I need to find the smallest of words, seek them out and hold them close. I must be careful though, holding them means I must lift my arms and that seems too hard. So I’ll just think about them instead.
I’ll think about stillness and sleep, that’s all. The rain came back today and with its soaking, it washed away part of me, took my feathers and my frills, drenched my ribbons and wet my bows and I’m bedraggled. If I looked up I’d see them, sodden, lying around me but I won’t open my eyes. I still think about them of course, crave them, remember how it felt to move and jingle and shimmer and shine, but not now.
The rain came back today, it saturated me. There’s almost a breeze but not quite. I’ll just sit still for a while and if I breathe soft and slow, if I look down, no-one will know that I am here.
Breathe on me and I will vanish, I will disperse into the air taking my long thick dark brown hair away. And the red fleece of my jacket and the fluff in my pocket will be a memory on the wind.
But you will remain with your calcite core, with your compounds, your glinting similarities to my seashells and my pearls.
And I will shine near the summit looking out to Sabden and Padiham, holding tight to Colne.
While you nestle tucked away, carboniferous in russet, smooth in sandstone in my palm. And I will rub you while I crumble, I will feel the biting wind shriek up my hair.
There with my glacial tilt, my boulder clay which called me. Pick me up and hold me close and I did. I squeezed you in my pocket, I hid you out of sight.
While December chills took my left hand to my ear to keep out the gusts. And the smell of her perfumed cheek and thickness of her winter coat were shutter clicked and frozen to the bone.
We grinned in the cold.
But you will remain with your time smoothed angles, a permanence beyond my emphemeral form. So breathe on me and watch my smile flake to the clouds, watch me scatter in the hills.
And long after the imprint of my trainers has eroded, after my keratin has blown away, you will still feel me. The warmth of my hand embedded in your limestone and your limestone and my secret smile, a fossil of our day.
Let me feel your bristles, firm against my form. Insistent, purposeful as though they’d never lived a day without motion.
Brush me from my hiding place, my quiet soft decay. Gather me up into your arms and lift me from my chill. Smother me in your hands and then release me.
But first stop. Pause.
Bring me to your face, your nose and mouth and breath me in. Long cool limitless breaths which remember me with calm, with the intricate scents of my form, with my rich bracken twisted broken core.
And inhale me deep, fill your gaps and crevices with my wisdom, my stench of a year gone by.
And then look up. Turn your face into the softened dusk, up to where the night moves in.
And then hurl.
Scatter me to the soil, to the dark places under the shrubs where the robin picks and pecks. And leave me warm, leave me replete with the hours, with the moments which slip away.
Like your hands as you release me.
And I sigh and rest my form, feel my edges crumble where your fingers traced. Feel the gladness of the earth and I will rostle and rustle into place and wait for the cold to take me home. Into my welcoming loam, mulched down soothings till the spring returns.
And it will.
And your fingers will find me once more as I dare to go around again, as I summon my courage and strength to raise my form up from the soil.
And you’ll be waiting.
Standing stoic, through the cutting winter until the light comes, until the hope will lead me back into your hands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.