It was afternoon. The air was chilled, but comfortable, and fresh like the early morning.
The sun; pale in its autumn skin, simmered in the sky and caressed the Earth with its mild warmth, glowing above the naked trees that stood tall and stark in the gardens, as their leaves lay on the ground in neat wreaths around them.
He gazed toward one: a tree of some description, its exact species he did not know. He was never fond of nature in his previous life, and so never bothered to delve into the details of it. But now, when time was freer and his mind less occupied with productive thought, he admired it: the beauty of the world around him; pure, and untarnished by the hands of man.
The tree stood alone, beside a tidily crafted park bench; separate from the main group of trees that occupied the gardens. Large and riddled with what seemed like hundreds of branches, it would be an impressive specimen in the summer months: teeming with life, gorgeously green, rich with colour, and a haven of various other forms of life: from birds to other inferior beings such as insects. But now, it stood like the others: bare and pale. Undistinguished. Abandoned by its leaves, which now lay in rusted tones below it.
"Mr Hanson, it is time to go," an ambient voice called from the distance.
It was Marcia, the plump young flame-haired woman who worked with him, whom he dearly despised for primarily doing what she had just done then: stripped him away from a moment of clarity. For clarity was a feeling that he so strongly sought. It meant everything to him. In every other moment of the day he felt cluttered and unable to hold a single meaningful thought. The world rushed around him. It was as if he was standing in the middle of a busy train station, and he could not move. Hundreds of people thundered around him, passing in the way of his own movement. He could not control the situation. It was beyond the power of his mind. They, the people, were the objects of a strange realm. A realm that he could not influence, nor could he ever comprehend influencing. An inaccessible place, too powerful and too foreign to begin to manipulate. So he just stood there. Trapped, in a way, inside his own insecure space.
"Who is this man?" another voice sung: an unrecognised male.
"Peter Hanson. A patient that I have been working with for the past three weeks."
"And what is wrong with him?" the male continued. Peter could feel his presence move around him as his body came into view. The man was an elderly gentleman with a pink face and white hair, fitted with glasses and a baring a brisk moustache gently positioned just above his lips.
"He . . . I am not too sure about his exact condition. He just gets like this sir. He has moments where he just stares out into nothing and is completely unresponsive."
"And how do you usually deal with this?"
"It passes, eventually."
"Within minutes, sir."
The man's response was blurred. But seconds later, he felt himself move. He was turned away from the tree and its overbearing presence and taken back to the others. Together, they were guided back to the House: the large manor which in recent times had become, more or less, his home.
At dinner he thought back to the tree in the gardens. That tree, he thought, meant something to him. To him, it was beyond a beautiful living object. There was some kind of emotional attachment. A strange parallel with his own feelings. It stood alone. Away from the other trees that resided in the gardens. It was different. Yet, it was the same. The way it looked. Its situation: leafless, cold, and unattended. It was as if it was he. And he was the tree. It was alive, but past its glory, and abandoned by the world around it.
"It's not fair." He mumbled.
Marcia looked down toward him, away from the clipboard in front of her.
"What's not fair, Mr Hanson?"
For reasons beyond her comprehension, he could not explain. Even for him it was confusing. But it made so much sense at the same time. Those dark moments where he witnessed everything he had ever wanted to achieve be achieved before him by people who he thought he had surpassed a long time ago, and who had once looked up to him as a superior.
Owen Short was one: a fellow student and former colleague who he spent most of his life mentoring. Short was one of those people who dreamt of doing everything, but produced nothing, because his life was crammed with unproductivity: excess leisure, laziness and lack of motivation. He lacked that killer instinct needed to succeed: that almost overwhelming degree of selfishness, and ability to not care, even for your dearest friends and family; where your career and your personal ambitions were paramount in all aspects of your existence, and everything else was in the background -- cold and unused, like the brittle china that brightens the atmosphere of a lady's dining room.
But one day everything changed. Somehow Short advanced far beyond him. Everything he himself had achieved had been done so by Short twice over. There he was, standing high and mighty, sleepwalking his way from a high paying executive position to even greater heights near the helm of the country's public service, while Peter lay below him, a dithering nervous wreck, over-worked and over-stressed, riding a tide of self-destruction as a chief executive of a failing finance company on the brink of death; barely a month before the day he was declared insane.
"Mr Hanson." Marcia knelt down beside him and placed her hand on his shoulder gently. "What's not fair?"
He stared across at the blank wall opposite him.
"Everything." The room fell quiet. "There is . . . nothing that seems fair anymore. This life. This stupid life. I . . . I can't even think properly like how I used to. I can't even . . . muster a single coherent thought."
She did not reply. Of course, what could she say? Did she expect an answer structured in that way? How could he explain how he felt, when he could barely describe the feeling to himself? The torment. The pain.
The tree: that beautiful tree. In that incredibly sad state, deprived of all of its greatness, now a shattered remain of its former self. It was like he: once a highly regarded and talented individual, deprived of all of his greatness by some debilitating condition that he could not consciously control. A shell, no longer able to function the same. A shadow, on the wall of a dim, sheltered room.
But was there hope? Some faint flicker of light in the shallow hole of darkness? The tree, it is cold and bare. But there will come a day when it will flourish again. First, only slight, then in a full symphony of colour and life. And it will continue to do so until the end of its time. Was there, then, some way he could do the same? Emerge from this miserable madness with some fragment of sanity, and then come alive like the fire that once was, all those years ago, until one day, finally, his dance with life comes to a well-deserved and satisfying close?
Yes, one last moment of clarity. Now everything is clear.