A Certainty Like This

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The hills came back, they wrapped around her like an old friend, like a mother’s arms and she was safe, more than that, she was free.
Iris folded herself into her coat, it was a heavy, twisted wool with a knitted corsage on the left lapel, chocolate brown and as warm as it looked. It would be alright, she insisted to herself.
The platform was cruel. It hollered, ripping bits off people, tearing steel and diesel smashed through air, but she didn’t mind. To be fair, she thought, nothing can get through to me now, nothing can scrape or stab me and she let the trains do their worst. Her hair was thrown upwards like a beacon, her coat billowed out behind, filling her form until she swelled, bigger than her shape, her smallness hidden from the world and then she stepped.

Iris climbed onto the 10:17 to Wolverhampton.

Familiar towns whipped and passed. She watched reflections of people staring into laptops, intent on their day as she gripped the seat beneath her, scrubbed the nap backwards and forwards in her small hand. Yes, she was still there.
And changing for another train she felt the air she needed getting nearer and on and up through cities she used to know, places they’d visited when cars were hired and journeys made. Now it was a screech of a platform and cold strangers looking in beyond her, searching out seats by her side.
Tiredness pulled her down through another change of station and she wondered about her sanity, whether she’d really left home at all and if she had, what would she do when she got there?
She dozed. The weight of the hours closed her eyelids and the rocking of the carriage carried her away. She saw mountains and pine trees, how they framed themselves in one moment. The stream was drawn down through the image like a child’s artwork and it jumbled and glinted over rocks. She was there in the old train. Their train, warmed and wrapped from the Alps, stuffed full of chocolate and memories. The bowl of baked cream, the wicker chickens and the sky. How clear it had been, how far away but its light lit their rooms and their beginnings.

The train shook her awake into the sunlight dropping shadows, streaming out across the land. Iris blinked herself back into the afternoon, ordered a black coffee because she could and sat, mug hugging as she closed in nearer to her old town.

***

And morning came. Morning, after her tired trudge to the B and B, daylight after the restlessness of lumpen foam, of unfamiliar sounds and scented sheets. But morning came as it did back then, when they slept in spontaneous rooms, when owners smiled and gave them a key to the room on the left of the landing and they were there. It wasn’t just the mountain air that filled her lungs, that sparkled her eyes, it was the touch of herself, it was the sound of her laughter and in narrow streets with no plans, they ran.

Iris walked up alleyways, she walked taller than she was, like a bride to an unseen alter, she traced her steps. And there in the light rolling up the mountains, there in the air that she recalled, she found the pub. She pushed the heavy door and turned left by the coat stand and there she was.
Her hair was dark, long across her shoulders, her fleece jacket, the colour of her cheeks and she looked up. She didn’t see Iris, of course because she was laughing with her boyfriend. His back was towards her so Iris couldn’t see his face but she knew it well. She knew every curve and every furrow and she watched. They pushed the plates to one side, knocked back the remains of their drinks and said ‘let’s go.’
There, on an unplanned adventure with few clothes to their names, there, just north of his mother’s home where they’d travelled to because they could, they laughed and they sneaked out. They left the pub without paying, just once – only once because the staff were unresponsive and they, themselves were young. They were away together for one of the first times and they could run.
He took her hand and they walked straight through Iris standing at the door and how they ran, laughing like children down the cobbled lane until they stopped just beyond her sight, bent double and caught their breath.

Iris left the pub, she followed their trail and held them again in the distance. The girl looked back, saw Iris and stopped. She stood there in the crisp clarity of the mountains, she stretched up tall and wide and flung her arms to the sky. There, in a place Iris remembered, there, with him by her side. The girl squealed out, head back eyes tearing, lungs full and she was free. He photographed her and Dear God, she was so free.

Iris ran, she charged towards the girl and the girl knew. She opened wide her arms and called her home.
It’s alright,’ she whispered as Iris sobbed on her shoulder. The girl took her hand and showed her and there in the mountains with the light falling on her greying hair, Iris reached up. She threw her arms up to the clouds and called out his name.
She pulled the air around her, the sense of him, their purpose and how she’d grown. Iris in the mountains, arms wide in celebration of her form. It was yesterday, it was always there. And it was now and freedom was her name.

Lake District 1

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Under The Circles Falling

She past a new build on the left and brushed against its huge star in the window. She remembered when the trees were there, when animals hid and insects crept in the hollows of branches that had now gone.

