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 soon it would be soon, it would be dark carparks, headlights and rain. And in the reflections at her feet she would be rushing. Same red fleece as two days ago and she’d catch him up later she said as he grabbed a trolley for the after Christmas shop.
And she’d be there crouched down in the chemist, making choices from the bottom shelf. A young girl served her, she had short dark hair she seemed to recall.
And then she hurried to find him in the shop, up and down the aisles till she was there, at his side beside the trolley and nestling, as deep as possible, was the packet, hidden, rustling in a smooth white paper bag.
And she could feel it now. The way the packet tapped her hip as she walked, the way she couldn’t wait to get back home.
And later, sometime later she would pop upstairs while he put the food away.
There were many moments in her life which she cocooned, that she replayed. She viewed them from close up again, as though they were still happening and here in an end of year, it all came back, that end of century moment which defined her.
And despite the present moment that wrapped around her now, she dropped away, dropped into the veil of evening when distance sparrows sang. She saw the moment lapping with soft strokes at her feet.
And later, just a few more minutes later she was by his side, sitting staring out, the TV programme making noise she couldn’t hear, as she sat there, on this evening, on this evening right back then.
And he didn’t know yet but she did. And she sat and sparkled to his left.
And there were small footsteps from their home, running to the car and a wave and she would see him later.
The woman and the kettle sat in an empty room. But how full it was, how it pulsed and sparkled, full of every second they had lived. Bright with the moments, charged with the normal-ness of their life.
And she sat while their boy played elsewhere. Men and boxes came and went like the shifting thoughts inside her, until the door closed one last time and she thanked the spaces that became the past.
And there they sat, waiting in Starbucks, waiting for the call and for the keys, until they came. And their possessions poured into a new place, to fill it up, packed with their hours.
And later the small footsteps returned and they ran and they charged down a new hallway. She stood there seeing his beaming face and all the moments lined up ahead.
And now as a different kettle boils, she feels it all, every second of their world spinning in her hot green tea. Around and around in every spiral, safe inside the mug, inside her heart.
And they were there on that old green carpet that they left behind and they were here on the new blue carpet that filled up their home.
She sipped from the mug in the Now, hoisted up her skirts again and carried on.
Always there in that morning before their evening, in the morning before their night. And her skirt waited and her hair waited, long and thick and dark. And he would be leaving soon, heading north with his plans, with his ways and her day would unfold, quiet, in the way it used to do.
This day, neurons buzzing forming shapes telling her stories again and the Now fell away, her aging body swooned and they appeared.
Navigating. A closeness. A certain intune-ness in the swish of her skirt, in the whiteness of her crinkled top.
Always under sap heavy trees and he took her home in his old car.
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.
When days opened in the way they used to do, when she had written notes and hidden them, when clues were tucked in cupboards, and car boots, when she’d laboured over words and folded, when mornings opened full of silly ways, there would be smiles.
When days were full of treasure hunts, of simple gifts and cakes were iced and more books bought, always books, always.
When days opened in the way they used to do and she was right there and not here. When they opened to words inscribed, to squiggles from a small boy’s hand and days were sweeter than the things she baked.
When days opened in the way they used to do, when they were there, when they were young.
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.