The Swaddling (87,600 Hours)

Shhh listen, settle down and hug up close, close to your knees, to your heart. Can you feel it beating under your clothes, under your skin? And in this moment you are safe, you are softened, you are small.

I’m trying to catch the thoughts, though they drift, they waver. I watch them rise and fall like my chest as I sit wide eyed but tired, embers crackle in my mind, a dog sniffs the air somewhere, but not here. It’s early, it’s dark although the sun is up.

I feel I’m preparing to hike but I have no thoughts as to where. The best of journeys then, to saunter. Maybe. And there is purpose of course, but I hide it from myself right now.

So huddle up, breathe deep and slow. Shhh, you are warm. Safe. It will be ok. I promise.

I lift the thought up into my vision, turn it around on the tips of my fingers, like a marble, like a jewel and watch it close. But while I study its colours, its form and feel the weight of it in my hand, in my heart, I will be curled up at my feet, I will be held.

So go ahead, choose the marbles, like the little girl with white socks, with battered red Start-Rite shoes and there she goes. She runs down the path at the side of the bungalow. The marbles chink in her small fist, they rub together but in each one a tiny universe turns though she cannot see it yet. She plays with them. Rolls them down the path. They smash and clatter, spin sideways into the hellebore.

The soil gets under her nails as she pulls them out, brushes them off on her red and blue boiled wool coat. She lifts them to her face and peers inside. Blues swirl to eau-de -nil, a smear of burnt umber at the edge, and on the edge, deep inside the marble in her hand, there is a woman. She stands still in a field, ravens circle, cut the air. It is cold. It is February. She is alone.

The little girl squeezes the marble in her hand then opens wide her palm and peers into the glass. There’s a woman deep inside, a woman on her hill. The little girl strokes the marble, brushes off the dried on soil and inside of it, like a fly in amber, frozen cold, the woman on the hill calls out. She calls out to the five year old in the garden, she looks up to the sky, to the dome beyond, to the small girl stroking her through the years and the glass. I’m scared she calls out to the child and the little girl nods and says I know. I understand.

She places the marble in the warm depth of her coat pocket and skips off down the path.

The fire spits. Shh, it’s warm now, breathe and rest and I will plait your hair. A distant dog barks somewhere but not here. The day is grey and leaden but not outside, outside it’s sodden winter, unsafe leaves to pull me down, the ever present threat of concrete and the fall. So we curl up. Sit by the fire. Shh, let the buttered toast soothe and calm.

Choose another marble now.

And through the embers a little girl skips down the path, she kneels on the cold slabs but doesn’t feel their hardness, it scrubs her knees but she is lost in play.

The marbles clatter, scrape and dart off under the carnation bush, its soft blue grey stalks bend over as if to shield, as if to save the day. The little girl shoves her hand in and rummages around. Bugs and worms startle, scatter at her fingers, soil coats her nails, crumbled twigs and leaves are pushed and then she finds it.

Out and up, triumphant and she gives a little dance. Her favourite marble, a fob, her mother calls it, and she looks deep inside. A rollercoaster twists lilac and indigo, like a captured ocean wave. It rises and falls in her hand, sweeps and dips, her face pressed up close to it, its coldness on her cheek. She peers inside and through the blues sits the image of a woman by a hospital bed. Her face folded in on itself and under her raincoat she is being severed from herself. She glances up and out through small side window, past the charts and words she cannot read and out and up and back to girl with the marble. And in her silent voice she screams out loud I cannot do this – help me.

And the little girl kisses the marble and pats it on the top. You’ll be ok she says then places it in her pocket, soft and warm, held and loved and it chinks against the others in the the fluff.

There now, there now, shh, drink this. I hand her a mug of hot orange and she sips and sobs. The broken woman at my feet, heavy from the hike, with leaden legs, looks out. She stares into the fire and through the sparks skips a tiny girl singing.

New shoes, blue shoes, stomp along like that shoes…

She has an old grey cat under her arm, its cream chest of matted fur has been stroked for years. It is battered, it is loved. And in her hand is a bag of marbles. They chink and scrape as she clambers out towards us.

Shh, shh she says. Don’t worry I’ve got you now. And her tiny arms grow wide to encircle us all.

I stoke the fire, flecks of things that used to be rise up and twirl, the heat pushes them, lifts them higher then lets them fall, spinning down, fading.

We curl up tight together, our breath settling through the sobs until we have one rhythm. Our chest rising and falling and we are safe and we are home.

A marble rolls out of the bag across to the hearth where the firelight reflects us back. And through the glass we can be seen in the indigo and violets swirls, a cocoon of us, cradling each other.

Shh, shh. There now.

Thrash

Imagine if you woke up to find you were a crocodile. And it wouldn’t be so bad, not really. You’d lie there untroubled by the day ahead. Waiting for your gut to rumble or prompted by the stench of blood, would slide downstream, to roll and thrash.

It wouldn’t be an infringement on your day to feel the ripple of your muscles, to dip below the waterline, eyes blinking. Silent, then gone.

