We are saddened to hear y of the death earlier this week of Bristol writer Suzie Lockhart-Smith. Suzie submitted to our spoken word event Story Sunday (The Fall) in October 2019. Here is the piece she read that night, with our sincere condolences to her family and friends.
Fast Fall the Eventide, by Suzie Lockhart-Smith
Suddenly I am seventy.
I have fallen like all of Autumn’s leaves, all at the same time, as though a hurricane roared out of the sky, un-forecast and stripped the trees, felling some and burying me. The forest floor where I am flung is dark and damp and I am covered with broken branches and deciduous foliage, which hides the sun. Leaf-mould clogs my nostrils, obliterates sight, and muddies my brain.
Falling is a disorienting sensation. I’ve always been susceptible to fear of it – am unnerved even to hear of it. History is a horror story. I’m deafened by the catastrophic sound of falling through time, hearing the violence of conflict down the ages – my ears din with the fall of Rome, Sebastapol, Troy, the fall of the House of Hapsburg, the FTSE one hundred. I’m sensitive to the sound of any discordant clash and fall of history – not to mention the noise of my own small defeats. It rams my ears like Niagara thundering through my brain and sending up mists to blur the light.
At seventy I have fallen out of favour, even out of sight. I have fallen into a trap, a category of ‘seventy plus’ in which, if I am visible at all, it is the ruined flesh and unfocused stare that predisposes the rest of humanity to look past me, fail to greet me, ignore me at the bar when I ask for a vodka and cranberry juice, which looks like watered down fresh blood and allows me the illusion that it’s full of iron and does me good.
Such a sudden fall! Sometimes, in middle age, I noticed the lines gather at the corners of my eyes and wondered at the changed texture of my eyelids, which creased and puckered as I swept the cobalt blue shadow across them and applied kohl and mascara to war-paint myself. I admit I was much more aware of my hands aging – I sometimes caught them mid-action or mid-thought, so like my mother’s hands. When I rested my arms along my dog’s back I would be surprised that the muddy liver spots had proliferated, the veins like tree roots, more raised and blue and gnarled. I noticed the slight drag of my cheeks downward, the minor slippage of flesh southward. But I was still vital, attractive, busy. It was no matter. I shrugged off any fear of aging if I noticed it at all. I wasn’t a woman who fussed everyday, or in any detail, about my appearance.
This shock of suddenly realizing I am seventy, is a bit like being dumped by someone you’re still in love with, that you didn’t see coming. He has gone off, regretfully of course, as he has better things to do than keep your world buoyant, your youth memorable and your hopes breathing. You thought you were special, you felt invincible. Swamped with dopamine, cherishing your lover with your body and your mind, you touched the clear glass of spangled stars and felt the gloss of heaven and saw the world turn vivid under the sun.
It’s a colossal fall from grace, your experience of his falling out of love with you. When you try to right yourself you slip and slither on the slime of rotting flowers and ruined promises, and scrabble helplessly to free yourself from the leaf mould and autumn damp. You lurk in the dark shadows of the naked trees under heavy skies, searching for your spectacles with shaking hands, trying to remember what dignity felt like, what the names of your sons and daughters are, which way is home. Comfortless, unmoored and alone you may be, but now you must shed the weight of your self-doubt and stand up.
All this falling through time, off horses, out of sinc, into trouble, through falling in and out of love makes your head hurt. Popular advice has it that when you hit the ground you should look up and see the stars – but keep your focus down and you will see mushrooms pushing through decay, thriving pale and spectral in the musty warmth of rotting leaves. They do not have the theatrical appeal of the phoenix rising from the ashes, but they do reach up.
Rise up then old woman; be like a mushroom.