He noticed it when we were having supper. I hadn’t felt it till he mentioned it. It was the same last time, when the optician said I ought to get it checked out. It could be a sign of high blood pressure, she said. And it was. And it is now. Not as high but climbing. He gets scared, edgy. I am more sanguine. Don’t let me be incapacitated, that’s all I ask. If it has to happen let it be total. Gone.
It won’t happen though. They’ve told me, all those soothsayers I used to go and see, that’ll live to an old age. My palm says it too, apparently. Not sure that I want this. But it is not in my gift to decide. At least that is how I feel at the moment.
Eleanor’s story came to an end on the radio this morning. I have been so moved by her. And am only half way through the book. Goodie. I love the way she is inching her way towards intimacy.
He said yes. He said he will come with me. It will be tight, but cosy. I am happy to forgo sun, for rest and ease and familiarity. I must be getting old. I’ll be reaching for those elasticated trousers soon.
I got drenched this morning. Still no sign of the street-fooders.
Her cat has had kittens. She is delighted. They’re all ginger, apparently, though she couldn’t recollect seeing any ginger toms about. We talked of the rain. The land needs it, she said. She sounds better, her voice is lighter, more animated. What a gift this connection is. Bless her. And bless you. So kind.
The mornings are growing darker, slowly but it is happening. As I joined St David’s Road the lights from a vehicle came round the corner. It was the milkman, the one who looks like Bruce Springsteen. It was early. The van (it wasn’t a float like the old days) is an open one with a frame around the back. The milk bottles jiggled in their crates as he turned into our estate. I remember the milk man who used to come to Nanny’s flat in Wilmslow. (She wasn’t our grandmother but my father’s old nanny, and she became a Nanny manqué for all of us offspring and I loved her dearly.) Her milk man came on a horse and cart. I would hear him arrive through the open window of her bedroom – that same chinking of glass against glass. His horse wore blinkers so that she didn’t get distressed by the traffic. Slow, methodical, cheerful work, it seemed to me. He’d arrive like clockwork.
These fucking spots, he said scratching his head at supper, and you don’t need to write about them again. OK, I won’t. He was a little tetchy this morning. It’s the weather, he can’t decide what to wear against the possible downpours we are promised today. I try to advise but he just snaps. I do understand, truly. You snap away, if it helps.
The air is close and heavy. A thunderstorm may help.
He bought me a present. I don’t often desire things. I’m a shedder at heart. But she looked so calm and graceful and so pure in the window of the junk shop that I allowed myself to want to her and told him of her at breakfast. If you’d like to buy me a present, I said. She might take £15 for cash, I added. He returned with a crestfallen look on his face. It had already gone, he said. Then TA DAH! he pulled her out of the bag. She is ceramic when I thought she might be plastic or fibre glass. A Grecian head with a thick top-not of hair, all in white. What shall we call her? he asked. It will have to be something traditional, Victorian and simple. Edith, I said. I like her being there, looking like butter wouldn’t melt.
Tired again today. And I slept through my first alarm, falling into a dream where I was advising a young girl how to ready herself for her performance. She had two cold sores on her face and I suggested she get some concealer stick, but she didn’t seem to know what they were. Go and have a shower, I said, blow dry your hair put on the concealer stick and you will feel much better. I can hear the cars already, she said. Hurry, then, I said, you’ve got 48 minutes. Then my second alarm sounded.
I didn’t know him from Adam. In fact, I didn’t even catch a glimpse of him. But for some reason they were all calling his name. They were in a cluster, a straggly group outside Chicken Lickin’. A big boy was the first to start the calling, almost like a chant, or a child whining, clamouring for attention. Sion, Sion (or was it Sean?), he was saying. There were possibly four of five of them, girls and boys, a little drunk, trying to get Sion (or Sean’s) attention. How must it be to be so popular?
When I’m reading a book it is hard for me not to become utterly subsumed in it. I become it, the characters. There is often no dividing line between where I start and they end, so much so that I not only dream of them but looking in the mirror I think I see their face instead of mine. Eleanor Oliphant is my present obsession. Is it an obsession? I just empathise very deeply. And that Mummy of hers is so deliciously awful – wince-making. There is a vaguely autistic feel to E’s behaviour. She is outside of feeling. She watches, trying for clues as to how to respond. And yet her capacity for caring and being moved is huge. She is out of sync with the banal, the ordinary, the loved.
