The darkness is complete at 4.30 am as I walk the Promenade. The occasional light from an upper storey window is Hopper-esque in its bleakness. It is that kind of stark yellow light that shines from a bald overhead bulb, casting ruthless shadows. The light I see out at sea is different. This is a warm yellow, a custard yellow. A beam, with a red and green light below it. They are fixed to a mast. It is the light of a fishing boat. It has just left the harbour. It follows me through the black. A guiding light. As I walk the sleeping streets I look for Christmas trees in windows. Most are switched off, but there is one on North Road that is still ablaze and there is one alight upstairs in the Constitution Hill Railway terminus. I shall miss them come Twelfth Night. No more twinkling kindly lights, though some may stay, I cannot be alone in the longing for light.
Everything is returning to normal. The lights are on in Gwesty Cymru’s dining room. Breakfast is being laid out for the guests by the night porter. They must be open again. The door of Slater’s Bakery is ajar. The ovens are baking.
It isn’t The Abbey. I shake out my umbrella. The elderly man with the tousled hair greets me. Aren’t you Angela? he asks peering into my face. Oh, no, he says, it’s just you’ve got the same…and he draws a kind of circle in the air around my head. I introduce myself and shake his hand. You are most welcome, he says. I wander down the aisle, eager to be seated and inconspicuous. The congregation has increased a little since last week. We are five, including the vicar, who is in mufti. I’m joining you, he says to the man with the hair, and can you still read the second lesson? A woman priest officiates. She has a soft, moon-like face. Is she Lynn or Heather? Her movements are slow, measured. She makes me feel calm. I don’t recite it all. But I do like hearing the words. The vicar’s voice is loud, drowning out the rest of us. The lilies in the Lady Chapel altar are beginning to wilt. The man with the hair is slightly out of kilter with the rest of us with the recitals. I think he has forgotten to turn his hearing aid on. There are two other women. One reads the first lesson. The other takes my hand at the end, commenting on the weather and smiling into my face. I am cold and longing for a pee. But I’m glad I came. It’s the words, the communion, the time to think. And to be amongst kindness. Are you a visitor? asked the female vicar, taking my hand. No, I said. She waited for an explanation. And then smiled, you are most welcome. Thank you, I said.
I decided to see Jesus in everyone, said the man on Pause for Thought, the smelly, the unkempt, the unpleasant. Everyone.
He told us he was seventy-four. I’m itching to get back to work, he said. I’m a tree surgeon, though it’s not the weather for it. The all-clear has made him buoyant. Though, you don’t do it alone, he says, turning to look at his wife across the café. She is wearing that same hat. Though it’s not strictly a hat, more of a furry head band. I thought it was cat sitting on ‘er ‘ed, he said. I got a telephone call this morning, the man says as he and his wife are leaving. Two friends dead. And now I find out I can’t get a jab for shingles cos’ I’m over seventy. I don’t understand but we offer sympathy regardless, shaking our heads at the lottery-like nature of the NHS. You can join me Anarchy Party, he says, jabbing him in the arm. I don’t think he quite understands the nature of anarchy, he says, once they are out of earshot.
‘There’s no reason for her to do anything more, there’s no rule, but now her days and nights feel too small. Something more must be expected; something more must be owed.’ (The Snow Queen, Michael Cunningham)
Colm Tobin is the guest on Desert Island Discs. Be a monster, he exhorts, if Auntie Betty has a story use it. It is yours. Don’t wait until she’s dead. Do it before it’s too late. Don’t take on the big picture, he says (and I paraphrase here), it’s too much for a novel. Work with the small details. The small details. Even if they feel too small? Yes.
I see him on the pavement outside Smith’s. He is drinking from a small brown bottle. I smile at him. There is small earphone hanging from his ear. He must be in his twenties. Dark-haired and dressed in black. Later, I see him walking down Calybeate Street, his two huge bags over each shoulder. Where does he go? Where does he go in the rain? The other homeless man was by Smith’s too. He never begs. He looks like a weasel, rake-thin. He drinks but is never aggressive. His skin is leathery. There is new beard growth, but he is not unkempt. He roams the street avoiding eye contact. See him in everyone. Everyone.
A bitty-day today. That’s OK. Sometimes it is enough just to breathe. Sun now rain. The sky a pale milky grey. The crescent moon got lost behind clouds this morning. A magical white, hidden.
I didn’t get the Amaryllis. They had hyacinths instead. They will do. I need to have something growing. Something ready to burst. And the scent is a heaven. Always. I remember my Norwegian room. She’d bought one for me. She didn’t understand my gratefulness. The small details. The small details are never too small. I promise.