It always comes back to blossom, every year no matter what. And her road wound its way, like it did, up from their tiny home and turned left.
The colours started then, the froth and flutter like the taffeta scrunched around her, filling the back seat, like their petals filled the sky.
And turning right around the roundabout where she would take their unmade child, where school walks would be full of leaves and sticks, she saw her village on the right.
It ebbed away like her childhood, tucked safe inside her like the hidden garter on her leg and they drove on. At the junction trees came out to cheer her, smiled and waved in baby pink and candy whites as though they’d been grown just for this day, as though their only purpose was to shine.
And she sat and shimmered. Another roundabout and the hill eased down into her town, traffic lights held them while cherry flowers bobbed and frilled. Down and down, through the sap lined chorus, till a sharp left and squeeze of her hand. A chauffeur’s smile like the morning, as if he were the creatures in the branches turning their gaze towards the car, and calling out ‘look look, the blossom is out, watch her swirling now.’
And she sat. Two turns to go and moments folded round her, people scattered and petals burst, giddy, gleeful as though this was the first day to sing.
A route they’d travelled and planned with care through autumn leaves, but now every branch etched the sky just for her and every blossom swooped like swifts dived and murmured, like swathes of bird’s wings coming home.
Last turn right, until gates framed her, frills and fussing, with flowers in her arms. The tiny church path held her ivory feet and she came out in the blossom, like her day, like her trees, like her moment to stand out in the sun.
Leaves sparkled as she swept, soft pink, white scent before the hush. The cherry trees came out to hold her, to show her how to live. Bursting full, grabbing hours before they ease their colours to the ground.
Every fanciful floating petal was waiting just for her and she brushed towards him like a cherry tree in bloom.
She listened hard to the sparrow chirp outside her window and if she went deep down inside its beak, she would fall on the sweet sounds and they would propel her up, back out to an earlier day.
There on the notes of a different bird and a distant window, and there she would lie waiting for the day to unfold. And younger, thicker hair would grace her pillow and the old kitchen chair beside her bed, borrowed as a clothes rail would be covered in the bright clothes she used to wear. The leggings and silk shirts, half folded and waiting and there just to the right of her un-stretched womb was the red t-shirt ready for the day.
And sparrows called out from neat gardens, tended, they flitted past the bedroom window, a moment’s shadows where she lay. The candlewick bedspread, a well worn lime green, would be scrumpled at her feet and she’d get up, pull herself to standing, slight and small.
Birds cheeped loud as she smoothed her black waitscoat and somewhere else, unseen by her, somewhere two hours away, he pulled out his best jumper from the drawer.
Birds would have sung over his head as he climbed into the Orion and as they startled up into the air, he drove the distance between them.
Until. Her hand on the brass door handle and he appeared.
And quiet churchyards and pine trees waited and park benches came and went. And in her red t-shirt, in corners of restaurants, the huge salad bowls bought the evening. Till birds slept in trees, huddled and her mind buzzed with the hours, with his words.
The sparrow chirped outside her window and she came up and out, on its song, hung in the air, like its carefree notes and remembered when they were young.
And it became a birdsong kind of day. It opened and they woke to tiny throats vibrating, chirping louder than they’d heard before. And there it was, the sun beating brighter and sparrows hopped.
They paused on car roofs and looked around, then darted zig zags in the air and found a branch. Branches that quivered and they waited for the sounds.
But the sounds didn’t come. The rush grumble roar of wheels on road didn’t happen and blackbirds watched, they cocked their heads on one side and scoured the ground for food.
They found seeds in the un trampled grass and filled their bellies in the way they used to do before the people came, in the sweet silence before the muck and dust, and they sang out. Hard tallons scratted up and down the rooves, leaves stretched out, wet and new and morning opened.
The birds reclaimed the town, they darted, scattered in the photons, unhindered, untethered, their voices spiralled up in silent air.
There were faces at the grime stained windows but the birds still flew.
When days opened in the way they used to do, when she had written notes and hidden them, when clues were tucked in cupboards, and car boots, when she’d laboured over words and folded, when mornings opened full of silly ways, there would be smiles.
When days were full of treasure hunts, of simple gifts and cakes were iced and more books bought, always books, always.
When days opened in the way they used to do and she was right there and not here. When they opened to words inscribed, to squiggles from a small boy’s hand and days were sweeter than the things she baked.
When days opened in the way they used to do, when they were there, when they were young.
Sometimes bird song comes as though I breathe each note, as though they reflect the thoughts that churn and churn. But I can’t quite reach them. I listen hard, listen well, but these sounds, these moments of instinct pulse out. They seem to be my heartbeats, my neurones charging, firing and every second of my life is echoed in their song. It’s February. It’s always February somewhere in my mind and today, the 10th arrives and though it’s Monday, it is Thursday in my head. The birds silence for a while as I inhabit, as I absorb the date and then they tweet, then they shout out towards each other, triumphant in their beaks spilling notes, their essence, existing in song.
And somewhere they sang on that Thursday, somewhere they clutched at branches and held on and I wonder did they note me rushing, did they feel for me in my chaos as I churned, did they send out their song to soothe me though I couldn’t hear the notes? And it was there, birdsong, always, even on that day. And it’s February and I am February, right now and I am the birdsong. I am all of it. I am their voices reaching out to me, to the startling, to my fracturing self. And I am the birdsong that tried to reach me when I couldnt hear their call. It’s February 10th. I seek out birdsong.