The phone woke me from my sleep. I shook when that automated voice began to tell me of the possibility of credit card fraud. It was too late. I’d gone so deeply under. I resolved it in the end, sitting on his bed (he’d heard me moving about and had come to investigate) calling the credit card call centre. Be patient, he said, as another automated voice told me to hold the line. All this, all this fuss for a wee brass ball. But it will be nice to resolve it.
The clouds are lifting and the blue is beginning to come through. I need lots of tea today.
I have a thing about found shopping lists. I love how they are a microcosm of someone’s or a family’s life. I love the succinctness of them, a kind of shorthand of needs. That jumble of requirements, only they know what they mean. A private code. But I also just like handwriting. It is becoming a rare thing. I wish I’d kept some of hers. And hers. What would they say?
He is suffering from spots on his scalp. Who knows what it is? It may be the mix of medications he takes, or it may be hormones. Anyway, he uses medicated shampoo to try and ease them. (The fact that they never really disappear is a constant source of frustration for him (along with, in no particular order, selfish parking, seagulls and their shit, fellow residents not shutting the door into our foyer/hall and bad bin management.) The smell of it pervades the house following his shower last night. A smell of tea tree oil and carbolic soap. I don’t mind it. There is a secure, safeness to the smell that resonates from something in childhood, not from home but from school perhaps, or another family’s home. It smells of care.
I’d been thinking of the scene myself before he mentioned it. Our thoughts so often match. Do we spark them off in each other or is it something more esoteric that does it? The scene was from Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies where Celia Imries’s character Philippa’s mother had arrived uninvited to a ‘Bring Your Parent’s to Work Day’ at the canteen. Her presence clearly unsettled her daughter and she immediately began finding fault with her job and her appearance. Oh, Flip, she said, pulling at her blouse, you haven’t ironed between the buttons. Oh, Flip why does it ALWAYS have to go wrong?
We sat outside the University café waiting for time to pass till I had to go to work. The sun was out. It was a Graduation day. In the distance I saw a girl in a bunad. I felt a pang of homesickness. It looked so unusual. To her it is natural to wear her national costume on high days and holidays. Her family was with her. No doubt so proud.
Town was full of revellers as I walked. Students back for Graduation week and living it up for the last time with their friends. A couple were sitting on one of the huge deck chairs in the sandpit snogging. Another couple were doing the same on a bench just beyond Pier Pressure. Walking towards South Marine Terrace I watched as a girl appeared to push a boy outside the front door (she was in the glassed porch in her underwear). She raised her finger to her lip when she saw me. He looked resigned and slumped against the wall. Approaching The Angel , a gaggle of boys talking ten to the dozen passed me. At first I couldn’t catch what they were saying. They talked fast, excitedly. It was just a noise. However, in a brief lull I heard one of the one’s at the back of the group say: ‘No wonder I was so fucking out of it this afternoon’. A ginger cat dashed across Llanbadarn Road as I neared home. There was a dead seagull smattered across the tarmac, its wings still in tact raised as if in flight to the sky.
We sat in the sun for an hour or so before work on a bench over looking the bowling green. Some people were playing tennis on the practice courts and a man was spraying insecticide along the edges of the wire fencing separating the courts from the green. I could do that job, he said. While waiting for him to park the car a couple had passed me. She was in leggings and a garish long t-shirt, he wore baggy shorts and sandals. They were probably in their sixties. I’d nodded my head and greeted them. Warm enough for you? the man said in what sounded like a Yorkshire accent or was it Lancashire? Yes, I said. He was a portly man with a rolling walk. I watched them walk away and noticed that there were still marks on his ankles from where his socks had been.
He was tired and tetchy this morning and his ears were blocked. It’s probably the weather, I said. He’s bucked up now. Good-o.
He’s just called the health food shop have let him know they’ve got fresh gooseberries and blackcurrants for us. And my lovely friend is sending some. I shall have a glorious glut of soft fruits!
She writes to tell me it will cost $19.50 to send that tiny ball for my brass bed from the US. I feel a little silly and tell him so. Do it, he says. And I thought she was a man. How wrong can you be?
