15 October 2008

The Mill

The walls of the mill are streaked black with time and neglect, and bowed out like something is rotten inside. Once these walls were red brick, straight and proud, but those days don’t even belong to memory now. The windows are done-with target practise for generations of children. Rocks, catapults, grubby old air rifles. Some of the small ones on the sixth floor held out until a few months ago. The lower ones are heavily boarded and covered in the graffiti of years.

The roof is losing its battle with the autumn wind. Already it’s half gone, a sagging broken smile offered to the gathering crowd in the hope that it will be returned. So far no one has smiled back. All around, brightly coloured men climb into machinery like houses or stand talking into radios. They all smoke and are the only noise.

The wind picks up dried leaves and dust from the floor; the men cover their eyes. The machines briefly halt their approach but don’t get any quieter. The crowd examine their feet. The cold wind carries across the yard and blows through the empty building with a deep, sad sound that's lost in the noise of machinery.

The smile in the roof is the first thing to drop. It opens wide and falls with a heavy sigh. Birds vacate through windows and come to rest in symphony on power cables nearby. They whistle a jumbled but affectionate farewell.

Like an end-of-show curtain the front wall drops, somehow leaving the rest of the building in tact. It takes everyone by surprise, even the man with the radio and name badge.

The late afternoon sun slants through the windows on the opposite side, cutting through the autumn shadow cast on the street below. For one brief moment before the collapse, everyone stops to stare at the lonely relic of white cotton on the second floor. It’s as pure and fragile as the day it was made, and waves like a perfect golden sail in the cold autumn wind. No one can make out what it’s attached to, and no one gets the photograph in time.

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