Zephyr In The Sky

She buttered the bread and thought about him. The butter was slightly salted and indulgent, like him. And she indulged him. She wouldn’t admit it to anyone else but she knew that she had bought him into being and there, now that she had committed it to the page, given life to the thought, she didn’t feel so bad.

She had no recollection of when it began, he just appeared and she surrendered to the process. But she was pleased with her work though, she placed him on a hill, visible but out of reach and for many months he was divorced.

He was stoical, he carved and built, his rough hands restored and repaired. She didn’t understand how she’d achieved this, yet she recognised her thoughts in the way he carried himself, in his language patterns and proclivities.

She kept him tucked away in her top drawer, under her embroidered hankies, the ones with Lily of Valley in the corner and next to an oval photo frame with an image from her time in Paris. And there he lay, safe and warm and every week she’d take him out and listen to his mind.

And then he married. She drew him with a wife and wrestled with relief and disappointment all rolled into one. She was unsure why she had drawn him this way but maybe it kept her safe, maybe with a wife on the hill, she had no need for action and nowhere she could go.

She confused herself though. Wouldn’t it have been more frivolous and fanciful to have drawn him nearer to her town and she flushed. How would it have been to have created him without a wife? She let the thoughts settle for a while and saw herself on trains, with bags, with movement and direction, with new clothes for the trip. And there was fun. She rolled the words around her mind, tasted the idea.

It had been many years since she’d allowed herself to do anything so ridiculous and she sighed. No, he was much better off with a wife and frivolity would remain something that shimmered just outside her window, something she caught a glimpse of if she lay still and quiet at night. It was an echo, a rippling remembrance of who she used to be.

So she settled herself, brushed down the layers of taffeta that fell before her and stood up. It’s fine, she said to no one in particular, I am safer to give him a wife and so she continued.

The wife was drawn in pencil though, a 4b, something soft that she could smudge while he was fleshed out and filled in. He was flowing in gouache, viridian and cerulean with Prussian blue for depth. Rose tyrian in his gait and he strode out, surveyed his fields, he was vivid, rich in detail and recited poems from her page.

There. There now, she said in familiar tones to soothe herself. I may add details to his wife but not now, for now she is a faint drawing at the edge and that’s enough because while she is there, she keeps me from clambering on a train.

She felt a little calmer now she’d explained it to herself. He did fascinate her though and she revelled in the intricacies of his mind, in the way light and shade fell on his thoughts, in the way, despite the quality of her invention, he remained just beyond her fingertips.

She folded her sketch book away. Still, he lived in the drawer with his wife, with his ways and there was a serenity, something pure yet invigorating when she passed by his hiding place. He was in there waiting, curled up next to the pomander and the scent of lavender made him smile.

A zephyr moved the curtains of her open window, fluttered up the hankies in her drawer. She accepted it was all her own doing and took the greatest care. She pulled the window closed, her room smelt of lavender and vanilla. She smoothed down the hankies next to him and pushed back in the drawer. Go steady she told herself, it was almost as though he was becoming real.

Percolations

Maybe it would be on a Saturday and the pavements would shine dark, of course it didn’t matter and we’d cut through from the car park somewhere, turn left by The Baguette Shop and try to find the last remaining seats.

Jazz played, of course and the mothering comfort of coffee making sounds hissed and chinked and steamed up the view. And if we were lucky, we’d get the seats by the window and watch the humans go by. My earl grey was hot and I’d watch their disposable gloved hands load up the French bread with chicken salad, of course. And with a choice of six toppings I’d be reckless and wild and choose red pepper and grapes.

And we’d sit not too far down the road from Tyrell & Green, in the days before it became a nightclub, in the days before I waddled in there in my lilac ditsy print, to choose the rocking chair that held me while my back ached, which cocooned me while my tummy lurched.

We bought the footstool to go with it and somehow the print on the champagne fabric reminded me of a painting by Jean Miro from the days when I spiked my hair in orange mousse, when I pulled away from home and looked for myself in northern streets, in clanking lifts, in old buildings, with the smell of stretched calico on canvas.

There was something reassuring about the Jean Miro print underneath my swelling ankles as I rocked, as I soothed and it soothed me in the memory of when I wore zebra print, but not then. Then I held tight and held on as the spasms charged up my spine, as I took on my new form.

I liked Tyrell & Green and waddling in late summer, stacking up on the things we’d need for the journey ahead and while I twinged and swayed, somewhere just down the road in the steamed up Baguette Shop we sat looking out, Waterstones bags to our right, of course. And you ate prawns and I ate grapes and our Saturdays unfurled with raindrops down the window and the splintering shapes of humans doing their thing.

