Sunday, 22 September 2013

Autumn Song

Autumn is officially with us, the equinox occurring tonight at around quarter to nine. As always, I feel compelled to listen to some of my favourite seasonal songs - September Song, The Autumn Leaves, Autumn in New York...

The latter is playing in Seth's mind too, as he reflects on his life, past mistakes and new opportunities, in this excerpt from "Playing on Cotton Clouds".

Sit back, play the clip and take this walk into Central Park with him.

Autumn in New York.

Seth left the subway and emerged in St Columbus Circle. The song had been stuck in his head all morning, since he had woken up and caught sight of the trees that lined the West 11th Street outside his flat.

He had lived in a song or a movie for the past four months and wondered if New York had that effect on all its visitors, with its well known, overexposed sights.

Some places have the power of welcoming you as one of their own the minute you arrive. It had been the case in Amsterdam and again in London, and now Seth felt it here.

The bustling of the city was reassuring and familiar and he crossed the busy square, a zigzag of yellow taxis and cars circling the fountains and flowers at the centre of the round-about, moving with ease towards Central Park.

The rusty leaves overhead coloured the scenery with various shades of reds and browns and Autumn in New York kept playing in his head.

The melancholic streak that tinged the air of the bright and crispy day, with patches of blue sky visible beyond the golden leaves of the trees and the towering buildings looking down on the park, felt like a projection of his nature.

He could not escape it, like a thorn planted somewhere in his body and forgotten, until it would suddenly reappear to hurt him again. Perhaps old memories of his many mistakes had followed him all the way across the ocean, or perhaps it was just part of him, something he could not tear out without maiming himself.

He continued to walk along the paths that cut through the park, among joggers and strollers, dog walkers and mums pushing prams, people taking a break on the benches and pigeons. It could have been Hyde Park or Vondelpark or even their small public gardens, back home… any park in the world, probably. Except it wasn’t. It was Central Park and there was something unmistakably newyorkese in the air.

His destination was finally in sight, a quirky café by Sheep Meadow.

The season’s chill hadn’t hit the city yet and people were enjoying the last bout of sunshine sitting at the tables outside the low building.

Seth glanced at his watch. He was only five minutes late. That would take Nicole by surprise, no doubt.

She had already arrived and was intent on reading a paperback, while waiting at one of the tables, faultlessly elegant in an Yves Saint Laurent grey dress, impeccably modelling her figure, a white silk scarf wrapped around her neck.

“Sorry I’m late.” The words came out of Seth’s mouth almost automatically. After all those years, he still felt apologetic in her presence.

She lifted her head and uncovered her perfect teeth. In her late thirties, age didn’t seem to have caught up with her, except for a few faint lines at the corner of her mouth and eyes, which Seth noticed as he leaned on the cheek she had offered for him to kiss.
“When are you going to shave that thing off?” She brought a hand to her face.

Seth grinned and caressed his beard. “I had it trimmed this morning,” he jokingly protested, while taking his seat. “It’s quite stylish, don’t you think? Kind of George Clooney.”

“You wish.” Nicole laughed. “It makes you look five years older. Glad you cut your hair, at least, and I don’t mind the casual-jacket, unbuttoned-shirt look.”

“Still trying to style me, Nick? We’re not married anymore.”

“Suit yourself, then. Shall we order?”

“Absolutely. I’ve owed you this lunch for four months.”

“Nonsense. I was glad to help out. How do you find the flat?”

“Perfect. Your choice was immaculate, as always.”

She gave her usual unassuming-while-secretly-pleased-with-herself look.

“And how are you finding New York?” she continued.

“Amazing city. I can see why you love it so much.”

“City of opportunities.”


“And have you?”

“Have I, what?”

“Grabbed your opportunities.”

“To an extent, yeah. I’m back writing.”

“Another novel?”

“Notes, for now. I have written a few shorts for the magazine, alongside the column…”

“… which is brilliant, Seth. I read it every week.”

“Ah, thanks.”

“And what about the rest?”

“The rest?”

“Still single?”

“Stubbornly so.”

“Ah, shame. You need a woman to sort you out.”

“I’m hard work.”

“Tell me about it.”

The waiter interrupted their quick-fire exchange, took their order and returned with their drinks.

“To opportunities, then.” Nicole lifted her small glass of white Californian wine.

“To opportunities,” Seth repeated.

“And new love,” Nicole added.

The words seemed to echo through the park with the muffled, distant sound of the city’s traffic.

Somehow Seth’s mind was filled not with expectations, but with memories. Perhaps it was the company of Nicole, the taste of the past and old feelings. He was looking at them from a distance, in a weird out-of-body experience. [...]

Seth stared at the sun reflected in the wine, as if the answer had been in there all along.

His face broke into a smile.

“Yes.” He lifted his glass. “To new love.”