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Writings

Glistening and Gingerly

Words move around inside my head as walk. Sometimes they become like a mantra, particularly when I wish to remember them, to keep hold of them.

I dreaded going out this morning, and the fear of it dogged my first waking hour, dragging my feet. It was the thought of ice. They’d promised a temperature of -5. I went prepared, lots of layers and my big, impossibly expensive Norwegian-bought coat. At least if I slipped, I thought, I’d have something padded to land my bum on. There was ice on the footbridge leading from our flat to what we call ‘the courtyard’ but after that, just a smattering along St David’s Road. It glistened. The ice or frost, if you like, was glistening. It shimmered under the glare of my torch. Don’t walk there, avoid that path, that patch of ground. So I walked gingerly. Glistening and gingerly. I don’t like hesitating. It makes me feel frailer. I like to stride, to feel the source of power, of stamina in my legs. They are getting stronger. It’s all that walking to work. The Prom, however, was fine. And there were three people sleeping rough in the shelter. Bless them, I thought. It must be so cold. So wretched. I will bring them some flapjacks tomorrow.

The smell of fried chicken was overwhelming as I walked past Pier Pressure. The doors of the club were still open and a few burly men in high vis jackets hovered around the entrance. Railings had been stacked to one side. Of course, I thought, it was a Wednesday night, party night. The fried chicken smell was quickly subsumed by that of the starlings’ guano from under the pier. Such a stink. Salty, briny, cold, damp, my nose wrinkles up against it. I could hear their chattering. They will wake soon and start their sky dancing. Later, walking down Great Darkgate Street a man in an mohair coat and trilby crossed my path. It felt unnerving. He just crossed in front of me. I heard myself say, Sorry. As if I’d been in his way. He made no comment and headed for the railway station.

The sky was perfectly clear. All the stars were visible. The flat roof beneath us twinkles with ice, a replica, a carbon copy of the firmament above.

We talked of Amsterdam. She and her colleague are to go their for what they call their ‘Christmas do’. They are fun-loving girls, open, curious, bright. I like being in their company. And she is gentle with me. I could see it before me in all its exquisite nook-and-cranny gloriousness as we talked. I should have told her to read ‘Tulip Fever’ as a taste of what is to come. It has hardly changed. All that luxuriousness. How I love that city. What a time I had there. What a life I have led. I am profoundly grateful. Even in this dark, dark time I feel the blessings of my existence.

He slept last night. He looks less hollow. And my flapjacks please him. He takes a morsel. And I am pleased. It is something, eh?

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Writings

Not Sleeping

Are you sleeping? the physio asked me last week. Yes, I said. That’s good, she said. I’ve rarely had a problem with sleep. I need so much. I just fall into it. And earlier and earlier these days. The only issue is when I am woken, usually by work calling or texting me, then sleep evades me. My mind begins its infernal planning and oblivion is lost to me. He isn’t sleeping, at least not at night. He looks worn through, blown through, thinner and thinner. How can I leave him? I feel the weight of him. He is trying to manage to not get angry or self-pitying, I can see that he is trying. But I can also see how hard it is. I try to encourage him to eat, making tiny morsels of delights to excite his palate. He never wants it initially, hovering around me by the stove, saying: not too much, not too much. I remember his mother being just the same. But for her it was the war-time residue of a fear of waste. Those countless women who still wrap left-overs in tin foil leaving them in fridges to fester and grow mouldy. He just can’t bear to be over-faced with a big plate of food. I am the same. He is also eschewing tastes he used to like. No more sugar on his cornflakes and HP sauce with his beans on toast. My tastes have changed too since the virus we both had. I don’t want salads anymore, or indeed raw food. I struggle to come up with things to eat. I am all at sea with his food and mine.

I’d had a call yesterday saying that I may need to go up to work at 4.30 am, thankfully, I didn’t. But I had to wait until I was texted to be assured. Yet I still have to go in about 40 minutes. Will that hill get easier the more I do it? He has gone back to bed to try and catch up, it is all topsy-turvy. I am hanging on by my finger nails. Yesterday was so gloomy. I had a massage with the Brute. It hurts but it does help. We talked of Scandinavian matters. I like her brusqueness. I asked if she was going to go home to Sweden soon. I’ve got puppies, she said, I will go in April when they are sold. What breed? I asked. Siberian Husky, she said.