I always found it hard to hitch myself up on the high stools but once there I was content. Baguettes and books, wet streets which shimmered with the people that we’d become. On a Saturday through the filters of back then.

Not a Leaf Flinched

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.

Place Value

Of course, if it were nearing the end of April she couldn’t be anywhere else but striding out towards the gate, at the end of the path, at the top of their alpine village. And her arms flew wide and wild, hair at every corner as the shutter smiled and caught her.

It held her face through the years, such that in times when she reduced in size, she would recall herself and the way she beamed. Trees blurred out behind her and his SLR bounced alongside them like a giddy Jack Russell, sniffing and rooting around for the next great shot. And they walked, for the rest of their lives it seemed, they walked up the winding path away from their alpine village which only existed for them.

It didn’t matter that her kitchen was still somewhat cold and although she seemed to sit on a hard wooden chair, she wasn’t there. She was upright on a plush train seat, looking right, as the mountains softened and the land lapped up to the side of them, in their double-deckered, pristine ride. And it would be the Wednesday, maybe Thursday but she’d be beaming, heading south, face up against the window like a child as the fields fled, as they sat side by side.

And it didn’t matter that her heating had just creaked on or the scarf around her shoulders kept her warm. She wasn’t there. She was, of course, on the low wall by the lakeside, kicking her feet and grinning, one hand holding the sunhat to her head, the other on the ubiquitous Diet Coke, in the days when all she needed was her small red rucksack and a first-aid kit to make her day. And if she paused, her wooden kitchen chair gave way to stone and the welcome seep of coolness reached her thighs despite her jeans.

Someone painted the lake for them, or so it seemed and everything was tinged azure and cobalt and they wandered. And the town was deserted or maybe not, maybe all she could see was their feet in unison, climbing the stairs up the tower and round and around and round and around to a platform where they peered out. The more she travelled the younger she became somehow as she clambered up the short steps to the very top, while he humoured her and waved from the opposite window. And she was there clutching the cobbled wall, perched on the window ledge looking down and her white cotton shirt billowed out like her hair.

And her heating rattled and complained, she needed to get the boiler serviced but not right now, now she was counting turrets and burnt sienna tiles and he was helping her back down the staircase in the secret places that they’d found.

Then the pier rose up, lakeside and people bustled but she didn’t care, she wanted to call home. And from a phone box (imagine that, a phone box) she pressed in the coins and waited for connection. Distant sounds came and crackled and then her voice burst out, like a child, like the youngest of girls. I’m in Italy, I’m in Italy and she laughed and gushed while they stood there. Cloudless, edgeless, sun waving streaks of speckled white on a lake to call their own.

And was it later or the next day, she wasn’t sure but the end of April held her close. She borrowed his shirt to protect her from the sun and while he packed or read or slept, she felt it flap around, over her t-shirt as she walked by herself in Zermatt. Not far but far enough, back up the winding path and out of town and every hanging basket sang out and called her name, colours cranked to full saturation, people on bikes and she strode. She walked out and up and away for a while, exploring by herself (a skill that would become vital years from then) but then there was no weight, no weight at all. Just herself and the village path and the drifts of snow, six-cornered starlets melting in the warmth. And could it be real, was it possible at all, that there she was, the smallest of creatures on the planet, yet her tiny frame expanded in the sun and the more she walked, the more she grew and she swung her arms and smiled, smiled liked she did on their first holiday, smiled as though there could be no pain.

She learnt to walk by herself, in his shirt to protect her and every snowflake saw her joy, every flower waved and cheered her on. It would always be the end of April and they walked the winding paths that led to now. At the start, at their start and Murano glass beads jingled round her wrist, throwing rainbows of Millefiori round her heart.

Boundary Conditions

It’s so still out there, so waiting. That sense of shh, don’t worry, it will come. It’s there in the way the sunlight holds the branches, in the faint call of a hidden bird.

And I pause, breathe, that’s all. And it passes by my window, up to the left with the sparrow wings and he watches me, watching him, watching them all. We slow down, the birds and I, pause to think of sunlight.

And there they are, my creatures in the trees, pecking and singing, ruffling new feathers in this spring. And I wonder do they sense their descendants, the ones I knew, the ones who gave me feathers years ago.

And while they sang outside that window from back there, in that house then, the hem of the dress caught the light as it lay out on the bed, as if to say look at me, look at me, lift me up into your arms. And later, a little later it would be held up as I clambered inside, as I manoeuvred into my new form, like a butterfly losing meconium, drying out its fresh wet wings.

