It didn’t matter to her that she pushed English pavements under her feet, or that the maple leaves which cluttered round her boots were from local trees – she was not there.
And it didn’t matter that the spire which she was drawn towards, or the parapet which pulled her eyes up to the sky, belonged to Saint Peter’s Church or that the gentle whisps of white which framed it, came from her Hampshire sky – she was not there.
And because she wasn’t there it didn’t matter that her English streets were busy with people wrapped and warm. And because she wasn’t there, her form cast no shadow as she passed Saint Peter’s Church because her boots were in Barcelona and her autumn coat was a waterfall top. It billowed around her hips like the soft white fluff above the spires which framed the baby sweetcorn. And it was irrelevant that her eyes looked up to a Hampshire sky because they were not there. They looked out across the park and studied Gaudi’s glory which left an imprint in her mind.
It didn’t matter where her boots wandered in an English town because she wasn’t there. She was striding out across the Carrer de Sardenya as though her small feet belonged on Spanish soil.
The cloud cover broke a little just beyond her trees and blue peeped through. She followed it, she let herself be swept along and up and through to Valencia.
And she dropped down, she landed like a curled up leaf and then unfurled. Stretching out, warming in the Spanish sun.
And she was there.
There, in flowing linen, and cream hat, there in the indigo glass reflection, in the white spots of sunlight on polished chrome. Just a split second, as though she viewed it all from here, older, looking back, as though the moment had rippled back and forth through time, throughout the whole course of her life.
And she would be there, limitless in the azure blue and violets. She tried to freeze the moment but it ebbed and dipped, rose and fell, in and out like her breath on the warmth of that day.
Under the startling architecture they wandered as though it had been created just for them.
She was there.
There, in the deep soft cream settee of the of the taxi, low down, buildings blurring as they explored the town.
There, by the bicycle racks finding Tourist Information. And maps were drawn and plans were made as they forged themselves back out.
There, to the left of the Cathedral, then the fountain and that sense of achievement when they found their bearings once again.
There, in that repeating sense of being trained, that she would need these skills just down the line. And then her husband sat, with Guinness while she took their small boy’s hand and walked away.
And she was there in the twenty minutes before the shuttle bus to the docks, striding out to find a souvenir with their son. And the pavements seemed so white and the buildings were warm ochre and in the Spanish sun they were being taught to explore alone.
And there and back and to the cafe meet up with one last photo, one last pose.
She was there and snapped them, husband and son at the fountain, grinning. And the water droplets sprayed up and the photons sparkled down as minutes slowed.
And in the Now she went back there, tired but noting moments on the coach, smiling at the buildings, wide-eyed like a child. And the city shone as though everything was brand new, resplendent, shimmering like themselves.
And the day was white and chrome and violet with an endless sky to call her own. And she clambered back into the feeling, to be there, to be together, to be whole.
If she could have just one day it would be there, it would be then, under the mothering Spanish sun.
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.
And she floated down to the earth with her leaves, twisted, crumbling. They caught the sun as they fell, each one a moment, a glimpse of her. Here. There. And she cascaded, one second into another.
The girl in jeans lying on his bed, waiting for a trip to the forest. And they were there, wrapped and younger with hours ahead. And leaves crunched.
And then the morning, one year later, squeezing through packing boxes and squashed into his car, they traveled north. The fig plant on her lap, bouncing, faded lemon and green leaves, tangling into her long hair. And they unpacked.
A blackbird skooshed under the branches in the right here, right now and then she fell again, dropping from the trees, a mess of golden, a curled up fading form.
And she was there in their new lounge, taking on the owner with her fiancé to her right. A stressed-out seller to her left, who sabre rattled a rolling pin in the face of her husband-to-be.
And she rallied, she reared up. ‘You’ll have to get through me first’ she said and her words rattled around her head, the phrase that became their anecdote, in their new home, in their new life, on that day in a distant autumn.
And leaves fell and she joined them, down and down, as though there were no structure to her thoughts, as though her edges had given way. The sun in the Now called out to her, soothed her through the mothering blue of an empty sky.
And in the cloudless start to her day, she stood flanked and strong by her husband and son, as they stared out across the park. Gaudí’s Cathedral looked back, its stone sweetcorn against their perfect sky and it soared up, magnificent, intricate, an image almost permanent.
And they walked on, following the tour guide with her yellow sign, held high. The ground still swayed a little but they were out. Feet on dry land, together, hands linked as they went on their way.
And leaves fell in the park in Barcelona, and beyond her window in the right here and right now, she floated down. She let the cool breeze carry her, gentle, down-to-earth, where she rested with the others, where she turned her head up to face the sky.
She was the warm yellows of her past, in a scattered ochre morning. She watched herself fall down, an October mulch to feed her day.
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.
Such a quiet bird,she thought and thena sky songspiralled out. Anditsang as though it always had time for feathers,as though this was its home. And she saw herself,ship high and blown, above the docks on rising waves and it was here,next the creaking beasts up top andwithblusteredhair, that she grew.
Here,that her sense of wings exploded to the seas, it was here andalwayswould be. Down underneath its hulk,by the men–shouts and leaden ropes there would bebicyclewheels. On pavements grey there would be spokes turning rubber, metal rubbing,gears changing and younger than her,hisspeckled legs would be pushing onthepedals that shecouldn’tsee.
And there he was,escaped and expanded,exploring the docks by himself. White–outathisside,slab–steel toweringhighand he looked up. Painted letters sang out her name and he wasthere,adrenaline pumping,muscles aching,boundless and new on his bike.
