She would be standing there now, looking up. So much of that time seemed to be about looking up or looking out in that outward expanding world. Not like this, not like this small enclosed tight place.
But that was then and so she looked and listened to the guide. They were taken to a shop selling leather coats, its heavy scent still lingered and here the crowd of strangers stopped just to use the toilets. The owner watched as people drifted in and out to the back of his shop, some stopping to stroke the leather but no-one buying. He nodded to them as they passed by. He was used to it I suppose, an arrangement with the tour guide. Perhaps she was a friend.
Tired feet pushed down on the Piazza di San Giovanni, drifting around a stall of puppets. Pinocchios dangling, hopeful, desperate to feel real again. And back along by the side of the cathedral, soft russets against blue, she looked back up.
Pinocchio swung in the small boy’s hand and they walked on, through medieval alleyways in the footsteps of tourists, capturing moments like you do, like they did.
And later after coaches pulled up in the rain in a Pisa carpark, she bartered with the brolly sellers, a trick she did often and well.
And there they were again, another second, backpacks and cameras, holding up the tower in the rain. At the market stall, the bags and scarfs pulled her close and as their boy learned how to make Pinocchio dance she pottered amongst the gifts.
The tasseled black and red scarf still hangs in her wardrobe but then it was clutched in her hand, then it was her trophy from the day and they rushed back.
And just before the meeting point where her husband waited, she slipped for a second, went over on her right ankle, on the wet cobbled lane and then regained.
Raindrops on coach windows, a greyed out Pisa on their left, throbbing ankle and a new scarf to wrap up the day. But Pinocchio sat on the young boy’s lap to her right, small and wooden, his painted eyes, trying to recall what it felt like to be alive.
Grazie mille, they whispered to the town as they pulled away.
It always comes back to blossom, every year no matter what. And her road wound its way, like it did, up from their tiny home and turned left.
The colours started then, the froth and flutter like the taffeta scrunched around her, filling the back seat, like their petals filled the sky.
And turning right around the roundabout where she would take their unmade child, where school walks would be full of leaves and sticks, she saw her village on the right.
It ebbed away like her childhood, tucked safe inside her like the hidden garter on her leg and they drove on. At the junction trees came out to cheer her, smiled and waved in baby pink and candy whites as though they’d been grown just for this day, as though their only purpose was to shine.
And she sat and shimmered. Another roundabout and the hill eased down into her town, traffic lights held them while cherry flowers bobbed and frilled. Down and down, through the sap lined chorus, till a sharp left and squeeze of her hand. A chauffeur’s smile like the morning, as if he were the creatures in the branches turning their gaze towards the car, and calling out ‘look look, the blossom is out, watch her swirling now.’
And she sat. Two turns to go and moments folded round her, people scattered and petals burst, giddy, gleeful as though this was the first day to sing.
A route they’d travelled and planned with care through autumn leaves, but now every branch etched the sky just for her and every blossom swooped like swifts dived and murmured, like swathes of bird’s wings coming home.
Last turn right, until gates framed her, frills and fussing, with flowers in her arms. The tiny church path held her ivory feet and she came out in the blossom, like her day, like her trees, like her moment to stand out in the sun.
Leaves sparkled as she swept, soft pink, white scent before the hush. The cherry trees came out to hold her, to show her how to live. Bursting full, grabbing hours before they ease their colours to the ground.
Every fanciful floating petal was waiting just for her and she brushed towards him like a cherry tree in bloom.
She listened hard to the sparrow chirp outside her window and if she went deep down inside its beak, she would fall on the sweet sounds and they would propel her up, back out to an earlier day.
There on the notes of a different bird and a distant window, and there she would lie waiting for the day to unfold. And younger, thicker hair would grace her pillow and the old kitchen chair beside her bed, borrowed as a clothes rail would be covered in the bright clothes she used to wear. The leggings and silk shirts, half folded and waiting and there just to the right of her un-stretched womb was the red t-shirt ready for the day.
