They stack up, all those happenings that I want to commit to memory. To capture on the page, just in case. In case of what? In case I forget? Forget the richness of this life. The richness of its detail. Like today, this morning. Seeing a girl in a white dress, the white so sharp against the black of the early day, flashing stark as she ran down the steps. It is an acknowledging of minutia that I may lose amongst the caught-up-ness of my daily life. They stop me still, if only momentarily, these things and that is good. To be still. To pay attention.
She came in on Saturday morning. Just for five minutes, visibly relaxed in a grey velour leisure suit, she came in to talk about Donald Trump. It is either Trump or Putin these days, she’d said, laughing. Such nice people, she’d said, her ever so subtle American voice turning wryly ironic. Now I’m off to make waffles for the family, she’d said afterwards, taking off her headphones and shaking out her hair. I felt a pang. One Christmas she’d brought me home-made shortbread.
I found it by accident. A story. A children’s story on the Radio 4 extra’s category list. Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden. I have a vague recollection of it from childhood. Had I read it at school. Lovely. A lovely story. Just like National Velvet, which the radio also inspired me to borrow it from the library. Children’s books written by adults who write for all. For themselves, for the child within. Velvet and Carrie are such bold girls, fiery and passionate girls, but kind too. Their lives are transformed, they are empowered. I am humbled. Humbled by fiction as I am by life.
It was quite a noise. It took me a while to work out where it was coming from. High up. High up in one of the student rooms above the Promenade. The window was open to the night. She was shouting rather than singing. Her voice straining, forcing out the sounds. After she’d finished there was a pause, a silence before I heard her say, I really like that song.
Small things and large, impossibly important things. A tube of Bonjela on the ground, squeezed out. Snowdrops, little clusters beginning to appear, and daffodils. A fingernail on the floor of the toilet in the Harbourmaster Hotel, perfectly severed. The flies circling the ceiling of his attic studio. The cold, the dust, the armchair with the union jack. Making coffee to create warmth. Feeling gentle towards him. Wanting it to be alright for him and for me. And him, reading the paper in the armchair. And the flies, buzzing. The pictures looked pristine. I remembered. All those years ago the lights, the reflector, and him clicking his fingers, nervous energy pumping. Other sights. A group of students climbing into the children’s playground in the dark. Up to no good, my mother used to say. Up to no good. And the ship lit up like a fairground just out from the sea line. The lights too big for its size. What was it? I asked him at breakfast. What could it have been? A dredger? It looked like a toy ship, or one of those in an animated film, the scale awry. All out. All out. Small things, big things. The chiropodist telling me about her Red or Dead shoes and her father with Alzheimer’s. I can’t run in them she says. And he? He is getting worse. Though I gave him a little sherry at Christmas and he was good as gold. Good as gold. I shouldn’t have, I know. Good as gold. And big things. Someone on the radio telling the story of Rabbi Maximillian made a saint. Rabbi Maximillian in Auschwitz who surrendered his life for another. Rabbi Maximillian who offered to go into the room with the others in place of man who clung to his wife. Rabbi Maximillian who went into the room with the other men with no food or water. Rabbi Maximillian who was the only one who didn’t die but took the pill willingly when the prison guards wanted the room emptied. Gone. All gone. Clean away. To yield to the inevitable, to accept, to walk towards one’s end, that is true stillness. True grace.
I prepare for next week. And a calmness comes over me.