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.
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.
And suddenly I’m back as though I never went away, as though the trees have been upholding me. And I stand here, now, in the roar and thunder of leaves, in the gentle kiss of rain onto my hands and weather soothes.
Tiny pin pricks of water dance across my fingers and I feel. How could I have been so far? How could I have moved from that perfect day? But I hadn’t. Not at all.
It’s in these moments that I see the mystery of time, that I reverberate with it deep inside my core. It seems a joke, a convenience that we tell ourselves, that we are here or there, then or now but I know that we are both.
And in these heightened places I have no form, just a sense of energy, of feelings. In my garden, on the fringes of this storm I am far away. I am in the car park at the Inn and that skirt swishes around my ankles and we leave.
Tiny bells blown by the winds that blow me now and I can feel it, years and miles from here. The cord around my waistband, jingles and in our car park, on the edge of our world, the moments line up ahead.
I am here.
In my young body, I am old, my vacant womb is waiting and somehow as we drove away, I rippled, ancient. I eased out into myself. This self, olden me, wiser me, slipping between the girl and the woman with you always on my shoulder, just like then.
A robin emerged from the bamboo, he appeared in my peripheral vision, as if to wink or raise its eyes. It sat watching me, watching it and all sense of movement dropped away, till we were locked, bird and women, woman and bird, neither one of us moving but both of us remembering the fledglings that we were.
I shimmered, called to him and head in the air, he hopped just close enough for food and then away. I know he watches me from the bushes, I feel him close.
The sky is swollen now, beating puddles at my feet but I am under the robin’s wing where I belong and there, protected by his feathers, I wear my black and white skirt, my crinkled white blouse is crisp against the summer sun and we are young.
Meals come and go, car wheels spin until home and to covers that hold us like these wings.Time means nothing to me today. I am this heavy rain, this breeze against my cheeks and I am still. The sun wants to come out, to dry out the robin’s wings. But we both shelter. Somewhere a rainbow will be forming, I can feel it in the lightening of the sky. Somewhere I wear that skirt, always and under these wings, we’re still young.
These trees know, they seem to swirl today as if to show me. They bend, weighed and twisted but still grow. And the cedar where our small son climbed with friends, (when the children who squeal in the park were not yet cells, when the parents who came to create them had not even met,) and our small son learned to clamber back then.
He climbs now, hour upon hour later and our moon has moved around us many times, stars have imploded and the tree leans in towards our home, its foundation weakened, but it still found a way.
Our son, a man in the mirror that his Father used, negotiating formulas instead of fronds, rearranging coefficients instead of crayons and in the echo of him on the carved out hollows in our tree, I see us all.
I strain my neck to look for seagulls but the sky is quiet, clouds brush away the blue like a hand stroking head, like a comfort to rely on and everything swoons.
Out boy morphs to a man, saturated with number and possibility and we are all in the trees, we are every leaf and rustle of unseen things, we are the fragile wings of the birds, of the things that flit and land and time cannot touch us and we are here, still together.
Such a quiet bird,she thought and thena sky songspiralled out. Anditsang as though it always had time for feathers,as though this was its home. And she saw herself,ship high and blown, above the docks on rising waves and it was here,next the creaking beasts up top andwithblusteredhair, that she grew.
Here,that her sense of wings exploded to the seas, it was here andalwayswould be. Down underneath its hulk,by the men–shouts and leaden ropes there would bebicyclewheels. On pavements grey there would be spokes turning rubber, metal rubbing,gears changing and younger than her,hisspeckled legs would be pushing onthepedals that shecouldn’tsee.
And there he was,escaped and expanded,exploring the docks by himself. White–outathisside,slab–steel toweringhighand he looked up. Painted letters sang out her name and he wasthere,adrenaline pumping,muscles aching,boundless and new on his bike.
And hegrinned,up and up,to the top of ship, he squinted in the light, hair with a singlecurl at the front that zinged up like hope,likeirrepressiblejoy and he was young.
She looked down,wings nestling in her back,thin greying hair,a testament to travel and as grunts of men hauled ropes and chains released her,sheswayed towards him.
He paused on his bike, soyoung and persistent, with a button bright mind,sabatiersharp, the boywho took her hand across the years and from the quayside his story burbled into hers,in the churn and spume,in the chaos of waves,his eyes lockedontohers, always and he freed her.
Wingsruffledbright, as her day–song followed the clouds, she saw him, and because of him–a boy on a bike, she flew.
She was the taste of bergamot in her scalding hot tea and just to her right and upwards, she was the fragile bloom of rose. Today her choice was the sweetest of pink white, a hint of colour, subtle, almost there,just like herself.And she was raindrops on her window. Of course. She was always the rain.
She had bought the flowersherself,like shedid,like she does and now it was nearly time to leave, to take herself to the town, then the river, to see if the ripples would show her proof that she was there.
And then she was there,warm–wrapped–cold,cold–wrapped–warm and the fast running water burbled past her. Traffic was a memory and she sat. The winter breeze ran down her cheeks,hair blew across her nose and she was still. Almost.
Riverdreaming, detritusswirling, licking up the rocks and cobbles underneath.And she was the moss under her feet and the sound of footsteps throughthe yearsand down the path. And all she needed was the padding of hard chewed paws to come and sit beside her.
Couples walked by,dog free with navy bags and comfortable ways, chattering and she wasquietand water gurgled in her stationary world. And nattering young parents, buggy shovingand a man just by himself and she was there.
Waiting for it to pour, waiting for the sky to peel and soak her to the marrow on her bench.Waiting forthe forceof water to carry her far away.
Cold under grey skies,constant as the sun masked by her clouds. Necessary as the atoms in the water that heldtightonto her name. Contingent as the day.
A distant bus pulled her attention to the left and lifted her up, traffic and people and days and birdsong. Places to go and to be.
Theblackbird,sharpyellow beak across the slate,held out its wingto herand called her home.
And it was always this way, motionless movement,nothing stops for her,not even herself.
And an elderly couple with sticks,tapped by and she was the gravel underher feet as she gathered up herself and went back home.
The rain moved in, like her eyes opening, like seeing the morning for the first time and it was welcomed, like that dawn, like the gratitude of the day, like eyes locked close and knowing, and it rained.
But it didn’t rain back then, it was quiet, warm, a thought nearing the end of summer and in the tail end of the season, the water rippled up the boats on the canal and their faces were reflected in its soft stroking waves.
And evening would have moved in, like it did, like it does, it drapes the coolness, the calm end of day, like an arm around her shoulder, like the footsteps by her side.
And evening drifted up, traffic sounds gave way to birds and she hitched up her skirts, like she did then, when white washed walls were unfamiliar, not the faded grain of now. And they sat.
Birds watched them then and she watches them from back here, folded in the now, in the smell of wet soil, the kiss of lavender scent and the certainty of August.
Time came with her, her companion on the way, tucked in the pocket of her skirt, vivid, like their moment, translucent, like the wings. And her wings beat out in the evening sky, strong, like the bonds that hold her, glorious, like their day.
August had returned and she could fly. A rainbow swaddled her garden and under its hue and shimmer, they were young. And under its song she was old but she had wings.