Everyone is a flutter with the threat of snow. The Brute said she missed it. That it helped with the darkness. I might drive to go and find some, she said.

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Writings

Ronnie

When I can I snatch an afternoon sleep. Just an hour. I’m tired by then, dog-tired often. Particularly these days with the winter gloom, the aching of my back and all this beleaguerment. I have become his carer. Has it not always been so? His in and out of depression has never been far away, it has rested in the corner of each of our rooms, in each of our homes. He needs constant bolstering. There is no even keel. He has no appetite. Has lost a stone, I think. He looks shell-shocked, blown through. I baked flapjacks yesterday. I did it for two reasons. No, three. I’d been wanting to do it for ages, just to try. Two, I wanted to make something to tempt his appetite. And three, I love the smell of baking in the house. These smelt treacly, buttery, sweet and slightly cloying. It is cosy, he said. That is enough, I think for these dark days. So, back to the sleep. Yesterday was to be my only chance for the next few days. We both lie on his bed. He reads and I sleep. We wrap ourselves in dressing gowns and rugs (the flat is so cold) and I insist on the window being slightly open. I need fresh air. He moans but yields. So I slept for a little, maybe half an hour only to be woken by a voice outside our window. A woman’s voice. High-pitched, keening. Ronnie! she called. Ronnie! Then there where cat noises, a miaowing, then a whistling. Ronnie is a cat. There are two both named after the Kray twins. Grey, sleek cats, disdainfully elegant and adored by their ‘mother’. This wasn’t her. This was her mother. She must be looking after them while she is away. Do cats come when they are called? The cats of this mansion roam the wilderness that is the building site outside and below our window. Ronnie particularly. He looks mean. He looks like a bird and vole killer. Was he making the cat noises or was she? Anyway, it broke my sleep. Heigh ho.

As I said, my research can be a little haphazard. I just follow my nose. At the moment I am reading books from childhood, ones that gave me an idealistic notion of family life and mothers.  It is a warm journey. Are you enjoying it? he asks. Yes, I say. Well that is reason enough, he replies. I fight it. I fight our present situation, though I try not to. For I know that it causes us more stress. Accept the time it takes. Accept the slowness of everything. Accept the small chunks of time you have to work. Let it be. Just let it be what it is. For it is enough.

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Writings

Half Moon

The wind was not what it was yesterday but it is still strong. The fallen tree of yesterday has been lifted from the road and it’s chopped remains lay in a heap in the garden from which it fell. A sadness. The road parallel to the North Prom has been blocked off. Perhaps there has been some loosened masonry or something. It is endless. The weather is always taking its toll on this town. Battering it, bashing it. Over and over the sea hurls its sandy debris onto the Prom. Time and again it is cleared only to return. I walk into the wind, pushing hard against its might. It tires me. Another walk up to work in an hour or so. Oh, good, he said at breakfast, you can do some work first. Yes, maybe. I was almost blown off my feet twice yesterday walking up and down the hill. It’s the point at the top just by the National Library that the gusts get you. Catching you unawares. I call out. To whom I don’t know. Ah, I cry as my feet are blown forward, tottering, as I try to keep my balance and save my back. But I did it. I did it. He was a little better yesterday. He just slept and slept. As he is doing now. Sleep is good.

An alarm was ringing as I walked home. A house alarm or a car alarm? A house one. It keened, a sharp wincing, insistent shouting. Nobody responded. I think they are away. A red light on the box outside flickered. And still that panicky sound. No one was about this morning, except for a group of kids on Northgate Terrace whom I didn’t see but heard. Wow, one of them said, shouting, his voice echoing, ricocheting off the houses.

The moon was a half. Sometimes hidden behind clouds, other times out, resplendent. Look at you, I say out loud. Look at you.  

