I’m a little bit car loaded, heading south, Pendle growing smaller to my right.
And if I could, I would stop the car. Bring it to a halt, all of it. The January day. The normality. And I’d run down the side of the M62 and over the crash barrier and I’d fly, as though my bare feet were never made for soil.
And I’d clamber, higher, faster, until the motorway would fade and my raggle-taggle gypsy feet would bleed. Pink rivulets in the frost, cut and blistered in the iced up air, but I’d be there.
My skirts torn, little frayed bits of me on bracken but I would climb. And our car heading south would be a dot. A pinpoint of time that never happened.
And from the top we’d see our helter-skeltered route to where we’d stay.
It tried so hard to snow today and almost made it. And she wondered if it had snowed hard on her hill. She felt so far away from it somehow and yet it was a part of her and would remain.
If she squeezed the pebble tight she could feel it and she was there after a pub lunch somewhere, wrapped up against the end of year, against the winds. She was there huddled, leaning to the side and at her side, her mother-in-law grinned into the camera lens.
They were solid on uneven ground before the ground beneath her became more uneven and she wore red and her small and powdered mother-in-law wore brown.
The pebble that she clutches now nestled deep deep down in her pocket amongst the fluff and receipts and deep deep down inside of her, her secret hid away, under the flatness of her tummy, under the red fleece of her coat and they stood still.
The wind whipped, harsh, cut into the side of her face. The hill was the hill above the town and her hair stood up in waves and ripples, blustered across her head as she beamed out.
He stood opposite them, stood by the car in the cold and the camera clicked and they were frozen, frozen cold, frozen into time, into the hill. With her hand to her ear to keep out the cold and her other hand, pocket deep with pebble.
And this was the pebble she chose out of the whole hill, this was the one she called her own. And she clutches it now to be back there, there on the hill in her very own winter, with her husband and his mother and the pebble and her secret tucked far away inside.
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.
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.
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.
Imagine if you woke up to find you were a crocodile. And it wouldn’t be so bad, not really. You’d lie there untroubled by the day ahead. Waiting for your gut to rumble or prompted by the stench of blood, would slide downstream, to roll and thrash.
It wouldn’t be an infringement on your day to feel the ripple of your muscles, to dip below the waterline, eyes blinking. Silent, then gone.
And just to be. Swathes of flesh flick through papyrus, deep diving to the hollows where your stash of prey lies, soft. The pitch dark night beneath, it’s comfortable for you.
Imagine that. Eighty-five million years of instinct in your jaws and no anxiety. Nothing to bring a tightness to your chest or a dryness to your mouth. No fear to stop you moving far. Just grace in your assault, primal pureness in your heart.
And it wouldn’t be so bad to wake without the sense of dread, without the hyper vigilance, without the threat at every turn.
There’s always tomorrow I suppose. Maybe then I’ll wake to find I am a crocodile.
This, this now, this having slept 5 hours on diazapam and you’re propped up, wired up waiting for Johnny V, do you remember Johnny V ? Looked like Johnny Mathis in his way.
And you pulse, you brace, you ride the spasms as they come.
But Johnny brings fresh news and plans change yet again. And so you beamed at the prospect of a long day opening up ahead, of no need for surgery at all.
And it’s this kind of feeling, waiting for the needle team, for the back stab and their voices swirling, fading in and out.
And now, in the now, the warmth of cooking chocolate cake wafts up and frames the day. And you’re settled, softened to the carnival of colours in your head, to the moment when the needle took the pain away, to the sense of loss and separation from it all. And the minutes formed a day and early evening bought more work.
And now under the distant drone of passing planes, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that despite the pushing, your hours bled, theatre bound.
And there under green and lights, there in the clink of instruments, was the moment he came to be. Up and round and out, up and out, all pink and red and warm.
That moment, your time, all three together. Despite everything, all that matters is you came through.
.And you you know you’re not one to give up, to give in, you know you’re known for soldering on but last night was one of surrender.
Last night was sitting in their hard seated, hard backed chair watching the line of light down the side of the door where the night shift staff moved and soft shoed. And you pressed the buzzer as you rocked.
It was Delise, you’re sure even now, she said her name was Delise, not Denise or Louise but Delise. But she was the one who took your hand when white shards shot up your spine and round your front, when the night pulsed in and found you sleepless, twitching, in the chair.
Delise was sorry that the medicines were locked away till morning.
.Morning happened for others.
Even now through the hours since that moment, you can feel it. And He was called in, rung early from his bed to stand there helpless.
So somehow day 4 had emerged but not for you, for you there was no break, no rest no sleep, just a string of moments, holding tight and holding on.
Drunk on lightning strikes around your form, and you let go,
It’s that Sunday feeling, that not really having slept all week kind of time. And faces came, agreed to surgery but it was Sunday and no one was around.
Tomorrow though, they told you.
Tomorrow they’d prepare you, break some water for you, tomorrow they would scrub up and take you down.
And then it becomes the Saturday in your head, new nurse, new name, new plan and you try to see her face. Her hair, it’s dark, short and you find glimpses of her by the door, by the bed.
She prepares and you brace. And there’s a sense of being tethered somehow, like a child’s eager grasp on a balloon string. (The balloon is red) and somehow you float above your morning day-lit room, right now. Bobbing, weaving, deep inside the balloon, you live, young with spasms, tired with hope.
It plays out, looping like it did, like it will, shafts of light flicking up the dust particles and in each one you exist.
So you take a deep breath and they try again. It was morning, they were early, they will try two times today. Your balloon bobs, the spasms make their way around your body and it is Saturday there, on that bed, in room 3.