She found August in the packing boxes, in the quiet chaos of the empty house with the phone on the floor and their son at a friend’s. And it was still, dust balls plumed in corners, little spheres of moments where they’d sat. She found August in the slow closing of the door, the soft steps to the car and the pulling away.
And removal men like Brutus and Popeye upended sofas where they’d sat, manoeuvred their minutiae until one home morphed into the next. And in August, she found it in the giggling of their son down hallways and the opening of boxes and playing hide and seek. She found it through the serving hatch which hatched out their new world. August, in the packing tape and box numbers, August in their days to change and grow.
The rain had soaked the bamboo, now it leaned over, leaned into her like the weight of feelings. Its persistent lushness rippling, forging through it all, like her. She found August in the way the bamboo had grown.
And then the bamboo took her oxygen for a while, it gave up and gave in, drooped down to the ground as she sat out on its leaves. She was the tiny spheres of her world turned upside down and in the inversion she saw the old kitchen chair by the bedside with her clothes laid out for the trip, the crisp, white, crinkled cotton top, the reams of Indian skirt. Ready. Waiting.
She sipped tea and watched. The leaves waved, sodden, as if to say this is now, this rain is right now. But she didn’t care. She was upside down in raindrops and then it came again, a rush, a gushing on her patio, the fractured sky where the water wouldn’t drain away. And in the rain drops she leaned up her parents’ kitchen cupboards, black Mary Janes and a smile. You know the one, the one that took her to Wooten Wawen with canal boats moored alongside, their gypsy painted roses watching them as they parked and went inside.
And every petal knew what lay ahead and boats bobbed and algae glooped and pond-skaters did their thing. It was early evening, and mid evening, it was much later in the day. But above all else it was August and she found it yet again, upside down in raindrops.
Thank goodness for the rain she thought and through it she saw herself swishing, with tiny bells which jingled from her waistband as they walked. And later her parents’ settee would rear up again and beyond that, later still, in the silence, the soft moth-winged breath of their beginnings.
She was so glad she made it rain today, she clung onto the bamboo leaves and waited to dry out.
The sun had turned up, a little too excitable for her liking, a frivolous energy like the birdsong. She paid attention to it but nothing more. The bamboo had perked up, it felt optimistic and each leaf was striped and the stripes were their roads heading south. All of them, filling her garden with directions, with arrows saying it’s nearly 4pm, it’s time to leave. And it was and they did, in the old Orion, pausing at Evesham for a tea-cake, then beyond.
Maybe it would be on a Saturday and the pavements would shine dark, of course it didn’t matter and we’d cut through from the car park somewhere, turn left by The Baguette Shop and try to find the last remaining seats.
Jazz played, of course and the mothering comfort of coffee making sounds hissed and chinked and steamed up the view. And if we were lucky, we’d get the seats by the window and watch the humans go by. My earl grey was hot and I’d watch their disposable gloved hands load up the French bread with chicken salad, of course. And with a choice of six toppings I’d be reckless and wild and choose red pepper and grapes.
And we’d sit not too far down the road from Tyrell & Green, in the days before it became a nightclub, in the days before I waddled in there in my lilac ditsy print, to choose the rocking chair that held me while my back ached, which cocooned me while my tummy lurched.
We bought the footstool to go with it and somehow the print on the champagne fabric reminded me of a painting by Jean Miro from the days when I spiked my hair in orange mousse, when I pulled away from home and looked for myself in northern streets, in clanking lifts, in old buildings, with the smell of stretched calico on canvas.
There was something reassuring about the Jean Miro print underneath my swelling ankles as I rocked, as I soothed and it soothed me in the memory of when I wore zebra print, but not then. Then I held tight and held on as the spasms charged up my spine, as I took on my new form.
I liked Tyrell & Green and waddling in late summer, stacking up on the things we’d need for the journey ahead and while I twinged and swayed, somewhere just down the road in the steamed up Baguette Shop we sat looking out, Waterstones bags to our right, of course. And you ate prawns and I ate grapes and our Saturdays unfurled with raindrops down the window and the splintering shapes of humans doing their thing.
I always found it hard to hitch myself up on the high stools but once there I was content. Baguettes and books, wet streets which shimmered with the people that we’d become. On a Saturday through the filters of back then.
So how would it be if the passing trees bowed over and came down to hold me, what if each leaf tore itself from the branch and flew down to keep me safe and I would smile.
I would welcome them into my arms and I would find shelter in their sap rich veins. The cobweb twists in the corner of the wing mirror, a distorted memory of its form, a shimmered recollection of when it stretched out, full of flies and dew and purpose.
It happened again.
