Collecting Silences

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She was on a bench this time. At least I think it was her. It was dark after all. A bench on North Road, overlooking the maze, just beyond the tennis court. A figure in a duvet coat, smoking. It started to rain, quite heavily, but she didn’t move. She just sat there staring into the blackness, smoking. Does she sleep at all? I crossed the road. I wanted to leave her to her silence. It seemed wrong to force a greeting. And after all what do you say to such closed-off-ness? Hello? It isn’t enough, not near enough. A blank stare. A stare borne of not enough sleep. Not enough life. Not enough joy.

I run away with myself. I know. I know. But I feel the sadness, I always have. Other peoples’ sadness. Lame dogs my mother used to call them. Why do you always attach yourself to the lame dogs? she’d ask. Because they are the ones I understand, the ones I might be able to help, I wanted to say but didn’t have the words then. Not then. Possibly, not even now. I feel for them, for me. I know how it feels. Lame. An inner lameness. Not perfect. Not strong. Uncertain.

Why does she leave her house? Is it best to be outside when you can’t sleep, to join the world, to be out in Mary Oliver’s wind storm? Mend my life, they whisper. Buffeting wind. I clung to the promenade’s handrails as a walked, sliding my gloves along. Gust after gust, pulling at me. Lifting me, making me totter, falter. Making me vulnerable.

A story on the radio about a radio producer. He collects silences. Yes. The spaces in between the noise, the ceaseless forming of ideas of complaints of not being satisfied with just being. Is that what she is doing on that bench? Just being. Being awake. In the dark, sitting still. The same stillness of the bodies in the nursing home, a bovine, weighty stillness. Immoveable. A stubborn staring. Wilful, almost. Wilful in their now nothingness. I don’t know. The wind buffets me but not her. She sits her ground. I do not. I am not still. Still not still. Not yet still.

In my dream, I looked through a window at the wind. It was drawn, painted, big swirls of blue and brown as in a van Gogh. I watched as a train pulled into a station and all the passengers alighted. Hundreds of them and then suddenly they were lifting the train. Moving as one, joyously, easily carrying the great iron beast forward. Forward. Onward.


A man has come to mend the lamppost outside our kitchen window. It has taken several phone calls to get them to come. They say it isn’t broken. It is. It hasn’t shone in days. I miss it. I miss its yellow light, at night when I wake for a pee. The dark is coming. In the winter the Scandinavians light candles. They place them outside their houses. Candles in tins. Flares. Flames blown in the wind. Sometimes it is all you see, in the dark, in the snow. Those candles lighting your way home.

Do you sleep now?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.