A Woman of no Importance

I remembered the title. It came into my head much later. Much later. A delay in memory, as is often the case when we do the crosswords over supper. Sluggish. My brain is sluggish, particularly when I am hungry.

I listened to the new radio adaptation of Miss Julie. I’ve never seen or read it. Hard to imagine what audiences of the late nineteenth century made of it. As shocking as Ibsen’s Ghosts and Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler must’ve been. And equally bleak. There was nowhere for these transgressing women to go. Death was the only option. Or self-annihilation in Nora Helmer’s case. It was beautifully done, recorded on location in some mansion in Denmark with all the echoes therein. I’m glad I listened but it was bleak. So bleak.

Sitting in the sun afterwards helped. Our ‘garden’ has been bulldozed along with all the sun-yellow weeds, insect life and butterfly life. Flattened. So we sit on our new little chairs like a couple of sunday-trippers parked up on a hillside pull-in in Derbyshire in the estate’s car park, hidden from view. We make do. Getting old seems to involve a lot of that. We talk. Yesterday it was about revenge and forgiveness, truth and reconciliation. He’s for revenge mostly, I take a more liberal view. He wants retribution for the loss of life over this virus, I want some good to come out of it. It’s good for us this though, it sharpens both our brains, I like it.

I long for the taste of things in my mouth. Yesterday it was fresh raspberries. And grapefruit juice. Shall I get you some? he asks. Get thee behind me. Leave it for another week. I want to be strong. The rice fast continues and my stomach still gnaws at me, hungry, eternally hungry. I think of that Hispanic man in Boston airport’s departure lounge taking his lunch break from working in the newsagents, opening up a tupperware and eating just rice. Cold rice. Cold white rice. Hunching over it, fork in hand, shovelling it in. And then raising his fork to great a colleague across the way from him who also had a tupperware container with what looked like pasta in it. Cold pasta, no sauce. I don’t need to do this but it makes me think. And that is enough. To know a little of hunger. We who need never go hungry. Though I have, and not always through choice. It stays with you, like the Auschwitz survivor who always carries bread in his pocket.

I dreamt of my friend. I was going to work for her, to do some teaching. I was travelling there by train but I forgot where her university was and got off at the wrong place. I asked for it when I got out and knew it was wrong. And then I was with her telling her that of course I knew all along she was in Leeds, how could I have forgotten? She was teaching pupils with Downs and it involved carrying lots of their belongings, mostly clothes. One of them was very ill, a lump on her leg. The rest is a blur, except for images of stations, of travelling, of journeying, of being on the move, trying to get somewhere. No, he says. Not yet. Not yet.

The short stories and book and the other book cook away in my head. In awe of Gaskell, I will try to push them through into life, into being. Write them for me, he says, I’d love to read them. Yes. That is enough. It is enough. All of this. Enough. A big enough life.

The sunrise was a gentle pink. The air warm. And it was light by 4.30 am. What a joy!

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.