I slid into the gutter like a chiffon scarf, like sea gusted hair, whipped and twirled, salted, sand sprinkled strands like the tail of a kite careening, flirting with ribbons and bows and the soft eager grip of a girl giggled and reeled it back in.
And I slipped, I gave myself up to the ground and as it welcomed me, the girl and the kite and the beach and my scarf flew away. Away like the beat of a wing, away like the startle of feathers, petrol pooled black mirrors as I lay.
My mouth smirked where they left it, upturned and silent beside the road. My feet, discarded by the gorse bush, one shoe on and one shoe off and Peter Rabbit trapped in wire rushed into my mind. And how the sparrows implored him to escape. And there would be stories and teacakes, jam down my chin and my kite curled up in the boot of the Austin 1300, tousled and day stained, like me.
But the gutter cradled and soothed, hushed me as the flock sprung, pulsing. Flapping, clattering, colliding, black diamonds and piercings, dustballs despatched as they poked.
I remember their beaks, eager, unforgiving, pneumatic drill in rain, dentist burrowing, twisting and the taste of salt in my mouth.
But not now. Now it’s the feel of the gutter and the little bits of me that still remain. Near the roadside, abandoned feathers where they took me down, straddled strutted, swaggered, like they owned the verge, ruled the fields where my kite flew. And now they peck me to sleep while I lie in brambles, near the pavement grey, I hear them as they laugh and caw.
Under midsummer rain on windscreens, fractured rainbows, I curl up. Little shards, little jagged remnants and I swoon.
I was never one to recognise events as they were unfolding and every time they came to a breach, to a gash, they surprised me, they gave themselves a shape, a moment in time rather than a seamless continuation.
And this morning I was taken to one side by the day and told to stop and look. But before I was forced to pause, I opened the day, in my usual way, with my identity intact, my sense of where I fit into the world and I sat.
The garden was doing its thing, as it did, as it does, growing and decaying despite me while I watched and let the heat of my mug wake my hands. Two, or maybe three mint leaves pushed against the surface tension of my tea. And I sipped. I sat and I sipped in my quiet certainty and watched the surface of my drink.
And now I take hold of my thoughts and pull them apart, now I question why it’s taken me so long to reach this place. This need to draw attention to the quality of my drink. It could be fear. It’s often fear. And now it’s marching up the path towards me, through the weeds and places where the stones are loose and broken, where small things live without my intervention. And it’s here and it smacks up against my door. I let it in of course, I have no option. Not that I can recall.
Life and death belonged. And was I monstrous? The words rolled around my head, poking and prickling, nagging me into a place where I could form the thoughts and they are these.
I sipped. I sat. And then a tiny flower floated over the surface of my drink. I was prompted to remember lotus flowers, delicate edges, beauty in their fragility as they bloomed despite the mud. Or water lilies, fragrant and glorious, spread out petals, preening over algae on my pond.
And this smallness, this clump of petals moved towards me. I studied it for a second, held it in my mind and then it changed. Its image became clear. There were no flowers in my mug, just a fly. A dead fly. Its fine filigree wings reaching out as though it wished to be remembered for the way that it could move, as though in death it was captured, it was held, as a testament to its life.
And I sat back. I placed the mug down, my favourite mug that held the shell of the insect, scalded with my boiling water, the water I boiled to bring me peace and calm had killed, in a second, the living thing in my mug. I wondered how it held onto the mint as I plucked it from the plant, as I rinsed it under the tap. But it clung on until I scalded it.
And I had drunk for while before it appeared, what if I had swallowed it, but I would not have known. And worse, as it drifted loose from beneath the leaf, in its first silent moments, when its body had ceased its purpose, what if I drank from its form, if some escaping essence of the fly had been consumed? And I, responsible for its death, or at the very least, a co-creator, now held, now owned a part of the fly in my mouth.
And I swallowed and I hoped. I hoped that death was in an instant, that there was a split second when its identity was whole and then the water came, the heat appeared like a thought, it drenched and saturated its tiny form before he could react. And that is all.
But then my drink changed, no longer warm ceramic to settle nerves but now it was a resting place, an in-between place and the weight of responsibility came. I left the mug and walked away to contemplate my options.
My friend Jenny jumped into my mind, Jenny with her backpack and packed up tent and her wheels spinning, biking and hiking to Wales. And I wondered how many insects her tyres had taken down, how many smears on concrete she’d created and as her hiking boots stomped and trampled the dirt down did creatures search for shelter from her feet?
But nothing helped the thoughts because Jenny wasn’t still and contemplating, Jenny was full of pumping blood, of sweat and motion, Jenny could never be pinned down. But I could. I was used to being calcified and my reward was the remains of a fly.
