A child’s face in a sea of red. A sea of red cloth. She stares back at the camera, unsmiling. What dignity they have those who have nothing. Their colours: the colour of life, blood, power, energy, earth. The colour of Aborigines. The colour of belonging. The colour of something vital that we have forgotten. They cross the sea in search of food, of safety, of home, though they leave that behind. What will they find? Will we be kind? We who have so much and yet do not have what they have. Can never have it. What must we smell like to them? What sense can they make of us? The photographer takes his picture. Making something nice, something beautiful that is beyond the kind of beauty we know or seek. All that order, neatness, cleanness, a perfumed nothingness. They see more, have seen more, than we can ever see – war, hunger, disease – and they come to us for succour. Us. What can we offer them?
‘Jesus was beggar, he was rich in grace.’ Joni Mitchell.
If nothing more may I learn humility and the capacity to see and feel beyond my neat orderly world.
They were in a dream a couple of nights ago. I think I’d conjured them up as a result of listening to a radio adaptation of book by a poet and novelist who wrote about visiting summer snow as a way of managing his grief over the loss of his wife to cancer. The book or its dramatisation involved texts and phone calls back home to his daughter who was alone in the house. A house that had become slowly infested with hornets. So there they were in my dream. It often happens this borrowing of imagery from things listen to or seen during my waking hours. The writer talked about not wanting to kill them, but his daughter was becoming increasingly unnerved by their presence in her bedroom. In the end her brother, the writer’s son was brought in to exterminate them. In my dream they were a distant fear. They were in the house somewhere, the possibility of threat. He and I talked in the dream about how it was the landlord’s responsibility to do something about them. Then I was walking in the street (it looked like somewhere in Cambridge – too fancy for this scruffy town – besides I never ever dream of here) and saw that the landlord had in fact taken the wall down of our house and replaced it with glass revealing the hornets for all to see. They looked so unthreatening, almost sad though huge. They looked like the caterpillar who sits on a mushroom in Alice in Wonderland.
He offered to do my job for me. What a sweetheart. He’d been thinking about it. So that I’d have more time to write, he said. I’m so lucky in this love. It is kind. I refused his offer. It is complicated. I think I need to do it, for the time being. I need to earn my way. To step outside of my head sometimes and encounter the outside world, even if at times it is unpalatable to me. The earning thing is important too, my self-worth is tied up in it.
She helped. She helped me. Though I cried. It is the gentle care of her, it makes me weep. She’s given me more tasks to do. Clench your buttocks when you walk, she said, and pull in your stomach muscles. Let’s see the full five feet five of you. Five five? she asked. Five six, I said. At least I was.
He bumped into the husband of an old friend the other day. Well, it wasn’t really a case of bumping into. He’d seen him before and had avoided him but small town that this is there he was around another corner. Something had to be said, pleasantries shared. He told him of his sister in hospital with heart failure. She is full of water. He told him she was ‘drowning from the inside.’
We fight over it. No not fight but we are fractious. And both of us are scared. He of losing me and me of losing control of my body. Death is not a concern but incapacity is. Most of the time is it manageable but some days, like today I am made leaden with it. We must just wait and see and both be prepared to hear him then each other out.
But this morning it is about my knees. Will she help? My legs do not feel like my own. They talk of detachment. We are not just our bodies. They are frail. Our spirits are strong.
I could hear them behind me. I didn’t look round. Sometimes I don’t when I am walking in the wee wee hours of the morning. I feel vulnerable. Well, not all the time. Sometimes I am outside of myself, my body, intent on moving forward or lost in some outer experience of air, wind, rain and sea. Then encountering other people can be almost disorientating. I don’t want it. I don’t want to engage, to feel obliged, to go through the social rigmarole of being aware of how to be or how I should be. Other times I am just fearful. Of the dark of my fragility, my lack of power.
So I didn’t turn round. I just heard them. I was nearing home. They were behind me on Llanbadarn Road. And they were laughing. I think there were two of them. Men, I would say. Young men, students returning, perhaps. Their laughter was loud, raucous, almost maniac. Maniacal like hyenas. They were close. There was a chaos to their merriment, something had been let loose. The sound echoed down the road, bouncing off the terraced houses. They couldn’t speak, just this guffawing, this explosion of glee.
It is natural for me to serve. Not to be subservient, but to attend, to care, to prepare, to make order on others’ behalf.
‘It’s not what you do everyday but the thoughts you live with.‘ I heard this quote on the radio this morning. It was from a novel called Reef. I cannot remember the author.
My love affair with the radio continues. Documentary maker Cathy Fitzgerald talking on Telling Tales late yesterday morning about how she centres herself before an interview. ‘I feel my feet on the ground, smell the air around me…..’ I paraphrase her, but it was about being present, really present ready to engage fully in another person and their life. I know this. I know this way of being. It is deeply immersive, almost intrusive sometimes. I fall in love with my interviewees, she said.