Until its weight draped round my feet and I breathed out. Birds sang unseen as the hem brushed the dust down the wooden staircase and over new mown grass to rest and pause, where cameras winked and moments froze.

Sparrows darted to the neighbour’s tree, head on one side and down the path the hem of the dress shuffled leaves until it was bundled up into the car. It sat quiet, being, folded in upon itself, cushioned on the plush carpet of the foot-well until blackbirds cut the air, overarching the church gate.

And there with the creak of old hinges, with the warmth of a palm, with the click of heels on old stone, the hem of the dress made its way home. Home, on the short path to the archway, home to the hush of the slate and it dragged feathers and fronds as it swayed, as it made its way past pews to the front.

And there it rested for a while, settled in ivory, calm where it belonged. The hem of the dress over champagne silk boots, near to sharp creases in suits and it paused, waited, just to the left of polished shoes.

And then sunlight came back to stroke it, came to throw light at the door. The hem swept and rippled, caught the coloured flecks, scattered rainbows all around, then hands scooped it back up into soft contours in the car.

Trees moved above it unseen, voices chattered and laughed while it lay crumpled up and then the grass came back, daffodils nodded and bobbed as it moved around. Photons bounced up from the duck pond, white spots and sparkles, before it coated steps and carpet-brushed itself along.

And it swooned, the hem of the dress with the tiny remnants from the day and it danced over polished floors, glided as though it would always flow, would always sway, as though in its moment there was release.

And later it lay, much later it was still, smoothed out again and silent on the protective bag at the bedside, soon to be tucked far away.

And now hydrogen coalesces into helium, firing light and heat, like it did, like it does. How reassuring as it warms up the blackbird’s wings, as it listens to the soil.

And in a different wardrobe now the hem of the the dress sleeps its sleep, cradled and swaddled in plastic, over unused things and bits and bobs. But in its weft and weave it holds the moments when it danced, when it was free, when it could shimmer and it was home.

The Swaddling (87,600 Hours)

Shhh listen, settle down and hug up close, close to your knees, to your heart. Can you feel it beating under your clothes, under your skin? And in this moment you are safe, you are softened, you are small.

I’m trying to catch the thoughts, though they drift, they waver. I watch them rise and fall like my chest as I sit wide eyed but tired, embers crackle in my mind, a dog sniffs the air somewhere, but not here. It’s early, it’s dark although the sun is up.

I feel I’m preparing to hike but I have no thoughts as to where. The best of journeys then, to saunter. Maybe. And there is purpose of course, but I hide it from myself right now.

So huddle up, breathe deep and slow. Shhh, you are warm. Safe. It will be ok. I promise.

I lift the thought up into my vision, turn it around on the tips of my fingers, like a marble, like a jewel and watch it close. But while I study its colours, its form and feel the weight of it in my hand, in my heart, I will be curled up at my feet, I will be held.

So go ahead, choose the marbles, like the little girl with white socks, with battered red Start-Rite shoes and there she goes. She runs down the path at the side of the bungalow. The marbles chink in her small fist, they rub together but in each one a tiny universe turns though she cannot see it yet. She plays with them. Rolls them down the path. They smash and clatter, spin sideways into the hellebore.

The soil gets under her nails as she pulls them out, brushes them off on her red and blue boiled wool coat. She lifts them to her face and peers inside. Blues swirl to eau-de -nil, a smear of burnt umber at the edge, and on the edge, deep inside the marble in her hand, there is a woman. She stands still in a field, ravens circle, cut the air. It is cold. It is February. She is alone.

The little girl squeezes the marble in her hand then opens wide her palm and peers into the glass. There’s a woman deep inside, a woman on her hill. The little girl strokes the marble, brushes off the dried on soil and inside of it, like a fly in amber, frozen cold, the woman on the hill calls out. She calls out to the five year old in the garden, she looks up to the sky, to the dome beyond, to the small girl stroking her through the years and the glass. I’m scared she calls out to the child and the little girl nods and says I know. I understand.

She places the marble in the warm depth of her coat pocket and skips off down the path.

The fire spits. Shh, it’s warm now, breathe and rest and I will plait your hair. A distant dog barks somewhere but not here. The day is grey and leaden but not outside, outside it’s sodden winter, unsafe leaves to pull me down, the ever present threat of concrete and the fall. So we curl up. Sit by the fire. Shh, let the buttered toast soothe and calm.

Choose another marble now.

And through the embers a little girl skips down the path, she kneels on the cold slabs but doesn’t feel their hardness, it scrubs her knees but she is lost in play.

