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There is no future

Author: Sally Hughes
Year: Future

1988

There is no future. There is only today.

I swing back and forth underneath the tree, my scabbed legs gliding out into the soft, empty air. I know this tree well. I rub my cheek against its warm, rough bark, and sit in the smooth bowl where the branches part. In the twist of bare roots underneath, I stir my own marvellous medicine of pond water, grass seed and moss, and then feel guilty, for both my grannies are lovely.

I am allowed as far as the drystone wall at the bottom of the field and the cattle grid on the lane, and I hang around these borders. I never cross the cattle grid – I would be too easily seen – but today I will leap over the tumbledown wall and into the paradise on the other side, where a spring tumbles alongside the old road, and the air is alive with flies and a stench of herbs.

My favourite colour is yellow, for I know that is the true colour of the world. I tell anyone who asks that I want to be a vet when I grow up. They seem to accept this, though I know it is a lie. I will never grow up, for there is only today, and the buzz of the bees, and the songs of birds I don’t know the names of, and the deep delicious smell of the earth, so delicious that I cannot resist licking it off my fingers, even though I will probably give myself worms again. My legs swing back and forth, back and forth, forever.

1996

The future will come in the year 2000, and everything will be different and better.

In 2000, I will be 18. I will be done with school. I will be done with these endless days that are so painful to live through that I have given up writing a diary, because the words I write are like dull spoons that cannot possibly dig out all that is heaped up inside me.

In 2000, nothing will be heaped up – it will all have melted away, along with my fat. My hair will be long and straight and I will be as beautiful as my sisters.

The future is a bridge between the dragged-out present of sweat and chapped thighs and agonizing periods and the golden hours that await me. I do not know where I will be. I only know I will be elsewhere. The future is coming for me, and I want to go.

2006

As you walk towards me through the pub, your shoulders are slightly hunched. You are so used to ceilings being too low for you that you never fully straighten yourself out. I think, there you are, and after years of the future being such an unmitigated blank that I fear it’s a sign I will die at an early age, a vista of time spreads out in front of me.

I can see days spent walking these silver streets and sitting amongst the deep quiet of books. I can see nights spent with you.

It is all before us. We have not even touched yet.

2013

My future is a person who is here, and not here.

He started in the old year as a cluster of cells, a twitch in my belly like a trapped nerve. Now we are in the hard cold of January, and he has almost arrived. I know everything will change, and I cannot imagine how it will be. I think about what he is and what he will become. Will he be kind, adventurous, or clever? Will he be interested in things? Will he know his own mind?

Although we are intertwined, we are separate. Already, he seems to exist because of his own self-will, and not any action of mine. I am certain he hears my thoughts. When I write in my journal he strains a hand or foot against my knicker elastic, as though pressure will convey his feelings. When he grows too quiet I run a shallow bath and throw water over my stomach. He pushes out parts of himself. He is playing with me.

During my nights I fend off spectres of wax-faced dolls that extend stiff, cold fingers toward me. ‘You aren’t my baby!’ I scream. During my days, I am a lumbering bear. I walk the hills of my motherland, waiting, waiting.

2020

There is no future. There is only today.

We have fallen out of time. The whirl of washing school uniforms, catching buses and writing to-do lists has stopped. There are only these long hours, in a small house, cupped by hills. The mountains look soft and soothing; they have seen worse than this. We watch the television, and can’t make sense of the numbers we read: 10,000; 20,000; 35,000.

We wake with the dawn and sweat around the living room: Burpees! Lunges! Squats! We eat porridge, and try to work. In the afternoon, we move to the garden. It is a wilderness with a purpose of its own. There is a sweet-smelling jungle tangled in the leaves of the cornflowers, and ants march up and down the sticky trunk of the acer tree. I thrust my head into the hedge, trying to find a blackbird’s nest. Inside, it is as sinuous and primal as a forest in a fairy tale.

I had thought that in this place I would root myself – stretch out my limbs and burst into blossom. But the future has vanished. I am frightened to think of what is coming, of what we will have lost.

A pair of great tits fly back and forth from the nesting box with dead grass, feathers, a wisp of duckling down blown from the canal. The fresh leaves on the acer unfurl slowly, like tight green fans, and each day they open a little more.