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. ❤️

The Art of Navigation

And suddenly I’m back as though I never went away, as though the trees have been upholding me. And I stand here, now, in the roar and thunder of leaves, in the gentle kiss of rain onto my hands and weather soothes. 

Tiny pin pricks of water dance across my fingers and I feel. How could I have been so far? How could I have moved from that perfect day? But I hadn’t. Not at all.

It’s in these moments that I see the mystery of time, that I reverberate with it deep inside my core. It seems a joke, a convenience that we tell ourselves, that we are here or there, then or now but I know that we are both.

And in these heightened places I have no form, just a sense of energy, of feelings. In my garden, on the fringes of this storm I am far away. I am in the car park at the Inn and that skirt swishes around my ankles and we leave.

Tiny bells blown by the winds that blow me now and I can feel it, years and miles from here. The cord around my waistband, jingles and in our car park, on the edge of our world, the moments line up ahead.

I am here.

In my young body, I am old, my vacant womb is waiting and somehow as we drove away, I rippled, ancient. I eased out into myself. This self, olden me, wiser me, slipping between the girl and the woman with you always on my shoulder, just like then. 

A robin emerged from the bamboo, he appeared in my peripheral vision, as if to wink or raise its eyes. It sat watching me, watching it and all sense of movement dropped away, till we were locked, bird and women, woman and bird, neither one of us moving but both of us remembering the fledglings that we were. 

I shimmered, called to him and head in the air, he hopped just close enough for food and then away. I know he watches me from the bushes, I feel him close. 

The sky is swollen now, beating puddles at my feet but I am under the robin’s wing where I belong and there, protected by his feathers, I wear my black and white skirt, my crinkled white blouse is crisp against the summer sun and we are young.

Meals come and go, car wheels spin until home and to covers that hold us like these wings. Time means nothing to me today.
I am this heavy rain, this breeze against my cheeks and I am still. 
The sun wants to come out, to dry out the robin’s wings. But we both shelter. Somewhere a rainbow will be forming, I can feel it in the lightening of the sky. Somewhere I wear that skirt, always and under these wings, we’re still young.

I know this moment well. It’s for keeps.

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.

Quayside Keeps

Such a quiet bird, she thought and then a sky song spiralled out. And it sang as though it always had time for feathers, as though this was its home. And she saw herself, ship high and blown, above the docks on rising waves and it was here, next the creaking beasts up top and with blustered hair, that she grew. 

Here, that her sense of wings exploded to the seas, it was here and always would be. Down underneath its hulk, by the menshouts and leaden ropes there would be bicycle wheels. On pavements grey there would be spokes turning rubber, metal rubbing, gears changing and younger than her, his speckled legs would be pushing on the pedals that she couldn’t see. 

And there he was, escaped and expanded, exploring the docks by himself. Whiteout at his side, slabsteel towering high and he looked up. Painted letters sang out her name and he was there, adrenaline pumping, muscles aching, boundless and new on his bike.

And he grinned, up and up, to the top of ship, he squinted in the light, hair with a single curl at the front that zinged up like hope, like irrepressible joy and he was young. 

She looked down, wings nestling in her back, thin greying hair, a testament to travel and as grunts of men hauled ropes and chains released her, she swayed towards him. 

He paused on his bike, so young and persistent, with a button bright mind, sabatier sharp, the boy who took her hand across the years and from the quayside his story burbled into hers, in the churn and spume, in the chaos of waves, his eyes locked onto hers, always and he freed her. 

Wings ruffled bright, as her daysong followed the clouds, she saw him, and because of him  a boy on a bike, she flew.

 

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.