And sparrows called out from neat gardens, tended, they flitted past the bedroom window, a moment’s shadows where she lay. The candlewick bedspread, a well worn lime green, would be scrumpled at her feet and she’d get up, pull herself to standing, slight and small.
Birds cheeped loud as she smoothed her black waitscoat and somewhere else, unseen by her, somewhere two hours away, he pulled out his best jumper from the drawer.
Birds would have sung over his head as he climbed into the Orion and as they startled up into the air, he drove the distance between them.
Until. Her hand on the brass door handle and he appeared.
And quiet churchyards and pine trees waited and park benches came and went. And in her red t-shirt, in corners of restaurants, the huge salad bowls bought the evening. Till birds slept in trees, huddled and her mind buzzed with the hours, with his words.
The sparrow chirped outside her window and she came up and out, on its song, hung in the air, like its carefree notes and remembered when they were young.
And it became a birdsong kind of day. It opened and they woke to tiny throats vibrating, chirping louder than they’d heard before. And there it was, the sun beating brighter and sparrows hopped.
They paused on car roofs and looked around, then darted zig zags in the air and found a branch. Branches that quivered and they waited for the sounds.
But the sounds didn’t come. The rush grumble roar of wheels on road didn’t happen and blackbirds watched, they cocked their heads on one side and scoured the ground for food.
They found seeds in the un trampled grass and filled their bellies in the way they used to do before the people came, in the sweet silence before the muck and dust, and they sang out. Hard tallons scratted up and down the rooves, leaves stretched out, wet and new and morning opened.
The birds reclaimed the town, they darted, scattered in the photons, unhindered, untethered, their voices spiralled up in silent air.
There were faces at the grime stained windows but the birds still flew.
Sometimes bird song comes as though I breathe each note, as though they reflect the thoughts that churn and churn. But I can’t quite reach them. I listen hard, listen well, but these sounds, these moments of instinct pulse out. They seem to be my heartbeats, my neurones charging, firing and every second of my life is echoed in their song. It’s February. It’s always February somewhere in my mind and today, the 10th arrives and though it’s Monday, it is Thursday in my head. The birds silence for a while as I inhabit, as I absorb the date and then they tweet, then they shout out towards each other, triumphant in their beaks spilling notes, their essence, existing in song.
And somewhere they sang on that Thursday, somewhere they clutched at branches and held on and I wonder did they note me rushing, did they feel for me in my chaos as I churned, did they send out their song to soothe me though I couldn’t hear the notes? And it was there, birdsong, always, even on that day. And it’s February and I am February, right now and I am the birdsong. I am all of it. I am their voices reaching out to me, to the startling, to my fracturing self. And I am the birdsong that tried to reach me when I couldnt hear their call. It’s February 10th. I seek out birdsong.
And so I think shhh, don’t go there, don’t allow the thoughts and then they come. Bright faces, flaring and this is the thing you see, I don’t want to look but then I must. I must turn my face into the flutterings, into the scattering moments and down. Down and out, flat out. Careening into the sounds, the words, the mouths that speak as I watch them. And then sun arrives, and then a bird cheeps as if to throw me a line, as if to say but it’s Now. And yes, the bird song fills me up and yes the light falls up the wall but it feels absent. Today there is a coldness, yet photons push through, resolute in their incessant need to glow, to saturate our room.
But there. Pauses come. Like wilting leaves. Places where the earth has forgotten warmth and I rest. I must do something with the gardens. It’s that thought always. Prising its way back in, that sense of morning, of movement and how stale it all looks, untended, devoid of hands that care. That winter face, that deep back to the soil kind of voice and I go round. Around and around it again, like the sun rising, like the particles colliding, thoughts bursting and forming with little rest. And then it stops.
