It didn’t matter to her that she pushed English pavements under her feet, or that the maple leaves which cluttered round her boots were from local trees – she was not there.
And it didn’t matter that the spire which she was drawn towards, or the parapet which pulled her eyes up to the sky, belonged to Saint Peter’s Church or that the gentle whisps of white which framed it, came from her Hampshire sky – she was not there.
And because she wasn’t there it didn’t matter that her English streets were busy with people wrapped and warm. And because she wasn’t there, her form cast no shadow as she passed Saint Peter’s Church because her boots were in Barcelona and her autumn coat was a waterfall top. It billowed around her hips like the soft white fluff above the spires which framed the baby sweetcorn. And it was irrelevant that her eyes looked up to a Hampshire sky because they were not there. They looked out across the park and studied Gaudi’s glory which left an imprint in her mind.
It didn’t matter where her boots wandered in an English town because she wasn’t there. She was striding out across the Carrer de Sardenya as though her small feet belonged on Spanish soil.
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.
The mint leaf rested effortless on the hot water’s surface tension, so it had just enough support. And in her morning mug the sky trembled, the trees rippled in their inverted world.
She thought of reflections of the restaurant ceiling, upside down in her wine glass, garnet red and rounded, with its full deep sun warmed taste.
The sun was up in the Now, drying leaves, dropping pale light across her golden browns. But she wasn’t there, she had stood in ancient ruins in the morning and now, back on the coach trip their bellies rumbled from the early start.
Lunch came, with perfect pasta, passing bowls to strangers across a carnival of colours. She drank it all in, at the long wooden table where they sat. She looked right and up to the violet curtains, gold organza fluttering, how they seemed to light up despite the dimness of the candle lit room. And if she took out her small camera she would capture them and have the moment frozen for all time.
But nothing could hold the colours, like jewels against the window and she watched the sunbeams dance amongst the dust as though everything was slowing down. It was as though the moment was calling out to her, look at me, look at me, this is a second to hold. Side by side, in the flickering dim and although her camera could never do justice to the light, she knew her mind would keep it safe. And there they were in that restaurant with high ceilings and wooden walls, sharing food with the strangers of their day.
And later, much later, the fountains and bridges faded to a hush, to a crowded, shoulder to shoulder throng looking up. Quiet, neck-straining to take in the paintings up above and how strange it seems now. That oddness in the thought of rubbing shoulders with no fear, and they stood crammed in together, tasting the air, breathing without masks, without hand gel.
She dropped back to the Now and the day that lay ahead of her but it was tinged, it was softened around the edges like the quality of light. And if she breathed in long and deep she was full, she was lost again to the scent of the Sistine Chapel.
There was a time when white sands flanked them on the left as they wandered, when the beach framed the bay, resplendent, calming like a long out breath.
At the end of the road by the market stalls, Matisse’s house stood, elegant and shuttered, perfect angles under the startling sun. And thinking about his paintings, how they seemed to be lit by the same insistent sun, as though the paint itself was lit from within.
And in one breath she lived there, russet skirts brushing the stairs as she came down in the morning. There would be no rush as she chattered with the stall holders. A smile and a joke and then with her basket full of nectarines and oranges she would drift away to the edge of the beach. And staring out to sea she would feel herself ripple and drink in the day.
And later back in Cannes the moment was frozen by a passerby, dressed head to toe in baby pink and tripping by her feet was her clipped poodle, dyed pink to match the owner. Woman and dog sparkling in the heat.
Their day was a vibrant palette, bright colours on each brush. It was a painting to stare into on dark chilled autumn mornings. And there, in the South of France she wore white and she seemed to be lit from within.
And she floated down to the earth with her leaves, twisted, crumbling. They caught the sun as they fell, each one a moment, a glimpse of her. Here. There. And she cascaded, one second into another.
The girl in jeans lying on his bed, waiting for a trip to the forest. And they were there, wrapped and younger with hours ahead. And leaves crunched.
And then the morning, one year later, squeezing through packing boxes and squashed into his car, they traveled north. The fig plant on her lap, bouncing, faded lemon and green leaves, tangling into her long hair. And they unpacked.
A blackbird skooshed under the branches in the right here, right now and then she fell again, dropping from the trees, a mess of golden, a curled up fading form.