Do you think that is what a baby hears inside the womb? I asked him at breakfast. I was washing up and thinking about the watery, echoey sounds my pumping heart had made on the machine yesterday at the hospital. It will be a little noisy, the radiographer warned me as I tried to get comfortable on the bed, do you want me to turn the sound off. No, I said. I lay there on my aching hip and listened. It was like an underwater sound, globby and far away. Is that mine? I wanted to ask, feeling a little detached and otherworldly. We get so used to seeing and knowing our bodies from the inside out. It was amazing. We forget the workings that go on day in day out just to keep us alive. I asked him what he saw from his seat behind her. He couldn’t describe it other that that it was like an ultrasound image, lots of illegible dark shadows. He is always present with me in these investigations. I don’t need him there but I like him to be there. He bears witness to so many things in my life, why not these? I know you feel a fraud, he said as we walked back home, but don’t, it’s important to rule it out.
The air was balmy and gentle as I walked. The sky a Titian blue under the clouds. Just white fluffy ones, nothing ominous. He read a piece from the paper that claimed that we are to have hot weather way into mid September. Today he has gone out in shorts. After lunch we sat on the bank surrounding the cricket pitch and watched the groundsmen mowing the grass, one cutting and the other one following behind collecting it. Both were on mini tractors. A woman was eating her lunch on a bench beneath us. A seagull stood just ahead of her playing it cool and pretending he wasn’t waiting for scraps.
Last night I was sure that I heard the peep, peeping of the young robin we’d see earlier, beneath my bedroom window. May it survive the Kray Twins.
She is always so friendly, they all are, even on a Monday morning. Her hair used to be long and purple. A pretty girl. Now her hair is green and short. And she has a lovely voice. I think it is Welsh, but soft with a lyrical timbre. A bright girl, clearly. She has rings everywhere, in her nose and ears. She handles our goods with such care and method, she never seems bored or discontented and it can’t be much fun sitting there all day listening to the beep of the sensor reading the barcodes. I always feel a little better for having seen her. The other day she was still waving at us as we sailed down the escalator.
I was assailed by anxiety yesterday, I couldn’t work out why. Something had crept in and I couldn’t shake it off. Do you want to see someone? he asked. Perhaps do CBT? I don’t know. I know he wants to help and I’m not averse to seeking support but it opens it all up again. And sometimes it is too much, particularly as I struggle to separate it all out. Writing helps. It does.
It’s milder today. The air was almost balmy as I walked. The peep peep of oystercatchers and the sharp keening of young gulls echoed across the water and the town. We saw a fledgling robin as we walked to the car to do our shopping, it’s feathers still mainly down, it hopped rather than flew. The bakery smells were sublime. Sometimes it has to be enough.
I’ve no little post-it note prompts as to what to write about this morning. So be it. The sun is out. And I saw the moon from my window, though when I walked out I could no longer find it. Town was noisy with youngsters, the pavements splashed with vomit. I never realised that I could see the sea from my studio window. It looks a grey-ish blue and without the white horses of yesterday. A gentle day today. I always look forward to it, the listening and sewing but inevitably my unsettled mind will do what it can to unsettle me. I had to get up to pee several times last night, at one point, I think it must’ve been almost 9 pm, the sun was out and burnishing the trees and wasteland outside my bedroom window a golden yellow. I struggled to get back to sleep after seeing that. South Marine smelt of bonfires, so perhaps people had barbequed on the beach late into the night.
Her email described the terrible things her daughter has had to go through but it isn’t cancer. And they are grateful. And she tells me that her book club is to read Jane Eyre. She is a marvellously resourceful woman.
He bides his time till he can go out and walk before the coffee shop opens. He has always wrestled with Sundays. I like them, now that I no longer god to school while he, a retired lecturer can have all the Sundays he chooses. I hope he finds some peace today.
We spoke of her yesterday. He asked about her. And she came forward in my mind. She was always laughing. Well, that’s not strictly true but together we laughed a lot. I never felt I was enough for her but there was an intimacy, an understanding. And I loved being with her, in her mother’s kitchen. She died so many years ago. I told him of the burning. I don’t know the real details, they were passed on second-hand. I didn’t go to her funeral. I didn’t know of it. I found out later. She was a darling. It is good to think of her. And the coincidence is that it would have been her birthday today.
Town was chaotic this morning as I walked. Lots of kids who weren’t students. Foreign tongues. Hello, mate, someone called to me from the doorway of The Angel as I walked past. I didn’t respond, or even turn. Not now, I thought, I don’t want to be part of the mayhem. No. They raised their voice. Hello, they shouted. HELLO, making the word sound silly and childish. Shouting it at me as I walked on.
A cluster of motorhomes were parked by the harbour. I decided not to tell him when I got home. It makes him seethe. But what harm are they doing? All was still. All were sleeping. And they are neat. The neatness of them appeals to the little girl inside of me that would like to carry her home with her and be free. I get what it feels like. Utterly.
