She listened to his breath and watched his hands, they were resting in folded arms across his face and she thought of them fresh from birth, grabbing onto her thumb, wrapping themselves around her finger. And then hot and small as they fumbled with bright bricks on the floor.
There were hours when she held them on the walks to school, past their familiar way points, the big brick wall and the Spelling Hill, the Opening Trees and then the gates and they held pens. The hands she looked at now, that gripped the pencils, that formed the words, that scribbled and drew mazes then shaped sentences across their days, were the hands in the final playground when they swung from monkey bars, one determined grasp after another, pulling himself along before they left, before the photos at the gate and they left.
She remembered his hand as it clutched hers, as they sat heads down on the pews, in darkness when the light was sucked out of their world. And how she held tight, how she clung firm to him and him to her as they stumbled forward in an unstable new world and then they looked up.
To his hands, bigger, lifting heavy bags of books and different walks without her and he grew. He grew in ways and wisdom, in taking on his world and subjects came and subjects went, fingers folded around revision pens, shoving through hair as he leant over exam papers and he thought. His mind whirring and whirling, making links, his fingers fiddling as he waited for results.
And now autumn wakes them up again, to rain washed lanes and leaves. And now the road rushes underneath him as his new day comes into view. Hands in pockets and a bag full of tricks, the compasses he holds now, he guides now, the calculations that he makes and his hands are strong and firm as they press buttons and follow the sines. Manipulating co-sines and tan in ways she cannot understand and she watches him go striding, preparing with a fistful of ideas, with complex numbers at his fingertips and behind him go the toddlers and the children he used to be, skipping, running in his steps and the hands she used to hold, wave to her and she counts every moment as he plots out his next phase.
How the hours have wrapped around us, she thinks, her baby, their boy and their joy. And as the sun warms pavements and rain drops lift themselves up from the ground, the man he is becoming makes his way back home.
She was wild, she was adventure,
she was passion, she was fun.
She was spirit and compassion.
She was comfort and she was calm.
And when night came, she was star dust
and her breath lit up her road.
And when her tears fell, she was released.
She was freedom and she was whole.
And her wings came and she knew them,
beating out so loud and strong.
And her feet blurred as she took flight,
her heart beat with nature’s song.
And when the dance took its hold of her,
she rippled, she began.
And when its rhythm filled her full, she sang,
‘I am, I am, I am.’
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 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.
She woke to the thought that the long distant wedding guests would arrive today and they came in the afternoon with their neat bags and powdered faces and some stayed in their small room. Others booked into the hotel by the Cathedral where the party would be held and the sun came up on that morning as it rises now, swamped in thick cloud like the years between the girl and the woman. The heat from the hydrogen would burn through later, like the time, like the images in her head. And she would be there.
And later the day arrived and it was her morning, one of the few days in her life when she would be in the house alone. And she woke to the tiredness and the bedclothes and the words. She leapt up. How young she seemed on that morning with the phone on the floor and she squealed down rhe line to his friend and her parents and how they laughed that she would see them later on. And her friend was on the way to help and the nine o‘clock door would open to her face.
How smooth the day felt, the silk of her tights, of her underwear, its cold comfort under a patterened paisley wrap and she would wait. She wondered about his morning and the bacon that she didn’t have. How he joked with his friend in the flat and cravats were tied in a hallway mirror until they were just right.
It was a day to wait for doorbells to ring and for wonen. People she only saw twice who would come and brush and preen, while her coffee went cold on the polished wooden shelf and her friend kneeled to the front, strapping laces. So many faces around her, in preparation for just one, one face that would know her with his smile.
And the boots would be on by now and the kitchen floors a reek of lilies and in the bustle and movements of the day she would see herself. Herself amongst the visitors and they came for jobs then left. She would have looked to her bare finger and thought of later, how it would glisten and glow. It was the moments that were a part of her, that would sit like a peeling bell, reverberating through her life, despite the hours, she would be there.
And soon with the help of her friend, she would find the rustling upstairs and climbing into taffeta she would be, there in that moment, that she would live in their bedroom, wrapped and swirling in silk and somehow as she dressed, she knew and felt herself looking back from now.
And she notes how everything is circular, the rippling waves of the bells, the skirts that dance around her and the rings. So many rings on so many fingers, how she loved to decorate her hands just like her Mother in Law, with fine fingers to dress and stone and gems to throw colours up into her eyes. The eyes that have held her world, strengths that fade in and out, round and around, a never ending pattern that holds and releases her like the gold around her finger, like the symbol of a song.
