To the woman in the trench coat on the bus, with longer, thicker, darker hair like I used to know, you will be fine. And I watch her from the back seat of the bus, years away from her but she doesn’t know I’m there.
And if I stood up and wobbled with the motion, if I plumped down besides her and took her hand then she would jump. And she’d wonder who the older woman was as I leaned in and whispered in her ear. But she doesn’t jump because she cannot see me sitting there. And I push the hair back from her ear and whisper ‘you’ll be alright’ but she cannot hear me because she’s rushing. She’s stumbling up to A & E while her young boy is at Primary and I watch her hurry as I walk behind her and I know the things that wait for her behind the heavy doors.
And if she could sense me, she’d look behind her and wonder why the older woman followed but she wouldn’t stop to question because there was no time.
And I watch her as the doors to A & E swallow her up whole leaving nothing but the memory of her rushing through. And I’m waiting to take her hand and squeeze it tight, I’m ready to catch her when she faints as she will do and as I cradle her younger body into my arms I’ll stroke her forehead and tell her she’ll be alright as we both rest there on their sterile scrubbed white floor.
And if she could hear me, if she could look into my eyes, she’d not believe me but I hold her close and keep her warm. She scatters into tiny pieces and I’ll call out her name. I’ll make everything alright for her because it will be, in a way she’d not imagine, if she could only hear me and if she could see my form.
To the woman in the trench coat with longer, thicker, darker hair like I used to know, I promise you, believe me, you will be fine. And somehow, somewhere my words will reach her and I’ll never ever leave her side.
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.
These trees know, they seem to swirl today as if to show me. They bend, weighed and twisted but still grow. And the cedar where our small son climbed with friends, (when the children who squeal in the park were not yet cells, when the parents who came to create them had not even met,) and our small son learned to clamber back then.
He climbs now, hour upon hour later and our moon has moved around us many times, stars have imploded and the tree leans in towards our home, its foundation weakened, but it still found a way.
Our son, a man in the mirror that his Father used, negotiating formulas instead of fronds, rearranging coefficients instead of crayons and in the echo of him on the carved out hollows in our tree, I see us all.
I strain my neck to look for seagulls but the sky is quiet, clouds brush away the blue like a hand stroking head, like a comfort to rely on and everything swoons.
Out boy morphs to a man, saturated with number and possibility and we are all in the trees, we are every leaf and rustle of unseen things, we are the fragile wings of the birds, of the things that flit and land and time cannot touch us and we are here, still together.
Out and up, into the world of senses where he felt and he saw and he heard. He moved. Limbs wriggled and grasped and neurones leapt and charged and pulsed. And his mind whirred like a great churning machine, like a creature that resonated with the knowledge it consumed and so he grew.
And he grew and expanded until the sphere of his world touched mine and we collided and we merged and we entwined.
And our lives that we lived sparked new life and he was born. And I glow, I reverberate to the beat of his heart. Out there now, seeing and feeling, hearing and moving, making his mark on his world. Neurones firing, ideas churning.
And I think and feel and hear a new born cry. He was born, dear God, he was born.
Without that breath, I would not be here, without his view of the world, I could not dance, without his perception of the world I would not think in these circles, in these layers. Without that life I would not be, I would not be here as I am.
And so his mother lived and she gave birth to him. And he was born and we met and we merged.
And I gave birth because of him, and we lived then and we live still, and we breathe and we thrive.
He was born, dear God, he was born. And on a bright day in March he appeared at my door and we smiled and I welcomed him in.
The seagulls are back today, they swoop around, they circle her old home and from their wings she sees the carpet in the lounge, how it turned from spiralled blues to pink. And she sweeps above the kitchen, where the corner chair became a cupboard for the pills, opposite the kettle where she first made him a drink.
And as she looks, the seagulls fill the rooms, their wings waft feathers in her face and carry her upstairs and there they beat the air, there they hover at the edge of her old bed, with its camblewick green cover and in the light that lifts from day to night and day to night again, she sees herself lying, turning, holding thoughts.
The cupboard to the right is silent, where the drawer is stiff, the rich deep wood and a lamp stand of fading brass. She can smell the scented carpet and the polished trinkets, there, on a painted window sill that overlooks that world and as her seagulls settle and fold their wings she smells the coast.
Bedruthan rocks wrap around her and as the sand sneaks in her trainers she pads the beach towards him, laughing, parka flapping in the cut of air, then back.
Seagulls resting on her bedspread, her bed by a bookcase from her youth, crammed with early interests and they whisper. The ivy green curtains are closed, the lamp is off. Her seagulls watch over them, their words and murmurs.
And it’s August. They ruffle feathers around her and lift her up, away from her black and white skirt on the chair, its bells silent and the birds sing out, it’s always August, they call out, we’re always there.
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.