I’m struck dumb by a desire to not say something unkind. I was boiling over with it and it goes straight to my gut, causing it to lock tight, spasm and bloat. I can see both sides. I always can. Ever the scales, balancing, weighing-up, trying to be kind. And this time failing. I want to rant and rave. It is trapping me. He can’t be relied upon to do what he says he was going to do. And yet, I understand that need to close everything down. But not me too. He wants to close me down too. I can’t let it happen. I want to fly, to flee, to escape to a city somewhere, stay in a hotel, drink tea in cafes and just watch, step outside of this inwardness, this imploding. I’ve had enough, today I’ve had enough. Is that allowed?
I’ve still got loads of work to do. Too much detail. I need to finish it and then I can put my head above the parapet and think clearly.
They were talking in the shelter when I walked past. He was sitting up under his blanket and another man was sitting next to him talking loudly. I didn’t catch their conversation. Otherwise it was quiet. A big man shuffled his way past me eating. Another was smoking in a dressing gown outside Alexandra Hall. The rain came in drizzly outbursts. I put up my umbrella. The smell of the starling guano under the pier was salty, brackish. I could hear the hiss of their chatter. Getting ready to mumurate. They’ll be gone soon, he said.
I walked a different way this morning going straight to the harbour and then backwards to the kick the bar on the Prom. It felt odd. I wanted to shake up my perspective, try to see things differently. I noticed things I hadn’t seen before, signage, Christmas trees in other living rooms, another star like the one our neighbour has in his window. There were other hills to climb. It was good to do but it’s interesting how unsettling it is. Just that tiny change. A miniscule thing. And I had the quietness first rather than last.
She wrote it again, saying it was the ‘hardest thing we’d ever had to do’. And yet it wasn’t. And how can she know? How can she know how the rest of us felt? I remember us laughing, particularly when the ashes covered us. Does she want it to be so? Does she want people to feel for her? I suppose so. It is an odd thing social media – is it real? Someone who was my friend at school, so long ago, is now hers and writes about her memories of her. Did she ever meet her? I cannot remember, possibly. We each own our own truth – let it be so. But just don’t speak on my behalf. I can’t tick it. I’m sorry.
This application is such an elephant to push up the stairs or perhaps a piano is a better metaphor. A great galumphing thing. My back is rigid with the anticipation of it again. He is a help and it is a help to him, taking him out of his maudlin state. We went to bed out of sorts with each other, he wants to stay still and I need to move. Let it be. We are not in each other’s pockets. I shall take trains. I want to move, to be on the move. But only when this thing has been done. Good enough, well enough. I want to reach out to her. Will she meet me half way?
It was a dream, just a dream but I wanted to catch it before it went. I was at Cambridge University. I’d got a place on a course, though I couldn’t remember in what or whether it was for a PhD or an MA. I was in this enormous hall and climbing down these huge steps, some of which I had to let myself down bodily, towards a central part where I thought I could find someone to help me. People, students were scurrying off to lectures. Then I realised I didn’t have any paperwork with me or my notebook. I kept walking arriving in a suburban setting with houses and then rooms. A woman who looked like the typical rather dotty art teacher was standing at the threshold of one of these rooms, I could see easels and students drawing. Come in, she said clearly delighted. Her hair was grey and wild. No, I said trying to explain that I was looking for something else. Was it the English Department? Then she began to ask about my father and whether he painted. I said that he may have done. Then she wanted to know what size. I got angry with her. Why can you tell me where I’m supposed to go? I shouted. As I left I saw another door slightly ajar. Should I close it? I thought. And then I woke up.
She would’ve been eighty today. I think about her most days, how can I not she is part of my work, my psyche, my history and my future? It has always been so even for all those years in which we were estranged. It’s six years since she died and I tend to think and dream of her as a younger woman, younger than when I last saw her. She is happier in my dreamscapes than I believe she ever was in reality. So much potential. A singular person, I think. I was in awe of her. May she continue to rest in peace.