Something about the star gave her hope, gave her a lilt, a swell of a young girl’s life and of family filling the rooms.

And she past by. The sky was swollen, saturated with an end of year rain, with a harsh rain that sliced at pavements, that peeled away the last of the year. And in her mind she was younger, she was hope filled like the fields around her. She was surprised by its sudden lush greenness, like the woman she used to be waving to her from back then.

And back then she was packed, a small bag just for one night and they would stay in the hotel that they loved. She was there in the bright white bathroom, hair curled and velvet dress. It clung to the curve of her belly, to the secret kept inside. And when the time came she would tell him, she would sit on the bed and smile. In fact she glowed, she sparkled and trembled as though she were made of the stars themselves and they laughed. After all their moments this one was the purest, the connection and the gift frozen in time, in the warmth of her hand and his lopsided grin – they were there.

She was back in the unfolding of the night, clicking up the high street in her heels. And with flat black pumps for the journey back down, they walked to the restaurant for the meal. Sometimes now when she past by the same place, huddled at the back of a bus, she would look left to the cream tiled floor and remember the DJ in the corner and the song played just for them.

She was there. Dear God, she was there and right now as she bumped along a wet road in the present, she was back there, beaming, like her soul would fly, bursting from her side.

And later she slipped into the flat shoes as they wandered back down town, to the call of the Cathedral bells. How still the night seemed, yet how full of an energy that she could taste. It bristled around them in the gentle rain, before they made phone calls, before their new journey began.

She was there, at the end of the century, slipping into the new day, softened into it like his hand in hers, as though woven into the time. And always, despite the hours, they would be there. It was their moment, in the darkness, smiling under screeching fireworks, white stars just for them.

For the Waiting 

It was silent apart from the ticking of her clock, apart from the ringing in her ears. And in the garden, the edge of Autumn had begun. It crept in on the warmth of the leaves, in the morning sunlight making shadows on the wood. The door to the summerhouse was still open and in the reflection in its windows was the light pushing through her trees, there was a liquid ripple of her home and she was still.
Inside the summerhouse it was quiet, apart from the tick of insect legs, apart from the spinning of webs. Leaves blew in, some crinkled, some dried and dust strings hung over the stiffened window frame. 
It was nearly Autumn, it was silent apart from the tweeping of birds, apart from the twinkled blue sky. The clouds embraced her to the right, brief fluffles and whisps and they whispered. 

It was silent apart from the voices in her head, apart from the trundle of wheels. And as she watched the quiet growing of the weeds up through her patio, she heard people talking low, calling to her, reassuring her and they held her hand as breathed out. Long, deep hope filled air escaped her mouth, as she pulsed, as she pushed. And when evening came she was lying still, watching the ceilings move and everyone wore green. She thought, green like the garden we’ll play in, green like trees that protect our home.

And in the silence of the morning when the tick of the clock knew her name, she listened to her garden, to the warbling throats of the birds and far away the voices called her and from far away they came close.  

Up to her, next to her, beating up and out of her and she lay and tears fell down as they worked at her side. It was green out in her garden, it was on the edge of turning warm.
It was green in her mind as the faces smiled and focussed and looked down. 

It was so quiet. It was silent in her home, apart from the sweetness of birds, apart from the waving of leaves and she opened her eyes as they rummaged inside her. 

‘Do you want to see your baby now?’ they called and she blinked wide, and cried as he was lifted up from her, pink and red and new and there was no silence. There was the sound of lungs filling with air, of his first cry blurring with her own. And they were there, together new and safe, his warmth like the comfort of Autumn, his skin like the softness of hope and she looked up.

It was silent apart from the ticking of the clock, apart from the ringing in her ears. The sun had moved up the summer house, the colours deepened, the memories rich and fresh amongst the fallen leaves.
It was morning on the edge of Autumn and she was wrapped in silence and the weight of him, new in her arms.

It was silent apart from the calling of pigeons. The sunlight lit their breasts and they flew off. It was almost Autumn and she was swaddled in the day, in the moments. She held him warm up to her cheek and they were young.

 

This Woman’s Work

She listened to his breath and watched his hands, they were resting in folded arms across his face and she thought of them fresh from birth, grabbing onto her thumb, wrapping themselves around her finger. And then hot and small as they fumbled with bright bricks on the floor. 

