Paper boats close-up

My mind has been elsewhere. I haven’t paid attention. Except for a red coat pulled tight across generous hips. And a skinny girl-child being scowled at for taking a bite from a doughnut. It’ll spoil yer tea.

It smells like Spring, though the sky is milk-white.

She says she wants to use one or two of my poems. I thought they’d been lost. Overlooked. I felt foolish. It won’t be in print but spoken, on a video. Given life. Breathed into. Shall I read them?

My mind has been elsewhere. I haven’t paid attention. Except for the metallic stink of guano as I walked by the Pier. And the robin that bobbed before me, returning twice as I walked up the incline. Such tender little things, legs like fuse wire.

My mind has been elsewhere. I haven’t paid attention. Except for thinking of her, often. Trying not to worry or feel hurt. Let it go, I say. Let it be. Let be. Let what will be, just be. Just be. Simple, isn’t it?

Who killed Zebedee? by Wilkie Collins. I listen to it again on the iPlayer. Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout. I never really got it as a child, though I always felt a pang when it ended. A five minute slot each evening at about 4.30 pm. Just before we had tea (though I’d call it supper now). I knew it was for us. Your programme, he would say. Just for us. Dougal, Florence, Dylan and Brian (I think he was the snail). The end credits made me sad. Something was finished. I was no longer held in its cosy embrace. I felt the same about Play School. So long ago.

Supporting herself by her needle. A line from Wilkie Collins. That’s what women did then. You couldn’t now. Not now. Not now. I want to write about making art as a gift. But what constitutes a gift? Something left? Something inserted between the pages of a book?

We talk about friendships. I hurt on his behalf, though he doesn’t ask me to. Do I feel responsible? Would he have done it if I weren’t around? Let it be. Let be. I think I have to carry it all. That big black bag of responsibility. I don’t need to. It doesn’t help. Not ever. Let it be.

The wind broke some windows in her greenhouse. I think that’s where I got my chill, she says. It’s not very big, she says. Oh, there’s a few tomatoes and runner beans, she says. Her voice is thick with catarrh. Will you be watching the rugby? she asks. Oh, yes, she says, we shout at the telly. Thanks, love, she says, thanks for calling.

The homeless boy was in the café. I’d seen his two big, lozenge-shaped bags outside. He was sitting at the long table downstairs, on the corner, his bags on the floor next to him. There was a small iPad charging on the table. He was doing a crossword, mouthing the answers silently to himself, an empty plate and cup by his side. He won’t take money, he says as we slide into the car, I’ve offered it but he just says no. How does he manage? I ask. Who knows? he says. I’m glad he has his breakfast in there though, I say. I don’t know that he does, he says, it’s the first time I’ve seen him in there. I tell him about the iPad. He can’t be destitute then, can he? he says. He has no home, I say. No, you’re right, he says. The boy smells of the cold, of the night. Damp. Does he ever get warm, truly warm, warmed through? He stays on the same street, sleeping outside Smiths. What keeps him here? Is it a choice? I often see people talking to him. Once he called the police because he hadn’t moved for hours. He thought he was dead. It will kill him. It is too much. We are not protected against the cold. I fantasise about going to the Poles. But to be in such a landscape scares me. I want the white, the emptiness, but how to deal with the cold? It is uncomfortable to encounter those who do not want to live conventionally. I remember a man in Cambridge. He wanted nothing but to left alone to walk a series of streets and to sleep where he chose. I used to think of him at night as I lay in my bed. Sometimes we just have to let go. Let it be. Let them be. Let be. Leave them in peace. To be.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.