Our neighbour downstairs also celebrates her birthday today, though she is a hundred. Old enough to be my mother’s mother. A hundred years old and she still walks into town every morning. She is very deaf and I think her eyesight is not so sharp but she is bright and self-contained. Her son lives with her, not an uncommon arrangement in Wales. But they live separate existences mostly, he being up late watching TV and playing poker on his computer (so he tells me) and she with her church, only coming together for lunch. All her family are here staying in the Nanteos mansion. I saw him at his window having a cigarette as I set off for my walk. The big day today, I said. Yes, he said. They are expecting over thirty people from far and wide for lunch. Does she want the fuss, I asked him over breakfast, do you think? He didn’t answer. I suspect she will just take it in her stride, I said.
To live so long. Is it just serendipity? I made a point of searching for the whiff of pine needles as I walked past the large town Christmas tree this morning. A gorgeous smell, so evocative. No smells of baking bread and no kids. The town was a ghostly one. I like it this way. Soon they will return. A deep breath. I’ve made a start but more mountains to shift today. A friend writes saying that she began her second chemo yesterday and that her hair has gone. I hold her in my thoughts. She is so brave. I send her love.
Thank you for visiting, said the vicar take our hands one after the other. I felt uncomfortable, was there a hint of irony there? Of course, we are interlopers, we’ve never been there before and Christmas is notorious for bringing us strangers into an already cosy, sealed-up fold. Were we welcome? I don’t know. I miss Bath Abbey more than I can say. Strangers were always present, passers-through and made welcome for it. His sermon was sweet, making an analogy between Christ and the Green Flag rescue service. He laboured it a little, but I liked it nevertheless but still, Edward Mason’s sermons were so elegant, so understated, graceful. A shy man, I think, I remember his awkwardness when I attended the vicarage tea. The last one, I think. Perhaps it just got to much for him. I remember seeing him in mufti once in Waitrose, a rugby shirt with the collar up, he looked so relaxed. I hope he is enjoying his retirement. And J and D. It was nice to meet our neighbours. I liked her, I leaned towards a cosiness that I saw there. You must come round for coffee, she said. Yes, I thought, that would be nice, though I felt him nudge me. He wants no such thing. Couldn’t I go anyway? Someone to call a friend, an acquaintance nearby but one who would respect boundaries. They’ve come to here to be near their daughter who lives three houses away, leaving Sussex. He misses it, she says gesticulating towards D. We’ll die here, she says, we have to make the best of it. We’re not really seashore people. No, I think, nor was I and yet, now the sea is all. It is my focus each morning. We need to make the best of it, she said. Amen to that.
Is that what acceptance looks like? She looked more happy with it than he. Why had they come? D looks frail, his hair is thin. She is rake thin but wiry with energy. Their daughter is lovely, a smiling woman with a young daughter. Was it health? Was it wanting to be near their grandchild? Such a big move. It isn’t easy to be here. A glass separates us.
The clubs were open last night so kids spilled onto pavements as I walked. Girls in high heels and sequinned boob tubes. So little clothes, even though it is mild. An empty pushchair stood abandoned outside the Academy. A child’s picture-book lay on its seat. A mauve balloon, also abandoned, rested between the kerb and the road outside Thompson’s, aka Tui. A girl leant on her man’s arm attempting to unstrap her shoes, then barefooted handed them to him to carry. A pizza box lay on the step as I arrived back. Empty? Who knows? I didn’t check. Acceptance is sometimes leaving things be.
My back is like a wash board, hard and resistant. Just make a start. Accept the work you have to do. Find a way in to the joy of it. The joy of being busy, of being useful, of communicating. It is enough. It is a one step in front of the other kind of life at the moment, but that is OK. It is OK.
It came as a shock. All that outpouring of grief. Where is it coming from? What is it? This longing for another life, where I can step outside of my head, my heart, my body and be something lighter. It’s quite insidious my need to know of other’s lives. Tell me. Tell me, I insist, of your life. How does it fit you? How does it feel to be you? I think of her a lot, and the other two. Why my association, my connection with her? Is it because I feel she has let me go? It’s awkward this kind of writing, it splurges uncomfortably onto the screen. Where am I going with it? I want to understand, I write to understand. Always. She is so unlike me, and yet, not so. I can see similarities. She too is looking to belong. She, like me, always has. She embraces each new friend, new family, new lover with such vigour, throwing herself into it. Does she believe it? Is she convinced? What are we all running from? Or perhaps we are running towards it?
