Yellow Pencil

She used to buy me hyacinths. The second, not the first. Hyacinths, I think they were called swibel over there, but I cannot verify this. I saw the word on a flower stall in Majorstua, I bought one for a friend. I am sure they were called swibel. She bought me single hyacinths, in a pot. I spent a week drawing them. I put them in my room on the windowsill. Even when it snowed I opened the window at night. I love the smell, even when it gets too much, too heady.

Too much. Too much to recall. As I walk I try to commit it all to memory. The broken yellow pencil on the path by the castle, just the rubber end. The globe light still lit high up in the Cambria, like yellow moon in the darkness. The metallic tick ticking of a rock pipit as I stand on the Perygyl, torch off, sensing the sea. I want to sense it, rather than know it. To be it. I make myself transparent and the sounds pass through me, the waves, the birdsong.

Seagulls circle the promenade, gliding in the air, gorgeously flashing white under the streetlamps.

I call him a boy scout. He wants to be useful, to stick his neck out. He calls about the unlit streetlamps on the Prom. Which ones exactly? he asks and I try to remember. Third, fourth, fifth and sixth from the Bar. He rings Aberaeron and asks for Doris. Doris isn’t here, a woman says, but I can help you. We all deal with the lights. She asked me to ask you which ones exactly, he says afterwards. I don’t know exactly, I say. I said you’d say that, he says.

They’re fucking wankers, shouts an Irish girl halfway up Great Darkgate Street. Her shirt has come loose from her jeans and her belly is exposed.

She was back yesterday. I was pleased to see her. My stomach gave a lurch of pleasure. I surprised myself. We have missed her. She is still in pain. I’m off the morphine, she says. Just cocodamol now. It was the sun, it blinded her and she drove into the back of another car. Oh, is that what it’s called, she said, I call it Penparcau Hill. His was a Merc, she said. He was bloody furious. I couldn’t speak. It was the shock. My trolley sets off an alarm, and tutting she hobbles over to switch the button. I am mortified. Pain makes you tut. She didn’t mean it. We are the same age, she and I. Is she bored in her job? Is it a nice to be so contained and unchallenged? I like to know what I’m going to do each day, said Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer. Her tone is flat. Emotions are cool, in check. The red-haired checkout girl in green. See, she says pointing at a badge pinned to her tunic, it arrived. Finally, she says, after all this time, they’ve got my name right.


My head is full of words, put there by literature. Words from the radio and Amanda Vickery’s Voices from the Old Bailey, words from Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs and now from Cynan Jones’s Cove. Words from the crosswords we do together. Words. I write in my head as I walk. I am trying not to. I want to be empty. To be transparent. To be emptied. The words burst like ripe blueberries in my head. Glorious, rich language. The language of the seventeenth, the nineteenth centuries. I am just a sponge. And I need to relay it, to write it out so that I can be emptied. To write it out without judgement. An observer. Caitlin Moran said something about observers in her chat with Kirsty Young. She was like a machine gun rattling away. I love to write, she says. She is not afraid. To be not afraid. To be empty. I am fed, nourished by language and yet I want to be beyond it. To feel the wind right through me, to smell the odours of the earth from the inside out, to be not separate but part of it, yet shapeless, unformed. Spirit. And Elisabeth Bishop the travelling poet. Observing. Not judging, being there but not there. So it was with Norway. I couldn’t get inside. I wouldn’t eat the food. He made me cry. I wanted the language but they wouldn’t speak it to me. I wanted in but couldn’t manage it. It was so dark. Even with the white snow. And cold. I remember his sweetshop. A grocers really but for us it was always the sweets and the big bars of chocolate with whole hazelnuts in. Adult chocolate, I thought. So grown up to be eating chocolate with whole nuts. A shy man. I remember him dying in that hospital cot, grown so small, and trying to smile.

I have words to cut. Words to cut for a workshop. Hundreds of them. A monotonous task but sometimes it is all I ask. Is it nice to be so contained and unchallenged? How can I know another’s life? How can I presume?

I prepare breakfast listening to Madame Bovary. It was boredom. Is it nice to be so contained?

My neighbour is still awake as I set off on my walk. I hear his cough before I open the door, and the radio. Later, he will cook bacon, its smell pervading through the floor boards, up into the bathroom. He stands at the window coughing and smoking into the still night air. It looks cold out, I say, always struggling with the small talk. Yes, he says, but you look well wrapped up. Sleep well, I say. Sleep well.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.