, this is what we’ll do. We are going to make every effort to find your houseplant. We will scour the town. You will receive the utmost dedication in resolving your case, truly. Now will you sit down?”

“Houseplant, my God, man, houseplant? I’ll pray for your soul.”

“Yes, sir, that would be most kind of you.”

The man sank to his knees. This guy was never going to get it back. The desert was going to completely take over now. Everything was lost.