And so I needed to be exempt from myself, to make the best of decisions. And if I think the thoughts with the sound turned down I can admit I considered drinking up, to paying tribute to the fly with the act of consuming, to complete the job I had started and allow its carcass to rest deep within my own.
And hope maybe in death, it could step out of the shadows and see that it had lived. And I would know and I would make its essence subsume into my form.
And I yet I couldn’t and I didn’t, I couldn’t cross the line. Although I studied it floating for some time, I wondered would I taste it at all, as it slid down. But it wasn’t the tasting that prevented my mouth from its work, it was the need to honour, to live by a code that would bring structure to my chaos. And so I let the tea cool down. I left it for hours alone and silent, the mint leaves disintegrated around my fly and I noticed that he had become mine. Not an it anymore, not now. Now he belonged to me and I must do him proud.
And later when the chattering of children in the park has seeped away and the garden has regained a sense of ease, I will go out.
I will take my mug, my favourite mug and the body of my fly and I will tip out tea. I will find a quiet corner and a plant it may have liked and I will pour. My morning tea will soak the soil and if I focus I may just see the body of the fly fall into the ground.
But if he’d left the mint leaf before I plucked it from the plant, then we wouldn’t be in this place now and my eyes would not have seen the things they did not want to. But the fly hung onto the mint leaf and I scalded it into the void. Everything is relational.
Still, the sun will set over the plants soon, over what remains of my drink and my fly upturned in the soil. And as it sets there will appear a prayer in the photons, in the dust and the muck in the air.
It’s been a long day. I apologised to the fly and at the edges where our lives merged, we took responsibility, we impacted each other’s lives. It was a difficult joy.
This face on the concrete, cool and rough, this tucked away under dried leaves, this attempt at shelter.
And yes the woodlice come but they don’t mind, they’ve seen me here before. Ants carry on regardless, always did, always will, while I curl up tight.
It’s ok, they nod as they pass by, shifting crumbs and sticks and broken things. But I can’t answer, not right now. I watch the woodlice trundle, legs rippling as if to say, there is movement, there is flow, although I can’t feel it.
And if I keep still long enough, my breathing will settle, will slow and the leaves will tremble on my back, will shudder just enough to show someone that I’m there.
And if I hold on, they might find me and lift me up and know I still belong. They might pluck me from the cracks in the patio and take me home, take me back indoors again.
And I would give my blessings to the woodlice as I leave them. And in someone’s hands I would be whole.
To be honest she had not smiled so much in years and she noted it to herself, it was undeniable but shh, she wouldn’t think about it now, not right now at least.
She would take herself away and take tea. Yes she would take tea with herself, with her best china teapot, the one from her dearest friend Kerry. Kerry with all her verve, her energy bounding like a Labrador pup, frenetic, abandoned. And she would sit opposite Kerry in her own quietness, in her smallness and wonder how it would feel to be so light.
But now, here she was with herself, with Kerry’s teapot and how she smiled, how she used muscles, dormant for years and she would give herself a good talking to. Yes, that’s what she’d do. And maybe there’d be ginger biscuits, home-made of course. Yes, something pungent to bring her back to herself and ginger root, like an old friend, who would warm her up with their familiarity and that slight kick of heat on her tongue, like the friend she could trust who would tell her home truths.
And then Madeira cake, yes then the softness would come. So gentle and kind, it would break apart in her mouth, like moments she could no longer hold. And golden crumbs would scatter, left discarded on her plate, like fragments in a relationship, like the little things left unsaid.
And yet despite it all she continued to smile. Smile, like a child who had learned a new skill and her feelings bubbled loose and fluid, tumbling round her like a ruffled toddler fresh from bed, with pillow shaped hair and a teddy bear, dragged paw first straight to the toy box before breakfast. And she was giddy, unbounded by the day.
She wanted to rush up to strangers and pull the masks from their faces, she wanted to see them smile, with their whole face not just with their eyes and if she could she would take them all out to tea. She would find a hidden teashop where the bell would jingle as she pushed through the door and trailing skirts behind her, she would drag over a chair or two. Here, here, sit a while she’d say and take tea with me and there will be ginger biscuits, Madeira cake and Darjeeling will flow pale golden into their welcome cups.
And they would sit and talk and share and smile and she would flow. Around them, she would flow through them. Shh, shh, it’s ok now. Bring me your shadows, let them out and show me who you are. And there in our darkness you’ll be safe. Let me hold your shadows close, now that I can smile.
