Grey Acres

The last human who ever died had a last name like an animal. Wolf. Rat. Whale. No one quite remembers. The last human who ever died, died in the cold or in the water or in the dark. Nine-hundred, a thousand years ago. No human has ever died since.

We are not sure what dying is. We think it might be a type of forgetting. When a human forgets itself and the world forgets the human. Our lives are lives of forgetting. They always have been. Our heads forget but our feet and fingers remember. We all drive machines, operate vehicles that no-one understands. We drive them along carriageways that nobody can name. We park them on cliff-tops and look out over the unfathomable ocean and we know that if we leapt over the edge and onto the rocks we would be fine -- though we very rarely try it.

There are eighty hundred and eighty six of us and everybody knows everybody and always has. We have last names like dull colours and shades of plaster. Grey. Magnolia. Ash. There was a panic one hundred and eighty years ago when one of us disappeared. Everyone started talking death and dying. That the dying had begun again. Nobody had the right words to explain themselves. Some said that dying was the sound of rain water drumming against a black window. Others that it was the feel of soft wool wrapped around your naked thighs.

Humans stood on polycarbonate crates and sung prophecies of dying. Crying that we would die like the grass and the centipedes. Then one morning the one who was thought to have died was seen sitting in their front yard peering up at the winter sun. They said they had slipped into the river and been carried out to sea. It had taken them all summer and autumn to swim back.

We live in a world of rocks and plastic. No one remembers when all the plants and animals died. We have their bones and seeds in damp jars underground. Their names are painted on the walls of libraries where all the books have rotted, schools where the classrooms blow with chalk and crumbled rubber. Wolf. Rat. Whale. We have the bones of humans too. Though no-one really believes they are real. No-one really believes in bones at all.

I think that I have written books. In a time that there was still paper. And my neighbour she thinks she has built great machines before rust swept through the land like locusts. We carve our names into the bricks of our houses lest we forget them. We carve lists of things we think we are, to anchor us against the current of forgetting. Bee Orchids. Salt. Cinnamon. Though eventually we forget the taste and feel of the things we are writing and the sound and taste of the names as we say them is all that remains. We write the most important parts of ourselves all over our houses. When we forget their meaning their repetition across the walls is like an echo of our forgetting. March in -March in - March in - March in - March in - March in - March in Provence.

The dying world was a different world to ours. The dying lives lived there hardly lives at all. Often when I dream I dream of dying. It is a bright, blurred dream of nothing. The colour of my pale skin when I hold a torch light behind it. My neighbour says she remembers everything when she dreams, though she forgets almost everything on waking up. She says she dreams of animals. How loud the world was with animals. She wakes up startled, with their scent in her nostrils, their feel on her fingers, their names in her mouth. Wolf. Rat. Whale.

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