Building Blocks

We sat together in the dappled light at the back of the bus and I noticed him staring out. Did he see what we called the Spelling Hill, like I did? Did his eyes rest on the pavements that we walked for years? I saw the trees, I recognised them even now, their shapes and they punctuated our journeys long ago.

And then the road curved and the bus trundled its way into town. We drove over the subway I painted, over the bright colours from primary school and I stood there with him, proud and young and we were all there together back then. 

We rattled, his secondary school came up on the left and was gone. The slope up to the gates, the Home Straight he called it and it seemed so small, so close to home. How could it have seemed such a massive step? Yet it was, back then. 

And down the hill towards the top of town and past the hospital where I half look. And there’s the wall that I rushed past on that winter morning, coat flapping, heart pounding into the doors and the black caverns they contained.

Nineteen years ago I sat propped up in a bed, a bed-guard to my side so I could feed him where I lay and I held him but now we sit side by side in silence, a packaged-up toy at his feet. I’ll post it later. I had folded the bricks into tiny bags, with care, in colour order, I thanked them and went on my way. And now someone else I’ll never know will open the box soon and build, but not us, not with those toys.

The hospital fades and to my left I see the new builds, the expensive apartments and the cranes and steel. Their branding is loud, insistent and a huge sign comes into view, it says ‘Discover Your New Life.’ I focus on the words and pull each one into me, as though every letter was illuminated and then we pass.

The train station arrives and with it, the site of him marching off to college, to the right, under the bridge and away – but not today. Even that mass of buildings which I visited twice seems small and close, just here, in our town, by the station. Local.

We hold the parcelled-up toy between us, taking turns to lift it as he works the ticket machine and as I  pay and collect tickets for him. A pass the parcel game with no forfeits.

Outside at the front amongst the taxis and the rushing people, we pause, we stand huddled to check on what we’ve just done. One of the returns tickets is missing, so while he waits, holding onto the toy, I go back inside and resolve it. The ticket master is kind, he looks like a young Rob Brydon and everything feels alright. 

Back outside I notice a man to my left, and he wears my husband’s clothes, his head, with a similar angle and his stance. I find myself staring but pull myself away, back to our son but I am caught up. I am a tangled mess in a moment that didn’t happen, in a parallel time where my husband stood there helping us. And I reeled. I shattered on the inside as we moved away from him.

On the bus home and from my vantage point at the back, I note the heads, the strangers swaying as we turn up the hill, our son sat with the toy parcel, two seats away and to the right, there’s a soft, gentle tembling of a lady with Parkinson’s. I want to hold her. I want to get up and with no words, slip onto the the seat by her side. I want to hug her, to ease her till the shaking fades, but I can’t. I hold her with my eyes instead and wait for my stop. 
I will take the parcel from our son and while he makes his way back home, I’ll walk up to the Post Office and sign it over to someone else. 

We rounded the island, the out of date sunshine lit up the bus and strangers jiggled, most in silence, lost in their own worlds. I watched the back of our son’s head, I remember the curve of his skin behind his ear, I used to see it when I first fed him but not now. Now it’s covered in long hair and he looks out left. 

Behind me, in the very back seat, a tiny girl sings out, she is free, oblivious to others, and her voice fills the space. She is full of joy for her journey, she is out and ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round‘ she tells everyone. Some zone her out, others smile and I see how perfect it all is. 

Soon, sooner than she realises, she’ll be sat on a bus with her mother, with train tickets to University in her bag and they’ll prepare. It will be soon and though they know that they have years right now, it will disperse before their eyes, it will seep away and ripple out through time. Then they’ll be me, then they’ll be us, sat on a bus marking memory. 

I press the bell and the bus slows down, as I wobble, clutching the pole, I take the parcel from out son. His warm fingers let it slip from his grasp and now it’s mine. I step from the bus and glance up but I can’t see him, the light masks my view but he’s there somewhere heading home. At the Post Office while I pay, I think of the bricks and bits of plastic tucked inside, I think of our games and the things we created. I hand it over, it belongs to someone else now and as I leave, I lock eyes with a tethered red setter and I have that sense that even the animals know what I’m thinking. 

Nearing home I cut under the subway I painted, it shines out despite the years, despite the hours since we stood there grinning into the lens. And then I turn, left and right and almost back. At home, our son will have beaten me too it, he’ll be practicing keyboard, he’s got a concert coming up. I imagine him smaller, kneeling by a smaller keyboard, learning Jingle Bells and now he’s in the opposite corner on a piano, hair shoved behind his ears, fingers blurring and outside on the patio, my titanic rose has come into bloom. It reverberates with his rhythms and I quicken my step. 

In the pathways behind our home, the council have been out, they’ve mowed the grass. It makes my nose run, my eyes pool up. Remnants of its growth are everywhere, they carpet my route like confetti, in a celebration of movement and time.
We’re nearly ready and tomorrow our son will use the tickets we’ve just bought to head to University and as my feet push the pavement, my eyes start to run a  little more.

Wheels turn round and round, making complete revolutions and we are fine. We will be fine. We are fluid. We’ve got this. ❤️

A Certainty Like This

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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.

Lake District 1

To the Edge

 

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I seem to have spent many hours at train stations recently and I am draw to them, to their sense of purpose, of people moving and having plans, like they belonged, like there were places where they could go and I watch.

There are those moments, you know, when the announcement crackles overhead and the voice has such authority and it warns. Instructions issued, orders to follow and they implore us to keep away from the edge. The next train will not stop. There’s something cold about the words like a noose on a breeze and it hangs there. And then the seconds, then the air turns to anticipation. Feathers caught up in the slipstream, tussle to a safer place, a pigeon beats the detritus upwards and settles out of sight in the flaking paint of the eaves. He senses it coming.

And then it comes. There are these blisters you see, these weals of the world where people wait and wonder. It seems as though, for a frozen beat of our collective hearts that everyone waits and watches from the corner of our eyes. Is it today, is it this moment that they will choose to jump in front of the train? And we are braced, we bristle as the air charges, almost throbs with the approaching sound. And it’s nearly here and we watch and it comes. It’s here, the joyous cut, the ripping surge of an irresistible force, turning the station to dust, screaming by in grey and black. Grey-black, grey-back, grey-black whips my face to come inside, I am sucked into its rhythm, I dissolve in the repeats as it calls out I still live.

I live – I live – I live, listen to me, I’m here with all the potential to tear the heart from your form, to sculpt your skin onto my windscreen and it shrieks and it thunders and I sit, blurred in the fracture as it moves. The opposite platform startles into view, the moment that has passed and taken my hair with it, blown across my face with the chill of actions un met and I am numb.

It dips away to a hollow moaning, paper flutters in a distant screech as it leaves us and no one speaks. No one dares to raise an eye towards the look of a stranger because if we did, if we made that connection to another soul, then we might see them and in that glance, in that act of holding someone’s gaze, we might see ourselves – small and shaking, trembling in a fear we dare not name. And so we look down, we shuffle our stance and pretend we haven’t we shared the thought.

The platform settles, quiet and I check my ticket. I am still waiting for a train but not that one, not the one that doesn’t stop, not today, not here, not now. Not now in this fracture, in this scar of people with places to go to from my platform.

And I am alone in my head and I wait.

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