I have been avoiding myself for a while, she thought, but the leaves rushed in and said don’t worry. Watch us dither on the bluster, see how we don’t care.
And she strained her head to the sky, to the spaces where she used to be and watched. They maundered like old thoughts which caught her out in the night, like missed moments, like the regrets which crumbled at her door, twisted and fragile, the haphazard seconds of her life.
But the leaves taught her well. They cried out as they tumbled into her, thither-zither, helter-skelter to her palms. And for those which remained on the trees, she poured her love up to them. They were weary, clumped and battered on the undressed branch. They knew not to resist.
Clouds moved in, cumulus caressed her mind and she didn’t care, not really. Not now. Somehow the day was still gentle.
Listen to the leaves, she said. It’s only spacetime. It’s only 9,192,631,770 periods in the hyperfine transitions of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom. One second after another falling to her soil.
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.
So how would it be if the passing trees bowed over and came down to hold me, what if each leaf tore itself from the branch and flew down to keep me safe and I would smile.
I would welcome them into my arms and I would find shelter in their sap rich veins. The cobweb twists in the corner of the wing mirror, a distorted memory of its form, a shimmered recollection of when it stretched out, full of flies and dew and purpose.
It happened again.
I slid into the gutter like a chiffon scarf, like sea gusted hair, whipped and twirled, salted, sand sprinkled strands like the tail of a kite careening, flirting with ribbons and bows and the soft eager grip of a girl giggled and reeled it back in.
And I slipped, I gave myself up to the ground and as it welcomed me, the girl and the kite and the beach and my scarf flew away. Away like the beat of a wing, away like the startle of feathers, petrol pooled black mirrors as I lay.
My mouth smirked where they left it, upturned and silent beside the road. My feet, discarded by the gorse bush, one shoe on and one shoe off and Peter Rabbit trapped in wire rushed into my mind. And how the sparrows implored him to escape. And there would be stories and teacakes, jam down my chin and my kite curled up in the boot of the Austin 1300, tousled and day stained, like me.
But the gutter cradled and soothed, hushed me as the flock sprung, pulsing. Flapping, clattering, colliding, black diamonds and piercings, dustballs despatched as they poked.
I remember their beaks, eager, unforgiving, pneumatic drill in rain, dentist burrowing, twisting and the taste of salt in my mouth.
But not now. Now it’s the feel of the gutter and the little bits of me that still remain. Near the roadside, abandoned feathers where they took me down, straddled strutted, swaggered, like they owned the verge, ruled the fields where my kite flew. And now they peck me to sleep while I lie in brambles, near the pavement grey, I hear them as they laugh and caw.
Under midsummer rain on windscreens, fractured rainbows, I curl up. Little shards, little jagged remnants and I swoon.
This face on the concrete, cool and rough, this tucked away under dried leaves, this attempt at shelter.
And yes the woodlice come but they don’t mind, they’ve seen me here before. Ants carry on regardless, always did, always will, while I curl up tight.
It’s ok, they nod as they pass by, shifting crumbs and sticks and broken things. But I can’t answer, not right now. I watch the woodlice trundle, legs rippling as if to say, there is movement, there is flow, although I can’t feel it.
And if I keep still long enough, my breathing will settle, will slow and the leaves will tremble on my back, will shudder just enough to show someone that I’m there.
And if I hold on, they might find me and lift me up and know I still belong. They might pluck me from the cracks in the patio and take me home, take me back indoors again.
And I would give my blessings to the woodlice as I leave them. And in someone’s hands I would be whole.
And so, I watch my finger tap and move across the screen. I count in seconds. And so it goes, one moment merged into the next. I’m trying to find my way through this bracken, through these weeds and thorns. I push ahead. It’s quiet. only the robin knows I’m here and he understands me.
I’m muddled in-between loss and time, in-between memory and now. I try to makes sense of it all.
And here it comes, that sense that the universe reflects me, that mirror outside my door. I’m perched. I’m high up somewhere, somewhere cold yet warm enough for me. My long cape will scrape the earth, disturbing stones as I climb. And yes, my feet bleed into the soil but it’s a good loss, a purging somehow. Giving blood back to the soil. And then I sit.
