Whenever I ask her a question she begins each sentence with ‘so’. I know it is a habit that many people have picked up, not unlike the ‘you know’ that used to prevail when I was young. So many people end up doing it that you don’t notice that you are also. I like her and don’t like to criticise. He would say it isn’t a criticism but an observation. I wait for her to say it. I ask questions to fill the silence and as a way of acknowledging her presence while she scans our shopping. She mentioned her partner this morning. I hesitated to say ‘he’, who knows these days, but then she said it and so I continued. They live together, he is also doing a filling-in job until they can each begin their careers. He studied Maths, apparently. I immediately think he must be bright. Is that always the case? It’s nice to think of them starting out together. She with her curvy body and lovely soft spoken voice and a name from a Leonard Cohen song and he? Well I know nothing of him but I try to imagine him. Has he a beard? I don’t know why he would. He comes from the valleys, so Welsh then. It is a distraction thinking of other people’s’ lives. I remember that spirit of youthful optimism, where anything might be, and indeed was, possible. Is she optimistic? She doesn’t betray much enthusiasm, she is balanced, even-tempered, nice to be around. I was so brave when I was young. No, that isn’t strictly true, I took risks, certainly, sometimes and only sometimes I felt invincible. Not any longer. I tread carefully, no longer certain of my capacity to see things through. My energy is shorter-lived. But that is how it should be, I am older, much older and life is a little more daunting.

I light candles and the fairy-lights, anything to dispel the gloom. The walk was still. No one was about. I walked through the area that they have cordoned off for the ice-skating rink. The castle and the playground are alight with bright oranges, greens and blues. It is a kind of empty fairyland. It finishes tomorrow and all the Christmas sparkles come down on Sunday. Then there is January, February and March to survive. Still no lighter. It will come, Spring will come sure as day. Won’t it?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.