And just to be. Swathes of flesh flick through papyrus, deep diving to the hollows where your stash of prey lies, soft. The pitch dark night beneath, it’s comfortable for you.

Imagine that. Eighty-five million years of instinct in your jaws and no anxiety. Nothing to bring a tightness to your chest or a dryness to your mouth. No fear to stop you moving far. Just grace in your assault, primal pureness in your heart.

And it wouldn’t be so bad to wake without the sense of dread, without the hyper vigilance, without the threat at every turn.

There’s always tomorrow I suppose. Maybe then I’ll wake to find I am a crocodile.

Circle Theorem

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.

We are everywhere, integrated and we are strong.

To the Edge

 

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I seem to have spent many hours at train stations recently and I am draw to them, to their sense of purpose, of people moving and having plans, like they belonged, like there were places where they could go and I watch.

There are those moments, you know, when the announcement crackles overhead and the voice has such authority and it warns. Instructions issued, orders to follow and they implore us to keep away from the edge. The next train will not stop. There’s something cold about the words like a noose on a breeze and it hangs there. And then the seconds, then the air turns to anticipation. Feathers caught up in the slipstream, tussle to a safer place, a pigeon beats the detritus upwards and settles out of sight in the flaking paint of the eaves. He senses it coming.

And then it comes. There are these blisters you see, these weals of the world where people wait and wonder. It seems as though, for a frozen beat of our collective hearts that everyone waits and watches from the corner of our eyes. Is it today, is it this moment that they will choose to jump in front of the train? And we are braced, we bristle as the air charges, almost throbs with the approaching sound. And it’s nearly here and we watch and it comes. It’s here, the joyous cut, the ripping surge of an irresistible force, turning the station to dust, screaming by in grey and black. Grey-black, grey-back, grey-black whips my face to come inside, I am sucked into its rhythm, I dissolve in the repeats as it calls out I still live.

I live – I live – I live, listen to me, I’m here with all the potential to tear the heart from your form, to sculpt your skin onto my windscreen and it shrieks and it thunders and I sit, blurred in the fracture as it moves. The opposite platform startles into view, the moment that has passed and taken my hair with it, blown across my face with the chill of actions un met and I am numb.

It dips away to a hollow moaning, paper flutters in a distant screech as it leaves us and no one speaks. No one dares to raise an eye towards the look of a stranger because if we did, if we made that connection to another soul, then we might see them and in that glance, in that act of holding someone’s gaze, we might see ourselves – small and shaking, trembling in a fear we dare not name. And so we look down, we shuffle our stance and pretend we haven’t we shared the thought.

The platform settles, quiet and I check my ticket. I am still waiting for a train but not that one, not the one that doesn’t stop, not today, not here, not now. Not now in this fracture, in this scar of people with places to go to from my platform.

And I am alone in my head and I wait.

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Dolores Feeds the Birds

 

Bird Nightmare

If you were in the head of Dolores you would hear the birdsong. She found that morning had turned up again and the trees were full of chattering which surprised her. Yesterday she couldn’t move. Yesterday she was breathing and she knew that to be true because she sat and watched her chest rise and fall, while all that remained of her thoughts lined up in an orderly queue, to present themselves to her.

It had been the hottest day of the year. People had wandered around in shorts, barefoot as though they belonged to the soil while she sat indoors. She poured the southern comfort into a mug and sipped.

Tony would be up soon. He always lay in after work, he always ate steak and mushrooms on pay day and he would tell her she’d make someone a good wife one day – and laugh. He’d roar; head back, broken tooth shining yellow in the evening musk and Dolores would watch his mouth. Mother used to say he had a cruel mouth but she wouldn’t listen to her. Mother didn’t know how good he’d make her feel, he took her out and showed her the sights and she would try food she’d never heard of, long before his frowning, before he started to make her jump.

She knew he was right of course; no one else in the village would take her in, not now. He was the one who plucked her like a rose, who made her his own and he branded her. He would laugh long and wide as he smacked his hand down on the backs of her thighs, and she would wince but she deserved it. She supposed Mother was right after all but she couldn’t think about that now.

Now she had to make the breakfast, now she needed to squeeze the juice from the fresh Jaffa she’d bought at the market, she loved its smell as it pierced her nose, as she rung the life out of it, little bits of pith and flesh floating in her green jug.

And now morning was around her, the birds wanted some plump crumbs. She was surprised at the thickness of the cloud, how the radio crackled and despite the fact she hadn’t eaten for days, she felt no need for food. She felt nothing.

Dolores opened her back door and dropped the phone receiver towards the ground. It caught the edge of the walnut table, chipping its old green plastic like her head when she couldn’t cook steak, when his hands and her hair had entangled and she remembered the sweat of his armpits when she curled small into the floor.

The receiver lay lifeless on the carpet near their door, Dolores slipped out into the garden to feed the birds, they sounded so full of joy. She tilted her head to the side and listened out for the police car.
They would understand.

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