I liked the terracotta tiles when we first moved there and the way the ribbed glass on the conservatory door shook every time we closed it. It was an old, neglected place, needing repair like me.
A deer turned up on the back lawn in the summer, must have come down from by the Clock House, the owners ran the local dance school, were always ferrying children or horses about. Their place backed onto the woods. The deer was startled, lost. Like me.
It froze when it saw us in the kitchen, then spooked itself and ran off, like I should have done but I stayed. Its white tail bobbed, flashed through the hawthorn, leaves ruffled where it passed, then settled themselves.
I tried to settle myself. I don’t remember the date when it first happened, somewhere near the start of that first year, I think. It just seemed a natural response, somehow. I do remember how I backed up to the white wicker laundry basket, I could feel the lines of weave as I smacked it with my hand. And then the melamine working surface, I noticed it as I shouted out and had a fleeting thought of how it might feel to bring my head down hard on it. Of course I didn’t, but it did help to think about it.
There were a lot of flies that summer, we gave up trying to catch or kill them, they seemed to take over the kitchen. I remember swatting at them, as though dislodging a thought, like something darkening which had buzzed across my mind. I was making sandwiches no doubt, my arm still hurt from earlier but it wasn’t my dominant side, so that was alright.
I remember the fake pine cladding in the hallway to the toilet, sometimes the bathroom was a place where I would stay a while, pretend I had tummy problems, that sort of thing. Keep out of the way, you know?
I wore a lot of bracelets in those days. I remember banging my fist so hard into the cladding that it dented, it formed a crevice where my small hand had smashed. My bracelets jingled in the force. A bruise came out later down the side of my fingers. I didn’t feel anything at the time of course, just the hot release of wood against my skin, something to let the energy out.
I grew to enjoy the sensation of my nails as they dug in. Well, enjoy is too strong a word but I would appreciate them, yes, I was grateful for my nails down my arm. I’d do anything to make him stop but still his words would carry on. And I remember thinking in some disheveled part of me at the back of my mind, the part of me that sat on the floor with my back to the wall and hugged my knees until it stopped, I remember that part of me was thinking this isn’t normal but by then it was already too late, by then it was just the way it was.
When we left there I took a moment with the fake pine cladding, I ran my small white fingers over the tiny gashes that I’d made. It helped me to balance things out. I didn’t want to feel sad for leaving there with all its endless lawns and deers, with the quails and rabbits, the chickens which we befriended and the summer house by the pond that I grew to call my own.
I wanted to remember how it was and where the scars were on the walls.
I wanted it to be a fresh start and I wished for that with all my heart as we drove away past the poppy fields where I had stood, smiling into the camera. I had lifted my hand to shield my eyes from the sun, lifted it up to protect myself.
Breathe on me and I will vanish, I will disperse into the air taking my long thick dark brown hair away. And the red fleece of my jacket and the fluff in my pocket will be a memory on the wind.
But you will remain with your calcite core, with your compounds, your glinting similarities to my seashells and my pearls.
And I will shine near the summit looking out to Sabden and Padiham, holding tight to Colne.
While you nestle tucked away, carboniferous in russet, smooth in sandstone in my palm. And I will rub you while I crumble, I will feel the biting wind shriek up my hair.
There with my glacial tilt, my boulder clay which called me. Pick me up and hold me close and I did. I squeezed you in my pocket, I hid you out of sight.
While December chills took my left hand to my ear to keep out the gusts. And the smell of her perfumed cheek and thickness of her winter coat were shutter clicked and frozen to the bone.
We grinned in the cold.
But you will remain with your time smoothed angles, a permanence beyond my emphemeral form. So breathe on me and watch my smile flake to the clouds, watch me scatter in the hills.
And long after the imprint of my trainers has eroded, after my keratin has blown away, you will still feel me. The warmth of my hand embedded in your limestone and your limestone and my secret smile, a fossil of our day.
Let me feel your bristles, firm against my form. Insistent, purposeful as though they’d never lived a day without motion.
Brush me from my hiding place, my quiet soft decay. Gather me up into your arms and lift me from my chill. Smother me in your hands and then release me.
