Building Blocks

We sat together in the dappled light at the back of the bus and I noticed him staring out. Did he see what we called the Spelling Hill, like I did? Did his eyes rest on the pavements that we walked for years? I saw the trees, I recognised them even now, their shapes and they punctuated our journeys long ago.

And then the road curved and the bus trundled its way into town. We drove over the subway I painted, over the bright colours from primary school and I stood there with him, proud and young and we were all there together back then. 

We rattled, his secondary school came up on the left and was gone. The slope up to the gates, the Home Straight he called it and it seemed so small, so close to home. How could it have seemed such a massive step? Yet it was, back then. 

And down the hill towards the top of town and past the hospital where I half look. And there’s the wall that I rushed past on that winter morning, coat flapping, heart pounding into the doors and the black caverns they contained.

Nineteen years ago I sat propped up in a bed, a bed-guard to my side so I could feed him where I lay and I held him but now we sit side by side in silence, a packaged-up toy at his feet. I’ll post it later. I had folded the bricks into tiny bags, with care, in colour order, I thanked them and went on my way. And now someone else I’ll never know will open the box soon and build, but not us, not with those toys.

The hospital fades and to my left I see the new builds, the expensive apartments and the cranes and steel. Their branding is loud, insistent and a huge sign comes into view, it says ‘Discover Your New Life.’ I focus on the words and pull each one into me, as though every letter was illuminated and then we pass.

The train station arrives and with it, the site of him marching off to college, to the right, under the bridge and away – but not today. Even that mass of buildings which I visited twice seems small and close, just here, in our town, by the station. Local.

We hold the parcelled-up toy between us, taking turns to lift it as he works the ticket machine and as I  pay and collect tickets for him. A pass the parcel game with no forfeits.

Outside at the front amongst the taxis and the rushing people, we pause, we stand huddled to check on what we’ve just done. One of the returns tickets is missing, so while he waits, holding onto the toy, I go back inside and resolve it. The ticket master is kind, he looks like a young Rob Brydon and everything feels alright. 

Back outside I notice a man to my left, and he wears my husband’s clothes, his head, with a similar angle and his stance. I find myself staring but pull myself away, back to our son but I am caught up. I am a tangled mess in a moment that didn’t happen, in a parallel time where my husband stood there helping us. And I reeled. I shattered on the inside as we moved away from him.

On the bus home and from my vantage point at the back, I note the heads, the strangers swaying as we turn up the hill, our son sat with the toy parcel, two seats away and to the right, there’s a soft, gentle tembling of a lady with Parkinson’s. I want to hold her. I want to get up and with no words, slip onto the the seat by her side. I want to hug her, to ease her till the shaking fades, but I can’t. I hold her with my eyes instead and wait for my stop. 
I will take the parcel from our son and while he makes his way back home, I’ll walk up to the Post Office and sign it over to someone else. 

We rounded the island, the out of date sunshine lit up the bus and strangers jiggled, most in silence, lost in their own worlds. I watched the back of our son’s head, I remember the curve of his skin behind his ear, I used to see it when I first fed him but not now. Now it’s covered in long hair and he looks out left. 

Behind me, in the very back seat, a tiny girl sings out, she is free, oblivious to others, and her voice fills the space. She is full of joy for her journey, she is out and ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round‘ she tells everyone. Some zone her out, others smile and I see how perfect it all is. 

Soon, sooner than she realises, she’ll be sat on a bus with her mother, with train tickets to University in her bag and they’ll prepare. It will be soon and though they know that they have years right now, it will disperse before their eyes, it will seep away and ripple out through time. Then they’ll be me, then they’ll be us, sat on a bus marking memory. 

I press the bell and the bus slows down, as I wobble, clutching the pole, I take the parcel from out son. His warm fingers let it slip from his grasp and now it’s mine. I step from the bus and glance up but I can’t see him, the light masks my view but he’s there somewhere heading home. At the Post Office while I pay, I think of the bricks and bits of plastic tucked inside, I think of our games and the things we created. I hand it over, it belongs to someone else now and as I leave, I lock eyes with a tethered red setter and I have that sense that even the animals know what I’m thinking. 

Nearing home I cut under the subway I painted, it shines out despite the years, despite the hours since we stood there grinning into the lens. And then I turn, left and right and almost back. At home, our son will have beaten me too it, he’ll be practicing keyboard, he’s got a concert coming up. I imagine him smaller, kneeling by a smaller keyboard, learning Jingle Bells and now he’s in the opposite corner on a piano, hair shoved behind his ears, fingers blurring and outside on the patio, my titanic rose has come into bloom. It reverberates with his rhythms and I quicken my step. 

