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.
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.
And the weather came up to greet her. She was so thankful for its covering, the solid mass of grey and in the twist and ripple of the orange and tired greens she could relax.
It was a time of ease, of unfurling and soon she would be out there, twirling, the rain clattering into her face, like sea spray, like that moment, that becoming.
And there she was, purple-wrapped in chiffon, hair up ended by the gusts and from the deck, their town would shrink and from their place above the churning grey they would be captured.
There. Then. In that second that defined them. Together swaying.
And today storms promise from beyond her double glazing and she’s primed to be out in it once again. To be twisted and ruffled, inverted like the leaves that stir her hair. And her feet push concrete but all she can feel are the waves, glorious, impermanent, rising up to meet her like that day.
Paul drove them, to drop them off from his tattered golden car. His children chirruping behind her head as the ship reared up on their left. The softened autumn sun glinting off the side of his bald head and they were there. Piling out onto the slipway, suitcases, hugs and her purple scarf danced around her, untethered.
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.
It’s that been-awake-throughout-the-night-belly-pulsing-tight kind of feeling. That scrawling-numbers-on-a scrap-of-paper-at-your-side kind of thing.
And you clamber and you stagger, grateful for the banisters that hold you up, thankful for the waiting car and helpful hands.
It’s that September-14th-early-morning-neighbours-taking-kids-to-school kind of moment when the spasms send white heat back up your spine. And you note the trees blurred on your journey, on the corner near the lights.
It’s that being-helped-back-out-the-car-and-to-a-wheelchair kind of morning and faces and corridors come and go and then you wait.
Yes, it’s that kind of waiting, kind of morning. That kind of primal knowing through the hours.
It’s a me-on-a-bed kind of feeling, buzzed with cortisol, fuzzed with lack of sleep kind of thing.
It’s a September-14th kind of feeling, that resolve kicking in, that start-of-the-longest-week kind of thing.
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.
If she stared hard for a moment through her kitchen, past the kettle, to the wall, she would dissolve.
And as she breathed out she would see them, out for shopping in the dark. That after-Christmas-travel feel, that tired apprehension of the new and she wore red fleece.
And she breathed out again, past her kettle to the tiles on the wall, the shadow under the cupboard formed a partition by the toaster and she dropped back.
The carpark was lit up, late Christmas and busy people buying booze, but not herself. And she’d just pop next door first to the pharmacy, she’d catch him up, she said.
The fittings have all gone now, the aisles and the shelves where she bent down, where she compared the products till she found one.
And sometimes, even now when she’s in the supermarket by the clothes rails that extended into the place where she had knelt, she sees herself. She feels, she has no separation from that girl.
And the heating throbs in the present, the radiator warms her where she stands but she’s not there.
She’s crossing the carpark in tired ‘Christmas lights, and just later, she’s catching him up in the shop. He’s there putting new things in the trolley, treats for New Year’s Eve, though they’d be out.
She hurries up to join him and her hip rubs the inside of her jacket, on the right, where the packet in her pocket makes itself known to her.
She feels how long her hair was, how dark and not like now and no one knew about the packet in her pocket but she did.
And shopping would happen and trolleys filled and piled into the car. Then they’d be home. Taking bags in, rustling, planning and while he put the things away she crept upstairs.
And now. Even now. There are no moments in between that one and this and she is quivering and shaking and sees the handle on the door.
She seems to see everything as if for the first time, as if the minutiae of her world stopped by to say hello. To say ‘here we are, this is your life now,’ as if she’d woken from a dark place and now tiptoeing through to the end of the century, she was just coming home.
He was downstairs watching TV and somehow she wandered down their wooden stairs. They opened the shortbread a friend had given them and sat quiet, watching nonsense on the screen.
But she was sparkling on the inside and almost wondered if he could hear it, like a thousand tiny glass bells tinkling through her form.
She stared out with no focus at the TV and one day later she would give him her perfect gift to end the year.
And now her kitchen lights shone down on her in her aging but she wasn’t there. She was sat next to him, she was shining.
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.