But first stop. Pause.
Bring me to your face, your nose and mouth and breath me in. Long cool limitless breaths which remember me with calm, with the intricate scents of my form, with my rich bracken twisted broken core.
And inhale me deep, fill your gaps and crevices with my wisdom, my stench of a year gone by.
And then look up. Turn your face into the softened dusk, up to where the night moves in.
And then hurl.
Scatter me to the soil, to the dark places under the shrubs where the robin picks and pecks. And leave me warm, leave me replete with the hours, with the moments which slip away.
Like your hands as you release me.
And I sigh and rest my form, feel my edges crumble where your fingers traced. Feel the gladness of the earth and I will rostle and rustle into place and wait for the cold to take me home. Into my welcoming loam, mulched down soothings till the spring returns.
And it will.
And your fingers will find me once more as I dare to go around again, as I summon my courage and strength to raise my form up from the soil.
And you’ll be waiting.
Standing stoic, through the cutting winter until the light comes, until the hope will lead me back into your hands.
She buttered the bread and thought about him. The butter was slightly salted and indulgent, like him. And she indulged him. She wouldn’t admit it to anyone else but she knew that she had bought him into being and there, now that she had committed it to the page, given life to the thought, she didn’t feel so bad.
She had no recollection of when it began, he just appeared and she surrendered to the process. But she was pleased with her work though, she placed him on a hill, visible but out of reach and for many months he was divorced.
He was stoical, he carved and built, his rough hands restored and repaired. She didn’t understand how she’d achieved this, yet she recognised her thoughts in the way he carried himself, in his language patterns and proclivities.
She kept him tucked away in her top drawer, under her embroidered hankies, the ones with Lily of Valley in the corner and next to an oval photo frame with an image from her time in Paris. And there he lay, safe and warm and every week she’d take him out and listen to his mind.
And then he married. She drew him with a wife and wrestled with relief and disappointment all rolled into one. She was unsure why she had drawn him this way but maybe it kept her safe, maybe with a wife on the hill, she had no need for action and nowhere she could go.
She confused herself though. Wouldn’t it have been more frivolous and fanciful to have drawn him nearer to her town and she flushed. How would it have been to have created him without a wife? She let the thoughts settle for a while and saw herself on trains, with bags, with movement and direction, with new clothes for the trip. And there was fun. She rolled the words around her mind, tasted the idea.
It had been many years since she’d allowed herself to do anything so ridiculous and she sighed. No, he was much better off with a wife and frivolity would remain something that shimmered just outside her window, something she caught a glimpse of if she lay still and quiet at night. It was an echo, a rippling remembrance of who she used to be.
So she settled herself, brushed down the layers of taffeta that fell before her and stood up. It’s fine, she said to no one in particular, I am safer to give him a wife and so she continued.
The wife was drawn in pencil though, a 4b, something soft that she could smudge while he was fleshed out and filled in. He was flowing in gouache, viridian and cerulean with Prussian blue for depth. Rose tyrian in his gait and he strode out, surveyed his fields, he was vivid, rich in detail and recited poems from her page.
There. There now, she said in familiar tones to soothe herself. I may add details to his wife but not now, for now she is a faint drawing at the edge and that’s enough because while she is there, she keeps me from clambering on a train.
She felt a little calmer now she’d explained it to herself. He did fascinate her though and she revelled in the intricacies of his mind, in the way light and shade fell on his thoughts, in the way, despite the quality of her invention, he remained just beyond her fingertips.
She folded her sketch book away. Still, he lived in the drawer with his wife, with his ways and there was a serenity, something pure yet invigorating when she passed by his hiding place. He was in there waiting, curled up next to the pomander and the scent of lavender made him smile.
A zephyr moved the curtains of her open window, fluttered up the hankies in her drawer. She accepted it was all her own doing and took the greatest care. She pulled the window closed, her room smelt of lavender and vanilla. She smoothed down the hankies next to him and pushed back in the drawer. Go steady she told herself, it was almost as though he was becoming real.
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.
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.