Most of the time I don’t know what I am doing. I just read. I read and read hoping that it will lead me where I am meant to go. I get moments of something like truth, certainty but then it is gone. I will take a notebook with me, try automatic writing, as they suggested, get it down, before my brain takes over with its stultifying judgement. I will take my books, my notebook and a sketchbook. I long for it. I even think I dreamt of being there last night. He says he will be alright. It is hard to leave him. But I must. Just some time alone. Is it too much to ask?

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Writings

Fallen Tree

I bring him snippets of the outside world, anything to get him out of his head. You know the house on Llanbadarn Road, I said, the one with the lovely lawn of snowdrops? Yes, he said. Well, I said, one of its trees has fallen onto the road, blocking one lane. Oh, no, he said. Yes, I said, and the police were there as I walked out, directing the traffic. It’s a sad thing, the loss of a tree. It shakes one’s equilibrium. The wind is wild. I walked anyway. I had to. I had to go out and face it, be in it. And I have to go out again in an hour to walk the hill to work. I don’t know which way to go. I could go through the University but there are so many trees and I am nervous about them falling. So perhaps Penglais hill is best.

Yesterday was a wobbly one. He gets so frightened coming up to the kitchen to announce that he must call NHS Wales for advice about coming off his medication. Perhaps he is doing it too fast? I try to steady him. No knee jerk responses, trust that the doctor knows what he is doing. All will be well. All will be well. He doesn’t want to eat, but then he does. Up and down. Up and down. He is not sleeping, which doesn’t help. And just lies there staring into the abyss of his uncertainty and panic. I try to be steady, do the domestic things, create an even base. It isn’t easy, inside I am as uncertain, as scared as he is. And this wind. Things rattle in the courtyard outside, a rolling bottle, a plant pot. Everything is being churned up. Then there is hail, and sleet. I put waterproofs under waterproofs. I managed to get to the harbour but didn’t walk the Prom. The boats’ rigging was jangling and ringing, a cacophony of cow bells, jarring, demanding attention. The students were out regardless, coatless, they are fearless. Was I so at their age? I feel so fragile, ready to snap. I walked to the church, marvelled at its solidity. Hundreds of years its been there. His parents ashes are there, and he will join them. I am flotsam. A dandelion seed buffeted, tossed here and there. Nothing is solid. But I try to be. It just has to be lived through, this transition stage of his, this winter, this menopause, this lowness. It has to be lived through. Coming through to the other side.

Memories of Amsterdam, our escape from such a long time ago. We don’t travel anymore. At least not together. Will we again? He shows no enthusiasm for it. I understand. He is locked in his fear. I need to breathe. I do want I can for him and dream of flight.

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Writings

In my eyes…

I catch these snatches of conversation. They are voluble at that time of the day, chatty, companionable with each other, at ease as they make their way back to their shared houses or student halls. There were four of them. Three lads and one girl. Two lads walked behind. Ignorant women, one of them was saying. A conversation that was layered over by the girl ahead of him saying to another boy: In my eyes everything happens for a reason, so like… It struck me that phrase. In my eyes. Did she mean that? I’d passed another group of students outside the Pier Pressure night club with its flashing neon sign above the door – Club Open. The words were reflected in the window of the ice cream parlour, back to front. One of the students was pontificating to the other two. His voice was odd, strained, breathy. It was ex-cruc-iating, he was saying, pulling and stretching at the word. I stood at the end of the Perygyl and thought how much I loved to stand before the sea and how all the discomfort of getting myself there was worth it. And then I saw it. A huge light in the sky. A falling star? A meteor? No, it was too big and moving too fast. It was a helicopter’s search light. What was wrong? I’d noticed a light on in the RNLI office and could see five or six of the crew sitting around chatting. One of them was laughing. And I’d see one of their dinghies on the tarmac ready to launch from the harbour. Perhaps it was a training exercise. Every day something has changed, shifted, altered. Sometimes I feel a little put out. This is my world, my time, my space and no one asked me. Silly, I know. There was a huge trawler in the marina, and a fish lorry parked up by the lines of boats in dry dock – Baited Breath et al. The searchlight kept going on and off. At one point it skimmed the sea. A flooding of yellow.

