Betty has got fat. All of a sudden, it seems. She is hardly recognisable. Watch out for the cat, I said to him as he dropped me off. Where? he said. It’s just gone under the car. I think it’s Betty. It can’t be, he said. That great fat thing. But it was. She scampered ahead of me as I climbed the steps onto the walkway, as she always does, though this time she sat down in the hallway of the other block, watching me as I went past. What could have happened to her? Surely cats don’t grow fat of their own volition? Though Donnie in Cambridge did. Named after the film Donnie Darko, he was a raggedy cat, ears bitten off in fights and a great galumphing body that took several goes to get over our fence. (He took to shitting in our garden and I would screech at him from our back door and he’d hurl himself against the fence in an attempt to get away.)
I walked my whole walk today. It’s made me tired but I did it. We see lots of stroke survivors walking the Prom. Minor victories are ours, us hobblers. They drag their unresponsive legs and arms up and down, up and down, trying to grow stronger and do what they’ve always done but slower, much much slower. I think about pain, what is bearable what is not. That girl in the Life photo from the Vietnam War, naked, running screaming from the blast. She was on the radio talking about the pain of the burns, how the heat hurts her skin, even after all this time. That is pain. To have all your skin aflame.
I cried at supper. I didn’t know the grief at not being able to see them was there. He understands. And when we are sitting on his bed watching Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time (it is easy on the eye and mind) he gets out his iPad and shows me the pictures of her opening the present again. What joy she brings me. She is so open, so open to joy. And she can stand now. All on her own.
All I wanted to do was sit still. My work is about sitting still, my volunteering is about sitting still. I want to still myself and engender peace in myself and others by doing so. It doesn’t come naturally. Is it reason enough? I suspect they want more practical help. Doing stuff. I don’t think it is for me.
They burst out laughing. The radio was on in the office and they were both working away and then the laughter came. I broke their conversation. Did she mispronounce something? I asked. No, no, they said, still laughing. And they tried to explain. The presenter was wooden, apparently, though the nuances of this was lost on me being in Welsh, and she’d just used the word natural. For some reason this had cracked them up. Lost in translation, I think. Do people seem to laugh louder in a strange language?
She was on the corner as we drove past. A tiny woman, a bag of bones. Her legs were bare under her faux fur coat, as was her midriff. The coat gaped open to reveal a bra and mini skirt. Her legs were patched with bruises. She was a mess, a scrawny apology for a woman. Do you think it’s drink? he asked. Or drugs, I said. I don’t know. And there had been the man outside Marks and Spencer. I see him all the time, he said. He was digging about in the bin. His clothes, having long lost their definition were rags. He was grey, a grey indistinct mound, scrabbling. A vision out of Dickens carrying an M&S carrier bag. Do you think we see the unloved, the disenfranchised more when we are grey and gloomy ourselves? I ask him. Is our awareness heightened?
Bleak, bleaker, bleakest. But we saw the snowdrops, a great bank of them.