Woodrow Wilson

Wood pigeon song dominates the mornings and afternoons. I remember it from boarding school. I’ve always found it comforting, upbeat, safe. Coo, coo. We hear it in Spain too, from the terrace. Woodrow we call him, it, them. Woodrow Wilson. There are two on the tree outside my bedroom window. A pair. A couple. Woodrow and Wilhelmina. Silly, I know, but what the hell it holds us together. A restricted code. A kind of belonging.

Inevitably, we talked of feet. I had broken my toe. It will heal, she said, but it may remain a little bent. That’s OK, so long as I can walk, stride, move unhampered, un-slowed. Then she began to tell me of a client she used to treat at the hospital. Do you remember Oliver’s Shoe Shop? she asked. Nope. I’ve only been her five years. Five years, fancy that. He was the owner, she said. You’ll be shocked, he’d told her, prior to taking of his shoes. He’d been a POW in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. His feet were in a terrible state, she said. They’d made them march and march. He’d cried, she said. The officers wouldn’t let them help those who fell, who stumbled. They were left there, to starve, to die. He’d cried, then, she said.

It’s a liminal time my walking time. That blue light between night and day. Nearing home I catch sight of man from the corner of my eye. He falls off the pavement. His arms jerk upwards. His head is looking downwards, concentrating. Fuck it! he says. A girl in a red dress walks up Penglais Hill, her heels clicking. Back in town, outside The Angel all is chaos. I walk from silence to mayhem. A jumble of platform soles, fleshy thighs squeezed into shorts, torn fish net tights, broken glass, smeared mascara, the smell of beer and perfume and shouting. They lurch and leer, ugly exaggerations of themselves.

On North Road the smell of their honeysuckle is divine.

Later, a woman is on the walkway potting some lobelias. I’m making such a mess, she says, as I step past her. It does, she says, instead of a garden.

What a dilemma, what a problem? I was moved. Moved, listening to it while making breakfast. A twelve-year-old girl, who, as a result of her father taking a paternity test, is told that neither of her parents are hers. Not biologically. Who is she? she asks. Everything turned upside down. It ends OK. She gains another family, a sister. And two names. She can switch and change. A story, a true story, about perceptions. About identity. The Other One.

And in the studio. A transgender boy with his father. A lissome, beautiful boy turning girl. Happy to be there. Happy to have it all out, out in the open. And his father, gentle, a little shy in his fleecy jerkin and big boots. The gentle being brave. Amen to that.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.