I intended to write about living other lives the other day but forgot. I write these notes for myself but sometimes I get caught up with other things. I walk past the Pelican Bakery most days and think about how it would be to work there. How it would be to be a baker? Getting up early would suit and working alone in those small hours too. I would love the smells too. And the sense that what I was doing had a purpose, a routine, a rhythm. And the warmth too, especially in the winter. But I’ve no doubt it is a hard job. All that standing. Yet, it is simple, a contained employment. You do it, there is an outcome, an outcome that people want. So neat, so perfectly apt. I can dream can’t I?
The writing came fluidly yesterday. I wrote and wrote. More than my quota. She was better too. We talked of her garden, what had fared well and what hadn’t. I asked about the cockerel. Normally I hear him, I said. Then we talked about what she ate for breakfast. She was a little groggy, had gone back to sleep, to snooze after the alarm went and hadn’t had her walk yet. She told me of the feral cat who’d come to live in their barn a year ago. She’s getting so fat, she said. She might be having kittens, but it’s ages since the toms were around. Bless her. She always thanks me. And yet, the pleasure is all mine.
It was a strange day yesterday, everything felt out of kilter. I was tired. My sleeping over the last few days has been fitful and though I tried to work it was slow going and sludgy. And I had an appointment with the nurse, which always cuts into the day. I walked into town too early and sat with him while he read the paper in a coffee shop. I dozed in a chair and listened to the pattering thumping of the toddler who comes in most days to run around while his grandparents drink coffee. He is a sweet thing but not peaceful. He had a plastic toy lorry that he kept jetting across the room, or he’d dance round and round till he fell over overcome with dizziness. When we left he was sitting underneath the high chair quite content spinning the wheels of his now upside down truck.
I felt uncomfortable in my state of torpor, that doing-nothing-but-staring-state and tried instead to think over what I’d written earlier and make notes. To no avail. Best just stare and pay attention. I did so. I smelt the soap on the nurse’s hands, I felt the prick of the needle as it went into my vein. A good vein, she’d said, admiringly but had then said, I thought it was deeper than that, when the blood took a while to come. I forced myself to watch. A gloriously deep red. Has that come out of me? Does blood always look the same? Then I caught the stink of stale cigarette smoke on the clothes and mouth of the woman ahead of us as we left the surgery, the one who had answered to ‘Malcolm’ in the surgery’s chemist.
I gave in and slept for an hour before going upstairs to make lunch. I dreamt. A dream that replayed what I’d written that morning, though it also featured a key (but too small) and an old woman who’d massaged my neck and back.
I have a whole day ahead of me and need to get down to it, though my way with my writing is not yet clear. It will come as I write. But coffee first. Coffee first.
I’m reading, in between my research, Robert McFarlane’s book The Old Ways. A friend had said that he’d been one of his tutors on an Arvon course and that they’d sat up into the early hours drinking whisky together. (When McFarlane walks he carries a flask of it with him.) And I’d mixed him up with another Scottish writer, a novelist who wrote a story about Northern Norway, I think it was called The Summer of Drownings. It wasn’t him. But then I heard an audio of McFarlane’s book on the radio. It was entrancing. So now I am reading it. I love the old language terms he slips into his texts. The old words for paths, hedges and waterways. I can never remember them but I love to read them feel them in my head and on my tongue. He writes of the past walkers, Victorians like George Borrow many of whom walked to manage their depression. ‘The Horrors’ Borrow called them. They walked hundreds of miles. I just do the same circle each day. I used to be an adventurer but not any longer. The mind still dreams of it but the body is not what it used to be. McFarlane writes how he walks the paths he’s taken in his mind when he can’t sleep. I should do the same. I could walk it through my encounters with smells. How good the earth smelt this morning after the rain. A sweet, clammy humus-like moistness. The honey-ed scent of the buddleia had gone slightly bitter in the wet, as had the elderflower. I didn’t mind. It is so evocative of summer, even so. My head is sludgy. I am not sleeping well. I sleep but it is wakeful. And I am forgetful and clumsy. I shall try to write. Do a stint. But I fantasise about an hour’s sleep in the cool of my bedroom. We’ve been shopping but I forgot all my citrus fruit. What a twit. All my oranges and precious grapefruits. He is so patient. He goes back for them. And then I realise I’ve also forgotten the pineapple. Will I be good for anything today?
He was brave. He mastered it. I was so proud of him.