I do not Know Which to Prefer

– A short story by Saoirse Chu

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections,
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling,
Or just after.

I do not know which I prefer, this or that, that or this. Is it the past or the future I want to remember, daydreams or memories, life ahead of me or behind?
I sit here in the classroom, numbing desk beneath my elbows, my head buried in my sunken hands. Distant grumbling from the road, cars battling to arrive on time to their grey solitude. Distant chatter from my peers. Stories of irrelevance, stupidity, lies, hyperbole, fabrication.
How is it all going to turn out?
Memories of my past days, untroubled days, home days, childhood. Dreams of my future days, exciting days, city days, adulthood.
Who will I meet there? Who will I forget?
It’s always a constant battle here and there, back and forth, now and then.
It seems that life has passed me by. I am in a rocking chair, not long after starting to crawl. Childhood feels like it is peering over my shoulder, adulthood breathing down my neck. Neither is touching me, so I cannot be sure which to acknowledge.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree,
In which there are three blackbirds.

The fans click above my head, cooling air washing over my cheeks.
Is this what it will be like in the city, air conditioners blasting Antarctic air through the workplace of my dreams?
Was this what it was like in the past, travelling through the air of carefree being, not worried about what it is or what it will become?
Is this how it feels to be moving through time and space, pulled from both dimensions into the present, confronted with the prospects of living in these worlds?
I wonder here, stuck in this dimension between past and future.
Nostalgic. Exciting.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

Often, as I contemplate the future, I wonder how my past has led me to this.
My past. A dog-­‐‑eared book. Looking outside of this bleak room, I wonder how time has passed me by so quickly. How was I once there, and now here?
A warm wind swirls leaves into dance. Rustling fills the air. A chorus from the trees.

The three of us, walking down the lane. Hot, hot, hot asphalt on my feet. I should’ve worn shoes.
Mum gave us money for the corner shop, for ice creams and chips with chicken salt. My favourite. Walking with them, my older brother and sister, I felt older too. We roamed the streets, playing, running and jumping. We were birds in the sky. Free. My sister, she rode her bicycle, pink spray-­‐‑painted green, only one of the many tricks she got up to. Her hair tangled and ravaged with split ends, blowing in the sticky summer’s breeze. She idolised my brother, followed his every footstep, mimicked his every word. He rode a skateboard. The bottom covered with vegetable stickers, ones we had eagerly collected from Bunnings. He thought he was the coolest kid out there, rolling fast and trying to get me to race him, to boost his inflated ego. A boisterous pair.
And me, I just watched. Just watched. Four years older than me. They were in primary school, able to catch the bus and learn to write. I wanted to be as old as them. Little did I know.
We sat on the kerb, the sun blazing on our freckled cheeks, chewing the gum off our bubble-o-bills before the ice cream slithered onto our hands.
When I look from afar, we were kids with the world at our hot, hot, feet.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in green light
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

I feel stuck, tossed between these roaring waves, grasping for breath. I imagine the future. It is so close to me, yet just out of reach. But I can still play with the air, between my grasping fingers and the enticing future.

City life, bustling streets, arguing cars. Towers climb into the ragged sky.
I will watch from the train carriage. Rainbow hair will pass me, looking for a seat. Facial tattoos to my right. A busker at the end, carrying his tuba for a show in the pulsing city heart.
I’ll be on my way to the law firm, my suit smart and tight. The world at my fingertips, not at my feet.
My fellow commuters avoid each other’s glances. Awkward smiles, here and there, others lingering in their own worlds, not wanting to let go for the day ahead. Or maybe they need to let go. We will share a carriage, share the air, share this moment, this time of life.
Off the train, onto the platform. The rush hour buzz creates an ambiguous breeze. Clicking of shoes on the tiled floor. A shadow of a man on the tiles, with a paper cup in his trembling hands.
I’ll stop, empty some spare change into his sombre, life vessel.
Shared smiles. Three teeth.
Back on my way. Freedom in the city. Myself in the city.
Cry out sharply.
The world will be mine.

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

The grumbling returns, voices, cars. I remember where I am, who I am, why I am here. This moment. This moment, in between past and future, memories and daydreams, this and that. I want to be immersed in the waves of nostalgia. I want to be submerged in the breaths of excitement, the dreams and wishes that seem so unequivocal.
The truth is both. So it has to be neither.

The only place I can be is the blaring present. I can see life for what it is, now. How anti climatic.

I do not know which I prefer, this or that, that or this.