THE MONUMENTS - By Bekah Schofield
The monuments had always stood there as guardians over our city. Two beings, facing each other. Caught moments from an embrace, as if time had stopped only for them.
I used to watch them from our back yard. Watch where their heads would rise above the tall buildings. I would pretend as if I was paused with them. As if we were caught in the same timeline. That's what my mom used to say about them. That they were alive, just in a different timeline than us. One where centuries to us were merely seconds to them.
She would sit Alex in I in the back yard and tell us stories and legends about the monuments. Stories about how the monuments were the first creatures created and they were the ones who shaped the valleys and the seas. How they were alive and still moving, but we were just unable to see it because no one notices a rock that shifts a foot every hundred years. How these monuments, the ones who longed to be together, shaped the mountains that surrounded our home.
She would tell us legends of our people, the first settlers in this valley. Legends of how, on the first day of harvest, they would climb the monuments and stand in their open mouths to celebrate and offer sacrifices and prayers. Prayers that the harvest would be plentiful; the rain abundant; the winter kind. They would sing to the monuments: songs of love and praise for the past year, for the shelter they continued to provide.
But there was no first day of harvest, and no one climbed the monuments anymore.
My mom once studied the history of our valley at university, and through this study she became fascinated with the monuments and all that they represented for our people, our family, our heritage. Because of her, every New Years (as close to the first day of harvest as we could find) the three of us would climb the monuments, have a small meal over an open fire, sing the songs of the people past, and offer prayers for the coming New Year.
In my memories the sky was clear, filled with millions upon millions of stars. In my memories the air was always crisp, and nipped at our arms in a way that drew us closer together and caused us to sing louder, if only to warm our cores. But now, ten years later, as I climb up the side of the monument alone, the sky is filled with clouds. Dark, shifting clouds that cast a grey shadow across the whole valley. Now, the ground is covered in a blanket of frozen snow and ice that makes the climb that much more unbearable.
Mom knew how unpleasant the climb was, so each year she would tell Alex and I to race to the top. The winner would get the extra cookie she had packed. I try to picture him just a little bit ahead of me, purposefully kicking rocks back to slow me down. I use that memory to spurn me on against the cold wind that buffets me and threatens to knock me off balance as I continue upwards.
Alex was always the most resistant to this tradition, but as a kid you can buy them with food and they'll usually go along with it.
But he didn't stay a kid for long.
Each trip he protested more and more at us going up there.
Each year he became more solemn and resistant to sing or partake.
Each year the yelling match between him and mom, which preceded the trip, became longer and less about us actually going up there, although she couldn't always see it that way.
And then he left for university.
His visits home became shorter and less frequent as time went on until eventually they were practically non-existent.
Mom blamed this "change" (as she called it) on his new partner.
Said he was the one keeping Alex from us. Tainting his young and impressionable mind.
She couldn't accept that there could've been any another reason for him not wanting to come home.
When New Years came she refused to climb up the monuments until Alex arrived. "He's just running late." She was convinced he would come, despite not seeing him all year. "It's tradition."
That was the first year we didn't go.
Up above me the monument looms. Its hollow eyes stare accusingly at me, as if I am an intruder.
I guess I am an intruder now.
It has been ten years since I have climbed them. Ten years since we have stopped coming as a family. Ten years since I have thought of them as more than simple statues, the face-like products of water erosion. During those ten years I have left home, graduated from University. Gotten my own place, and my own life, but visited home often to help support mom wherever she may need me.
During those ten years I have tried to reach out to Alex, and we have spoken a little but it quickly became clear to me that he was not eager to pick up correspondences. He has moved on, started a new life with a new family. He no longer wants connections with his old family.
I tried to understand.
During those ten years she began her own descent to death. Her skin began to grow paler and more haggard. She smiled less and seemed to drift more into thought than ever before.
I tried to convince her to reach out to Alex, but she refused. Either a warped sense of pride or a deep dejectedness at being rejected by her eldest stopped her from calling after him.
But as the time drew nearer and I became more insistent, she protested less and less.
As I turn the corner I find myself faced with the open mouth of the monument, through which I can see the city stretched out below me.
A city full of blinking lights, which stretch towards the mountain range, small and twinkling.
A city full of people, all going somewhere. Following the bright lights which signposted them to where they felt they needed to go.
A city which when you are in feels so loud, but from here is so silent.
I wrap my jacket closer to my body as I take my seat beside the scorched rock upon which we used to build our fires.
The fire which we would all sit as close to as possible, pressed together as mom tried to wrap the family blanket over our shoulders, but it could never fully cover us. The fire over which we would laugh and tell stories from the past year. Reflecting on what had happened. Looking ahead to what we wanted to happen in the coming year.
The ticking begins to sound out from the city. A ticking that sounds throughout the whole city, vibrating throughout the earth so much so that I feel as if it was coming from deep within my chest.
The ticking that sounds the count down to the New Year.
I take the small box out of my bag, running my finger along its smooth lid. I think of how her fingers had looked as they had grasped my hand; as she had asked me to take her up those monuments one last time, to let her drift into the open wind and away from the city that she always felt so crowded in.
I walk to the edge of the monument, clutching the box tightly in my hands.
I remember how our family would stand during this time and sing a song as we watched the city, filled with people who were waiting with baited breaths for when the clock would fall.
I found that I was singing the songs to myself now as I shiver slightly against the roaring wind, the first drops of rain landing on my head.
The ticking stops, and for a brief moment the city lays completely still. Until the bright lights shot out of the city and blanketed the whole valley in a warm soft glow. Up from the city rose a low cheer.
I want to keep singing but my voice catches in my throat.
Then, from behind, I can hear the next verse of the song being sung. When he comes and stands next to me I somehow feel warmer than I had before. Less alone against the rain that is now pounding down around us.
In his hand he tightly grips a creased and wrinkled letter. He keeps his eyes on the box in my hands. A part of me wants to speak to him. To ask him why he has decided to come, or why he hadn't come earlier. But then I couldn't distinguish the rain from the tears on his face, so I stay silent. Instead, I open up the box and look down at the ashes inside. Looking over at him I silently hand him the box.
He looks into my eyes for a moment, and I see something there that I hadn't seen since we were little kids, laughing and playing up here.
Then, before I know it, he has suddenly thrown his hands up, keeping the box tightly gripped while the ashes fly off the monument. We watch as they catch in the wind, spiraling higher and higher until their small specks disappear into the storm clouds above.
He wraps his arms around me tightly. I bury my face into his shoulder.
I feel the earth beneath us move ever so slightly .