The Coopers’ Arms

Tanum, Christmas

The Prosecco gave me a headache. I had nothing. Not even a glass. Almost immediately, my head throbbed. Toy drinker, he used to call me. Toy drinker. I woke up grumpy, bear-headed. New year’s resolution, no more drink.

I called them. Just to make contact, to touch. She seemed pleased. I could see her, in their kitchen. All that warm wood, the smell of cooking, the bottles of pills, Stella, the dachshund, nails skittering on the tiles. How many are you having tonight? I asked. Just seven, she said, Nils and Anna Lise are in America. What will you cook? I asked. Rype, she said. Yes, I said, recognising the word. I can’t remember what it is in English, she said. I know they have it in Scotland. It’s a delicacy in Norway. They hunt it in December. The wealthy serving it up prior to Christmas. Small birds, a rich, gamey meat. And what will you cook? she asked me. Pancakes, I said. He wants pancakes. Later, as we walk I remember. It’s not ptarmigan but grouse. Rype is grouse.

I called her too. I’ll come soon. I say. When? she says. Spring, I say. Spain? she says.

The gloom that has assailed me for the last week is lifting. But even in the midst of the gloom there is joy. Always. The other day it was the sight of the late winter sun catching the side of a magnolia tree. And seeing the buds. He watched a bird through his bedroom window. She was trying to wrench a large twig from a tree, he told me. Are they building nests already?

He says, “I’ve been going to church…..I don’t pray. I don’t stand up or kneel. I don’t sing. I just sit there, a few times a week, in a back pew……It’s pretty plain….It’s quiet. It has atmosphere, even this crummy old church. I just sort of sit there wondering if something will… arrive.” (The Snow Queen, Michael Cunningham)

I think I might go again on Sunday. It isn’t the Abbey. That’s for sure. But there is silence, a stillness. I will try it. Something might arrive.

Walking at 5.00 am, and I’ve just kicked the bar. A young lad lurches towards me wearing a short sleeved shirt. It’s barely 2 degrees. Excuse me, he asks, I’m looking for the Coopers’ Arms. He is swaying and can barely keep his eyes open. He hiccups as he talks. Oh, dear, I say, it’s the other end of town. Really, he replies, downcast, I’ve been walking around for the last half and hour looking for it. I give him the directions, walking part of the way with him. Thank you, he says, still hiccupping.

Then I am on the Perygyl. Perygyl the Welsh word for danger. We call it that. A wooden slatted walkway built over the sea. It’s almost 5.30 am and still pitch. As I walk a car’s headlights are switched on. They catch me, making my shadow bleed black down the Perygyl. I think I hear a voice calling. I continue walking, head down, watching the motion of my shadow as I do so. The wooden slats are wet, I walk slowly, gingerly. I have fallen before now. I reach the end and turn back. Then a figure is before me. I catch my breath. A shock of fear runs through me. Breathe. Can I help you? I ask. A soft voice, Irish. Sorry, he says, I was looking for a girl. Then I’m not her am I? I say, not bitterly, but kindly. He turns and runs away. I hear a car door close. The rolling of tyres on sand-ridden tarmac. The beam of light turns a semi-circle. Then black.

Up past the castle and I see that The Angel is still open. Small gatherings of bodies stand around outside in the semi-light. Voices are slurring, there is a stink of beer, stale and warm. A lad with a girl in a short pink dress and fake mink stole, go back inside, ducking their heads through the doorway. The pavement is littered with streamers from those champagne bottle shaped poppers. I come upon not one but two pairs of American Tan tights, ruched-up and strewn across the tarmac.

Walking home along Llanbadarn Road I hear the whist whist of blackbirds and the click click of robins. It is still dark.

Later in the coffee shop, Pete comes over. It’s my birthday today, he says. And I’ve had the all clear. What from? he asks. Cancer, says Pete, bladder. Well done, we say and congratulations. It’s all down to PMS, he says, grinning. PMS? ask. Positive Mind Set, he says. He goes back to his wife. I like him, I say. Terrible teeth, he says.

I shall miss the Christmas lights. Several houses leave their tree lights lit through the night. One on St David’s Road and another on North Road. They lift me. Such gladness. Fairy lights. It has turned. January will soon run into February, then March and it will be Spring. I wish for no rushing though, I am content with these slow passing of days. I am content. Blessed, in fact. Happy 2016. May you be fresh, she said. I’m translating it from Norwegian, she said. I mean, may you be healthy. And so say I. So say I.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.