Flora, 2010 - detail(2)

You must retrench, says Lady Russell to Sir Walter Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I don’t mind it. In fact it suits my puritan soul. Cut down, deny, tighten one’s belt. We sat down and did the figures. There is enough, we are not poor but we need to retrench. It is OK to do so. Look at the richness, the inner richness of my life. I have never been happier. I am as happy as I can be.

The gym subscription is the first thing to go. And I’m not sorry. I didn’t like it. The noise, the cold, the very public nature of it. And yet, I liked the result. I am stronger, more toned and I always felt high when it was done. Phew, that’s over for this week. So, I shall walk more. Make sure I do the three miles every day and tighten my daily yoga routine, incorporate more of the core muscles poses. I can do it. I can do it for free. And no more gloom on a Tuesday and Thursday morning.

He asked me the Sunday before if I’d be happy to read one of the lessons. Yes, I said. And last week I did. I stumbled over one of the Old Testament names, Nehemiah, otherwise it went OK. The congregation is small. Six last week. I am the youngest by far. We are the insomniacs or the ones who have grown beyond children. The old man with the tousled hair stopped me as I slunk passed his pew. He wanted to talk about a funeral he’d been to the week before at the Crematorium. He stood up to talk to me. Is he from Lancashire or Yorkshire? I cannot tell. The service had been completely secular. No hymns, no readings, nothing, he said. Here’s the Order of Service, see, he said handing me a leaflet with an picture of Aberystwyth Promenade on the back. There’s a poem, but it’s not religious. I tried to read it but didn’t have my glasses. He was clearly put out. When his son died they had a lovely service at St Michael’s, he continued. I didn’t know what to say and muttered something inane about people coming together to remember him. There were at least a hundred, he said. He had Leukemia, he said, he’d had enough, just gave up.

I think about the explorer. He was just 55. Not much older than me. He died of exhaustion. So sad. It seems such a waste, I said to him over supper. But some people need to do it, he said. Yes, I say. I understand. What was it the son said in the play about Jennifer Hope, the nurse that was murdered in Peru? She died living. He died living.

I walked before the rain came this morning. The wind was wild. A glorious force. You push into it, battling. Walking down Terrace Road I come upon two lads kicking bin bags. They are clearly drunk. One staggers into the road. They are both skinny, lean. Without coats. I walk towards them, holding my breath, ready. One of them sees me. He stands still, almost to attention. Does he say Excuse Me? I can’t remember. His voice is soft, a Southern Irish brogue. He is polite. Do you know the number for a taxi? he asks. I tell him that OW’s taxis are the only ones out at this time of the morning and then I see one coming towards us. There you are, I say, that’s them. The boys call out, waving their arms. The taxi drives past. I walk on.

I sat down after reading the lesson and promptly knocked over the coins I’d placed on the pew for the collection. Bugger, I said, just a little too loud.

My neighbour¬†was at his window smoking when I came round the corner. It gave me a jolt. I’d been lost in thought. It was 9.00 am on a Sunday morning. You’re up early, I say to him. He is usually abed at this time. I’ve a noisy sister staying, he replies, smiling wryly. I turn, my hand on the door handle. I sympathise, I say, I have one of those too. He laughs and says thank you. It isn’t true. Not really. It’s all relative, noise. I like him, but I don’t always know what to say to him. If I could crawl under his window I probably would. I not a natural at all this social stuff. Mrs Gaskell writes about the Bronte girls’ shyness. They were outside of society. Inward-looking.

Storm Jonas is battering the windows. No afternoon walk today. I had five bookings yesterday. Up and down, up and down. It is good to have the work but I become ungrounded and ragged. Then the car broke. Poor little thing, it chuggered and clunked. Something to do with a coil. No Bath visit tomorrow. I am sorry. I wanted to see them so much. So be it. It will happen. In the Spring. Hunker down, my love.

I take my sewing to work. I am learning. It is scrappy. I hide it, ashamed of its imperfections. I must see it through. It is how I learn. I am slow. Each stitch taking me nearer to a better understanding. They are not curious, thank God. I am not ready for explanations yet. Not yet. Not yet.

Rest in peace brave explorer. Rest in peace.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.