Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Off the rails

Did you walk? she asked me as she put the money in the till. No, I said, thinking she meant did I walk up the hill to work.

It’s just that he wasn’t there this morning and I wondered if you’d seen him, she continued. And then I twigged. She meant did I walk the Prom in the early morning.

I don’t know her well. She, they, are his acquaintances. They give him free coffee and biscuits when he goes in in the morning to sit and read his paper. He must’ve told them about my early morning walks.

She’s talking about the homeless man who sleeps in the Prom shelter.

I took him a flask down the other morning. I went down today with a sleeping bag, but he wasn’t there, she says. I haven’t seen him for a few days, I say. I’ve got one of those army sleeping bags, they left them behind after a manoeuvre. They should be warm, shouldn’t they, she asks. I should think so, I say. She tells me his name. He’s from here, she says, and he isn’t a drinker or a druggie, it’s just his marriage went wrong and he just went off the rails. It’s easily done. He told me that someone put a scarf around his feet while he as sleeping, was that you? she asks. No, I say, and wish it had been.

I’m less thrusting, unsure whether to push myself forward. But I’m glad that he has such women on his side.

I dreamt we were all sharing this big house. And I was angry with him because he wouldn’t eat with me. I went into another room and needing to get rid of some water saw that there was no sink. I proceeded to pour it away into the bases of several plant pots. Don’t fill it too full, she said, and it was her daughter. I felt admonished. Everyone was out of sorts, including me. It’s just a dream, he would say.

The clubbers were out in force this morning, sitting in the shelter outside the Why Not? A girl in a sleeveless dress with a pair of felt antlers on her head, was talking to a couple of lads under the clock tower. You of all people, she was saying.

She is one today. A whole year has passed. She changes by the moment. As we all do I suppose, though her changes are so huge. I love you little one.

Sherry

She lights up when you turn up, he said as we were getting into the car. I think it perplexes him that she appears to be more at ease with me than him, it is usually the other way round. And I must confess I like hearing her talk. I like to hear about her family, her life. I can picture it. I am in it as she talks.

As she ran my apples through the scanner, I brought the subject round to Christmas once again. I asked her about Christmas Eve. Do you do anything special? No, she said, I’m working, so I usually bring a sandwich platter home from work and we all help ourselves. No one has to do any work then. And we watch a film or something. Do you give the kids stockings? No, boxes, she replied. We all go out to see the space station. Space station? I ask. Yes, it flies over at about that time. And we pretend it’s Santa and then when they come in the boxes are out. You know, just some pyjamas, fruit and sweets. Do you put out a glass of sherry and a mince pie? I asked. Not sherry. No one drinks sherry. A glass of milk. A glass of milk, a mince pie and a carrot. What about Christmas morning? Do they wake early? No, I’m awake before them. I lie there longing for them to wake. She laughs. A lovely trilling sort of laugh.

I am an observer of other people’s lives. Other mothers, other children. How is it to live like that, or like that, or to be loved and nurtured like that? I want to step inside be warmed by another’s experience.

And here’s an early Christmas present for you, she said, pulling a card out of her pocket. I’ve a spare one. And she’s given us a staff discount card. Ten per cent off for life. What a star. I am touched. I hope it’s OK. I wouldn’t want her to get into trouble. No, its fine, she said. And then we are talking of marzipan. Oh, I love it, she said. Me too, I said, but the Norwegian stuff not the British. He pulls a face, I can’t stand it.

He tells me I am a lovely person. What have I done? I am warmed by her, by what I see as a simplicity of love, of family, of order, of rightness. It is my fantasy that I am projecting onto her, I know this. But it warms me nevertheless. Thank you, I say. Knowing that I don’t deserve it. Not yet.

Christmas Jumpers

The wind creates chaos. Wind-chaos. It reminds me of when we had horses and how they’d race around the fields, kicking up their legs and whinnying. It was the wind, it got them agitated, excited. It’s a life thing. It is energising, bracing, but when it is too much like this morning there is a something ominous about it. I can see how people used to believe it was the gods punishing them. It was furious. No Prom-walking again.

So it was me and the students roaming through town. Screaming and hollering, they lurched through the streets their hands full with pizza boxes and plastic cartons of chips. Two girls, utterly blotto-ed were calling after a couple of lads in Christmas jumpers. Wait for us! they shouted. The boys filling their mouths with chips, muttered something and kept walking. The girls in fake fur coats skittled like bambis’ on ice their ankles keeling over under the strain of teetering heels. Then they kept on coming, lad after lad wearing a festive sweater. What is that all about? Has it gone beyond kitsch? Was there a prize on in one of the clubs, or a free beer for the worst sweater? Beyond the station a couple of boys were trying to climb some scaffolding while some girls screeched up at them. Wildness. Stop running, a lad shouted to his friend. Why do I have to accommodate? the friend shouted back. What a word. So formal. Why don’t you adapt to me? he said. Let’s meet in the middle, said the first lad, breathlessly trying to keep pace.

