I heard them before I saw them, dark figures clambering over the fence and locked gate of the Castle playground. Most did it quite quickly, vaulting over its bars. One of the girls was slower. Another stayed with her as she gingerly lifted her legs up and over. Were in! shouted her companion as her feet found the ground. Students up to jolly japes. It happens every year. But not so much this year. Their presence is a sparse one. I see a few huddles of them, but that is it. One of the lecturers lives on the estate, we see him sometimes walking up the hill as we sit. He is friendly and happy to spare five minutes to have a moan. It’s all online, he says, no face-to-face seminars at all. I don’t know why they got them back, I say. He makes a money sign with his fingers.
The shuffle on my Ipod brought up a reading I did nine years ago. I let it play as I walked. It was before Norway, before my mother’s and my father’s death, before he and I remarried, before I came here. It was strange to hear my younger self’s voice, asking for a change, something to leave Bath for. She is a nice woman. I don’t read futures, she says. An astrologer, palmist and reader of various new-agey cards, she gives readings that are peppered with her various cosy truisms. She has her favourite words, such as ‘fluffy’. Some of her advice irritates me a bit – I can hear in my voice, in my replies but I try, tried to keep it to myself. She means well, is kind.
‘I want to write about faith’, says the poet. I want to write about my compunction to sew. But not now. Not today. I was caught up with anxiety yesterday, my body racked, taught. It will pass, he says. And it will, does.
It arrived safely. And she is happy with it. I am glad. Very glad. I cannot begin to understand her pain. I hope it eases it, turns it to good.