Everything is repeating today, she observed and she knew it always would do, like the indent on her finger, the permanence in the space and in those moments that came round again she filled herself up and drank long. She watched herself across the years and she prepared. She would always be in this moment, the stairs and the full clouds of silk, the faces glint, the gliding whiteness, the chauffer’s smile turned towards her in the corner in her mind.
She would be there in the smell of blossom, up the pathway to their world and in the hours she would live through, by the old wooden seats to the alter and they were there, all of them together, in one moment and the circles were gold and her finger was bare.
And it was time and there was certainty.
There was a time when she first knew him, before the rainbows came. They walked through the seaside villages, buying up lemon ceramics for their new home. But she doesn’t use those jars now. They are filed away on the top shelf that she can just reach with the aid of a stool.
She dusted them with a soft cloth, let her fingers linger around the rim as she brushed and she thought of herself in a dark blue parka, her feet folded away in stiff new trainers. They were blue, the rubber sole had seemed so white but despite their starkness in the sand, they were the right ones for the job. The old grey rubber peeled off some years ago after the saltwater had weakened the bond, after the dried out seaweed had been tugged free and sniffed and thrown out.
She kept the rock from the first beach, where the sand found its way into her soles, she could feel it grumbling under her feet as they climbed the haphazard steps to the teashop. The rock from those days, holding the heat on her windowsill, next to the herbs and green things that she tends.
She was never much of a gardener but the new seeds in thin packets found her leaning into the sink, sleeves shoved up or neatly folded back on themselves, in the way that he would do, and she plants.
She pokes bits down in soil, feeds them and turns to the light. It’s as much as she can manage, tiny things, ceramic pots and the coloured plastic from her youth.
Mother had bought home the bright pots, the dolly mixtured ones when she still lived at home and she imagined a windowsill in her future, lined with fervent things in a spectrum, a rainbow, a nurturing place.
Now the fading plastic sits next the the rocks, the stiffened paint-brushes and chipped cups. The one without a handle that her Mother bought for him, back then, before these plants had grown.
And she preens, she has taken to buying fresh flowers, enjoying the promise, the sense of life in her home and it keeps her focussed on the cycles. She pours out stale water, she pinches off brown petals and she looks.
‘I buy flowers myself,’ she decided. ‘And I will learn – I will learn the latin of this blossom and that and I will find how to care for it well.’
She is often barefoot now around the house. She likes the coldness of the floor, the sense of connection to something underneath. She hasn’t worn trainers for years and the rock still looks the same as when she pulled it from the sand and there are flowers.
She snips off the lost blooms, the crumpled browns making way for new growth underneath. She holds the rock, it’s warm and heavy in her hand, in her day it still smells of the beach.
She can hear herself running towards him, the flump flump flump across wet sand, as grains were displaced by her small feet.
Frank was a subtle storm at the end of my year. He arrived unannounced like an old friend at a party who made their way through the throng, crept up behind you and shoved their knees into the backs of yours, crumbling your stance and pushing you forward into the buffet.
Frank was there when I woke, dancing around the garden, pulling out the saplings that we’d planted in the spring, sending leaves up in eddies that jerked and hurled before they dropped fast, to crash and I thought of the Christmas when my teeth fell out.
All through the night the howling and moaning. Rain smashed the glass, pots scuttled down the drive as you leaned in. You knew my teeth had to go. It was time, you said and I understood. I opened my mouth, a little at first, as you hooked your finger around my gums and wobbled. And then more, more fingers, a thumb in the other side and my mouth ached, the corners of the skin split just enough to catch the salt from your last packet of crisps and they swelled. The cuts puffed out throbbing splinters of white heat, drawing attention to the sides of my face, while you burrowed. And in deeper until I gagged, spitting bits of teeth on to your hoovered carpet, and they crunched up, little pieces of me, little shards, my blistered enamel and I swooned. I wanted to pass out, I wanted the fullness to stop but it didn’t and with your hand inside my mouth you flicked and eased, you twisted them out of my gums.
I can see us now, me retching, a slaver of blood that you’d hurry to scrub from the pile and how you looked after your carpets. How the windowsill was gleaming and the cleaning fluids lined up, parading shades of dolly mixtures when the sun came through. But it didn’t shine that day.
Storm Frank peeled the garden, wrenched the nature from this place, as we stood, you smiling, making little towers with my teeth and me, bent double, heaving, wiping saliva off the back of my hand.
My tongue hurt, my mouth sobbed. It was winter and you were so in love with me.