And she breathed and unseen beaks opened as if to say, me too. They took in the fresh morning air and remembered what it is to fly. And on her wings she swooped over distant rooves where cars parked up and bins lined up and people did their thing.
She did her thing and she did it well and there she sat on the roof of the house, ruffling feathers and with knowing eyes, she peered inside his room.
And there she sat on the floor with her back to the bed and her lap was filled with books, with the words, with his bright blue biro scrawl and she reached in.
She traced her fingertips over pages and watched as he appeared. Out he came like a thought, floating up towards her, like the curve of a balloon in a hot summer sky and he circled and he led the way.
He led her to his shed at the bottom of the garden and pushed open wide the door. It creaked and eased onto a world she’d come to know. It was as though two small girls had found their way, had dared to creep over the threshold, like a childhood place, like a secret land that called them to come inside.
And inside they looked up in wonder and stared at The Machine.
‘What is it? What on Earth is it?’ they would ask as though they were characters in a well loved book.
Till the small girls faded and she was stood with him in the dust, in their particle-wave duality. And he would be in his element, in the quiet fug as he set the cogs in motion. Gears moved and wheels turned, firing bits of muck and fluff into the air. Beetles scuttled and woodlice trundled out of sight as the universe in the shed sparked life, shaking the detritus from the gloom.
And there they stood in the photons, as he burbled through his ideas and concepts and his thoughts danced around her like a flutter of butterflies, their fresh fragile wings entangling her hair.
They flew up from the contraption and out through spacetime, released into the universe, like a tensor, like a field equation of their life to come.
And she observed it all, sat high upon the shed roof, ruffling her feathers and watching herself take form.
There was a shed and The Machine, there was a bookcase and a girl. And everything rippled and reverberated out. Irrepressible, on that day, in the embryo of their world.
And she breathed out as unseen birds sang and beaks opened loud and glorious, as if to say all’s well.
It’s so still out there, so waiting. That sense of shh, don’t worry, it will come. It’s there in the way the sunlight holds the branches, in the faint call of a hidden bird.
And I pause, breathe, that’s all. And it passes by my window, up to the left with the sparrow wings and he watches me, watching him, watching them all. We slow down, the birds and I, pause to think of sunlight.
And there they are, my creatures in the trees, pecking and singing, ruffling new feathers in this spring. And I wonder do they sense their descendants, the ones I knew, the ones who gave me feathers years ago.
And while they sang outside that window from back there, in that house then, the hem of the dress caught the light as it lay out on the bed, as if to say look at me, look at me, lift me up into your arms. And later, a little later it would be held up as I clambered inside, as I manoeuvred into my new form, like a butterfly losing meconium, drying out its fresh wet wings.
Until its weight draped round my feet and I breathed out. Birds sang unseen as the hem brushed the dust down the wooden staircase and over new mown grass to rest and pause, where cameras winked and moments froze.
Sparrows darted to the neighbour’s tree, head on one side and down the path the hem of the dress shuffled leaves until it was bundled up into the car. It sat quiet, being, folded in upon itself, cushioned on the plush carpet of the foot-well until blackbirds cut the air, overarching the church gate.
And there with the creak of old hinges, with the warmth of a palm, with the click of heels on old stone, the hem of the dress made its way home. Home, on the short path to the archway, home to the hush of the slate and it dragged feathers and fronds as it swayed, as it made its way past pews to the front.
And there it rested for a while, settled in ivory, calm where it belonged. The hem of the dress over champagne silk boots, near to sharp creases in suits and it paused, waited, just to the left of polished shoes.
And then sunlight came back to stroke it, came to throw light at the door. The hem swept and rippled, caught the coloured flecks, scattered rainbows all around, then hands scooped it back up into soft contours in the car.
Trees moved above it unseen, voices chattered and laughed while it lay crumpled up and then the grass came back, daffodils nodded and bobbed as it moved around. Photons bounced up from the duck pond, white spots and sparkles, before it coated steps and carpet-brushed itself along.
And it swooned, the hem of the dress with the tiny remnants from the day and it danced over polished floors, glided as though it would always flow, would always sway, as though in its moment there was release.
And later it lay, much later it was still, smoothed out again and silent on the protective bag at the bedside, soon to be tucked far away.
And now hydrogen coalesces into helium, firing light and heat, like it did, like it does. How reassuring as it warms up the blackbird’s wings, as it listens to the soil.
And in a different wardrobe now the hem of the the dress sleeps its sleep, cradled and swaddled in plastic, over unused things and bits and bobs. But in its weft and weave it holds the moments when it danced, when it was free, when it could shimmer and it was home.
And so, I watch my finger tap and move across the screen. I count in seconds. And so it goes, one moment merged into the next. I’m trying to find my way through this bracken, through these weeds and thorns. I push ahead. It’s quiet. only the robin knows I’m here and he understands me.
I’m muddled in-between loss and time, in-between memory and now. I try to makes sense of it all.
And here it comes, that sense that the universe reflects me, that mirror outside my door. I’m perched. I’m high up somewhere, somewhere cold yet warm enough for me. My long cape will scrape the earth, disturbing stones as I climb. And yes, my feet bleed into the soil but it’s a good loss, a purging somehow. Giving blood back to the soil. And then I sit.
I’ve been here before, high up overseeing the land, my land, the place we built upon and here and there through the spheres of teardrops I see our world turned upside down. Our boy and I on the hill that we built with our hands.
The clock ticks round. It counts in thousands now, eighty-seven of them and six hundred more but it means nothing. It’s a construct, a passing of weather, of seasons, of my body changing and our boy turning into a man.
