Girls in their summer clothes

A pile of foil throw-away barbecue trays was leaning against a bin along South Marine next to an empty bottle of wine that lay on the pavement disgorging its dregs. The remains of the day before. A sunny day. A Prom day. The house still remembered the warmth when I woke. I moved into the womb of it, not yet ready for the sharp cold of morning. Pockets of people still about when I walked at 3am. Mostly lads, in groups or alone, lurching, shouting or staring fixedly at their mobile phones. Embers of a bonfire glowed red on South beach. And girls, two girls, all alone coming home from the clubs in their summer clothes. That song by Bruce Springsteen singing out in my mind. The first was wearing a ruched cotton, floral top, falling off her shoulders. The other was in a striped wrap-a-around dress. Had they expected to walk home unaccompanied? Had they gone with friends? They looked sad, their shoulders hunching slightly, the one in the wrap-a-around carried her strappy sandals in her hand.

The lifeguard hut is up on the Prom. Summer has begun. And this morning bodes well. I’m dog-tired. I own it. I accept it. But I need this time, this morning time. I love its opening. The coo-cooing of the wood-pigeons, the smell of the dawn air, the blackbirds song.

How was the walk? he asks, when I go into wake him. It was OK. And how was your mind?

I tell him about it. He listens. He is so patient, tireless even in his willingness to listen to the same old, same old. Walking is good but it stirs up my thinking mind. The minute my boots are on it’s off. Trying to solve, to answer, to make good the fear, the lost-ness, the stuck-ness. I asked to remember my dreams last night. And on waking the last bit came to me. Just a flash of it, a brief memory of something bigger and far more complex. I was under a lorry. It was a big lorry loaded up with goods. I wasn’t in pain, wasn’t even fearful, I was just stuck. I couldn’t move for the weight that was on top of me. We were at some kind of a junction, the lorry and me. Did I see the white line? I heard the driver above me, shouting out to a colleague. I thought I heard mention of a school. He was obviously frustrated by the hold-up, the stagnation, the not-moving. And then suddenly, the boxes that were pushing me down, holding me trapped, began to be lifted out of the way. I could see light. And then I woke.

You’re jealous, he said. No, I’m not. Jealous isn’t the word, I said. Well, envious, then, he said. We were sitting on a bench on North Road in the sun. I’d taken off my top and trousers and was sitting there in my body. A man on a bench further down the road kept taking surreptitious glances at me. Am I jealous? I’d told him. I told him really as a way of unburdening, of getting something out so that I could look at it clearly. It’s just that she’s got it all sewn-up, I said, by marrying him she won’t have to worry about money, or what to do with herself. It’s all mapped out for her. You’d hate it, he said. I know, I said. It’s just when I’m feeling lost like this, stuck, it appears so appealing to have it all sorted out. Giving over responsibility, you mean, he said. They don’t have your freedom, he said later. I know, I know they don’t.

I could do anything. It is my choice. And the ideas come thick and fast – mostly about writing. What do I want to write? Well, I want, no need, to finish my Motherland book but I also want to write about au pairs, and this morning another title came into my head, that of The Housekeeper. I need, again, to write about my experience in Norway. And then there is a notion of something, a book, an essay about being blocked, writer’s and artist’s block. I want to write about where it takes people, what they do to stave it off, to placate it, to get through it and what happens if they never do. All this fertile stuff. Fertile seeds but with no garden to plant them in. Nothing. No place. Do I just write as I sew with no end in sight, no site in which to place them? Do I just do it because I need to and bugger it that it never sees daylight? My fear of not being good enough paralyses my every move. Truly. My arms ache with the tension of it.

Do I just wait? Acknowledge the discomfort, all that inner wrangling and wait and see? Or do I make a start, with all the awkward stumbling that that involves. It’s like the cross stitch. I’m not good at it. I make loads of errors. It brings me down, it did yesterday. Even the simplest thing….the voices say. And yet, I can see it differently. It is an experiment, the sewing is a prop for the performance. And today, it is a relief. Something mechanical, something with which I can go through the motions of working. What’s wrong with that? he says. Nothing. What? he says, I can’t hear you. Nothing is wrong with that, I say, it’s just not what I expected.

Wait. The load, as in the dream, will be lifted and it will become clear. Meanwhile, like Terry Waite in his cell listening to the World Service on that transistor radio, or Rauch in his San Quentin yard collecting his spiders, frogs and snails, just pay attention to the details. They are exquisite.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.