It was a crossword answer. I couldn’t get it. Extinction, death seven letters and it began qu. What a beautiful word for a seemingly unenviable state. Wipe out, end, final, zilch, nothing, nada. The end. Quietus. Just quiet. Imagine that. Just quiet. I long for it, and it is within my grasp daily but I cannot allow myself to take it, to be in it. I stood for a moment, duster in my hand and listened to the birds in the trees outside. Do they know how beautiful they sound? Do they know the joy they bestow? And would such knowledge affect their singing? Quietus. There wouldn’t even be birdsong. Would I mind? No. The idea of nothing, the nothingness of absolute peace is bliss to me. The end of anxiety, this endless anxiety that saps the soul from me. And yet, in between, in the small spaces in between the eternal fretting there is something like knowing. It is enough at times. See to the details, I tell myself and let the bigger stuff take care of itself. As it will. It inevitably will.

I go to bed early. 6.30 pm if I am lucky. I need to. Even then I only get six and half hours. I need eight. One in the afternoon, perhaps an hour and half and then I am well and strong. Sometimes work calls like they did last night. She was so embarrassed. Were you sleeping? Oh, I am so sorry.  It’s fine, I said, not wanting to draw too much attention to my singular habits. It shatters me though, that being woken from sleep, even though it was only 8.30 pm. Hardly late by most people’s standards. Sometimes my oddness feels good, other times I am shy of it. Wanting to keep it under wraps. Just lie, he says. But I don’t want to. Lying is not good. A denial of good truth. Can’t people take the truth if it is given kindly? And then, just after I put the phone done the banging started.

I couldn’t make it out. In my grogginess it sounded like crashing, or some object being smashed. But it kept on happening. A crashing then a kind of spattering, shaking sound like metal ball bearings being rattled in a tin. Then it came, in my semi-waking-ness it came to me. Chinese New Year. They were fireworks being set off, no doubt by the cluster of Chinese families who live in our Llys. That made it OK. I was glad they were celebrating their special day. Glad that they felt able to. Sleep came then. Precious sleep.

My walk was lovely this morning. The air was fresh but not too cold. No rain and little wind. I walked to music. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. There was no moon, the sky was dark, thick black. I saw stars. And as I walked back from the harbour Nina Simone began singing I Love You Porgy. Sublime.

We bickered. He couldn’t get the IPad to work and it made him tetchy. I was embarrassed and tried to sssh his anger. It made him worse. It was too public. I was on show. We were on show. They all knew us. Oh, you’re the lady who comes and sews. It was all a kerfuffle. She worries that there is nothing for me to see, to participate in. It was non stop.  Such a palaver just getting the residents into the lounge for lunch. Two needed hoists. Others required wheelchairs, ‘prams’ as he calls them or an arm for support. They all shuffle. Everything takes an age. One lady was eating porridge when I arrived. It took her all of two hours. I’m ninety-two, I heard her tell one of the staff, and I never tell a lie. In between sucking her porridge she fretted over her bus pass. No one’s stolen it, the staff member said, it’s in your bag, and besides there are no buses today. Not today. A paramedic came to look at her chest. Not in here, let’s get you back to your room. This involved a hoist which had to be wheeled in. It lifted her off her chair and suspended her in mid air before dropping her into a wheelchair. The straps of the hoist rucked up her jumper revealing the flesh of hips, stomach and breasts. So tender. So pink. Shades of womanhood still present in the curve of her hips, the slope of her breast, yet gone. Empty, emptied. A quietus of sexuality. Her chin covered in hairs while her wedding finger still shone with diamonds.

It is hard to witness. I watch and find deep compassion in the watching. There go I, my loves, in you, in you and in you. Some stare at me, their eyes blue with curiosity and never to be articulated questions. He is kinder than I. He sits with them, holds their hands. I merely bear witness. Is it enough? Is it ever enough?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.