There were hours when she held them on the walks to school, past their familiar way points, the big brick wall and the Spelling Hill, the Opening Trees and then the gates and they held pens. The hands she looked at now, that gripped the pencils, that formed the words, that scribbled and drew mazes then shaped sentences across their days, were the hands in the final playground when they swung from monkey bars, one determined grasp after another, pulling himself along before they left, before the photos at the gate and they left. 

She remembered his hand as it clutched hers, as they sat heads down on the pews, in darkness when the light was sucked out of their world. And how she held tight, how she clung firm to him and him to her as they stumbled forward in an unstable new world and then they looked up. 

To his hands, bigger, lifting heavy bags of books and different walks without her and he grew. He grew in ways and wisdom, in taking on his world and subjects came and subjects went, fingers folded around revision pens, shoving through hair as he leant over exam papers and he thought. His mind whirring and whirling, making links, his fingers fiddling as he waited for results.

And now autumn wakes them up again, to rain washed lanes and leaves. And now the road rushes underneath him as his new day comes into view.  Hands in pockets and a bag full of tricks, the compasses he holds now, he guides now, the calculations that he makes and his hands are strong and firm as they press buttons and follow the sines. Manipulating co-sines and tan in ways she cannot understand and she watches him go striding, preparing with a fistful of ideas, with complex numbers at his fingertips and behind him go the toddlers and the children he used to be, skipping, running in his steps and the hands she used to hold, wave to her and she counts every moment as he plots out his next phase.

How the hours have wrapped around us, she thinks, her baby, their boy and  their joy. And as the sun warms pavements and rain drops lift themselves up from the ground, the man he is becoming makes his way back home.

For the Soul Dancers

She was wild, she was adventure,

she was passion, she was fun.

She was spirit and compassion.

She was comfort and she was calm.
And when night came, she was star dust

and her breath lit up her road.

And when her tears fell, she was released.

She was freedom and she was whole.
And her wings came and she knew them,

beating out so loud and strong.

And her feet blurred as she took flight,

her heart beat with nature’s song.
And when the dance took its hold of her,

she rippled, she began.

And when its rhythm filled her full, she sang,

‘I am, I am, I am.’


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The seagulls are back today, they swoop around, they circle her old home and from their wings she sees the carpet in the lounge, how it turned from spiralled blues to pink. And she sweeps above the kitchen, where the corner chair became a cupboard for the pills, opposite the kettle where she first made him a drink. 

And as she looks, the seagulls fill the rooms, their wings waft feathers in her face and carry her upstairs and there they beat the air, there they hover at the edge of her old bed, with its camblewick green cover and in the light that lifts from day to night and day to night again, she sees herself lying, turning, holding thoughts. 

The cupboard to the right is silent, where the drawer is stiff, the rich deep wood and a lamp stand of fading brass. She can smell the scented carpet and the polished trinkets, there, on a painted window sill that overlooks that world and as her seagulls settle and fold their wings she smells the coast.

Bedruthan rocks wrap around her and as the sand sneaks in her trainers she pads the beach towards him, laughing, parka flapping in the cut of air, then back. 

Seagulls resting on her bedspread, her bed by a bookcase from her youth, crammed with early interests and they whisper. The ivy green curtains are closed, the lamp is off. Her seagulls watch over them, their words and murmurs. 

And it’s August. They ruffle feathers around her and lift her up, away from her black and white skirt on the chair, its bells silent and the birds sing out, it’s always August, they call out, we’re always there.

For The Ravens’ Song

 

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Ruby liked to dance, she liked to wear layers of skirts and things that jingled and she spun herself around. And if it was a Friday she would sing. Fridays were the days when she went into town and she allowed herself the luxury of visiting the Tiffin Tea Rooms. How the owner Mrs. Joyce would crinkle up her face when she came in and she’d sit by the window near the plastic flowers and stare out. Mrs. Joyce would bring the teapot over, always assam and ginger and a slice of sticky marmalade roll.

‘So, thank the good Lord for a Friday,’ she would say and wolf it down. The butchers would save her a rabbit and it lay on the slab out the back, by her string of sausages, plump and pink parceled up in greaseproof paper.

‘I’ve saved you a titbit,’ grinned Mr. Jarvis and she took it from his blood-stained hands.

‘See you next week,’ he called out as she left the stench of carcasses behind her. But it was Friday so she allowed herself to buy the wine, nothing too fancy, you understand, just something smooth with plum based notes, to sand down the edges of her day.

