Billet Doux - sketchbook - 1000 pix

As he talks I stare at his fingernails. They are long, like guitar players’ fingers. Long and yellowed. It’s the cigarettes. He is wearing a black cotton shirt and tufts of white chest hair protrude through the buttoned gaps. I find it awkward talking to him. I’ve never been good at small talk. And this isn’t even a party. I am just passing, on my way up to our front door. He is at his window, smoking. It isn’t that I don’t like him. There is a warmth. I can sense that he is kind. But there is a sardonic-ness to him. He deflects attention from himself by somehow making me feel a little foolish. Or am I being over-sensitive? Is it just that I don’t wish to talk, to stop, to pass the time of day?

Just pass the time of day with him, he says. That’s all. I am awkward, and I sense he is too. We ask about each others’ day. I’m busy, I say. I’m retired, he says. He says he’d like to travel. Central America. But he is grounded for the most part by his aged mother. He doesn’t say this but it is implicit. He asks, so I tell him that I’m an artist and a writer. Do I mumble it? My confidence is not as it was. He tells me his mother was an illustrator. Oh, I say. Anything Welsh, fairy stories, he says. And my daughter is an artist too. Is he dismissing me? The world is full of artists.

Why didn’t you tell him? he asks. Tell him about what? Your achievements, he says. Because, I say. Because, I don’t need to. And yet, and yet, there is still this longing to be…to be what? Recognised. To do well. To rise about mediocrity. Why, why not let it go? There is no peace to be had in such a seeking. I look her up. His mother. On the internet. They are detailed, romantic images. She didn’t begin till she was sixty. Self-taught. Admirable. She has stopped now. She is in her nineties and her eyesight is failing. She has even published an autobiography. A potent woman, I think. I know others like her. Potent.

Yesterday the air smelt like Spring. We saw crocuses on the bank. Yellow ones. Single ones pushing through. We talked about The Backs. We remembered our Sunday walks, the flood of crocuses. There is a house on Llanbadarn Road that has a lawn beset with snowdrops. What a joyous sight.

Storm Henry is stirring up the sea. A steely grey. Turbulent. Anxious. Fretful.

I dreamt of two meals. I had to attend two meals. People kept arriving. I watched them come through the door. The elderly, the young, steadily they poured in. I had to tell someone that I had to leave. I’ll tell them soon. Soon, I thought.

On Pause for Thought she talked about the philosopher A. J. Ayer. And about how he was an atheist until he nearly died. He claims he then met the Supreme Being. He’s a much nicer person since he died, said his wife. In 2012, on Desert Island Discs Sir Terry Wogan implied that he no longer believed. Kindness was his thing. And yet, the papers say that the family priest was flown in. Did he change his mind? Was it a comfort thing, for his wife? Light a candle for me, he said.

I catch a bit of Lee Hall’s radio play I Love You Jimmy Spud. Jimmy is a trainee angel trying to save his Dad from cancer. God is a bastard, shouts his Dad. He breaks his heavenly trumpet. Dad dies or does he? I couldn’t tell. I’m going to cover the world in angel kisses, says Jimmy. Angel kisses. See my feathers, they’re starting to grow, he says to Scout. I think of Mervyn Peake’s Mr Pye, having to become devilish to stem the onslaught of his wings. On earth not even angels are perfect.

You do not have to be good, writes Mary Oliver.  You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Amen.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.