Small Fry

Patience Gray has cheered me. At work from 6.30 am on a grey wet Sunday morning and she gives me the Mediterranean. But it isn’t just the warmth, its the detail. The detail of how she lived, worked and cooked. I soak up her rhythm, slowly like the dried chickpeas in the pignata pot. She reduces life down to the minutiae, which is, in reality, enormous in consequence. She notices, pays attentions, takes time. And I, in turn, as her reader, do the same. My sorrow is lessened. Still lost, I am a little found, by her, by the gentleness of her rural experiences. She makes me want to form the ‘little ear’ pasta, that she claims is too fiddly for the uninitiated. I want to cook dried beans for four hours doing embroidery while I wait. I want the domestic life she writes of, its focus on a few ingredients, its making the best of, its white-washed pared-down-ness. I want to be held, contained, and in the sun.

Yesterday was grief-filled. I reach a wall and the blackness descends. And I can’t move forward or back. He talks to me. Quietly, calmly knowing the drill. All your life you’ve had this, he tells me, assures me. All your life. It is nothing new and yet each time it feels like it is. Have I learnt anything? Am I any stronger for my experiences. He lists my merits. Talks of love, of being a good wife. A wife. She was that. A good housekeeper he called her, whilst ruing that fact that she would no longer share his bed. He spat it out. Another friend of his, called them drones. It is hard to value such things, and yet reading Patience Gray I find that I do, really. I seek it. I seek the simplicity. The serving. The service. I calm down with the detail. Looking in close. I can do that, it is the bigger picture, the whole world staring down on me, that is what quells.

I go out into the world tomorrow. You’re just going to try it out, he says. Try it out, perform in public, on the tube, in stations. And I suddenly feel self conscious. Particularly about performing in the National Gallery. How would you feel if you didn’t do it? he asks. Shit, I say. There you are. I have no choice. We can cancel it. Go another time. You are not well, he says. No. I must see it through. There is a chance. A chance for joy, some kind of yes, some kind of success. I will not know unless I try it. I just feel adrift, unsafe. Ungrounded. The domestic roots me. I know it. My hands know it. I have always needed it to be so. And yet, I know so little. She talks through the making of pasta. How lovely. I would like to try that. Repetitive, forming. The delicacy of lace making. Taking time. You have time, he says. You can do what you want, he says. Yes, but what do I want? Dylan Thomas in the film being a shit. A shit to everyone. Believing he’d lost it. I haven’t written anything for ages, he bemoans. He drinks, he whores around. Don’t leave me.

I will try it all. I will be brave. It is just a trial. A trial. The reality is in the detail, the noticing, the caring, the kindness, the loving. I know this. Do you?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.