Of course, if it were nearing the end of April she couldn’t be anywhere else but striding out towards the gate, at the end of the path, at the top of their alpine village. And her arms flew wide and wild, hair at every corner as the shutter smiled and caught her.
It held her face through the years, such that in times when she reduced in size, she would recall herself and the way she beamed. Trees blurred out behind her and his SLR bounced alongside them like a giddy Jack Russell, sniffing and rooting around for the next great shot. And they walked, for the rest of their lives it seemed, they walked up the winding path away from their alpine village which only existed for them.
It didn’t matter that her kitchen was still somewhat cold and although she seemed to sit on a hard wooden chair, she wasn’t there. She was upright on a plush train seat, looking right, as the mountains softened and the land lapped up to the side of them, in their double-deckered, pristine ride. And it would be the Wednesday, maybe Thursday but she’d be beaming, heading south, face up against the window like a child as the fields fled, as they sat side by side.
And it didn’t matter that her heating had just creaked on or the scarf around her shoulders kept her warm. She wasn’t there. She was, of course, on the low wall by the lakeside, kicking her feet and grinning, one hand holding the sunhat to her head, the other on the ubiquitous Diet Coke, in the days when all she needed was her small red rucksack and a first-aid kit to make her day. And if she paused, her wooden kitchen chair gave way to stone and the welcome seep of coolness reached her thighs despite her jeans.
Someone painted the lake for them, or so it seemed and everything was tinged azure and cobalt and they wandered. And the town was deserted or maybe not, maybe all she could see was their feet in unison, climbing the stairs up the tower and round and around and round and around to a platform where they peered out. The more she travelled the younger she became somehow as she clambered up the short steps to the very top, while he humoured her and waved from the opposite window. And she was there clutching the cobbled wall, perched on the window ledge looking down and her white cotton shirt billowed out like her hair.
And her heating rattled and complained, she needed to get the boiler serviced but not right now, now she was counting turrets and burnt sienna tiles and he was helping her back down the staircase in the secret places that they’d found.
Then the pier rose up, lakeside and people bustled but she didn’t care, she wanted to call home. And from a phone box (imagine that, a phone box) she pressed in the coins and waited for connection. Distant sounds came and crackled and then her voice burst out, like a child, like the youngest of girls. I’m in Italy, I’m in Italy and she laughed and gushed while they stood there. Cloudless, edgeless, sun waving streaks of speckled white on a lake to call their own.
And was it later or the next day, she wasn’t sure but the end of April held her close. She borrowed his shirt to protect her from the sun and while he packed or read or slept, she felt it flap around, over her t-shirt as she walked by herself in Zermatt. Not far but far enough, back up the winding path and out of town and every hanging basket sang out and called her name, colours cranked to full saturation, people on bikes and she strode. She walked out and up and away for a while, exploring by herself (a skill that would become vital years from then) but then there was no weight, no weight at all. Just herself and the village path and the drifts of snow, six-cornered starlets melting in the warmth. And could it be real, was it possible at all, that there she was, the smallest of creatures on the planet, yet her tiny frame expanded in the sun and the more she walked, the more she grew and she swung her arms and smiled, smiled liked she did on their first holiday, smiled as though there could be no pain.
She learnt to walk by herself, in his shirt to protect her and every snowflake saw her joy, every flower waved and cheered her on. It would always be the end of April and they walked the winding paths that led to now. At the start, at their start and Murano glass beads jingled round her wrist, throwing rainbows of Millefiori round her heart.
It’s so still out there, so waiting. That sense of shh, don’t worry, it will come. It’s there in the way the sunlight holds the branches, in the faint call of a hidden bird.
And I pause, breathe, that’s all. And it passes by my window, up to the left with the sparrow wings and he watches me, watching him, watching them all. We slow down, the birds and I, pause to think of sunlight.
And there they are, my creatures in the trees, pecking and singing, ruffling new feathers in this spring. And I wonder do they sense their descendants, the ones I knew, the ones who gave me feathers years ago.
And while they sang outside that window from back there, in that house then, the hem of the dress caught the light as it lay out on the bed, as if to say look at me, look at me, lift me up into your arms. And later, a little later it would be held up as I clambered inside, as I manoeuvred into my new form, like a butterfly losing meconium, drying out its fresh wet wings.
Until its weight draped round my feet and I breathed out. Birds sang unseen as the hem brushed the dust down the wooden staircase and over new mown grass to rest and pause, where cameras winked and moments froze.
Sparrows darted to the neighbour’s tree, head on one side and down the path the hem of the dress shuffled leaves until it was bundled up into the car. It sat quiet, being, folded in upon itself, cushioned on the plush carpet of the foot-well until blackbirds cut the air, overarching the church gate.