I went to church. He came with me, reluctantly. I wanted to find some belonging there. We sat near the altar. I thought it would be packed but there were maybe twenty people. I wanted to commune, to pray collectively, to be part of something bigger than me, to lose myself in the ritual, the structure of belief. It didn’t work. I was still watching myself.
And there was awkwardness too. I saw him tearing up a bread roll. Oh, no I thought he’s going to use real bread, what will I do? I wanted to take it. To take the sacrament but in the end I had to hide it in my hand and give it to him afterwards to eat on my behalf. See what I do for you, he said. If I go again to that church I will have to say something but when and to whom? I think I’m allergic to bread, to wheat, to gluten though I’ve never had it diagnosed. It felt almost frightening having it offered to me like that with not protocol for refusal. The taste of the communion wine made me hazy on the walk home.
They were an odd assortment of people in the congregation. The warden or sexton was one of the professors from the Art Department that I went to see years ago now about the possibility of doing a PhD. He was lighting candles and generally making himself useful. And a girl read both readings. She was young, barely a teenager, I’d say. She was dressed in an old-fashioned way, markedly so, like the Orthodox Jews who come with their wives and children looking like a throw-back to the 1950s with headscarves. This girl wore a blouse with lace across the front and a long checked skirt with a flounced petticoat underneath, the edge of which had frayed and was hanging down. Her hair was long right down her back. She looked confident, happy to be there. A vicar’s daughter? he said afterwards. No, I said, I suspect she wants to be ordained.
Town was almost empty this morning, except for two Polish men talking loudly in the shelter.
Just put one foot in front of the other. That is all you have to do. Isn’t it?
I want to be in all those livings rooms that I walked past this morning, seeing them with their trees lit up awaiting the noise, the chatter, the bodies snatched from beds for this festival. I want to be part of the nonsense, the games, the present-opening, the oneness, the belonging. I feel in pieces. Separate and adrift. They are gone, some dead others so far away, those people with whom I share blood. Those people I claim some kinship with. My belonging is scattered. Yes, I belong to him in as much as I have chosen this life here with him. Chosen the peace, the care, the love but we cannot whip up what was. It means little to him. His family didn’t do the fuss. I spoke to one yesterday. She misses it too though she has her own family now to supply the want. Neither of us can name it, this yearning, this wanting. Did she have it before she died? We disappointed her. We did not bring her what she needed. I’m sorry for that, I wanted to make it good and couldn’t. My back is rigid with distress and yet I cannot name it. None of us can. I want to go home and yet I don’t yet know what home is.
I’m not good this morning, he said. And I can see it, smell it on him. I’ve taken a pill, he said. So be it. Let it be, I say knowing that that is not what he wants to hear.
Speaking to her on the phone made me feel good. I will go and visit her in the Spring and sit in her garden. And then I will go and visit her. And her. Let is be enough. Just putting one foot in front of the other. Let the grief be too. It has it’s place.
What was that line I heard from Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor? He was born into the dark. Was that it? He was born into the dark.
I thought I’d have the town to myself but I didn’t. Two girls and a boy speaking Arabic walked towards Alexandra Hall carrying shopping bags. And a homeless man, the one he’s told me about, the one with crutches, was shouting out the odds to another man. It was fucking that and fucking this. An angular man with an sharp, clanging voice and what looked like two other crutches on his back. I’d thought I’d greet people if I saw them with a Merry Christmas but it didn’t seem appropriate somehow. Never mind. The harbour was peaceful and I walked the Perygyl for the first time in days.
