Wood Pigeon

Wherever we go there are wood pigeons. Here, in Spain, I even remember them from boarding school. I love their call. I’ve heard people via the radio complaining about it. I love it. That woo, woo. That coo, coo. We give them names, like Woodrow (Woody) Wilson and Wilma. Alliterative, childish, silly names. Our code. Our restricted code. There are a couple that perch on the trees outside our bedrooms. The bird song is getting more insistent, the warm weather and lighter (oh, joy) mornings must be making a difference. I hear it when I walk. The blackbirds especially. Such a hopeful sound. I am walking better, not so tired, not so lethargic. I take on three hills. Good for you. Good for the arse, the thighs. Go on do it. Faster.

She sounded terrible, bless her – scared, sad, defeated. I got so ill, she said, I had to go to the doctor. I haven’t made myself a cup of tea in a week, she said. It’s hard to yield, I understand that, you feel like the whole of life, the life you’ve been holding together by the skin of your teeth will crumble if you do. I understand, I say. I am just the same. But sometimes you just have to, your body insists. It needs rest. I like it when she says my name. I’ve been phoning her now for what, seven years? And it was tricky at the start, she was so shy, so reserved, so withdrawn. But now, she says my name, acknowledging me as someone who cares, who is interested. And I am. I’ve never met her but I like to picture her. She who loves those dogs who stray into her parlour from the farm up the road, and the cat who sleeps in her shed. She who grows green beans and patiently awaits her daffodils which come later then the ones here because she is so much higher.

My poor man. He too gets scared. Don’t we all? A small blip and he is spinning with fear. The doctors become a lifeline. He wants to be told it’s going to be alright. Fair enough. I feel his spinning. It is getting me in the gut. What next? He flies off the handle so easily. It can’t be easy being in his head. Be kind. Be compassionate. Don’t react. Let it be. Be steady for him.

I thought about my book as I walked. I don’t see the whole yet. Just snippets, as I said. There was a book I read years ago about a series of photographs this woman found of her ancestors and near family. She created a narrative around those photos. I think about Mum and her mother. And the photographs she had on her wall of her. She does the same. They were so absent and yet the photographs belie that fact. See she was there all the time, they say. Their presence, their pride of place states this. And she was so beautiful, my grandmother. The sun shines in her face, from her face in those black and white photographs. Who has them now? Probably she does. She has claimed most of the manifested memories. I understand, that is not a judgement. The absence is too painful to show, let’s mask it with untruth. And yet, untruth sounds harsh, more a kind of re-telling. I don’t remember the photographs of my maternal grandmother being in any of our family homes, they seemed to appear only when she went to Spain. Was it nostalgia, a longing that was being expressed? She never articulated such things. There is so little to go on. I will be writing absence. A land of absence. A land of absent mothers.

We are off soon – a long drive to see his consultant. He seems sanguine – willing to give his body over to the knife. I seem to be watching from behind glass.

I think about that little house. Does it miss me?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.