I could hear them from quite a distance away. The morning air was mild and warm with no wind and voices tend to carry, so much so that as I walk the Prom I can’t always tell the direction. They weren’t shouting but talking loudly. They pronounced, there was no conversation, no melding of subject, no real interaction. I’m IRA, announced a female voice. I’m IRA, she repeated in a soft, definitely Northern Irish twang. I was getting closer now. They were in the shelter on the Prom. Normally there are two or three men sleeping there when I walk past. This time they were wide awake. I didn’t see the girl, she was shielded from my view from a man in what looked like off-white pyjamas, standing akimbo. Jackass, said the same woman’s voice. You’re a jackass. Then a man’s voice. Woman, he said in what sounded like an Eastern European brogue.
The students have gone and the people I see milling around are all strangers, mostly men. I don’t feel as safe, as cocooned. There were 10 or 12 mobile-home-cum-caravans parked up down by the harbour. I wondered whether I should say anything to him about it. It will make him angry, I thought. I took the chance, and it did. I suppose if I were them I’d like to sleep by the sea too. It feels different though with all those vehicles. Crammed-in, the spaciousness stolen.
We went to sit in the sun on North Road. I sat and waited for him while he drove off to find a parking place. I watched two men below mowing and neatening up the bowling green. He mowed the grass in diagonals. Phew, it’s hot work, he said to his colleague. I could see two other men sitting in the pavilion entrance, in the shade, with coats on out of the sun. I love sitting on that bench. My tension drains away. I closed my eyes when he went off to collect the car and let the sounds of people’s chatter drift around and over me. A little boy’s voice. I don’t want it, I don’t want any. He was near me, his parents were further away. They were cajoling him, not pleading, negotiating. It was about sun tan lotion. He didn’t want any sun tan lotion on. He gave in, reluctantly. I heard him walk back towards them. Not on my nose, he shouted. Minutes later they all trooped past me. I could smell the lotion, sweet, chemical. The little boy dragged behind. I took a peek. His shoulders were hunched. He wasn’t happy. Anyway, he shouted, it’s going to be cold soon.
He bought me a coffee pot, those Italian ones that screw in half. I’ve been off coffee, but I made some in Denmark and my hankering for it has returned. What a pleasure and now the house smells of it.
The dream came fast, almost immediately I closed my eyes. I was in a garden, I’d dug some trenches. I had a wheelbarrow. My children lay in it. Docile, passive, quite content. And I took them one by one and laid them in the soil. They were not dead but alive. There was no violence, no struggle. And now for my beautiful baby, I said to the youngest as I carefully laid it down. The sun shone. Was it about planting something? Planting ideas, hopes, possibilities? It felt like the best of me.
I’ve found something. It’s a start. It felt good to know that there might be something. But I am tense with the fear of it. Keep steady. It will be an experiment, an essay in how to articulate a long-lived life. Keep steady.