There is a numbness down both my legs. Something must be trapped, he said. I try to walk through it. Pushing my heels down hard, trying to keep the blood flow going. And I think of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid with her tail transformed into legs, cut, severed, so that she might walk and dance and be with her love. Every step is a knife cut, a stabbing of pain. Exquisite pain. It haunted me as a child, especially as her ‘love’ doesn’t seem to notice or indeed care. What a waste, I thought, giving up her tail, her watery home, for him and to just end up as foam.

We sat in the car and he told me of his fear. I had no idea. I sat and listened, really listened. It hung there between us. What can I say? There is always a choice. He doesn’t have to have it done. But to not do so… I can’t protect him. Life demands courage of us. It is as simple as that.

He tried. He got through the day. It is enough.

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Writings

Does that make sense?

I’ve heard a few women from this town and of a similar age use the same phrase. Do they know that they use it over and over? When we were young it was ‘you know’ after every sentence. It’s sweet. And I am not judging. She was so kind, so gentle with me. You need to cry, she said. It will help you heal. A pretty woman, no not exactly pretty, but fresh, clean and energetic. She got hot working on me. Flushed even. I am fortunate with the ‘healers’ in this town. Her and ‘The Brute’, they are amazing in their way, and modest with it.

I’ve walked and now I am to walk again, up the hill to work. I want to go soon, get it over with before my back packs in. She sent me more pictures of her. So wonderful. She is loving the Christmas present, she writes. Small things, tender things, they all help in these dark days.

He has a new bed. It smells funny but it is simple, clean in its lines. I think he likes it, though we both struggle with change, however welcome. I achieve so little these days. Just getting through. I read and read. Make notes and think about my own writing, knowing that I am not ready. Won’t be for a while. I want to get it right, to know what I want it to be. I have no template for this way of living, it is all so wobbly, so unsure. I try to be kind, to succour him.

Her book was amazing, so angry, so full of hurt but deeply compassionate too. She writes of sitting at her desk and not writing. I need to get to a stage when I have to do it. To get it out. Not yet. Not yet.

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Writings

Skipping Man

I saw him yesterday as I walked the Prom. He was coming towards me. He held a radio to his ear, which struck me as oddly quaint, and was singing and skipping as he did so. He didn’t cease as we passed. He was lost in his joy.

She talked while he walked beside her. She was a wide-hipped blonde with just a pink boob tube on in this cold. So basically, she was saying as they strode down North Road, since she left him….

Town was busy this morning, full of kids. Two lads propped a friend between them, who clearly had lost the use of his legs, as they ambled there way back to Halls. Another two lads were sitting on the wall by South Beach, one was singing to something playing on his mobile phone. Well screeching really. How does it feel to be so carefree? Is it youth or booze?

He is trying. I am trying. Yesterday we both imploded. We walk through the same murk. I couldn’t get myself out of bed this morning. Lucky I have two alarms. I did it in the end and I walked. What super human strength it takes sometimes to take myself out there into that dark. Physio today. May she help my back. Please.

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Writings

Drowning

Sometimes I think he wants to drown me in his misery, to pull me down under the watery blackness with him. I think that is the only thing that will satisfy him, for it will show the hugeness of it, the terror of it, the fatality of it. It takes all my strength these days to resist such a submersion. I try to keep buoyant, taking on a kind of brusque, practical demeanour that I do not feel. I too am bleak. I too am floundering but someone has to keep steady, to deal with the details, to keep this life of ours turning over, ticking, breathing. I come into his room in the morning and I know even before my hand is on the door handle how he is. That quiet voice, that whisper of a hello, or sometimes not even that. This is not judgement, believe me, I know that he feels it, is terrified, no, it is an observation. I need to pay attention, to keep a close eye on what is happening, so that I know my own responses. I walked my whole walk again. I want to get my back strong again. It is tired after the three miles, wanting rest and to not have to hold itself ramrod straight. I encourage him to eat. He probably wouldn’t if I wasn’t here. I try to tempt an appetite in him that has almost gone. No appetite for life for the struggle of it. For the challenge of it. He is powerful in his misery, much more so than when he is joyous. A rare thing. He keeps strong emotion tight in. Either end of the spectrum unsettles him. There is love. Always. But frustration too. I want help. I want to be helped and there is nothing. Nothing. As it was when I tried to pull him up off the floor. There is no help. He is helpless. Will not, can not help himself. I was brought up to be tenacious. She, god rest her soul, was always so. Almost to the last. My darling love. So bitter, so sharp, so unloving. I write to understand her, for by understanding her I understand myself. We were locked into each other. It was always so. Will the grief ever pass? I dreamt of my little one. She was putting her finger in my mouth, and smiling gleefully at the possibility of it. And she spoke my name. She knew me. What a joy that was. To be known by her.