It’s a Peggy Lee song, Alan Carr chose it as one of his DID songs. Is that all there is? Her father takes her to the circus and at the end of it she asks that question. I’m feeling that same kind of anticlimax about all and nothing. All too conscious of the misery of those who’ve lost loved ones in the tsunami in Indonesia. What are my complaints compared to theirs? And yet, I have not complaints, they are not complaints, just this sense of sadness of loss. I miss her, I miss them all. He and I, we can’t create the same exuberance. She did it all so beautifully. With so much care. I loved her best then. All dressed up, dinner all under control and smelling gorgeous. I loved the lights, the candles, the scent of the tree. Nothing particular to us, but it was when our family was happy. She was happy so we were. It was that simple. She with her hostess trolley. There was half a glass of sherry for us. I remember the taste of the Christmas pudding with double cream and the coffee afterwards in those elegant porcelain cups of hers. And the Nissen hut surrounded by cotton wool. I recall getting a Kerplunk that I’d longed for for so long. And Dad handing out the presents. And that dip when it was all over. Is that all there is?
He wasn’t there this morning. So no presents to take down tomorrow morning. Perhaps someone has taken him in. That would be nice. Perhaps his family came for him. The Home Café are going to feed anyone homeless or with nowhere to go over Christmas, he said as we sat in the car waiting for the coffee shop to open. That’s nice, I said. Though, he said, they should do it all the time not just at Christmas. Shouldn’t we all?
I think most of all I miss the distraction of it. Of being enveloped in something akin to family. But this will do. There is love enough. Bless those of you who are without this day. May you find shelter, warmth, food and care.
I don’t know why I feel it more some days than others. Was it the rain this morning? It came regardless of the dry morning that was promised. I want to not care. To relish the touch of the drops on my face, the smell of the fresh moist air but it’s the inconvenience of it. The sodden coat dripping on the back of bathroom door, the waterproof leggings hanging from the shower fixture. It’s so inelegant. And yet, when I am in it, particularly by the harbour I am almost glad for it. For no one else is out. It is mine and mine alone. The rush of the sea, the patter of drops on my hood, that being anonymous and wrapped up, is rather divine.
Will he be there tomorrow? I am planning to wrap him some presents, take him some mince pies that I intend to make today if there is time and some chocolate and possibly some crackers if it isn’t too crazy in the supermarket in the morning. I want to take him some presents for Christmas morning. Will he still be there?
We argued. He snapped and I snapped. It was over nothing. His emotions are near the surface, as are mine. I want to take communion on Christmas Day. I want to mark it. Be with others, just for a short while. He wanted to go to an early service at his home church. This year there isn’t one. Last year, there were only five or was it six of us. Can you blame them for cancelling it? I suggest another church at 10.30. I don’t want to go then, he says. And yet, I want to go with him, arm in arm. I know it is hard for him. The thought of others. He wants, needs to keep them at bay. I will go on my own. I imagine that taste of communion wine on my lips. He may soften. We may walk out together. I need to keep open to a change in plans, always, these days. It is kinder that way. I don’t want to bully. He must do what he needs to do.
Shall we buy crackers? I ask him. I just don’t know. The spirit isn’t there. There haven’t even been carols. Something is missing but I can’t put my finger on what. Do other families do it better? I want the peace, to be sans stress.
Shall we buy crackers? Let’s wait and see, he says.
Town was full when I walked this morning. A rabble surged out of Pier Pressure night club in various states of seeming undress, though to them it was probably regarded as ‘dressed-up’. A girl with a voluptuous bottom that rolled and cavorted within her shiny, silver skirt made her slow way up Pier Street, unaccompanied, alone. Her shoes were gold. I heard Welsh and English voices. Who were they all? Surely all the students have gone? Young farmers maybe? Or college students? I heard want sounded like Polish being spoken by Trefechan Bridge. One of them laughed. Was it at me in my ridiculously long coat? More huddles of bodies by the taxi rank. A girl in a sleeveless dress, thighs exposed talking in my ear as I walk past. I feel like I’m watching like a game, she said.
My guest didn’t turn up. Her taxi let her down. So be it. He is wobbly again today. His carries it in his face, so sorrowful, so disappointed. I try to be steady, positive. We have a coffee together. It is nice to be out amongst strangers, not doing much. The house is clean. All duties for now done. Just work now, make a start.
The moon was huge and full. Is that the reason for the dreams? Peeing in public. Wanting to lock the door but it wouldn’t. AM talking to me about westerns. Be steady for him. Make it safe. Make it calm.