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.
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.
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.
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.
The rain moved in, like her eyes opening, like seeing the morning for the first time and it was welcomed, like that dawn, like the gratitude of the day, like eyes locked close and knowing, and it rained.
But it didn’t rain back then, it was quiet, warm, a thought nearing the end of summer and in the tail end of the season, the water rippled up the boats on the canal and their faces were reflected in its soft stroking waves.
And evening would have moved in, like it did, like it does, it drapes the coolness, the calm end of day, like an arm around her shoulder, like the footsteps by her side.
And evening drifted up, traffic sounds gave way to birds and she hitched up her skirts, like she did then, when white washed walls were unfamiliar, not the faded grain of now. And they sat.
Birds watched them then and she watches them from back here, folded in the now, in the smell of wet soil, the kiss of lavender scent and the certainty of August.
Time came with her, her companion on the way, tucked in the pocket of her skirt, vivid, like their moment, translucent, like the wings. And her wings beat out in the evening sky, strong, like the bonds that hold her, glorious, like their day.
August had returned and she could fly. A rainbow swaddled her garden and under its hue and shimmer, they were young. And under its song she was old but she had wings.
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.
Back then it wasn’t like this. Back then I didn’t feel the bite of this harsh wind, I didn’t have the urge to be outside, to feel the cold at all my edges and return, flooded by the warmth of the lounge.
Back then I didn’t feel anything.
Back then, there’d been no snow, not for months at least and the last time the snow had fallen we were soft, we were round and plump and full of beans but that was then. Then, when winter came it was just a season, it was something to note and to turn from. But then it changed.
Sometime back then it stopped becoming only a season, a front of weather and nothing more. Back then it stopped. Abrupt. Savaged and severed and when I woke all the weather had gone. Back then and not now where weather used to live, there was my soul. There was a shifting churning swathe of everything I felt. No one knew of course, it was a passing storm for them, a raincloud in their day but for me it was an extension of my mind.
I don’t remember what others call weather back then, I just know it didn’t snow. I didn’t wear a coat but then again temperatures were irrelevant to me, external events were just that. There was outside of me where the others lived but they were absent, distant beings who orbited my world and there was me.
I became everything, every atom that existed, every colour, taste and sound and there on that day back then, that isn’t this snow threatened day right now, back then when what others referred to as the weather came, I was oblivious. I was turning, breathing, pulsing through my land – but nothing more.
I remember black, shapes of people, blurring. Some chrome catching light from a fusion reaction and my hands. I remember my hands, I think. Small and pale at the ends of my arms. My top was long and flowed around what was left of my form and there were faces.
Faces came close, came and went or rushed away. Perfume seeped around me, unknown aftershave and the pressure of a hug. I could smell their hair as they leaned into me, strangers. Why were there so many strangers and their mouths moved and they said words but nothing I could hear.
I was there, so others told me and I moved amongst them, through them down an aisle we’d visited long ago. Long before I changed shape, long-time-hours before that day. And in that place that we used to know, we didn’t see that I would be there, that I would sit at the front and look up.
I’d sit up straight, too straight, as though my life depended on it and it did and I’d stare out of my body, up and away through the coloured window to the hills we used to walk – but no one knew.
They passed through while I stopped and altered, while I morphed into someone else and back then, it didn’t snow. There was no bite to my hands and nose, no sense to wrap up warm, there was just the day, the place, the minutes rolling, hours and the hardness of the seat.
This seat is hard now but I am home. I am not there and I watch the robin watching me. His birdbath has frozen again, despite the top up of luke warm water. A snowstorm is heading in. I remember a time when I used to react to the weather, when it lived outside of my form and then I changed. Back then, in that minute when there ceased to be any separation between me and this world.
I became the weather and now I blow. I move and change, a constant swirl of shifting energy and now I’m winter, now I’m frost. Everything is an extension of me and here comes snow. I am gentle and white, I make you stop and take note.
I sit down and watch myself. Back then it didn’t snow. Sun came through the windows, probably and I breathed and that was all.
And now I sit and watch my changing feelings. I expand and fill. Back then for a while there was weather but not now, now I am this white out winter world.
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.
She past a new build on the left and brushed against its huge star in the window. She remembered when the trees were there, when animals hid and insects crept in the hollows of branches that had now gone.
Something about the star gave her hope, gave her a lilt, a swell of a young girl’s life and of family filling the rooms.
And she past by. The sky was swollen, saturated with an end of year rain, with a harsh rain that sliced at pavements, that peeled away the last of the year. And in her mind she was younger, she was hope filled like the fields around her. She was surprised by its sudden lush greenness, like the woman she used to be waving to her from back then.
And back then she was packed, a small bag just for one night and they would stay in the hotel that they loved. She was there in the bright white bathroom, hair curled and velvet dress. It clung to the curve of her belly, to the secret kept inside. And when the time came she would tell him, she would sit on the bed and smile. In fact she glowed, she sparkled and trembled as though she were made of the stars themselves and they laughed. After all their moments this one was the purest, the connection and the gift frozen in time, in the warmth of her hand and his lopsided grin – they were there.
She was back in the unfolding of the night, clicking up the high street in her heels. And with flat black pumps for the journey back down, they walked to the restaurant for the meal. Sometimes now when she past by the same place, huddled at the back of a bus, she would look left to the cream tiled floor and remember the DJ in the corner and the song played just for them.
She was there. Dear God, she was there and right now as she bumped along a wet road in the present, she was back there, beaming, like her soul would fly, bursting from her side.
And later she slipped into the flat shoes as they wandered back down town, to the call of the Cathedral bells. How still the night seemed, yet how full of an energy that she could taste. It bristled around them in the gentle rain, before they made phone calls, before their new journey began.
She was there, at the end of the century, slipping into the new day, softened into it like his hand in hers, as though woven into the time. And always, despite the hours, they would be there. It was their moment, in the darkness, smiling under screeching fireworks, white stars just for them.