Some words immediately evoke memories. Unbidden they come in. Annexe. It was a crossword clue. The annexation of a country, I think. I remember it as a word that I didn’t know painted on a sign. A sign on a door. The annexe. The ante-room, the adjoined room. It was at my boarding school. So many unfamiliar words. Words that shouted at me, accused and unsettled. Words of command, direction painted on signs and hung on walls and doors. The annexe was a cold space, an extension to the music corridor, I think, and the tuck shop. The wind blew through it, or am I being fanciful? They made us wear long blue cloaks. I was grateful for them. Where did all those clothes go? She showed me a photo of a little black velvet jacket she’d had when she was four. Her mother had kept all her clothes from all those years ago. Is that a sign of love? Another word was stiletto. No stilettos to be worn in this building, read the sign. I went to boarding school in the early 70s. Were girls still wearing stilettos then? And then I discovered it was also the word for a knife. I can recall learning to read in primary school, the mystery of the shapes before me. My finger tracing them, wanting to understand. Do I understand much more fifty years on? No, sometimes I think I understand less, much less.

It was a good day yesterday. A warm and sunny day. She was all smiles, her head characteristically leaning slightly to one side. A joy. A joy to be with them both. A warm friendship, much much good will. The city was busy. All that shopping. I wanted to avoid the crowd, and took him down the back streets. That’s where they filmed the last scene in Persuasion. We see a woman holding a sign aloft announcing a free Jane Austen tour. She attaches herself to the end of the crocodile. We call to her, we’re going this way. But they weren’t saying anything, she said. We talk of death, of burials, of families, of shared acquaintances. The food was good. The tastes zinged on my tongue. And so much love for them and for him. A long drive, winding. I see it in my sleep, the road. The ever winding road.

The town is quiet these mornings, just a few stray youngsters. Two girls, dressed up to the nines trying to get their key in the front door of The Cardigan Bay guest house. Exposed thighs and high heels. One had on a gold lame jacket. She swayed as her friend fiddled the key in the lock. Should I go and help? Then later, walking towards the station I hear laughter. Three girls are sitting on the ground by the empty taxi rank. Legs splay. Two wearing white stilettos. Heels almost five inches long. They hush each other as I near. A taxi pulls up.

I’ve caught a cold. A cold in my chest. He says its my insistence on keeping a window open at night. I can’t not. I love the air coming into my room. The contrast of cold and warmth. But when I awake it is austere. I shiver. I am weepy too. For silly reasons. Too much in my head. We talked well. Things felt arranged, safe, ordered. Only to unravel today. Life is a messy business. He said they’d had a leak in their basement. I was surprised. Other people’s lives always seem so perfect.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.