Nineteen – Alice Wilson

The sun sets as he rides in the back of his father’s car, headphones on. Nineteen minutes past six. Clair de Lune plays in his ears. Always a favourite of his. The soft, tinkling notes, run fluid like water, falling in time with the sunbeams that rain from the sky, dappling the road and buildings and trees rolling past outside.

Nineteen minutes past six. Orange sky, blazing like fire. Not too many clouds, thankfully. Sun is sinking; you can’t see it’s decline but you know it’s going down, you just know. The staccato sentences offer a hint at the mind behind the demeanour. He’s always racing to get the words out; no time to think, only to feel.

He looks up from his notebook and resumes his gaze outside. The music gets higher, louder in his ears, reaching its crescendo while outside the sun gets lower, approaching its denouement. Mezzo forte mezzo piano. Music mirrors nature. Perfect harmony. The boy of nineteen smiles his soft, thoughtful smile. Sun disappearing behind a cluster of clouds. Her rays still pour out though, not going down without a fight … now the clouds are silver and grey, white around the edges. Onyx and pearl hiding a giant diamond. Clouds are getting thicker, wind growing stronger. Everything fading to grey …

If you were a passer-by who caught a glimpse of the boy of nineteen, riding past in the back of his father’s car, you wouldn’t see the face of a boy so profoundly moved by the setting sun. How could you? How could you see the racing mind and thoughtful intelligence when we’re conditioned to perceive only the reckless insolence of teenagers; they’re not deep thinkers, their minds are shallow pools. You couldn’t be blamed for failing to see this boy thinks deeper than most, for seeing only yet another bored teenager, taxied around by another weary parent, unmoved, unimpressed by the world around. You couldn’t be blamed, but all this time you were considering the moody teenager you’d have failed to notice the brilliant sunset …

Now he is walking. Another street, but no more sunlight. Dad’s gone home, farewelled by his son with a quiet ‘see you tomorrow’ and a shared soft smile. Sunset is over now, twilight is here. A grey sky has replaced the vibrant orange; the light of the defiant sun has been defeated. They walk through shades of black and white, no music now – he left his backpack in the car …

January fifth, nineteen-nineteen. The Nazi Party is formed in Germany under the name the German Farmer’s Party. Mussolini forms the Fascist Party on February twenty-third. Thirty-five Polish Jews are executed on the fifth of April, twenty-five in The Ukraine that August. The warning signs were there way back in 1919. Did people see them? did they want to?

The boy of nineteen is tired now, so tired. He’s losing energy with every step. He feels as if each step leads him further into a dark cave. The darkness has nothing to do with the sunset. Not a cave he thinks. A tunnel. He walks on, nineteen years drag behind him. They flash through his mind, each one seems longer than the last. Still he puts one weary foot in front of the other. Nineteen steps. Nineteen more. He knows the end of the tunnel is getting closer. I won’t look back.

Eleven pm and she goes to bed, her boy of nineteen still not home. She hopes he won’t be home too late – everybody is coming for lunch tomorrow, he has to shell the prawns. He promised he would. ‘I’ll do them tomorrow,’ he said, and smiled his father’s smile as he headed out the front door. She knows he will. He’s a good boy, her boy. She goes to sleep with his smile painted on the inside of her eyelids …

Its night now, the moon fully risen; a pearly orb in a black chasm. It floats in front of him, pulling him on. Nature’s Clair de Lune. The other end of the tunnel. Thinks the boy of nineteen. Just keep going – through the black into the white light. He walks on, hands in pockets, a lone figure in a lonely street. He keeps his eyes trained on the moon, his compass, his only way forward. And then everything is black, the moonlight blotted out by the looming mass before him. A mountain of stone and cement, his to climb.

For the first time, the boy of nineteen falters. His footfalls stumble without his guide. The only way out is through. Go through the black and you’ll find that bright white again. The sun never sets where you’re going. He knows the door will be unlocked, knows there will be no security guards lurking within. They don’t use this side of the building anymore. With the calm, placid demeanour his mother so loves the boy of nineteen steps into the darkest part of his tunnel and begins the steepest climb of his mountain. Nineteen steps, then nineteen more. His footsteps sound like full stops.

His heart is beating. Nineteen beats, nineteen more. He has finished his climb and the heartbeats replace the footsteps. Were the beats always this loud? He stands stop his mountain in the tunnel. The exit is below. I’ve climbed up only to go back down again. He used to dream he was falling. In his dreams he always woke before he hit the bottom. This will be the a same. You never find out what happens at the end of the fall. Nineteen years, nineteen birthdays. He’s been standing on the brink for nineteen minutes. Another nineteen seconds and the boy of nineteen years falls.

The prawns have gone off in the fridge. She’ll never eat prawns again. ‘I’ll do them tomorrow.’ Tomorrow. There won’t be a tomorrow, not for him, not for me. Everyone still came for lunch, but no one missed the prawns. Why couldn’t she see? Why didn’t he give her a sign? ‘I’ll do them tomorrow,’ why had he smiled his father’s smile? He’s taken that with him too; she’ll never see that smile again on either of their faces. Her boy. Nineteen years. Six thousand, nine hundred and thirty-five days. Why couldn’t he give her a sign?

Nineteen days later, his father wakes up. Nineteen days spent reliving nineteen years, searching for the signs. His son, his sun. Both gone from his life and the world is slate grey. Nineteen days ago his boy sat in the back of his car, headphones on, pen in hand, gazing at a sunset. I’ll never look at a sunset again. He shuts his eyes again …

Nineteen years later and a young boy sits at an old piano, small fingers bash against the keys. The piano sits in the same corner of the same kitchen it sat in nineteen years ago. A long time ago another boy sat on the same stool, playing the same keys, playing a song about moonlight. Mother, grandmother and grandfather sit nearby. When the little boy smiles they see another smile, gone for nineteen years. Grandmother sees the same, thoughtful smile, the blue thoughtful eyes. She is sitting beside her husband, their features beside each other on the little boy’s face. His smile and my eyes. We gave them to him.

Now his name belongs to the small boy, so does his smile. The sun is setting outside. Grandfather sees the vibrant orange hit his grandson’s cheeks through the glass. He smiles, a quite thoughtful smile and turns to watch the sunset.


alice wilson

Alice Wilson is a writer from Melbourne. Her writing on social issues and culture have appeared in the digital news platform the Yarra Reporter. As an editor-in-training – she is currently completing a masters in writing and publishing – she is a part of the team at Bowen Street Press, an independent publishing imprint in Melbourne.


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