Work was nicer yesterday. I was spoken to. I engaged. They listened. I was part of something. It was because she was there. That ray of sunshine. How are you? She asks. She asks about my work. Wants to know, to share. And then the others take note. I exist. They forgot. She didn’t. It was enough. For now. A shadow of comfort in a dark, dark time. So be it. I can manage. Always.  

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Writings

Fat Cat

Betty has got fat. All of a sudden, it seems. She is hardly recognisable. Watch out for the cat, I said to him as he dropped me off. Where? he said. It’s just gone under the car. I think it’s Betty. It can’t be, he said. That great fat thing. But it was. She scampered ahead of me as I climbed the steps onto the walkway, as she always does, though this time she sat down in the hallway of the other block, watching me as I went past. What could have happened to her? Surely cats don’t grow fat of their own volition? Though Donnie in Cambridge did. Named after the film Donnie Darko, he was a raggedy cat, ears bitten off in fights and a great galumphing body that took several goes to get over our fence. (He took to shitting in our garden and I would screech at him from our back door and he’d hurl himself against the fence in an attempt to get away.)

I walked my whole walk today. It’s made me tired but I did it. We see lots of stroke survivors walking the Prom. Minor victories are ours, us hobblers. They drag their unresponsive legs and arms up and down, up and down, trying to grow stronger and do what they’ve always done but slower, much much slower.  I think about pain, what is bearable what is not. That girl in the Life photo from the Vietnam War, naked, running screaming from the blast. She was on the radio talking about the pain of the burns, how the heat hurts her skin, even after all this time. That is pain. To have all your skin aflame.

I cried at supper. I didn’t know the grief at not being able to see them was there. He understands. And when we are sitting on his bed watching Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time (it is easy on the eye and mind) he gets out his iPad and shows me the pictures of her opening the present again. What joy she brings me. She is so open, so open to joy. And she can stand now. All on her own.

All I wanted to do was sit still. My work is about sitting still, my volunteering is about sitting still. I want to still myself and engender peace in myself and others by doing so. It doesn’t come naturally. Is it reason enough? I suspect they want more practical help. Doing stuff. I don’t think it is for me.

They burst out laughing. The radio was on in the office and they were both working away and then the laughter came. I broke their conversation. Did she mispronounce something? I asked. No, no, they said, still laughing. And they tried to explain. The presenter was wooden, apparently, though the nuances of this was lost on me being in Welsh, and she’d just used the word natural. For some reason this had cracked them up. Lost in translation, I think. Do people seem to laugh louder in a strange language?

She was on the corner as we drove past. A tiny woman, a bag of bones. Her legs were bare under her faux fur coat, as was her midriff. The coat gaped open to reveal a bra and mini skirt. Her legs were patched with bruises. She was a mess, a scrawny apology for a woman. Do you think it’s drink? he asked. Or drugs, I said. I don’t know. And there had been the man outside Marks and Spencer. I see him all the time, he said. He was digging about in the bin. His clothes, having long lost their definition were rags. He was grey, a grey indistinct mound, scrabbling. A vision out of Dickens carrying an M&S carrier bag. Do you think we see the unloved, the disenfranchised more when we are grey and gloomy ourselves? I ask him. Is our awareness heightened?

Bleak, bleaker, bleakest. But we saw the snowdrops, a great bank of them.