The sun has taken offence behind thick grey, and I breathe out. That kind of long slow breath that turns down cortisol, that regulates and I return. The birds are singing, I think they never stopped, not once, not even for a second over these long and rambling years. Sometimes I find that reassuring, sometimes not. And so it goes. My body tells me it’s the 14th, I feel it in the tightness in my ribs, in the irritations underneath. Round and around with no let up like nature, like my exchange of O2 to CO2. I tiptoe to the edge of my mind again and peer inside. Things coalesce and break apart, I try to untangle thoughts, to measure and observe them but as I look them in the face they change. It’s the day before tomorrow, my quantum days. And I must go now, I must feed the birds.
15th: And I’m so grateful for the rain. The storm is tearing up the garden as though I summoned it, as though my friends turned up on cue. The sun still hides and that suits me, it’s so pointless to be a ball of helium today, to spit and churn, no one can see you anyway behind the heft of clouds. I like clouds, they’re almost family. They come and go but when they block out the sun, they seem so welcome.
Today there is a sympathy with the weather, a sense that I control it all. And why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I be able to send my thoughts into the skies and bring about the storm?
The blackbird hops up to the window, despairing, there’s only black leaves on the patio today. Of course I’ll go out later, wrapped a little against the bluster but revelling in the cut of cold across my face, a reminder that I breathe.
Storms have their place and if I were braver than I am, I’d climb the trees, I’d scrape my knees and cut my arms as I pulled up. And from the top, up there on the left by the raven’s nest, I’d hang on and sway in this harshness. I wonder if the sounds would be as loud from deep inside the branches, but how glorious it would feel, to not be the face at the window but to be sodden and ripped, to hang tight and bend as the rain slices round us. Maybe later, I’ll ease out into its din.
I’m grateful for the storm, as though the streets and towns and country I still inhabit can pop into my mind and feel my thoughts.
On days like these, I live for the howling of trees. I resonate. It calms me.
Such a quiet bird,she thought and thena sky songspiralled out. Anditsang 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 andwithblusteredhair, that she grew.
Here,that her sense of wings exploded to the seas, it was here andalwayswould be. Down underneath its hulk,by the men–shouts and leaden ropes there would bebicyclewheels. On pavements grey there would be spokes turning rubber, metal rubbing,gears changing and younger than her,hisspeckled legs would be pushing onthepedals that shecouldn’tsee.
And there he was,escaped and expanded,exploring the docks by himself. White–outathisside,slab–steel toweringhighand he looked up. Painted letters sang out her name and he wasthere,adrenaline pumping,muscles aching,boundless and new on his bike.
And hegrinned,up and up,to the top of ship, he squinted in the light, hair with a singlecurl at the front that zinged up like hope,likeirrepressiblejoy 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,sheswayed towards him.
He paused on his bike, soyoung and persistent, with a button bright mind,sabatiersharp, the boywho 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 lockedontohers, always and he freed her.
Wingsruffledbright, as her day–song followed the clouds, she saw him, and because of him–a boy on a bike, she flew.
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.
The seagulls are back today, they swoop around, they circle her old home and from their wings she sees the carpet in the lounge, how it turned from spiralled blues to pink. And she sweeps above the kitchen, where the corner chair became a cupboard for the pills, opposite the kettle where she first made him a drink.
And as she looks, the seagulls fill the rooms, their wings waft feathers in her face and carry her upstairs and there they beat the air, there they hover at the edge of her old bed, with its camblewick green cover and in the light that lifts from day to night and day to night again, she sees herself lying, turning, holding thoughts.
The cupboard to the right is silent, where the drawer is stiff, the rich deep wood and a lamp stand of fading brass. She can smell the scented carpet and the polished trinkets, there, on a painted window sill that overlooks that world and as her seagulls settle and fold their wings she smells the coast.
Bedruthan rocks wrap around her and as the sand sneaks in her trainers she pads the beach towards him, laughing, parka flapping in the cut of air, then back.
Seagulls resting on her bedspread, her bed by a bookcase from her youth, crammed with early interests and they whisper. The ivy green curtains are closed, the lamp is off. Her seagulls watch over them, their words and murmurs.
And it’s August. They ruffle feathers around her and lift her up, away from her black and white skirt on the chair, its bells silent and the birds sing out, it’s always August, they call out, we’re always there.
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.