Bar Code

He came back from hospital with a bar code on his wrist. Like they do with babies. A wrist tag with his date of birth, his address, his name, his NHS no. and Hospital no. Is it in case he got lost, had amnesia, or is it just efficiency? Did they scan his wrist rather than converse with it him? I remember hers. It think it might even have been pink. He wore the last wrist tag he had for days. It, they, don’t trouble him. He submits, willingly.

I listened to the last instalment of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman on the radio this morning. It left me uncertain. Scout’s rage was easier to accept than her dulled acquiescence. Her uncle ‘slaps her out of it’ and calls her a bigot because she wouldn’t listen to another person’s point of view. It takes a big person (was that what he said?) to live in the South. Oh, life. It is not black and white. Not black or white, more a grey. All those grey areas. We lay on his bed in the afternoon and talked about dying. Well, strokes really. I cannot put his mind at rest. What will come will come. There is little we can do about it. We just have more information, I said, that’s all. Living well is living with fear, I think, welcoming it in like Billie Holiday’s ‘heartache’.

Thank you sooo much, a girl is saying to her friend as they part for the night outside the late night pizza shop. So glad you had a lovely night, her friend replies. I watch them from across the road as I make my way home. The students here are, by and large, a nice bunch. I rarely think of the danger in walking in the dark, in the early hours. A man came out of the shadows by the harbour. A fisherman, perhaps. He only wore a t-shirt. A big man with big arms. I felt my hackles raise, just slightly and adrenalin begin to  pump. A boy lay on the Prom among the shale and flotsam the tides had thrown up, looking up at the sky listening to the chatter-y hum of his mates on the bench ahead of him.

She sounded better. At least a little better. Her voice was stronger. I relish the ease with which she talks to me. I am interested, I want to hear it all. She has yielded and is beginning to recover. My head is better, she said. And talked about shadows. Her doctor came out to her. A rare occurrence. She liked him better this time. He had time for her, showed compassion, interest. I haven’t made my own cup of tea in weeks, she said. They are everything to each other her daughter and her. She is making me nourishing meals, she said. A neighbour told her daughter she should be in hospital. I’m better off here, she said, baulking ever so gently at such interference, in my own bed.

The bird song was stunning this morning. I really listened, feeling it with my whole body. There’s a blackbird and is that a chaffinch? And that must be a blue tit. He read the nature column from the newspaper out loud, telling how we will hear the song thrush particularly and see wrens, those tiny little bobbing birds, fighting  over their territory from tree stumps.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.