I can just make it out in the gloom. A red, glowing circle. He is at his open window in his pyjamas smoking a cigarette. His light is out. The red circle is the only light, the only animate thing in the dark. I’ve just been for my morning walk. I don’t want to have to talk. It is too early to break my reverie, my precious silence. But his window is level with the path that leads to my door. And he is my neighbour. Even at 4.45 am in the morning, he is my neighbour. It’s a lovely morning, I say, even though it is clearly not morning. Not yet. It’s better than it has been, he replies. It isn’t that I don’t like him, for I do. He is wry, funny, intelligent, I think. And more than a little enigmatic. It’s just that I am sometimes frustrated with the conventions, the conventions of sociability, that even at this early hour, one is bound by. I am sure he doesn’t want to talk either. He is still awake after all. This is his time too. His mother is abed and he is finally alone. To be himself, no son, no father, no husband, just himself. Whatever that it is. Just as I, when I walk, also eschew labels.
There were lots of kids around this morning. Making noise. Drunk. Rowdy. I can hear them as I walk back along North Road ready to cross the road at Terrace Road. It sounds like they are kicking the bags of recycling that the house-holders have left out the night before. I hear them shouting. Boys, three or maybe four. At the junction of Terrace Road and Llanbadarn Road I can make out a girl. A broad-hipped girl, wearing a short, floral, cotton skirt. Come on, guys, she shouts. There is a red pompom in her hand. It looks like a key fob. She sees me and smiles apologetically. Sorry, she says. I nod.
Yesterday afternoon the air smelt of pencil cases. You know that smell of wood and lead.
He’s been there the last two mornings. A homeless man sleeping in the Promenade shelter. Is he cold? Is his sleeping bag warm enough? Later, I saw him on the street, his rucksack on his back. He is thin. His expression is serious. He doesn’t engage or make eye-contact with the people he passes. His rucksack looks heavy. As big as a snail shell. Weighty, it’s all he has. He wanders around the town. Sometimes he has a can of Special Brew. I’ve never seen him eat.
I am becoming immersed, it is the only way. I see parallels. Shared experiences. I remember the Parsonage so well. It is etched in my mind. Its neatness, its smallness. As a young woman she wrote to Southey, the Poet Laureate of the day, with some poems. He wrote back encouraging her to continue writing but with no thought of celebrity. ‘Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life’, he wrote,….write…for it’s own sake.’ Can I own that I like her? I know that Mrs Gaskell’s biography is considered too hagiographic and is no longer thought just so, yet, she bursts from the pages, especially in her letters to E. ‘Do not mistake me – do not think I am good; I only wish to be so….I am in such a horrid, gloomy uncertainty.’ I swallow her up, greedily and harbour ideas, hopes for something……….I don’t know, not yet.
He thinks he is gambling. Gambling on line. He must be, he says, why else is he up so late? And besides, he continues, I seen them on his computer screen through the window, on my way to the car. Seen what? I ask. Cards, he says. I think he’s playing poker with people abroad, that’s why he’s up so late.