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.
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.’
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.
There goes the sunlight doing its thing, showing me that its still there. It catches the web from last night’s work outside my window. If I concentrate hard I can see the rainbows in it and beyond the neighbour’s lawn, almost lime in its rays and I imagine how warm the grass must feel.
Since I’ve been sitting here, the shadow has moved up my curtain, it seems so drab now as though the hope that the sun bought has been stripped away to nothing. The walls creak and how a new day is pushing into me and if I don’t move from this spot, the planet will still spin. Even in my stillest form I know my heart pumps blood around my veins, that neurons jump the gaps to make these thoughts and cells renew and die. Its irresistible, a movement despite myself and I wait for the minutes as though there’s something coming, someone coming who will lift me from this place and if I hold out and breathe light small breathes that they will find me, like a crushed flower under foot or the scuttle of a lady bug released from a damp cold stone.
And far away in a place untainted by this morning, I am there. I am dressed in purple and my hair, thicker and darker than now whips and tears around my face in the morning bluster. I am up high and all I can see is the sunlight glinting off the waves and a horizon cluttered with boats. And there was laughter, reverberating in my head, bouncing sound waves around my ears and the anticipate of the moments ahead made me giddy with light and with joy.
My god we were filled with such joy.
And a pigeon comes to rest on the car, it pecks and slides down the windscreen, startles itself and flies off again. Today there’s autumn outside, clouds that could carry me far, take me away to Nice, to Cannes where the white sand would seep into my trainers. I’d stand by Matisse’s house and wonder what it would have been like to live there. To get up and paint in that light and the market stalls would be full of fresh loaves and the nectarines would compete with lemons and we’d walk, arm in arm, down cobbled lanes, looking out to where the sea became the sky and then I’d paint. After breakfast, I’d look east and on my dried-out primer I would sketch. I’d use charcoal and notice the boats that bobbed and buffered, there in a light that I remember now, I’d push oil around in swirls, cadmium lemon and scarlet lake up to the edge and no more.
I’d throw the bread crumbs through my window into a warmth welcome of air and pigeons would scuttle and drop down for my gifts out there, back there and not here, there in my South of France on a morning that isn’t this one. Here in the autumn beyond this rain stained glass, by the late wasp that nuzzles at brick and the pigeons peck at the roof of the car, they hop nearer now and look me in the eye. They’re close today, it’s October and they seem to know my name.
And then, there we were, further around the coast, under an untroubled sky, in the back of a cab, to old streets. We wandered lost, we held tight and asked questions. The sun glared and lit the way as you paused with Guinness while I took our boy’s hand and we explored. Imagine that, far away from this world now, by the fountain that spat out our names and we were there. I wore the cream hat with petals on my tunic and we grinned, young and free into my lens.
That sun which lights the green glass on my windowsill, that burns up hydrogen while I think, is the sun that lit our faces on that day, in those moments that I fold around me now. And I can see the shopkeeper where I bought the sweets for our boy and you were there, sat waiting. We found the bus, we found the docks and the wind whipped around our hair. Then not now, there not here, under Valencian skies.
There was a time when she first knew him, before the rainbows came. They walked through the seaside villages, buying up lemon ceramics for their new home. But she doesn’t use those jars now. They are filed away on the top shelf that she can just reach with the aid of a stool.
She dusted them with a soft cloth, let her fingers linger around the rim as she brushed and she thought of herself in a dark blue parka, her feet folded away in stiff new trainers. They were blue, the rubber sole had seemed so white but despite their starkness in the sand, they were the right ones for the job. The old grey rubber peeled off some years ago after the saltwater had weakened the bond, after the dried out seaweed had been tugged free and sniffed and thrown out.
She kept the rock from the first beach, where the sand found its way into her soles, she could feel it grumbling under her feet as they climbed the haphazard steps to the teashop. The rock from those days, holding the heat on her windowsill, next to the herbs and green things that she tends.
She was never much of a gardener but the new seeds in thin packets found her leaning into the sink, sleeves shoved up or neatly folded back on themselves, in the way that he would do, and she plants.
She pokes bits down in soil, feeds them and turns to the light. It’s as much as she can manage, tiny things, ceramic pots and the coloured plastic from her youth.
Mother had bought home the bright pots, the dolly mixtured ones when she still lived at home and she imagined a windowsill in her future, lined with fervent things in a spectrum, a rainbow, a nurturing place.
Now the fading plastic sits next the the rocks, the stiffened paint-brushes and chipped cups. The one without a handle that her Mother bought for him, back then, before these plants had grown.
And she preens, she has taken to buying fresh flowers, enjoying the promise, the sense of life in her home and it keeps her focussed on the cycles. She pours out stale water, she pinches off brown petals and she looks.
‘I buy flowers myself,’ she decided. ‘And I will learn – I will learn the latin of this blossom and that and I will find how to care for it well.’
She is often barefoot now around the house. She likes the coldness of the floor, the sense of connection to something underneath. She hasn’t worn trainers for years and the rock still looks the same as when she pulled it from the sand and there are flowers.
She snips off the lost blooms, the crumpled browns making way for new growth underneath. She holds the rock, it’s warm and heavy in her hand, in her day it still smells of the beach.
She can hear herself running towards him, the flump flump flump across wet sand, as grains were displaced by her small feet.