I didn’t write yesterday. I just read it. I needed to do it. It needs a lot of work, it is still a jumble but not yet. Write it out first. It is a juggernaut. A massive task. More reading today. Write at the weekend. When I am ready to begin again.
Some of the gloom has lifted but I still look for the signs, it may come. Will I be stronger then?
It’s been almost a week. I’ve missed writing this. The off-loading-ness of it, the ordering of, the making it mine.
She’s been lobotomised. Well, partially at least. Poor love. My poor little laptop. She holds my world, or at least the written part of it. Some writers prefer to write by hand, pen or pencil on paper, Joanna Trollope does on her kitchen table. And I heard Paul Merton say on the radio that he doesn’t own a computer. Just for a moment I thought what bliss that would be but I know that I write best this way. Here, on this machine.
I’m trying to get her back, to make her recognisable to me again. Slowly. Breathe.
I made scribbles on post-it notes, such as the man I saw early one morning wearing a black t-shirt inscribed with the words: Still European. And that fact that I saw a shooting star. It was that cloudless morning a few days ago and I thought wouldn’t it be amazing if I saw one and there it was, falling, a white flash, gone in a blink, before me. It’s a comet, isn’t it? he said when I told him later. I’m not sure, I replied, aren’t they major events, like Halley’s Comet? Isn’t it a star, a planet falling? We agree to disagree, both aware of our ignorance. Do I have to know it to appreciate it? I think not. And there was my dream. My dream of shoes. They were pale brown patent leather brogues with laces. Shiny. I’d just bought them and kept thinking I’d lost them and had to keep checking the plastic bag. Then I thought I might have bought the wrong size. I read the label. 4:30 it said. Time, I know but in my dream world it made perfect sense. Surely they were too small. I panicked and took myself back to the moment I’d tried them on. They had fitted.
The dream dictionary states that dreams about buying shoes suggests that you want to change your life.
In my dream last night there was a black canvas hovering in my peripheral vision. No, not hovering but fixed on the wall to the right of me. It had been punched out in the middle, exposing the white of the plaster behind.
I’d been talking about my bleakness to him the evening before, well, trying to articulate it and struggling. Is it better to let it be or try to understand what it is about? A nameless fear, that follows me, not like Robert Bly’s black bag but a shadowy thing, like the canvas just to the right of me. Sometimes it is fixed to things, to ideas, issues that unsettle me. Today it is the letting go of my laptop, my tool, my helpmeet, my connection to this and my other writing. It is good to have a break, I know this. It’s creative, he said. Yes. But I am so fearful of not knowing ‘her’ ‘it’ when it is returned. How will she be changed? It’s like having a lobotomy, everything erased so that you must start over without the experience or knowing. But it must be done. She needs looking at, tending to. And then it is the diet thing. The becoming vegan and eschewing all things dairy. He was trying to be kind but I was thrown. I can’t bring myself to eat it. He is happy to pass it on to a friend. He’ll have it, he said. And then there is the expense of it. Buy organic, she said, and don’t use skin care products with petro-chemicals in them. Certainly, I said. I shan’t. But they cost a bomb. How do we manage the extra expense? It’s just a question of adjusting, getting used to the new regime. All will be well, soon. And then there is the writing – that takes me to a bleak place too. Dare I say it, write it? Will it hurt? Just write your 1,000 words a day, he said, and don’t think too much about it. OK.
So it’s bye for now, well for a few days. A bientot.
It was a good suggestion. Take stock, he said, read it back, perhaps make a few changes, not the words but the order of things. It was a good suggestion and I appreciated that fact that he not only read it but thought about it too. We talk about the process of writing a lot. It is the same with all creative things, doing things (he usually allies it to playing sport) that getting oneself up to doing it, to bringing something out of nothing. It is difficult and I’ve done all sorts of delaying things this morning already, like mending one of my bodies, doing my accounts, writing emails, chasing payments and buying some eye cream. I just need to get on with it, especially since my laptop will be away being serviced for several days. I ache with the idea that I cannot write and yet I want to run a mile from it. Such is the human condition, I fear.
Still windy this morning, few people about. The woman with the bag was ahead of me walking towards South Marine. And a man in white tracksuit stepped out of the Prom shelter and strode towards the Bae Guest House. He wore flip flops on his feet. (I forgot to write about the lad I saw carrying his girlfriend’s shoes the other day, they were red platforms. She walked ahead of him in her bare feet towards the bus station.)
I’m waiting. And I long for the escape from it. I dreamt of a famous actor, though when I knew him he wasn’t so. And of airports and being lost and then being found and staying in other people’s houses and thinking we’ll I could just go home. But what or where was home?
