A Certainty Like This

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


Status Update


I spoke to my elderly Aunt a few days ago, she’s 91, she doesn’t get out much these days and she complained to me that her ready meals only provide carrots and peas and that she hasn’t had a cabbage since January. She reminded me she likes to embroider tablecloths, despite her failing vision and now she knows she needs some help.

‘Do you have anything to do with the internet?’ she asked me. If she could see my bank statement, she would know that much of my spending is done online and that add to basket is a phrase I almost wear like a badge.

I told her I did. And she said she needed a magnifying glass and did I know of something called Google. Winnie, from up the road, had told her about it. I explained about Amazon, I delighted in telling her that, as a student, I could get next day delivery and once off the phone, I searched and found and proceeded to check out. She would receive it the next day, courtesy of my familiar virtual world.

This virtual world is a double edged sword these days. It has brought great help and comfort over the years, connections with people I’ve never met, widowed like myself, and I’ve grown to feel close to them, even though by traditional standards, I don’t really know them at all. I could have a problem in my world, in my day, but if I don’t post about it, they won’t know. They won’t come around and help out or hug because they’re scattered miles away, they only know what I tell them, how I present myself online and this is how it is.

When my son was a baby and my pelvis had become unstable, most of my world was on the bed. A trip to the bathroom would have to be organised in advance and sometimes took so long to get there and back that I used to think I should have taken sandwiches for the journey. I’d have given anything to have had this virtual world, to have had the company of strangers on my bed. And yet they don’t remain strange for long. Now my friends’ list is packed with people I feel I know, people I care about, people, who though I only get a fleeting glimpse into their world, I am connected to. I am entangled in this new society, I flick my phone to update when I wake because in these uncertain days, I’m worried. I want to see if there’s any news on someone who should be there. I feel myself churn away, considering the possibilities of her absence but I can’t do anything to help her. I can share the pleas, I can send pms in the hope that sometime soon she’ll pick them up. But I can’t hold her, I can’t look into her eyes and reassure her it will all be ok. I can’t make her tea and biscuits and sit up till dawn, till the pain subsides, till tiredness takes away our voices, till we can’t talk anymore.

But how I want to, how I wish I could break through this virtual world and swoop down to where she is and know all the things she can’t tell us, to know the person behind the updates, to really know my friend. But I can’t. I can only tap and update my newsfeed, I can only scour the media and wade through their distorted words.

This thin veil of people are a feature of my life now, we are all connected and though we only intersect at tiny points, with snapshot phrases, with glimpses of a moment, of a life – it’s in those glimpses that we reach each other, that we connect to another soul doing their best. A fleeting window on their world.

It’s not the world my Aunt grew up in, with neighbours who knew your name, with a walk to the post office to buy a stamp, for the letter you’d written to a friend. And now she waits for Winnie from up the road, who’s promised to pop in with a cabbage, although I told her I’d be happy to do an online grocery order for her, she says, ‘no thanks,’ she says she’ll take her little luggage trolley and when she feels up to it, she’ll go up the road for some bits. She likes to get out when she can; she lives in the real world.

How I wish our world was like hers, how I would spend time with my virtual friends but I can’t, not in that way. I am connected to them all, these chiffon swathes of souls in the palm of my hand. And I follow their stories, I laugh and cry with them and now I worry, now I ache, now I’m desperate to hear from my friend.

My friend, who years ago held my hand across the ether, when I first landed in this world, who encouraged me to start a blog, who was simply there. How I wish I could reach out and hold her hand now. I hope that someday soon she will see this post and her timeline full of concern. And she’ll know how much she’s loved and back in this binary world again, she’ll update her status to tell us she’s ok.

I wish I could just buy her a cabbage and make everything alright.

This is for my friend – wherever she is.