White Sage

I thought at first that she was lighting a roll-up. It looked like one. That thin roll of paper-wrapped tobacco with a twist at one end. But no, it was sage. It’s white sage, she said, I get it over the internet. And then she showed me one. It was a leaf, grey-white, dried and hard. You just burn it, she said, lighting the end, and waft it about the room. I’ve grown accustomed to the smell. It’s quite pungent at first. Is it about cleansing? I ask. It purifies, she says. And yet it is such a rum, earthy, grassy almost salty kind of smell.

Nature’s perfumes are not ours. Though I love them all, both hers and ours. They threaten to rid the world of sprays, of atomisers. I understand the planet has to be saved, though I suspect it is we that are in danger not her. She will regenerate. We perhaps will not. If they do I will miss the perfumes. I love beautiful smells (though their beauty I own is subjective), associative smells. The coffee I put in the jug long before necessary because I want the kitchen to smell of it. The bread smells from the bakeries in town as I walk by. This morning the air by Pier Pressure smelt of marshmallows and toffee apples. Usually it is fried chicken.

Shall we cross the road? I suggested.

I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to go home. I’d been unravelled, I felt timorous, unsteady, unsafe. I didn’t want to talk.

She saw us. He saw us. She was all smiles. The two of them with their shared first initials. She has shrunk, gone thin. He looks the same, always with that hat on, no matter the weather. Both have sticks now. She seemed pleased to see us. And looking so fit, she said, grasping my upper arm. He kissed her cheek and I felt moved to do the same. A wave of compassion for her swept over me. She has to manage so much. I haven’t been well, she said, I had to go into hospital. Who looked after him? I wanted to ask. He is losing his memory. He walks and manages to get home again but they are going, his wits are going. He’s forgotten you, she said. We smile and he smiles. Is he used to her upfront-ness? She keeps it together, clearly. She used to be his secretary, I believe and him a once eminent physician. What’s it all about? All that respect, all that reverence and importance, gone. Now he’s just another old man wandering about town. She holds it together, just but the strain is beginning to show. They used to have a big house, now they live in a tiny cupboard of a flat, just like we used to have. We’re still looking, she says. But I suspect there isn’t the will, the energy to move again. I’m glad we stopped and sorry for my initial reluctance. If I open I am rewarded, that is clear.

We sat in the sun on a bench on North Road and talked. I need to make some physical representations of my jury. My imagined jury. I could get some Russian Dolls and affix photos of their faces, or finger puppets. I need to see them, engage with them. Hear their judgements. Which are my judgements put in their mouths. He is so good, so patient. I look for boredom, for irritation but it is not there, not really. He wants to help and he does, he does.

I sigh at the thought of the journey, the not so glamourous hotel. It will be fine. No word from her, so I must just trust. Can I do that?

The sky is misty. Seagulls are flying through it in the distance. All are still abed. Onward. Much to do. Much to do.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.