And so I think shhh, don’t go there, don’t allow the thoughts and then they come. Bright faces, flaring and this is the thing you see, I don’t want to look but then I must. I must turn my face into the flutterings, into the scattering moments and down. Down and out, flat out. Careening into the sounds, the words, the mouths that speak as I watch them. And then sun arrives, and then a bird cheeps as if to throw me a line, as if to say but it’s Now. And yes, the bird song fills me up and yes the light falls up the wall but it feels absent. Today there is a coldness, yet photons push through, resolute in their incessant need to glow, to saturate our room.
But there. Pauses come. Like wilting leaves. Places where the earth has forgotten warmth and I rest. I must do something with the gardens. It’s that thought always. Prising its way back in, that sense of morning, of movement and how stale it all looks, untended, devoid of hands that care. That winter face, that deep back to the soil kind of voice and I go round. Around and around it again, like the sun rising, like the particles colliding, thoughts bursting and forming with little rest. And then it stops.
The sun has taken offence behind thick grey, and I breathe out. That kind of long slow breath that turns down cortisol, that regulates and I return. The birds are singing, I think they never stopped, not once, not even for a second over these long and rambling years. Sometimes I find that reassuring, sometimes not. And so it goes. My body tells me it’s the 14th, I feel it in the tightness in my ribs, in the irritations underneath. Round and around with no let up like nature, like my exchange of O2 to CO2. I tiptoe to the edge of my mind again and peer inside. Things coalesce and break apart, I try to untangle thoughts, to measure and observe them but as I look them in the face they change. It’s the day before tomorrow, my quantum days. And I must go now, I must feed the birds.
15th: And I’m so grateful for the rain. The storm is tearing up the garden as though I summoned it, as though my friends turned up on cue. The sun still hides and that suits me, it’s so pointless to be a ball of helium today, to spit and churn, no one can see you anyway behind the heft of clouds. I like clouds, they’re almost family. They come and go but when they block out the sun, they seem so welcome.
Today there is a sympathy with the weather, a sense that I control it all. And why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I be able to send my thoughts into the skies and bring about the storm?
The blackbird hops up to the window, despairing, there’s only black leaves on the patio today. Of course I’ll go out later, wrapped a little against the bluster but revelling in the cut of cold across my face, a reminder that I breathe.
Storms have their place and if I were braver than I am, I’d climb the trees, I’d scrape my knees and cut my arms as I pulled up. And from the top, up there on the left by the raven’s nest, I’d hang on and sway in this harshness. I wonder if the sounds would be as loud from deep inside the branches, but how glorious it would feel, to not be the face at the window but to be sodden and ripped, to hang tight and bend as the rain slices round us. Maybe later, I’ll ease out into its din.
I’m grateful for the storm, as though the streets and towns and country I still inhabit can pop into my mind and feel my thoughts.
On days like these, I live for the howling of trees. I resonate. It calms me.
If she stared hard for a moment through her kitchen, past the kettle, to the wall, she would dissolve.
And as she breathed out she would see them, out for shopping in the dark. That after-Christmas-travel feel, that tired apprehension of the new and she wore red fleece.
And she breathed out again, past her kettle to the tiles on the wall, the shadow under the cupboard formed a partition by the toaster and she dropped back.
The carpark was lit up, late Christmas and busy people buying booze, but not herself. And she’d just pop next door first to the pharmacy, she’d catch him up, she said.
The fittings have all gone now, the aisles and the shelves where she bent down, where she compared the products till she found one.
And sometimes, even now when she’s in the supermarket by the clothes rails that extended into the place where she had knelt, she sees herself. She feels, she has no separation from that girl.
And the heating throbs in the present, the radiator warms her where she stands but she’s not there.
She’s crossing the carpark in tired ‘Christmas lights, and just later, she’s catching him up in the shop. He’s there putting new things in the trolley, treats for New Year’s Eve, though they’d be out.
She hurries up to join him and her hip rubs the inside of her jacket, on the right, where the packet in her pocket makes itself known to her.
She feels how long her hair was, how dark and not like now and no one knew about the packet in her pocket but she did.
And shopping would happen and trolleys filled and piled into the car. Then they’d be home. Taking bags in, rustling, planning and while he put the things away she crept upstairs.
And now. Even now. There are no moments in between that one and this and she is quivering and shaking and sees the handle on the door.
She seems to see everything as if for the first time, as if the minutiae of her world stopped by to say hello. To say ‘here we are, this is your life now,’ as if she’d woken from a dark place and now tiptoeing through to the end of the century, she was just coming home.
He was downstairs watching TV and somehow she wandered down their wooden stairs. They opened the shortbread a friend had given them and sat quiet, watching nonsense on the screen.
But she was sparkling on the inside and almost wondered if he could hear it, like a thousand tiny glass bells tinkling through her form.
She stared out with no focus at the TV and one day later she would give him her perfect gift to end the year.
And now her kitchen lights shone down on her in her aging but she wasn’t there. She was sat next to him, she was shining.
It was that, right hand in pocket, kind of day, that finding a piece of the hill and holding it close, deep, tucked away in fluff, kind of day. And they didn’t know, they stood around her, next to her, powdered and small, her red fleece, a contrast to her mother-in-law’s brown coat and she was younger.
Younger than now and the piece of the hill held its secrets, kept her safe. They laughed and grinned into the bluster as they turned to face him by the car. The shutter froze them as the weather did, her hand to her left ear to keep the gusts out of her head, her longer, thicker hair out of her little elfin face.
The hill in her pocket, with them on either side of her, in front and behind and inside. They were with her then, when time was a thing that worked well and now, in the piece of the hill that sits tucked away with her treasures, in the small blue bag from her wedding day, the red fragments of rock at the bottom and they hold onto her tight, still, silent, unseen like the secret inside her back then and, like the hill in her pocket, the moment remains.