Alarm Clock

Ellen Bell Call Me © Stephen Lynch Photography 064

Yesterday my alarm clock didn’t sound. I kept waking up to check the time. I thought it said 2.45 am but it was 9.15 pm. The second hand was twitching but not moving. It was caught, held fast, unable to make its journey around the clock face. So, I overslept. An hour and a half. It didn’t matter. Not really. Yet, I was thrown. Something had been lost. I couldn’t go on my walk. I couldn’t stretch my legs, take in the air, visit the sea. And I woke from a dream that I wouldn’t have had. Mum as a young woman, happier than I ever knew her in life. I’ll come round and collect my things, she said to me, smiling. Yes, I said, silently asking myself, what things? I don’t have anything of hers. I was wary of her brightness, her warmth, her lightness. Kitchen things? I asked. No, its a book, she said. In the dream she told me what the book was but on waking I forgot. What was it? What was it?

We bought a new clock. Nothing fancy, nothing digital, I said. Something old-fashioned. Something with a key and tick. It was a cheap repro thing. Fake gold. I would’ve preferred white or even red. It takes me a long time to get used to new machines. I approach them fearfully, warily. And I have little patience with instructions. I want to know them straightaway, to pass speedily through that sludgy period of unknowing.

All day I struggled with the loss of those 90 minutes. My routine had been upset. I was off-keel, lopsided, adrift. Grief seeps in. It finds the gap, that space in one’s usual optimism that is left unattended, unguarded. He went to watch the rugby with a friend and I walked. Alone on the prom in the sun. It was busy. He wouldn’t have liked it. North beach was chock-a-block. There was a steel band playing, the tinkety-tonk resonating across the sand. Next to them was a Punch and Judy booth, it’s curtains closed. The donkeys were out. An orthodox Jew boy was astride one of them, as I strode past, holding the reins nervously, his ringlets being jostled by the breeze. I pushed through the slow moving gluts of people queuing for ice-creams, or clustering around benches eating fish and chips out of turquoise-blue cardboard boxes. Turning round past the castle the crowds had dispersed a little. Some were on the beach, some in the sea, others queued or sat beside The Hut drinking coffee. I don’t mind the crowds as long as I could keep moving. I saw Sam’s ‘parents’. Sam the dog, that is. He always strokes him, always has ever since he was a pup. I don’t. I’m out of the habit. And shrink a little from the intimacy it engenders. They were sitting on the same bench, sans Sam. He doesn’t like the heat, they tell us, we’ve left ‘im at ‘ome. He thinks they’re having problems. See how they sit apart, he says, heads turning away. I don’t know, I say. This time they are closer together. We smile and greet each other though I don’t stop. I keep walking. Down to the Perygyl then back to the wall. To our seat. To sit in the sun and read.

I do read. The sun is hot. I take off my trousers. Who cares? Mrs de Winter by Susan Hill. I was intrigued by what she’d do with it. The story after Rebecca. It is a grey tale. And despite the sun, the greyness began to sink in. To penetrate. I didn’t think he’d notice. Why are you crying? he asked as I got into the car.

What can I say? It’s just old grief. Just old stuff. Some days it is fine. Other it is not. The second Mrs de Winter has nothing to do. She does nothing. They do nothing except drift across Europe moving from hotel to café. They talk, they do crosswords, they people-watch, they sit in the sun, they sleep and they grow old. She thinks too much, just as I do. Just live in the present, she commands herself. Accept, acquiesce and succumb. She has no ambition for herself – she just longs to be still and find home. And me? What do I want for myself?

It worked. The clock worked, though I had a back-up alarm set up just in case. It was a tringing sort of sound. I had my walk. A drizzly one. The bodies were about nevertheless. For they are just bodies at that time in the morning. Spent. They lurch, shout, or lean against walls staring at nothing. I watch as a couple kiss, melting into each other like a form by Munch. Another pair pass me, hands held awkwardly. Strangers a few hours ago. Later, two lads run down Great Darkgate Street singing. They are in cut-off jeans and t-shirts. The shirts made wet by the rain cling to their shoulder blades. Nice beanie, one of them calls out to me, before jumping on his friend’s back.

So what of today? Any better? Look at your feet, he tells me, just look at your feet. I remember the ‘little steps’. That’s what he used to say. Just little steps. The bigness of it all is too much. What can I do now, today? I want to sort it all out. Go through it all. Sloughing it off and getting to the nub. And what if there is no nub? Today I can cope with that. Yes.

Two magpies on the roof. Two for joy, I intone silently. Joy. He bringing me sweet peas wrapped in brown paper. And night-scented stocks in the blue jug. The Archers omnibus and a pot of strong coffee. I will look back to go forward. It is what I promised I would do. Need to do. Want to do. Clear the decks, make room for something. Something. New.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.