portrait of me by Cameron 2015

A fire was still burning on the beach. I smelt it before I saw it. Just before South Marine Terrace, up on the pebbly bit of the beach. The embers were a glowing red, it had obviously been burning a while. All through the night, perhaps. Then I heard shouts, screams in the dark. It sounded like sea birds. Two figures down by the sea shore, fully clothed, paddling in the sea. One trying to push the other into the water. A woman’s voice screeching then laughing. Then silence.

The bakers are up. Both in Slater’s and the Pelican. Windows all steamed up. I think of bakers all over Europe. The ones in the Costa Del Sol and in Duras. The daily bread being made. By hand. Floury footsteps outside the shop. Delivery vans buzzing like flies. Men in aprons, made white. A radio on. A fan. An insect killer over the door. A continuum. Beyond language.

I walked under the light of the moon. That glowing white circle that always makes me catch my breath.

Walking down the hill by Alexandra Hall I heard a car. It was coming fast, skidding into a curve, burning tyres then stop. A side window taped up. Spoilers. Two lads. Let it be.

There is a Thomas the Tank Engine train shed in the window of the Charity Shop and two ceramic hen-shaped egg containers that make a heavy scraping sound when you remove the lid. He said you should never keep your eggs in the fridge.

She’s burst into tears. She’s been holding it in. Then I called. It was about a dog. A dog had died. That night. Last night. I can’t always hear what she is saying. It’s the phone, she must hold the mouthpiece to near to her face. Her voice is often muffled. It’s a dog. Her neighbour’s dog, it died. A sheepdog. Sixteen years old. It was called Jet. She used to look after it when her neighbour was away ‘gallivatin’. She apologises for crying. As a girl I even cried when the chickens died, she says and then laughs. But there is something more. Something her neighbour said to her. I can’t make it out. Need to leave it, she says, until it all cool’s down. She is a tender soul. Thin-skinned. The world hurts her. It doesn’t mean to but it does. What can I say to comfort her? I’m out walking, she says, where I used to walk with Jet. It just reminds me, she says, when I lost my own. Death up death. The loss of it all. That dog was a hundred and twelve, he says.

Some days I just feel raggedy. Nothing fits.

Driving home from our afternoon walk we see the homeless man. He must’ve been in the Services, he says, he’s always so well wrapped up. He is referring to his neatness, the way everything is packed away into his rucksack. When we holidayed on the Broads, he continued, there were some Navy lads on another barge. It was immaculate. And they always had someone on watch at night. Twenty-four hours, he said, even on holiday. It’s ingrained, he says. You can’t shake it off, even on holiday. He never begs, the homeless man, never. Self-contained. What is his story? Why does he stay here? He sleeps to the sound of the sea.

The chiropodist chattered away to him about her father. A continuing saga of a much-loved man with Alzheimer’s. She was having tea with him in his kitchen, he tells me. Her father was looking around the room. I don’t think much of your décor, he says.

The sky is milk. A breeze rustles the conifer.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.