The marbles clatter, scrape and dart off under the carnation bush, its soft blue grey stalks bend over as if to shield, as if to save the day. The little girl shoves her hand in and rummages around. Bugs and worms startle, scatter at her fingers, soil coats her nails, crumbled twigs and leaves are pushed and then she finds it.

Out and up, triumphant and she gives a little dance. Her favourite marble, a fob, her mother calls it, and she looks deep inside. A rollercoaster twists lilac and indigo, like a captured ocean wave. It rises and falls in her hand, sweeps and dips, her face pressed up close to it, its coldness on her cheek. She peers inside and through the blues sits the image of a woman by a hospital bed. Her face folded in on itself and under her raincoat she is being severed from herself. She glances up and out through small side window, past the charts and words she cannot read and out and up and back to girl with the marble. And in her silent voice she screams out loud I cannot do this – help me.

And the little girl kisses the marble and pats it on the top. You’ll be ok she says then places it in her pocket, soft and warm, held and loved and it chinks against the others in the the fluff.

There now, there now, shh, drink this. I hand her a mug of hot orange and she sips and sobs. The broken woman at my feet, heavy from the hike, with leaden legs, looks out. She stares into the fire and through the sparks skips a tiny girl singing.

New shoes, blue shoes, stomp along like that shoes…

She has an old grey cat under her arm, its cream chest of matted fur has been stroked for years. It is battered, it is loved. And in her hand is a bag of marbles. They chink and scrape as she clambers out towards us.

Shh, shh she says. Don’t worry I’ve got you now. And her tiny arms grow wide to encircle us all.

I stoke the fire, flecks of things that used to be rise up and twirl, the heat pushes them, lifts them higher then lets them fall, spinning down, fading.

We curl up tight together, our breath settling through the sobs until we have one rhythm. Our chest rising and falling and we are safe and we are home.

A marble rolls out of the bag across to the hearth where the firelight reflects us back. And through the glass we can be seen in the indigo and violets swirls, a cocoon of us, cradling each other.

Shh, shh. There now.

Schrödinger’s Clock

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.

xxx

*A Few Good Men, 1992

Lullaby

Close the door now, close it well and she soothed herself with its sound. It slammed out the outside and she crept upstairs. And back downstairs, lifting blankets from the beds, taking unused towels from cupboards.

There now, there now, she whispered to the door. Smothered it under fabric now, shoved and draped and stuck with gaffer tape, up to the architrave and over hinges. Push it away. And hide.

Windows next, she rushed. Hurried-scurried against the clock.

Tick loud, tock loud, pulsing, beating at her temples as she climbed. Teetering on kitchen chairs to reach and hang, to black out outside with cardboard torn, with paper. Newspapers empty threats, silenced bleating little black, little shapes shouting Doom but not for her.

She was safe if she rushed, if she scurried far away. And tucked up small and slight behind her fabric plastered doors, behind her tattered papered windows. She was safe.

She stroked the walls and thanked them. Gave a blessing to their strength.

Keep it out, keep it all away now.

And if she slept, her barricades against the clock would calm her, her cardboard shields and curtains would sing her deep to sleep.

There now, there now, stop the hands from turning. And she whispered to the house.

Keep February from my door.

I’m A Little

I’m a little bit leaving.

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.

And I’m a little bit there.

I’m a little bit stop the car.

Please. Please.

I’m a little bit don’t head south.

At Walton Lane, Turn Right

It tried so hard to snow today and almost made it. And she wondered if it had snowed hard on her hill. She felt so far away from it somehow and yet it was a part of her and would remain.

If she squeezed the pebble tight she could feel it and she was there after a pub lunch somewhere, wrapped up against the end of year, against the winds. She was there huddled, leaning to the side and at her side, her mother-in-law grinned into the camera lens.

They were solid on uneven ground before the ground beneath her became more uneven and she wore red and her small and powdered mother-in-law wore brown.

The pebble that she clutches now nestled deep deep down in her pocket amongst the fluff and receipts and deep deep down inside of her, her secret hid away, under the flatness of her tummy, under the red fleece of her coat and they stood still.

The wind whipped, harsh, cut into the side of her face. The hill was the hill above the town and her hair stood up in waves and ripples, blustered across her head as she beamed out.

He stood opposite them, stood by the car in the cold and the camera clicked and they were frozen, frozen cold, frozen into time, into the hill. With her hand to her ear to keep out the cold and her other hand, pocket deep with pebble.

And this was the pebble she chose out of the whole hill, this was the one she called her own. And she clutches it now to be back there, there on the hill in her very own winter, with her husband and his mother and the pebble and her secret tucked far away inside.