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The Year Spring Never Came
June Gemmell

Nobody noticed at first.


The park still clutched last year’s dead growth. Old leaves, garnet deepening to black-red, smothered the ground. Chill hung in the air, piercing through the warmest jacket. Virginal snowdrops hesitated, daffodils slumbered on.


Miles away the forests lay silent, waiting for the lime-green buds to burst forth. Instead, bare black branches held out their limbs against a grey sky. The Earth sighed from deep underground, where no one could hear.


With eyes as dead as week-old fish, people went about their business. They saw only grey concrete, the inside of office buildings, screens. They trudged, heads bowed, hoods pulled up to repel the icy rain. Work, then home, then sleep. Buses, with their windows steamed up, took passengers from the city to housing estates and graffiti covered walkways.


On the fourth floor of a tower block a young girl sat at a kitchen table drawing tulips, her red hair pulled into untidy plaits. She took a moment to select the next crayon - a bright orange - and pressing heavily on the paper carefully coloured inside the lines.


At the polar ice caps, melting glaciers creaked and whispered. They shed their waters, which swelled the vast ocean tides, shifting the Earth’s axis imperceptibly. Deep, deep down in its molten core the spin of the earth slowed down, just a fraction, just a microsecond, but that was all it took. The scientists recorded these things and published papers, but who would read them? Who would listen? Mankind long ago had shut their ears.


Migrating birds, confused, halted their journeys and remained land-bound. Overhead there were no feathers in the sky, no great moving Vs of geese, honking as the dusk fell.


The next morning the young girl, trailing her mother through the park, stopped to look around. Her mother beckoned with an impatient gesture, but the girl stayed still for a moment, listening. There was no blackbird whistling its cold notes on the morning air. No birds gathering twigs for their nests, no eggs of fragile blue.


She peered in the hedges, and checked the ground underneath for the tiny wrens which used to hop along the ground, fewer and fewer each year now. She missed their antics, but she would draw them with her crayons when she got home.


She sat on a bench outside the corner shop and waited for her mother. People zig-zagged past, barely noticing her, despite her bright blue anorak and yellow boots. She swung her legs and examined the wooden plant pots, which in past springtimes had been full of jostling flowers in all the colours of her crayon box. She shifted from the bench to poke about in the planters with a plastic spoon she picked up from the ground. She found only cigarette ends and dried mud.


With a tap on the shoulder, her mother raised an eyebrow and shook her head. She wiped the girl’s hands with an old tissue she found in her pocket and they headed for home.


As the sun gave up its meagre warmth mid-afternoon, the already pale colours leached further from the pastel sky. In the tower block the girl watched from a stool at the window. Below, workers made their way home.


Climbing down from her stool she searched the kitchen cupboards. There was a jumble of broken objects; dolls missing arms, hair bands, cheap tiaras, lego bricks. Right at the back of the last cupboard, almost out of reach was a carrier bag containing plastic daffodils. She gathered them together with old hair bands. Humming a little tune to herself, she planted her posy in an empty vase and placed it on the windowsill.


Outside, a band of deep scarlet briefly flushed the sky as the sun sank below the horizon. It caught the yellow-orange of the plastic daffodils and lit them up with a lick of fire. The girl smiled and reached for her crayons.


The earth slept on.



June Gemmell is an editor for Loft Books anthologies. Her short stories have been published by Gutter Magazine, Loft Books, Northern Gravy and the Edinburgh Literary Salon, also Short Story Today and Yorick Radio Productions podcasts. Forthcoming - Gone Lawn and National Flash Flood. You can find her on X @june_gemmell

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