I get in such a flurry over doing new things, however small. I fret that I’m not doing it right, or that it will make a mess (in my increasing dotage I do struggle with this – hardly artistic material eh?). Saturate the wool cloth, the instructions read, then wrap the heat source in a plastic bag, then sit for an hour holding it against you. I watched TV drama as I did it, though the instructions suggested meditation. One thing at a time. I thought about my innards as I sat there. Am I doing them some good, are they happy about it? Might they be smiling? What with this, and the body brushing and the diet sans dairy I shall be a new woman. I’m such a routinous person that I do get thrown, too easily when I have to change it. And things aren’t right, just yet. Does my body miss milk, yoghurt, cheese? It hasn’t had butter for years. Will I thrive as a vegan? Some would say yes, others no. We shall see. Does change do you good?
We’re on Cranford at the moment, stopping it every few minutes to go over a beautifully crafted scene. It is glorious, though we know it inside and out. How relaxing it is go over the familiar. We are the same with this, thankfully. And Mr Holbrook’s courtship of Miss Matty was so gentle, so measured. The flowers, the book of poems, the letters. So poised, so slow.
He said that it was a shame I knew nothing of sport and that I couldn’t appreciate what something like the Ashes meant to him. He is right. I do not. But I think it is good to have some elements of ourselves that we don’t share, perhaps don’t even understand. It keeps a mystery, something to surprise at times. Besides, what is, is.
I do struggle with what I am writing. All those sensations of disloyalty. Am I hurting anyone by getting it down? I put in all the caveats. This my account and I am not claiming any particular truth for it. He sees what good it is doing me. And it is. A purging. A necessary purging if only to get to the other side. Maybe I will have nothing else to say. I could rest then and plan a garden. Yes.
He came home with damsons and gooseberries. I was cock-a-hoop. I love soft fruits. I love them stewed. No sugar, just water. I love their tartness, that alive-ness on the tongue and in the back of the throat. He is a star. And just when she told him the ‘fruits were over’. See.
A rain shower. And then another just now that has leaked water into one of my pictures. Two little puddles sitting in the bottom of the acrylic casing. Will it evaporate? My fault. Leaving the skylight window open. Taken by surprise by the downpour. He’s gone out in it nevertheless. We watch two of our neighbours return from their daily walk. He always strides ahead of her. She trails behind. There is no touching, no hand-holding. She knocked on our door once to ask if we could run the washing-machine a little later in the morning, that the noise was disturbing her. I was mortified. So sorry, I had no idea you could hear it. That was when we had the old machine that rattled away during the spin cycle, sounding like a something was going to explode. The new one is quieter. Would six be OK? I asked. She looked uncertain but hasn’t knocked since. How long did it take her to pluck up the courage to come round and say something?
There were globes of multi-coloured fairy lights still lit behind one of the houses along South Marine this morning. They have built a small roof garden that looks down onto the harbour. The lights twirl around a wooden canopy. What a cheer in the dark morning.
I never what to write. Oh, I’d rather do anything but. Nevertheless, once I am in it the story will take me in, take me over. And I am curious where it will take me today. Coffee first. A bientot.
You may not value it but you’re a good housekeeper, he said during supper last night. But, I do value it. I have accepted it as an important part of my, no our, daily life. Housekeeping calms me. I like the order that it gives our life together. It is a gift I can give to him and to myself. It is not nothing, it is something. The endless lists, the meals planned, the washing and ironing done, the mopping of floors, it is all part and parcel of a rhythm of living, of existing, it sees us through. No, I don’t bring in much money, I never have, it is not something that drives me, though the safety of it is always nice. (A line from Joni Mitchell’s Boho Dance sings in my head: ‘Jesus was a beggar he was rich in grace’.) My existence is small, and when I am gone it will be gone too like a wisp of smoke, unremembered, unimportant. And that is OK. I like this falling away. I think about the things I can begin to let go. All those images of past work, let them go. I no longer need them. And my work. It is important and it is unimportant. It is like the housekeeping, a necessary act of doing that can be forgotten as soon as it is done. A modest life. Modest. Small. And it is OK. I have done this well, this marriage, this love, this care.
She turned and smiled at me, and said goodbye. Usually a rather hard-faced girl, moody perhaps. I don’t know. But yesterday, after I’d touched him on the arm and thanked him and said he had a lovely voice, that’s when she smiled at me, acknowledging my presence. What a turn up for the books. It was nice.
He has a friend that we see walking up and down the hill. A childhood friend, a once close one. The same age as him. He is a small man with a big head. He lives alone now that his parents are dead. He walks everywhere, seeking company. He goes into town for breakfast, porridge and a latte, and reads Dickens. He had two on the go. I don’t know what his voice sounds like. I’ve only seen him, never spoken. They were great mates once. He left here for a short time but soon returned and never left again. There are many like that in this Welsh town, homebirds, homeboys unable to leave, not because of the beauty but the familiar, the safe, the mother’s milk of it.
A blowy morning. I walked under the light of the moon. I saw the woman with the bag for life though she was sans bag. Music pumped out of the Pier, kids shouted.
He didn’t get wet.
Another cup of tea and then some sewing. I’ve a quilt to get on with. My gift to him that is a long time coming.