“I am old,” said Peter. “Though I appear otherwise, I feel my age creeping upon me. My enemies are long bested; friends have grown tired and lie in the clay or out of reach. I sit alone atop these old trees that grumble under my weight, a part of the shifting canopy, and regard this place of wonders with a deep, wracking weariness.”
Reaching out with trembling fingers, he took up a sliver pipe cut from ancient ash, packed and lit it with a long match from his belt. A purulent scent rose from the bowl; embers could be seen flickering like final resignation between the grain.
Peter rubbed his bloodshot eyes with a balled fist. For a moment only a tired infant remained; high forehead crowned with tussled hair, entwined with twigs, leaves and a faded bead or two. Peter returned with a shudder of heaving shoulders.
“Old age was such fun, I thought. Something to mock, safe in the knowledge that I would never myself experience it. It would be sweet now, I think, to be old on the outside as well as in. I have a lot of time to think, although I can no longer concentrate on one moment or topic for long, and I think that old age is nature’s way of keeping us sane.
Once I would stare into pools and marvel at my never-changing face. Never. Never a wrinkle or a crease or a blemish or a freckle that had not been there the day before. After so long, when you feel the change inside but your face does not show it, I realised that I was no longer gazing upon my own face, but that of another. Should you look in your mirror and see a face you were sure was not yours, what would that make you? Mad, I think.”
He fell silent for a while, finished his pipe and tapped out the tobacco on his boot where the leather had worn almost bare from the action.
“And if I do not remain, who will weave the tales?” he said, as if beginning half way through a thought. “The stories will be forgotten, as I have forgotten the faces of my friends. Perhaps there were too many, or I never truly knew any of them. They were but tiny vessels for the names I devised. The names shaped them into who I needed them to be. Perhaps, my finest trick.”
He made to leave, crawling slowly across the treetops like an elderly monkey. Once he slipped and caught himself, remained still while his bravery returned. Before disappearing beneath the canopy, Peter looked out over a sunset world, traced dancing motes of pollen as they glimmered in the failing light. For a moment, wide eyed hope struck his face as one shining speck drifted toward him on the breeze. It tripped the air in loops and curlicues, seeming to tease his eagerness. He reached out. The mote died in his small hand, turning back to reality from whatever he had imagined. Pressing his lips so tight that they quivered, Peter became once more the thing he had come to hate.
He curled his thin little fingers into a fist.
“I will never grow old,” he said, wiping a tear from his chin.