As Bette Davis remarked, growing older is not for cissies. You can fight the process, or you can allow it to have its way with you, like some uncouth lover in a forest glade. Sarah had decided on the former approach. Botox, CACI, false nails were all time-consuming, but they worked to a degree. She paid good money to have electrical currents passed through her muscles, she sweated on the Pilates reformer, she rubbed bee-bread into her skin. So far so good: she might pass for ten years younger than she was, perhaps.
She began to see that the body was like a city. There was the head, the administrative centre of operations. There were the suburbs: the limbs, the organs. You had to become a kind of troubleshooter: a finger, a knee, a kidney might go awry, and you could deal with that for awhile. But if the city centre was diseased, that was more serious. The brain, where all the thoughts and feelings lay coiled in their home, could shudder and falter. Sarah saw that some cities were more efficient than others. Their chains of command were unbroken. Others had some neighbourhoods that lay in ruins.
She was walking on a plain, thinking about what tomorrow might bring. She saw a tiny figure in the distance. It was a very old man, progressing towards the town. He was playing an instrument of some sort. His music was getting louder.The sound was rasping and rhythmical, with a deep thrumming and a shrill overtone. As he drew close, Sarah saw that one of his hands cranked the wheel, while the other plucked the strings. He was a hurdy-gurdy man.
This was the music she had feared for so long. Plaintive, plangent, insistent, there was no denying it. The old man smiled at her as he plodded by. He entered the gates of the city, and at once the trees in the squares shed their leaves. The birds fell from the sky, and the rubbish swirled and eddied in the suburban streets. As he progressed towards the centre, the traffic-lights malfunctioned, and the plate-glass windows burst from their frames.
Sarah now saw that her attempts to evade the hurdy-gurdy man had been in vain. The sun was setting, and the day darkened from pink to crimson. It was as though someone had painted the sky, and was beginning to shade it to black. Soon the night would come, and she followed the hurdy-gurdy man. There was no avoiding his tune. All she could do was to sing along with him, and make the best music she could.