The minutes are randomised up here, every possible second remaining on our probabilistic hill. And here we sit on the top looking back, looking down. We Made This. We call out, we shout it out into the clouds. Ravens catch it on their wings and take it higher. Their black rainbows glinting in the sun.
I remember this place, this bench at the start, the dog walkers, the litter eddies fluttering by the bin and pigeon shit on the picnic table. Even that was shaped in black and white, the residue of food, expelled into the air and landed just for me to notice on my own. It had dried to form a Tao symbol and I smiled and wandered on.
And I’m pulled, jostled as though waking from a dream to see our land now and how many losses have been carved out in people since our own? How strange it seems now to have walked and spoken to strangers back then, no masks in sight, no fear of breathing on each other and we could hug and they’d take my hand.
How removed it all seems now, removed from ourselves. That sense of severing. I sit here as vaccines are pumped into muscles, as charts change and people hope. And there’s that sense that we will come through this, that we’ll lift each other up in our arms and twirl around. I can feel it, that craving for how it used to be. To have it all back again.
And yet if there’s one thing this decade has taught me, it’s to let go of the linear and any sense that what we had will phase back in again and return.
Call it a new normal if you choose but like the hundreds of thousands of losses that bind us to each other now, this is not something that fades. It’s etched into who we are, into a generation now, into our psyche, into our souls.
I remember last spring and that sense that maybe, in a month or two, it would be behind us. Like queries from the un-widowed, hoping, questioning and do you feel better now? That sense that this will heal like a break, like the dull ache after the snap of bone. And they’ll say, oh look she walks with a limp now, but they won’t feel it, they can’t feel how the limb has been changed on a molecular level, the scar-knitting-collagen-weaving permanent change to your form.
And I wonder how we’ll move from this? I crave that the sense of solidarity which we felt, that dazed and disoriented need to connect, will remain. Don’t let it seep away, to be forgotten, to just be the Year That We Wore Masks. Let it open us up, break us out of our stale paradigms, our tiny fearful islands. Let this be our chance to focus on the universal self behind the form and the foolish idea that we are separate in any way.
And I pause. A blackbird winks at me, comes close but won’t cross the line. My outstretched palm is a step too far. He’s found a worm, he’ll be just fine.
The hands have moved around while I tap and I come back to time yet again.
I’m left with the sense that nothing is as it seems. That I live on a Mobius strip somehow looping and doubling back on myself. I am inside and outside of time in one breath, I am fluid, I’m here and there. And if I have a point (she often has no point, it’s part of her charm*) it’s this. I used to be time based, I’d be linear and I’d have plans. but then loss swoops in and caws, circles round and says no more. Who wants to be linear anyway, where life is predicable like it used to be? Now we float and flip, thither-zither in the air. Murmurations cut the sky, 87,600 birds, ripple, shimmer, dancing black. I wave to them from the hill that we made, they tip their wings to us in respect.
So I remain in the tangle of my quantum mind, both then and now, a superposition of me. I am Schrödinger’s girl; a wife and widow and it’s not till I notice my thoughts that I find out which one I am.
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.
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.
It was that, right hand in pocket, kind of day, that finding a piece of the hill and holding it close, deep, tucked away in fluff, kind of day. And they didn’t know, they stood around her, next to her, powdered and small, her red fleece, a contrast to her mother-in-law’s brown coat and she was younger.
Younger than now and the piece of the hill held its secrets, kept her safe. They laughed and grinned into the bluster as they turned to face him by the car. The shutter froze them as the weather did, her hand to her left ear to keep the gusts out of her head, her longer, thicker hair out of her little elfin face.
The hill in her pocket, with them on either side of her, in front and behind and inside. They were with her then, when time was a thing that worked well and now, in the piece of the hill that sits tucked away with her treasures, in the small blue bag from her wedding day, the red fragments of rock at the bottom and they hold onto her tight, still, silent, unseen like the secret inside her back then and, like the hill in her pocket, the moment remains.
She was the taste of bergamot in her scalding hot tea and just to her right and upwards, she was the fragile bloom of rose. Today her choice was the sweetest of pink white, a hint of colour, subtle, almost there,just like herself.And she was raindrops on her window. Of course. She was always the rain.
She had bought the flowersherself,like shedid,like she does and now it was nearly time to leave, to take herself to the town, then the river, to see if the ripples would show her proof that she was there.
And then she was there,warm–wrapped–cold,cold–wrapped–warm and the fast running water burbled past her. Traffic was a memory and she sat. The winter breeze ran down her cheeks,hair blew across her nose and she was still. Almost.
Riverdreaming, detritusswirling, licking up the rocks and cobbles underneath.And she was the moss under her feet and the sound of footsteps throughthe yearsand down the path. And all she needed was the padding of hard chewed paws to come and sit beside her.
Couples walked by,dog free with navy bags and comfortable ways, chattering and she wasquietand water gurgled in her stationary world. And nattering young parents, buggy shovingand a man just by himself and she was there.
Waiting for it to pour, waiting for the sky to peel and soak her to the marrow on her bench.Waiting forthe forceof water to carry her far away.
Cold under grey skies,constant as the sun masked by her clouds. Necessary as the atoms in the water that heldtightonto her name. Contingent as the day.
A distant bus pulled her attention to the left and lifted her up, traffic and people and days and birdsong. Places to go and to be.
Theblackbird,sharpyellow beak across the slate,held out its wingto herand called her home.
And it was always this way, motionless movement,nothing stops for her,not even herself.
And an elderly couple with sticks,tapped by and she was the gravel underher feet as she gathered up herself and went back home.
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.