I been reading one of her poems a night. One a night to put me in good thoughts as I fall into sleep. And then last night I chanced to look on the back fold of the cover. There is a picture of her sitting on a sofa her face turned to meet that of her dog’s, who is perched on the sofa’s arm. Underneath the photo it said that she had died last year. It gave me such a jolt. And then I was overtaken, for a moment, by a deep sadness. I don’t know her, and the work that I know of her’s is small. But I still felt a loss. Unaccountable really.
Mercury-retrograde gremlins have been at work. Three, nay four times it has taken to get to this site. I must just go with it and try not to get agitated. It doesn’t help and it is for the most part beyond my understanding.
Do they like to receive my letters? I wonder. I write and then send them with the best intentions. I do. And I feel love for each and everyone as I write. It is old-fashioned, she called it so, it may have been lost in translation. I think about their faces as they open them. Is there that discomfort of guilt at perhaps having to reply. Some do and some don’t. And that is OK.
She gave away her embroideries as gifts. The last was to the man in the asylum. It lit up the wall. I remember the ones in the home. He was encouraged to make her a bird house in return. I think on it. I want to the same but what and to whom. I’ve already begun. Will she like it, want it even? It is for me, mostly. As are the letters. And isn’t that reason enough? He would say yes.
They are knocking it down. They were going to regenerate it, using the shell of what was there before. But not now. The sale fell through. The land is more profitable as it is, empty. No doubt another block of flats will go up or a row of houses. It used to be the headmaster’s house. He remembers it from then. Dai Ball’s house, he calls it. I don’t know why he was called Dai Ball, he says. Everyone knew him as that, though it wasn’t his name.
I forgot to tell you, he says. You know our old window cleaners? Yes, I say. The ones with the red van. And then he says their names. Yes. Well, they’ve been done for insurance fraud. He can’t remember the particulars. It was in the local paper. They always print things from court cases. Local journalists attend or hang around outside afterwards, he tells me. I remember. He then tells me that one of the brothers is stated as already being in Swansea prison. He was the less reliable of the two, he says. And I am sorry. Sorry for them both. As I am for all those whose stories entered my day yesterday from the radio – the refugees in the burnt-out camp in Lesbos and the man with rent arrears in London awaiting possible eviction. And I think of others in need of a home.
I’ve finished the book and am touched by the similarities, the serendipity of what I read – the swans from my dream, her needlepoint and the quiet waiting. A small life and one that I recognise as mine.
They fluttered about us as we sat on our striped fold-up deckchairs on that piece of wasteland that we affectionately call our garden. They like it as we do. It smells a little rank, especially in the heat but I appreciate its wildness the way the so-called weeds have taken over since the bulldozer left. The butterflies, mostly white ones, chase each other about, jostling in the air, a raging at times of flutterings. They calm me. Their perpetual fluttering calms me. I found another tiny piece of pottery again. And we’ve finished the book of crosswords. I think of Mary Oliver’s first poem in the book she gave me, as I sit doing nothing but giving suggestions to the clues he reads out. I think about her conversation with the fox. You fuss, he told her, we live.
My ipod went weird. When I tried to turn it on to listen to as I walked the music sounded all speeded up. I left it on the stairs and went without it. I’m glad I did. I thought about the power of acceptance as I made my way to the beginning of St David’s Road. And then I heard it. The wind had suddenly got up and it caught the fresh fall of leaves on the road. They began to tumble and roll down the slight hill. A great rustling followed. I would’ve missed it with my headphones on. I felt present. And for that moment I knew I wasn’t meant to be anywhere else.
We watched him trying to get up. A corpulent man, he was struggling to raise himself from the seat he was occupying with his wife. We were sitting in the garden of our favourite hotel. It isn’t a particularly grand or elegant establishment. The food is ordinary and the decor dated. But it is quiet and the clientele for the most part well-behaved. We go there to sit, inside in the adult’s lounge if its wet and in the garden if it’s dry. Yesterday the sun shone. His wife was counting out loud the attempts he made to stand up. One, two, three. Anno Domini, he said to us as he finally succeeded. It’s my knees and my feet, he said by way of further explanation. He couldn’t sit still, despite his difficulty. First it was the sun cream, then the umbrella. He’d stop and chat to people on his way back to his room. A cultured man, I think. He told us he’d come here as a child, to a small village along the bay. His aunt had had a caravan with paraffin stoves. Very dangerous, he said. His father had come too after the war. 1949 I think he said.