And hegrinned,up and up,to the top of ship, he squinted in the light, hair with a singlecurl at the front that zinged up like hope,likeirrepressiblejoy and he was young.
She looked down,wings nestling in her back,thin greying hair,a testament to travel and as grunts of men hauled ropes and chains released her,sheswayed towards him.
He paused on his bike, soyoung and persistent, with a button bright mind,sabatiersharp, the boywho took her hand across the years and from the quayside his story burbled into hers,in the churn and spume,in the chaos of waves,his eyes lockedontohers, always and he freed her.
Wingsruffledbright, as her day–song followed the clouds, she saw him, and because of him–a boy on a bike, she flew.
There goes the sunlight doing its thing, showing me that its still there. It catches the web from last night’s work outside my window. If I concentrate hard I can see the rainbows in it and beyond the neighbour’s lawn, almost lime in its rays and I imagine how warm the grass must feel.
Since I’ve been sitting here, the shadow has moved up my curtain, it seems so drab now as though the hope that the sun bought has been stripped away to nothing. The walls creak and how a new day is pushing into me and if I don’t move from this spot, the planet will still spin. Even in my stillest form I know my heart pumps blood around my veins, that neurons jump the gaps to make these thoughts and cells renew and die. Its irresistible, a movement despite myself and I wait for the minutes as though there’s something coming, someone coming who will lift me from this place and if I hold out and breathe light small breathes that they will find me, like a crushed flower under foot or the scuttle of a lady bug released from a damp cold stone.
And far away in a place untainted by this morning, I am there. I am dressed in purple and my hair, thicker and darker than now whips and tears around my face in the morning bluster. I am up high and all I can see is the sunlight glinting off the waves and a horizon cluttered with boats. And there was laughter, reverberating in my head, bouncing sound waves around my ears and the anticipate of the moments ahead made me giddy with light and with joy.
My god we were filled with such joy.
And a pigeon comes to rest on the car, it pecks and slides down the windscreen, startles itself and flies off again. Today there’s autumn outside, clouds that could carry me far, take me away to Nice, to Cannes where the white sand would seep into my trainers. I’d stand by Matisse’s house and wonder what it would have been like to live there. To get up and paint in that light and the market stalls would be full of fresh loaves and the nectarines would compete with lemons and we’d walk, arm in arm, down cobbled lanes, looking out to where the sea became the sky and then I’d paint. After breakfast, I’d look east and on my dried-out primer I would sketch. I’d use charcoal and notice the boats that bobbed and buffered, there in a light that I remember now, I’d push oil around in swirls, cadmium lemon and scarlet lake up to the edge and no more.
I’d throw the bread crumbs through my window into a warmth welcome of air and pigeons would scuttle and drop down for my gifts out there, back there and not here, there in my South of France on a morning that isn’t this one. Here in the autumn beyond this rain stained glass, by the late wasp that nuzzles at brick and the pigeons peck at the roof of the car, they hop nearer now and look me in the eye. They’re close today, it’s October and they seem to know my name.
And then, there we were, further around the coast, under an untroubled sky, in the back of a cab, to old streets. We wandered lost, we held tight and asked questions. The sun glared and lit the way as you paused with Guinness while I took our boy’s hand and we explored. Imagine that, far away from this world now, by the fountain that spat out our names and we were there. I wore the cream hat with petals on my tunic and we grinned, young and free into my lens.
That sun which lights the green glass on my windowsill, that burns up hydrogen while I think, is the sun that lit our faces on that day, in those moments that I fold around me now. And I can see the shopkeeper where I bought the sweets for our boy and you were there, sat waiting. We found the bus, we found the docks and the wind whipped around our hair. Then not now, there not here, under Valencian skies.
She was so excited, you know. The morning air waking her eyes, the chill with a promise of sun. She went to work that day, just for the morning then she left. Her colleagues wished her well and all through the hours that she worked she thought. She went over the folded clothes she’d packed away. She ticked through the documents in her bag. It sat waiting for her on the bed in the light that moved across the duvet, to noon, to the closing of doors.
Her friend was coming to pick her up, to take her and drop her with bags and she was ready. Changed and brushed, bristling with expectation with the possibilities in front of her.
And she stood, she could see it all from where she sat now, where she had stood and the bluster of the docks caught her scarf, it spiralled up around her face, out of control in the gust. Everything was new, strange, bearings to find, sea legs to attach and she thought of her friend who had worked there. He was clear and vivid in his absence and she imagined him grinning – and his laugh.
She was there, you know. She could see her, hair burbling upwards, a thin top because that’s all she would need and she was light. She felt herself sparkle at the edges, like a fraying blanket that comforted in its age. The ends of her pulsed and danced, waves of photons twirled around her and she was free. My God, she was so free.
And in that place, high up over the water shine she was wrapped. She was swaddled in the things she needed and the people who formed her life.
There had never been a moment like it, not that she could recall, where every cell in her form crackled and sparked and she was at the start of something. Her laugh was lifted up by the eddies, carried high in gushing thermals, through the gulls until it it broke. Sound waves scattering fragments of her into the day, into the swell of her world.
And she was there. And she stood. And she could feel every throb in her body as she sits now, cold, looking out towards the window. Wrapped in a parka to shield her from the day. The condensation moving sluggish down the pane, her view blurring through the droplets. And in each burst of water she sees herself, reflected, smiling back. Caught in time, in motion. in that place – when she was who she used to be.