In the pathways behind our home, the council have been out, they’ve mowed the grass. It makes my nose run, my eyes pool up. Remnants of its growth are everywhere, they carpet my route like confetti, in a celebration of movement and time.
We’re nearly ready and tomorrow our son will use the tickets we’ve just bought to head to University and as my feet push the pavement, my eyes start to run a  little more.

Wheels turn round and round, making complete revolutions and we are fine. We will be fine. We are fluid. We’ve got this. ❤️

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A Brief History of Us

In a park, somewhere in an old deep green and bristled wood, there was a car. It was an old car, corners had rust and the seats had seen better days but it still worked. And although the miles had built up on the clock, it still drove quite well, well enough to bring him to her door.

They sat in the car, her hair waving and him in the driving seat with his list of objectives and plans. They talked. They always talked and here in the car, near the car park at the swimming baths, they sat and talked about Stephen Hawking.

She didn’t have much time for scientists, not in those days and she listened to him chatter and enthuse. It all seemed so alien to her, so remote from her ways and her thoughts.

There in a park, far from where she was now, they would sit and think about knowledge, argue over the unknowable and as lunchtime turned towards afternoon, she promised to read the book.

A Brief History of Time became their bible and on distant settees far from his, she made notes and she frowned at the pages. And as weeks became months and strangeness seeped into familiarity, she found her way.

Planets crept into her soul and atomic mass with all its inherent uncertainty became the conversations of a Sunday night. How odd it seemed that she grew to follow his ways, his words and yet now, leaning up the kitchen cupboard, how strange it was that there could have been any other way than this one.

This was the way and they knew it at a cellular level, and certainty was woven into every interaction and every dream.

And years later their son was on his way home, top deck, front seat of a double decker. And the trees brushed past the glass that held him and his college bag was heavy with unseen words.

She thought back to first of the parks and his old car and all the talking. There seemed to be no passage of time between now and who they were back then.

Stephen Hawking had bent the fabric of their spacetime and they rolled into each other with a permanece that was unknown to them, back there, back then in the car.

In the now, the bus with their child came nearer and she thought of the worlds that had changed. And in an echo of the car wheels turning was their son playing out all the maths, their boy calculating and rejoicing in calculus and if he could, he’d have sat in the back of the car in the past and shown his parents the workings out. There, on his pure white page was the algebra to the split screen experiment and equations for Schrödinger’s cat.

In a park, in a car many light years away from here they all sat, together. And they were unaware of this day unfolding as they read, as they talked, as they laughed.

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.

 

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.’


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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Tiny Bells that Jingled

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She wanted to be lying awake in that bed, the one with the candlewick green cover and the white gloss windowsill would shine to her left in the early morning sun. Downstairs she would hear the sounds of breakfast and the stereo system would play something familiar that she hadn’t chosen herself. Its smoked grey plastic lid would be leaning up the honeyed pine wall and its casters would sink deep into the soft pink carpet.

At the end of her bed, the old wardrobe would loom up, so walnut, so dark and full of the things she no longer wore and the toy rabbit her friend bought her when they spent all summer in the town.

And she wanted to get up and reach into her other wardrobe on the right, the one near the old kitchen chair that she kept at the side of the bed. The new wardrobe that was fitted into the wall, which stored the clothes that she wore now and she would think. It was a morning when she’d already decided what she would wear that night and she would look at the crinkled white blouse, how its sleeves scooped out at the cuffs, like a pre Raphaelite, like someone floating down a stream. And the skirt, the full cotton, how it jingled at the waist, how she’d loved it in the shop, and bought it from the place she never visited again. And she wanted to feel its black and white fabric on her nylon coated legs and she would swirl, she would practice her turns for the evening and her smiles as he’d stand at her door.

And here now, under the ceiling light they kept from his old bedroom, coated in the dust she cannot reach, she would lie and recreate her bedroom and the sounds of the morning before that night. The day before her Father’s birthday party, when they sat and ate and laughed around the table she knows well. And only they knew about the night before, when the pub had been quiet and the breeze by the canal had russeled around her long skirt and later in the still of the house they’d hushed upstairs to her room with the green curtains closed and they had talked and whispered in the dark.

And now, for a second, for a single heart beat under the ceiling light that used to hang over his bed, that hangs over their bed now, she took herself back. And she was there, waking up in her old bedroom, brushing back the hair from her younger face and it was the day, the day he turned up in the evening and she smiled in the black and white skirt.

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