Stress and Strain

You won’t have to stress and strain, he told me, all those years ago in that upper floor flat somewhere in South London. And I don’t. I have a gentle life. It isn’t what I expected. I try to accept it’s quietness, it’s lack of moment, it’s subtle ebbing. Acceptance is the answer, I know this. All that hankering after something other, something imagined, something seemingly exciting, glamourous only causes pain. This is where I am. This is the work I have to do, the life I have to lead. So be it. He meant it kindly. He thought it to be gift. After all, who wants to stress and strain? And yet, it is what I believed I would do. I thought I would have to work hard. To strive. To reach for something. I always have. I’ve always worked hard, sometimes more than I had to. To prove myself. To feel worthy. People say it like that. I work hard, they say. The subtext being congratulate me, I have earned my place in heaven, I am a grafter, a worker. I shine with it. And here am I in this unnoticeable life where nothing much happens except care, a looking-out-for each other, a conversation, a watchfulness. We trundle along, he and I, like that train that chugs out of Aber into the wide world. Reluctant. It is a reluctant train, reluctant to leave this grey nothingness of potter-dom. And yet, and yet, inside my head there is vision. Not always, but sometimes a real insightfulness. Is that enough? I miss the idea of work. The escape of it. The seeming puritan-ethic-worthiness of it. And yet, I am so tired. Dog-tired. Carrying myself, carrying him. I want escape. Will it come? Can I have it? Truly?

Ah, the sun. It came yesterday and lit up my room. My room of my own. My precious studio. My room where I read, write and make. It makes the windows appear dirty, it shows up their murkiness. But I don’t mind. I love its warmth, its white light. I stand there in the halo of it, emptying myself into its heat.

I think of him before I go to sleep. The man in the red and black sleeping bag. I wish him warmth. I think of her with her breast cancer and wish her well. I think of her with her broken ankle and wish her strength and a repairing of bones. I think of her still grieving for her sister and a son who won’t talk and wish her peace. And I think of him, as always, and wish him sleep.

Almost 7 am and still pitch outside. My daffodil plant has one bud, a peek-a-boo of yellow. A something like joy even in this tunnel. I am nervous about speaking to her today. I don’t want to open it all up. Don’t then, he says. Cancel it. But I can’t, I know the benefit of it. Deep down. It all has to be lived through. Doesn’t it?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.