I’ve been here before, high up overseeing the land, my land, the place we built upon and here and there through the spheres of teardrops I see our world turned upside down. Our boy and I on the hill that we built with our hands.
The clock ticks round. It counts in thousands now, eighty-seven of them and six hundred more but it means nothing. It’s a construct, a passing of weather, of seasons, of my body changing and our boy turning into a man.
The minutes are randomised up here, every possible second remaining on our probabilistic hill. And here we sit on the top looking back, looking down. We Made This. We call out, we shout it out into the clouds. Ravens catch it on their wings and take it higher. Their black rainbows glinting in the sun.
I remember this place, this bench at the start, the dog walkers, the litter eddies fluttering by the bin and pigeon shit on the picnic table. Even that was shaped in black and white, the residue of food, expelled into the air and landed just for me to notice on my own. It had dried to form a Tao symbol and I smiled and wandered on.
And I’m pulled, jostled as though waking from a dream to see our land now and how many losses have been carved out in people since our own? How strange it seems now to have walked and spoken to strangers back then, no masks in sight, no fear of breathing on each other and we could hug and they’d take my hand.
How removed it all seems now, removed from ourselves. That sense of severing. I sit here as vaccines are pumped into muscles, as charts change and people hope. And there’s that sense that we will come through this, that we’ll lift each other up in our arms and twirl around. I can feel it, that craving for how it used to be. To have it all back again.
And yet if there’s one thing this decade has taught me, it’s to let go of the linear and any sense that what we had will phase back in again and return.
Call it a new normal if you choose but like the hundreds of thousands of losses that bind us to each other now, this is not something that fades. It’s etched into who we are, into a generation now, into our psyche, into our souls.
I remember last spring and that sense that maybe, in a month or two, it would be behind us. Like queries from the un-widowed, hoping, questioning and do you feel better now? That sense that this will heal like a break, like the dull ache after the snap of bone. And they’ll say, oh look she walks with a limp now, but they won’t feel it, they can’t feel how the limb has been changed on a molecular level, the scar-knitting-collagen-weaving permanent change to your form.
And I wonder how we’ll move from this? I crave that the sense of solidarity which we felt, that dazed and disoriented need to connect, will remain. Don’t let it seep away, to be forgotten, to just be the Year That We Wore Masks. Let it open us up, break us out of our stale paradigms, our tiny fearful islands. Let this be our chance to focus on the universal self behind the form and the foolish idea that we are separate in any way.
And I pause. A blackbird winks at me, comes close but won’t cross the line. My outstretched palm is a step too far. He’s found a worm, he’ll be just fine.
The hands have moved around while I tap and I come back to time yet again.
I’m left with the sense that nothing is as it seems. That I live on a Mobius strip somehow looping and doubling back on myself. I am inside and outside of time in one breath, I am fluid, I’m here and there. And if I have a point (she often has no point, it’s part of her charm*) it’s this. I used to be time based, I’d be linear and I’d have plans. but then loss swoops in and caws, circles round and says no more. Who wants to be linear anyway, where life is predicable like it used to be? Now we float and flip, thither-zither in the air. Murmurations cut the sky, 87,600 birds, ripple, shimmer, dancing black. I wave to them from the hill that we made, they tip their wings to us in respect.
So I remain in the tangle of my quantum mind, both then and now, a superposition of me. I am Schrödinger’s girl; a wife and widow and it’s not till I notice my thoughts that I find out which one I am.
I’m a little bit car loaded, heading south, Pendle growing smaller to my right.
And if I could, I would stop the car. Bring it to a halt, all of it. The January day. The normality. And I’d run down the side of the M62 and over the crash barrier and I’d fly, as though my bare feet were never made for soil.
And I’d clamber, higher, faster, until the motorway would fade and my raggle-taggle gypsy feet would bleed. Pink rivulets in the frost, cut and blistered in the iced up air, but I’d be there.
My skirts torn, little frayed bits of me on bracken but I would climb. And our car heading south would be a dot. A pinpoint of time that never happened.
And from the top we’d see our helter-skeltered route to where we’d stay.
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.
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.
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.