Duffel Coat

What a time we’ve had. So much journeying. And it isn’t just the miles, its the spilling of emotion. Containing and spilling and processing. You overthink things, she says to me. And she’s right. I’d like to switch it off. It is to no purpose, it merely tenses me up. Like a guitar string, he said. Your¬†heart is like a guitar string. Did he mean its beat or its pulse or the way it sounds? I knew what he meant when he said it, though. It is too tight, too strung up. I feel much. I felt much as I held her. Scared and overwhelmed. The tenderness of her, her wanting, her need for comfort to be made safe, fed. And then arriving at her house and my very same¬†need being met. Candlelight, warmth, the smell of a cake freshly baked, soup and everything closed up against the dark. We got a little lost. We’ll I just forgot myself for a moment. I’ve walked that road so many times, how could I have forgotten? But it was nice to see the decorations. The city was resplendent. It’s because they complained last year that there weren’t enough lights, she said. They’ve made up for it this year. And she, that little one, her eyes wide open and staring at the Christmas tree. Those deep little pools. What have they seen? How is she making sense of it all? Just four days in this world. Four days and so much to get used to. We’re getting to know her, they both said. Both so tender with her. Watch those clips, he said, forcing me to peel off my dungarees. I hadn’t thought. I felt gauche, a little clumsy. He was being protective. His love, his babe. It is right that he is so. And I am glad of it. The TV on the whole time. Christmas hits. Mind-numbing jerking about in red and white. But a warm room. She in socks, so tired, spaced-out. Sorry, she said, I can’t make conversation. I don’t need you to. It’s alright. I just want to be here a little longer in this warm room with you and her. I knew she’d be a girl. It is apt. With lips like cherries, little rose-buds. She is in pain. She winces when she sits. He said she cried when I did. I don’t know. I don’t want to hurt her, unsettle her. All is well. A new life. A kitten of love. She snuffles against my neck. Trying to make sense. To find comfort. Such love, such helplessness.

Coffee after coffee. We seek the warmth, the comfort, the lift. Road after road. We must stop. I watch people. Families meeting up at the crossroads. Several generations. An elderly lady in a duffel coat. She is placed between her friends. She sits hunched over slightly, playing with her hands. She talks to herself, quietly. She’s got a little Alzheimer’s, he says. But her face brightens up when the young girl joins them. More and more relatives arrive. Chairs are moved. Musical chairs. A warm scene. And at another table, a little boy. He watched me and I watched him back. Flanked by his parents, I observed him talking to them. Always thinking, he took time to reply, measuring his responses. What was he, five, six? A big-eyed, earnest little boy. So self-contained and clearly so bright. And bullied at school, he said. No, I said.

I dreamt I was waiting for some kind of auction. It was in the countryside. I was to meet my sister there. He drove me. We passed a man in a low-slung sports car. He smiled at me. I entered the waiting room, my sister was just leaving. My sister yet she wasn’t. She was a red-head. Then a rather officious woman came over with a little pad. She wanted me to write down what I was looking for but all the pages were full with pencil scribblings. She was trying to find a blank page when I woke.

No decorations yet, next weekend I think. I’m not ready yet. Not quite.

I hope you sleep my loves. x

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.