I was short-tempered. I don’t always know why. The bleeding continued but this time it was his thumb. It’s my role. Accept it with grace. It’s the stuff of love. Isn’t it?

I’m still hurting a little, mostly from her silence. But I can let it go. It was nicer to wake up in my own bed. And be here. With him. And there is work. Always.

Advent Song

I’ve got it in a sketchbook somewhere. I’ve tried to find it but to no avail. He said he would try to find it online. What do you call it? he asked. An advent song, no, try prayer, I said. And in Norwegian.

I’ve found one, he called from his room. Give me the website address, I said. He spelt it out. I found it and printed it out. That’s not it, he said. That’s not the one with baby Jesus.

I was rushing, there is always too much to do. I got frustrated. You’re so impatient, he said. And he is right. I am. And I undermine his efforts to help.

It is our flash point – anything to do with technology. We are both scared of it. And we snap and squabble. Rather like we did when we were hanging my exhibitions. Apparently we are not alone. I hate snapping at him. He is kindness itself. Pure. He doesn’t deserve my rattiness.

The wind was wild so I avoided the Prom and walked through town. Students milled about, coatless mostly. I walked to where the ‘Winter Wonderland’ has been installed. This is the marquee that I could see from the Prom – all parked up in St Michael’s car park. It’s not particularly big, comprising an indoor skating rink, a few kiddies carousels and some wooden huts, no doubt selling mulled wine and over-priced festive food. I peered in on the skating rink and saw a young lad in a high vis jacket, his back to me, perched up on the counter. Clearly on night watch he looked bored and tired.

I missed my usual route. I miss the sea. I heard it, roaring.

I’ve cleaned the house, done my admin and emails and soon I will put up the decorations. There aren’t many. I don’t do large. How I enjoy seeing them in windows in town. It is such a fillip on these dark mornings. There was a large paper snowman in one garden, see-through, though its light wasn’t on. Christmas trees flashed on and off, and those window garlands of lights did the same. I thought about my fascination with net curtains. Perhaps I should start a picture collection. Why is it that they give me a sensation of cosiness and oppression?

No, there is too much to do. For I’ve the shelving to put up too. And I’ve got to make polenta tonight. I must. I’ve put it off for too long. All this newness, it makes me nervous.

I reread the emails between us. Is it that I didn’t make myself clear? She hasn’t responded even though I wrote of my hurt. I don’t understand. Still that will have to do. I want to forgive, to let it go. So I will.

Remind me to tell you about Longbourn – what a joy. I have to hold back I don’t want to race through it. Promise?

Syringe Driver

It took him seven days to die. They told them they were going to give him the syringe driver and that it may take a couple of days. It took seven, she said. Seven days without food or water. How can the body last so long? They gave him enough morphine to knock him out, she said. But not enough to kill him? I asked. They’re not allowed to. We wouldn’t treat animals like that, she said. No. We wouldn’t. We’d put them to sleep. Make it easy for them. Not let them suffer. They did all they could, she said, bringing us endless cups of tea. I had to pour it down the sink it was too much. She is still in grief. To be so helpless. They all stayed with him, sleeping upright in a chair in his room. We held his hands< she said. They said he wouldn’t feel it but he may be able to hear. So we played music. He loved music.

She cuts my toenails as we talk. I don’t know her well, though we’ve both been going to her for years now, he regularly and me just every 6 months. Need to look after your feet. I ask so much of mine. She’s dyed her hair blonde. She is a prickly woman but I like to hear her voice. There is a no nonsense to her that I always find attractive. She admits to not liking the company of women. She is bristly.

He cut himself shaving. Just a wee nick. A spot. And it gushed out. We couldn’t stem the flow. He is lying on his bed now resting. It was too much. Has it stopped? I have to go to work now. Soon. And the rain just pours and pours. I got soaked walking. Saturated. So be it.

Am I still hurting? A little. Though the outcome is better. I can stay at home. And work and prepare the house for Christmas. A little. In our way. I think of the two of them in another home with another life – let it be. There are other gifts to be had. Those that are mine. Just mine.

Hair Salons and My Mother’s Voice

It was nice. I wasn’t edgy like I usually am with any new experience. She was warm. A lispy voice with high bouffant hair. It takes a lot of work, she said. But warm and kind. Old-fashioned sort of service. The salon was quiet, just one woman having her roots done. Oh, the woman said, as she reached over for a razor (I just want to do you neck hairs if that’s alright, she said), watch my chunky Yorkie, and then laughed. We talked about all and nothing as you do in such places. I wanted to smell that well-remembered smell of setting lotion and blown-dried newly shampooed hair that I acquaint with the salons of my youth. Sitting there with Mum as she got her hair ‘done’. Or perched up, myself, on a chair, a too-big gown around my shoulders, feeling weepy. I never liked it. I felt out of control, they would do what Mum wanted not what I wanted. Not that I knew. I wanted to look like someone else. Can I have a Purdy? Or a Farah Fawcett? It never worked and I’d often cry. I wanted to be transformed. And she did. Yesterday. I like it. A bob. Just a straight line. Easy but it feels nice.