A Certainty Like This

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The hills came back, they wrapped around her like an old friend, like a mother’s arms and she was safe, more than that, she was free.
Iris folded herself into her coat, it was a heavy, twisted wool with a knitted corsage on the left lapel, chocolate brown and as warm as it looked. It would be alright, she insisted to herself.
The platform was cruel. It hollered, ripping bits off people, tearing steel and diesel smashed through air, but she didn’t mind. To be fair, she thought, nothing can get through to me now, nothing can scrape or stab me and she let the trains do their worst. Her hair was thrown upwards like a beacon, her coat billowed out behind, filling her form until she swelled, bigger than her shape, her smallness hidden from the world and then she stepped.

Iris climbed onto the 10:17 to Wolverhampton.

Familiar towns whipped and passed. She watched reflections of people staring into laptops, intent on their day as she gripped the seat beneath her, scrubbed the nap backwards and forwards in her small hand. Yes, she was still there.
And changing for another train she felt the air she needed getting nearer and on and up through cities she used to know, places they’d visited when cars were hired and journeys made. Now it was a screech of a platform and cold strangers looking in beyond her, searching out seats by her side.
Tiredness pulled her down through another change of station and she wondered about her sanity, whether she’d really left home at all and if she had, what would she do when she got there?
She dozed. The weight of the hours closed her eyelids and the rocking of the carriage carried her away. She saw mountains and pine trees, how they framed themselves in one moment. The stream was drawn down through the image like a child’s artwork and it jumbled and glinted over rocks. She was there in the old train. Their train, warmed and wrapped from the Alps, stuffed full of chocolate and memories. The bowl of baked cream, the wicker chickens and the sky. How clear it had been, how far away but its light lit their rooms and their beginnings.

The train shook her awake into the sunlight dropping shadows, streaming out across the land. Iris blinked herself back into the afternoon, ordered a black coffee because she could and sat, mug hugging as she closed in nearer to her old town.

***

And morning came. Morning, after her tired trudge to the B and B, daylight after the restlessness of lumpen foam, of unfamiliar sounds and scented sheets. But morning came as it did back then, when they slept in spontaneous rooms, when owners smiled and gave them a key to the room on the left of the landing and they were there. It wasn’t just the mountain air that filled her lungs, that sparkled her eyes, it was the touch of herself, it was the sound of her laughter and in narrow streets with no plans, they ran.

Iris walked up alleyways, she walked taller than she was, like a bride to an unseen alter, she traced her steps. And there in the light rolling up the mountains, there in the air that she recalled, she found the pub. She pushed the heavy door and turned left by the coat stand and there she was.
Her hair was dark, long across her shoulders, her fleece jacket, the colour of her cheeks and she looked up. She didn’t see Iris, of course because she was laughing with her boyfriend. His back was towards her so Iris couldn’t see his face but she knew it well. She knew every curve and every furrow and she watched. They pushed the plates to one side, knocked back the remains of their drinks and said ‘let’s go.’
There, on an unplanned adventure with few clothes to their names, there, just north of his mother’s home where they’d travelled to because they could, they laughed and they sneaked out. They left the pub without paying, just once – only once because the staff were unresponsive and they, themselves were young. They were away together for one of the first times and they could run.
He took her hand and they walked straight through Iris standing at the door and how they ran, laughing like children down the cobbled lane until they stopped just beyond her sight, bent double and caught their breath.

Iris left the pub, she followed their trail and held them again in the distance. The girl looked back, saw Iris and stopped. She stood there in the crisp clarity of the mountains, she stretched up tall and wide and flung her arms to the sky. There, in a place Iris remembered, there, with him by her side. The girl squealed out, head back eyes tearing, lungs full and she was free. He photographed her and Dear God, she was so free.

Iris ran, she charged towards the girl and the girl knew. She opened wide her arms and called her home.
It’s alright,’ she whispered as Iris sobbed on her shoulder. The girl took her hand and showed her and there in the mountains with the light falling on her greying hair, Iris reached up. She threw her arms up to the clouds and called out his name.
She pulled the air around her, the sense of him, their purpose and how she’d grown. Iris in the mountains, arms wide in celebration of her form. It was yesterday, it was always there. And it was now and freedom was her name.

Lake District 1

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.