The Morris dancing had been going well, she’d joined the group when Angie in the Post Office pointed to the advert in the window just above,

Honda mower, runs well offers over £90.

‘You show ‘em, Girl,’ her Mother used to say, and she did. She danced as a child, she danced around her wedding bed and there, in the town square despite the pain in her back and the corns on her feet, she stomped and swayed and she beamed from the side-lines as her new friends mashed up the ground. Of course, the cramps came late at night, in her shins, after the hours of skipping but she was determined to do it.

I will do whatever it takes, she thought to herself, to be that dancer, I have to let this rhythm out. Her costume glinted and shone, made with care over months as she sat at her old singer sewing machine. Her Grandmother had left it to her and despite its age and outdated mechanisms, it purred and joined the rag-taggles of fabric to each other. She coated her hitting-stick in tar, till the smell of bitumen made her eyes water and before it dried out she rolled it in plastic jewels from her childhood jewellery box.

She remembered her friend, Lyn, whose new heart necklace had knotted up on itself and how she’d sat on the bed in her bedroom, picking at the chain with her slender fingers. She spent ages on it while Lyn came and went and bought cake in that her Mother had baked in the afternoon. Ginger cake, almost too spicy and when the knots gave way to her fingers, she ate the cake and Lyn cried. She thanked her and hugged her and told her they would be friends forever, but they weren’t.

The jewels burned out of the blackness like fragments of hope and she twirled it in her hands and the costume ruffled as she climbed inside and hid away under the headdress. She had constructed it from her favourite hairband with a tangled mess of wool and wire, feathers thrown in, here and there, ones she’d bought from the craft shop by the river but mostly the ones from the park, on her walks, where she pinched them up from the earth or found them under bushes and she brushed the soil from their softness and combed them back into shape when she got home.

She felt such a power in her costume, as though all the times in her life when she’d felt fragile and broken, were just a dream, an aberration from the girl she used to be. And here in her kitchen, by the warming pot of stew, under the rosemary hanging up high, she felt so strange. And the strangeness took her by the hand to the mirror and the strangeness showed her her face, feathered and free, released from the old form as she nodded away to herself.

‘This will do fine, my dears,’ she said to her ornaments and cages of stuffed animals. Ruby ruffled her feathers, she opened the front door and sniffed the fresh air.

‘My dears, I do believe it’s time,’ and she climbed her spiral stone staircase in the corner of her lounge. The wall was cold like it always had been, the lumps of raw stone jutted out and she stroked them with her long fingers as she made her way upstairs. In the bedroom, her cheval mirror smiled back at her by her walnut dressing table with silver topped perfume bottles and photos of her cats. The once white lace doilies had turned to cream but their patterns were so intricate and in each thread, she heard a bird song, a calling from a distant beak and she glanced at them. It had been years since she used to iron them on a Sunday morning, to spruce up her room for the week but when she did, when the windows were open and the crows made themselves known, she would count. Ruby counted the threads that made the snowflake pattern and the picot edge framed the central star shape with nine tiny flowers.

Counting always helped to calm her down but she didn’t need to count today because now she had her feathers. She shuffled towards the arched window that flooded her small room with light. The window had been her reason for buying the property 48 years ago, how it filled her with joy, how even then it felt like a doorway to another world. She would sit for hours watching the sparrows hop from branch to branch as she made lace, as her fingers blurred the shuttle to and fro.

She stood in front of the window, shook her shoulders, making her feathers fluffle and shimmer and she was ready.

‘You know, my dears,’ she said to a room full of memories, to the ornaments and photos from her life.

‘You know, I am finally able to sing.’ She stepped forward, her white hands took the wrought iron handles of her windows and she pushed them down. They resisted, stiff with age and then gave in. The panes quivered as she forced them wide filling her bedroom with the smell of the countryside, with the thick scent of sheep and distant hum of traffic. Her garden had never looked so beautiful, the lupins swayed, the hollyhocks swirled like a bride on her first dance and the snowdrops turned their faces to the sun.

Ruby took a long deep breath, filled her lungs with hope and clambered onto the windowsill. She opened wide her arms, her wings rumbled and creaked and then she jumped.

‘I’m coming, my dears,’ she called and opened wide her beak, joyous notes spiralled out as flew up into the warm summer sun.

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