It was a lovely day.
She sent a book of poems. Perfect pockets of wisdom.
I could see lights down by the harbour when I walked towards it. A strong white glare was coming from a collection of torches and what looked like car headlamps. Cones had been placed by the side of the Lifeboat shed. The misly mist made it all seem a little other-wordly. Voices could be heard but they were muted. I turned round and took the steps up to the higher path. Walking along the Pergyl I twisted my head to see the Lifeboat lit up in the shed entrance. It had returned. Had it been an exercise? Men in high vis jackets hung around it chatting, some on the pavement above, their arms hanging over the railing. Cars began to drive away. It changed the atmosphere, my usual reverie of walk interrupted by action, energy, male-adventure. None of those snug in the mass of mobile homes parked up seemed to have been disturbed. My walk felt different after that, less pensive. Cars kept passing by me as I walked the Prom, their headlights spilling into the fog.
The students are returning. Most of the shared kitchen lights had been left on in Alexandra Hall. I saw a huge santa’s elf toy in one of them, splayed out on a chair.
I’m fifty-eight today.
Do you feel it? he asked, when I went in to wake him.
We are off on a trip. A small one to our favourite sleepy hotel to drink tea in silver teapots in their garden. Will the sun come out?
I thought they were forget-me-nots but now I’m not so sure. They look more like tiny violets close up. I know nothing of these things. I have lived in the countryside but have never learnt the names of things. I wish I had, though I listen to others’ knowledge and it sounds like poetry to me.
He writes of her waiting. Waiting for their return. Are we all not waiting? And is it such a bad state to be in? I am. In my rest and repose I am waiting for something more, though what I have now is enough. The more will come. It is inevitable, for all of us. Meanwhile, I concentrate on the small things – the tiny wildflowers, the bits of ceramic I find in the gravel, my stitches and the words I write that are akin to those stitches.
They were walking up from the beach when I approached the Prom. There were four of them, two out in front and the others lagging behind. Towels were draped around their shoulders, their hair was wet and they walked carefully on bare feet along the pavement. They looked like students. They didn’t shout but called out in a whisper, saying goodbye as each one went off to their separate streets. Had they been fulfilling some kind of yearly pact that they would swim on their return to this seaside town? I thought perhaps that was the case, for it can’t have been a whim, could it? They’d come prepared with costumes and towels and besides the early morning, with its clear star-filled sky was a cold one. It calmed me to watch them. A change from the usual drunken rowdiness I witnessed last Saturday morning, up by the clock tower.
The flat is cleaned. I like the order, I need it. And, I think so does he. I believe that was it was about that family, the one that weighs heavy on me, there was no order, no regularity. Bread was stuffed in drawers, beds were left unmade, meals haphazard and washing-up neglected. I’m not saying it is wrong to live that way. It’s just I couldn’t flourish within it. That’s all. And I’m sorry for that. I wanted to. Truly.
The story continues to write itself in my head. Just sentences. Nothing more. It is a start.
It was a complicated dream with many strands. There was a theatre production that I’d been brought in to either direct or design or even produce, it wasn’t clear. I remember a series of to-scale theatre boxes they were showing me and when I asked if I could see the costume designs they had laughed. There were lots of doors I had to pass through to get to the office, doors that involved electronic buzzers and keypads. The end of dream involved a race I was supposed to participate in. It was for charity and with not many competitors. I’d written the time down in my diary and arrived early only to see the runners meet the organiser at the finish line. Had I got the time wrong? I walked up to the organiser and, deeply mortified, expressed my apologies and explained that I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. I always thought you were a bit of a daydreamer, she said. She looked world-weary. There had been so few competitors. I tried to make it better, to placate, cajole, promise to do more, to make amends. She began to soften. Then I woke a couple of minutes before my alarm.
You, a daydreamer, he said, laughing, when I told him after breakfast. She’d looked a little like me, and like my Norwegian friend.