And there with the creak of old hinges, with the warmth of a palm, with the click of heels on old stone, the hem of the dress made its way home. Home, on the short path to the archway, home to the hush of the slate and it dragged feathers and fronds as it swayed, as it made its way past pews to the front.
And there it rested for a while, settled in ivory, calm where it belonged. The hem of the dress over champagne silk boots, near to sharp creases in suits and it paused, waited, just to the left of polished shoes.
And then sunlight came back to stroke it, came to throw light at the door. The hem swept and rippled, caught the coloured flecks, scattered rainbows all around, then hands scooped it back up into soft contours in the car.
Trees moved above it unseen, voices chattered and laughed while it lay crumpled up and then the grass came back, daffodils nodded and bobbed as it moved around. Photons bounced up from the duck pond, white spots and sparkles, before it coated steps and carpet-brushed itself along.
And it swooned, the hem of the dress with the tiny remnants from the day and it danced over polished floors, glided as though it would always flow, would always sway, as though in its moment there was release.
And later it lay, much later it was still, smoothed out again and silent on the protective bag at the bedside, soon to be tucked far away.
And now hydrogen coalesces into helium, firing light and heat, like it did, like it does. How reassuring as it warms up the blackbird’s wings, as it listens to the soil.
And in a different wardrobe now the hem of the the dress sleeps its sleep, cradled and swaddled in plastic, over unused things and bits and bobs. But in its weft and weave it holds the moments when it danced, when it was free, when it could shimmer and it was home.
She wondered about the grains of sand, would they still lie there, would they be there, somewhere on the beach where she ran. Or have they been washed out to sea, floating somewhere else or swallowed by fish or washed to a different port, a different country that they visited.
And the steps back up to the top, the winding cliff path with its haphazard stones and rocks. Would they still be in place or would the slate have fallen, helter-skelter down into the heather and gorse. Maybe moss covers it over now so it lies unseen by new passing feet.
And she wondered where the tea cup would be now, the fine bone china with fragile flowers and golden trim and the rose painted plate holding crumbs from the scones.
Were they broken by now, smashed on terracotta tiles, maybe chucked into some landfill. Or chipped and loved, were they cosseted on a shelf somewhere, in a cupboard, unused but cherished even now.
But she knew where the slate slabs were, the ones that smacked into her thigh as she ran, the ones she’d chosen when fluff-deep in parka pockets she charged across the sands.
They were close by even now, catching light despite the bandaged sky, in the basket to her left. And she lived there next to them, on top of them, beside them. There, where the slate remained the same despite the years and if she cradled it in her hand, her hair would whip up in sea gusts and scone crumbs would drop back to the plate. A tea cup would warm her cold hands and grains of sand would scatter and dance delirious as her small feet pushed the beach. The hours washed away, eroded. Rose and fell and rose again and she was running now towards him. Always on this day.
And the front door always sticks a little, heavy to the pull. But down goes the brass handle and I bring it in towards me as you appear. You bob in from the left, all jokes and eyes and jumpers, grey and white Fair Isle. And I’m just there, holding the door handle, looking at you, looking back at me.
And then handshakes and the laughter comes and whispers in the kitchen all rush back. And there is ham salad, of course, tea and apple pie while my little cat fusses around my legs.
Later we are out and I’m in red and black but not the velvet hat, not in those days. I keep it in the drawer instead and the Mason’s Arms appears with the younger me at college, sitting somewhere out of sight. But we walk past her, walk into their lounge and in the ancient arm chairs we drift in and out, you on the death penalty, no doubt and me on Klee and Kandinsky. I flit, topic-hopping from thought to thought like a delirious bee craving pollen. And it winds you up at the start.
Until replete, hours later, we wander down to Brueton Park and through the metal gates to the bird cages where nothing but their perches remain. We crush weeds on the abandoned path, aimless chatting in the stillness, amongst lost feathers and the sense of flight.
And then the bench. There was always the bench and I’m on the left as if to anchor me to the place where I would remain. Then walking back across the dips and hillocks, (with low clouds just like now) you take my hand.
Evening arrives at The Fat Cat Restaurant where we loiter with red wine. And we sit round the back somewhere, hugging white stone walls while their ceramic bowls of chicken fill me up. The spotlights throw up dots from high gloss glaze.
Till later, a little later, kettle boiling in the kitchen with your hand on my hip and then we sit. And so the settee rises, green and soft, with little tufts around the edge, little frayings while the tea cools down.
You in your favourite jumper and me my black waistcoat with thicker hair. You brush it away under the soft certainty, under the tick-tick-tick of my parent’s mantle clock.