Almost Empty

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?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.