She has our mother’s voice – even by email or text or message. It is uncanny. Harsh, sharp, judging. It is better when I see her. Then it is warmer. I feel such love but I sense I am not wanted. Not there, not ever, as it was with her. I try too hard. I try to hard to be loved. Let it be. It is alright. Just as it is. It is.

Staying Put

I wanted to knock on their door and say thank you. I was glorious, all that light in the dark, dark. A simple thing. A necklace of lights, blue-white lights strung around a tree in their front garden. But it lifted me as I stepped out into my morning walk. I needed it. That injection of joy. Did they leave them lit by mistake, as the council seem to be doing with a rogue Christmas decoration or two, or is it a gift, a gift to us dark-time walkers?

I needed it. She had forgotten, forgotten that I was coming and has booked out her room with Airbnb. I do understand, it is how she supplements her income, but I’d arranged to come and see her months ago. Is it just carelessness? And if so, does that make it less hurtful? She didn’t say sorry, didn’t seem to think it warranted it. Do I know longer know her, or have we both changed? Shall I cut those cords, let her be? Let it be? I want to forgive and I will, soon.

So I am staying put. No trip to the smoke to see her and the lights. I am sad. I wanted to see her to drink tea and talk. And I sort of wanted to be on the move again. It is easier than staying put, staying still. I can be in motion, not here and not there. But it isn’t going to happen. The ticket will lie unused in my drawer. Instead I shall stay put and decorate our home. Just a little. Not too much.

She was good. A kind voice. She really listened to me. I felt lifted.

A jeep on the road behind Alexandra Hall with its door left open. What should I do? Close it? I don’t like to interfere with the life I encounter as I walk. I am ghostly, not quite physical. It doesn’t feel right and yet, should I have at least shut it? How could someone forget?

And then that boy/student looking like Harry Potter wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown and walking in the rain on the Prom with his earphones on.

I described it as gold. Where did that come from? And it is warm. That is you, she said. That is you. Gold.

Darker Still

The night is pitch, a few stars and a wisp of clouds. At least there was no rain. Though don’t I really mind it. With my new coat I am kept dry and the spray on my face is sensual, pleasant even. But it was good to stride out in my other coat, my legs not held in. Did I tell you that there are straps inside my new coat to Velcro around your thighs? Is it for when you are on horseback perhaps? A smidgen of Christmas decorations about town, some are left on by mistake, others light up living rooms and student bedrooms. So early. Just advent. How I love advent. I will never forget that service at the Abbey. I was so moved, so grief-stricken. Will it ever go? Perhaps that is how it is to be. So be it. I can live it. I can carry it. Work now. An early one. The lead story, she told me. Then home to work and then the phone call. I don’t do well with phones and yet they feature so strongly in my working life. I am still dark. It is the winter, it is the time of life, it is me. Who knows? Live it. Live it well. Be dark. Be darker still.

Darker

I’ve felt it these last few days. What is it about? I cannot fathom it. It takes hold. My joy, my pleasure, my lightness is over there – separate from me. I see it through glass. I must just live it. Live it through. Why don’t you take something? he asks. I could, I suppose but I am scared too. For all it’s dark at least I am feeling it. I want to come through to the other side – lighter, wiser, more knowing, steeped in the deeper knowing. I start my walk and it begins. Usually little things first. A fret about work, about my writing, about time and then it has taken over. My body bends with it. My shoulders curve, my back will not straighten. I cannot open, my breathing is constrained. And yet, I know joy. I have known joy. All is taken care of. I have enough to eat, enough to drink, clothes to wear, shelter and love. I have love. I am cherished, cared for, noticed and acknowledged. All is good. All is as it should be. Let it be. Let the darkness come, let it enfold and take me over. I will come through it. There will be lightness, soon. If only at the end.

Crocodile

It was a typical anxiety dream I suppose. I was on a beach, or at least near some water and talking to someone who was just in front of me. A woman, I think. And I saw its head, just the top of it with its eyes, sliding through the water. I felt the panic. It came for her first and I threw some food at it, something completely inappropriate. Was it a present someone had sent me? It was wrapped up anyway, though the crocodile seemed satisfied and slunk back into the water with it in its mouth. No one was hurt. All was well. Just a frisson of fear. Real fear. Proper, sensible fear.

The wind was strong this morning – I had to push my way through it, into it.

Students and late-night clubbers wandered about, holding onto each other.

What’s the matter? A man was asking his girlfriend. She was looking away.

Nothing.

What is the matter? He asked again.

Nothing, she said with more vehemence this time.

Down by the station two lads hover by the taxi rank. One of them is on the phone.

Hey boy, you alright? Silence as he waits for an answer.

You’re flat out?

Was he hoping for a lift?

There’s a huge marquee in St Michaels car park, you can see it from the Prom. Has the church had to shut temporarily? The wind was buffeting it.

Such blackness. No Aberdovey. And many of the street lights aren’t working. Just a few months to go. The shortest day in just under three weeks.