This was inspired partly by the use of time in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, which is also the technique used in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. The style resembles that of John Steinbeck because that's what I've been reading, and the title is borrowed from the very Philip Larkin poem located elsewhere in this node.
It is said that, in the moment before a man dies, his entire life passes before him; countless years of sadness and joy flicker for a fraction of a second, followed swiftly by the wash of regret and all things not yet done. This is not entirely true –- the life that flashes past is not his own, but rather the life of everything else around him, that which he has ignored or taken for granted. The life of these things is overwhelming in its intensity, a glorious burst of light before the endless dark; it is only sudden because he has not been looking for it and was too busy to notice. It has always been there.
The sunlight made its way lazily across the orange-brown terracotta tiling, warming the tops of the houses. It scaled drainpipes, crept into cracks in the pavement and bounced playfully off the silvery metal of the scrapyard; reclaiming the world from the loosening grip of sleep. It noticed an open window on the second floor of a rather nondescript building and, mistaking this for an invitation, poured into the room. As it crested the windowsill and bathed everything in a brilliant light, a sharp sound rang out; a sudden and succinct bang, followed by a flood of solid silence. The birds on the roof outside leapt into the air, startled by the noise; but the sunlight continued into the room, unafraid. No noise could frighten the sunlight: it had heard everything before.
Birds are easily frightened, and especially by loud noises. Over time, birds have learnt that a loud noise suggests danger, and danger heralds death. These birds were pigeons, the grey, ubiquitous kind that are found wherever there are people; full and fat after an early-morning breakfast. The journey had been a short one with many stops along the way. This roof had seemed a good spot for the birds to rest and preen their feathers, as the sunlight was beginning to warm the tiles. When the noise pierced the morning’s calm, suddenly and unexpectedly, they took to the sky in an enormous cloud of fluttering and cooing. A leader emerged at the front and began flying towards the East, and the others followed. They would simply have to find another roof, one that was not so rude to its visitors.
It was a normal plant, as far as it was concerned. If anyone had asked the plant to describe itself, it would have said “ordinary” –- but no one had ever asked it, and besides, it couldn’t speak. But the plant was right in its assumption, since it was indeed an ordinary plant. It had ordinary leaves, ordinary roots and a host of rich violet buds; the name given to it was Stachys byzantina, but it preferred to think of itself as simply “plant”. The sunlight flooded in, caressing the little leaves and persuading the buds to open in the golden glow. The plant stretched upwards, willing its shoots to grow higher, reaching for the ceiling of the room. Had the plant had eyes, it would have seen a tall, familiar figure standing by the door; had it had ears, it would have heard him crying. But since it had neither, it saw and heard nothing; and the sharp sound that frightened the birds remained unknown to the plant in the corner of the room.
What an upstart, thought the old table, What a silly young thing! It had been many years since the table had been growing like the plant in the corner, many years since it was savagely torn from the rest of itself and fashioned into unnatural angles. It remembered the feeling of the wind between leaves and the sunlight warming its bark. It longed to feel the water upon its roots again, and the insects and animals taking refuge in the damp hollows. But the table knew it had a purpose, and for that it was glad. The tall figure would place objects on its surface and, as efficiently and proudly as it could, the table supported them. Every object was still there when required. Like the flamboyant violet plant that it so envied, the table could see and hear nothing. It felt everything, however; every tiny vibration and tap against its surface. The table did not hear the sound that chased the birds towards the East, but it felt a jolt as something heavy and metallic fell upon it, something warm and somehow important. It waited for someone to remove the object, but no one did. And, since nothing happened afterwards, the table assumed that perhaps the new object was a decoration of sorts, and it felt very proud and very pretty.
The floor, like the table, was once a living, growing thing; not the exact same thing, but killed by the same savagery. It stretched lazily across the entire room, the dust of countless ages tickling its belly and the footsteps tapping across its back. It had known them all; the light clip-clop of women’s high heels, the heavier thud of men’s black boots and the tiny unnoticed skitter of mice. There had been less footsteps recently, less and less of the light clip-clops, less of the heavy thuds and almost no skittering. The sunlight poured onto the golden-brown back of the floor, warming it generously. If it could have sighed, the floor would have done so. It also did not hear the sound that frightened the birds, but it felt the object land on the table above, and it felt the heavy lump crumple suddenly upon its surface. The lump did not move, but began oozing a dark redness along the floor, soaking it and making it sticky and damp. The liquid ran into all of the cracks, on to the insects and the dust below, and the floor was not at all happy.
And there was him; the figure in the centre of it all. He wasn’t sure what, or how, or even why; but it seemed to make sense, in a way. The gun was lighter than he had imagined, although it became heavy against his temple. For a moment, the second before the hammer snapped back into place, he could hear and feel everything. The sunlight warmed him, rather than giving him cancer; the birds were not just chirping, they were singing to the sky; and the plant in the corner was not simply growing, but stretching itself out towards him, reassuring him that he was not alone. And then, there was silence. Silence for a single second, one moment of absolute clarity, and then sound. A sharp sound that chased the birds from the roof and echoed down the street, stopping each person and turning every head for a moment. And then, everything carried on as normal. Silence rang out in the wake of the piercing bang, and the sunlight continued pouring into the room. It had heard everything before.