And she was there in their new lounge, taking on the owner with her fiancé to her right. A stressed-out seller to her left, who sabre rattled a rolling pin in the face of her husband-to-be.
And she rallied, she reared up. ‘You’ll have to get through me first’ she said and her words rattled around her head, the phrase that became their anecdote, in their new home, in their new life, on that day in a distant autumn.
And leaves fell and she joined them, down and down, as though there were no structure to her thoughts, as though her edges had given way. The sun in the Now called out to her, soothed her through the mothering blue of an empty sky.
And in the cloudless start to her day, she stood flanked and strong by her husband and son, as they stared out across the park. Gaudí’s Cathedral looked back, its stone sweetcorn against their perfect sky and it soared up, magnificent, intricate, an image almost permanent.
And they walked on, following the tour guide with her yellow sign, held high. The ground still swayed a little but they were out. Feet on dry land, together, hands linked as they went on their way.
And leaves fell in the park in Barcelona, and beyond her window in the right here and right now, she floated down. She let the cool breeze carry her, gentle, down-to-earth, where she rested with the others, where she turned her head up to face the sky.
She was the warm yellows of her past, in a scattered ochre morning. She watched herself fall down, an October mulch to feed her day.
She saw their faces, Florida worn and florid as they bellowed across the starched white breakfast linen. She let it wash across her.
They were a freak show at the table, a curiosity over the crisp hot bacon slice, the entertainment in their morning, while the orange pulp left bits inside her mouth. And she saw themselves stretched out, distorted in the silver coffee pot, elongated versions of themselves, smiling as the table rocked, almost imperceptible with judderings under foot.
The overnight pitch and yaw still rattled in her mind, the slam and crash of metal, tipping, tilting hard. And down the narrow corridors, room service trolleys swayed, clattering into closed doors.
Bay of Biscay batterings until exhaustion beat the waves and by dawn the creaking eased, by dawn the swell had calmed and took them, in gilded lifts, to start the day.
And their morning opened in the background buzz of chattering, of clinking cutlery, of sausage sizzle with its fat dripping on their chins while seasoned travellers just shrugged off the storm.
A gentle rolling with short sleeved strangers in the constant supply of toast.
There were days, months ahead of her when this feeling would be common, when this fragile sense fighting foes, of wrestling waves would be familiar in her day. But not then, then it was just a squall to ride and nothing more.
And the weather came up to greet her. She was so thankful for its covering, the solid mass of grey and in the twist and ripple of the orange and tired greens she could relax.
It was a time of ease, of unfurling and soon she would be out there, twirling, the rain clattering into her face, like sea spray, like that moment, that becoming.
And there she was, purple-wrapped in chiffon, hair up ended by the gusts and from the deck, their town would shrink and from their place above the churning grey they would be captured.
There. Then. In that second that defined them. Together swaying.
And today storms promise from beyond her double glazing and she’s primed to be out in it once again. To be twisted and ruffled, inverted like the leaves that stir her hair. And her feet push concrete but all she can feel are the waves, glorious, impermanent, rising up to meet her like that day.
Paul drove them, to drop them off from his tattered golden car. His children chirruping behind her head as the ship reared up on their left. The softened autumn sun glinting off the side of his bald head and they were there. Piling out onto the slipway, suitcases, hugs and her purple scarf danced around her, untethered.
It’s that been-awake-throughout-the-night-belly-pulsing-tight kind of feeling. That scrawling-numbers-on-a scrap-of-paper-at-your-side kind of thing.
And you clamber and you stagger, grateful for the banisters that hold you up, thankful for the waiting car and helpful hands.
It’s that September-14th-early-morning-neighbours-taking-kids-to-school kind of moment when the spasms send white heat back up your spine. And you note the trees blurred on your journey, on the corner near the lights.
It’s that being-helped-back-out-the-car-and-to-a-wheelchair kind of morning and faces and corridors come and go and then you wait.
Yes, it’s that kind of waiting, kind of morning. That kind of primal knowing through the hours.
It’s a me-on-a-bed kind of feeling, buzzed with cortisol, fuzzed with lack of sleep kind of thing.
It’s a September-14th kind of feeling, that resolve kicking in, that start-of-the-longest-week kind of thing.