I wanted to be that little girl, right there. That girl, and she was four or maybe five. I passed her by on the roadside, in the sunlight, in the delerious white-out of a spring afternoon.
And look at that girl, I thought. Just look at her and I held her in my mind for three seconds or maybe four.
She shimmered on the roadside, on the pavements grey, in her sparkling silver padded jacket which fired back photons to anyone who dared to look.
She lit up the streets, defying smudged reflections of rushing people, of chaotic traffic on grimed windows. And passing by upturned hot wasps on peeling windowsills, she jumped the cracks in the pavement because it kept her safe.
Her baby pink flared jeans flashed candyfloss at anyone who noticed as she hopscotched herself along. Armoured bears growled behind her, goblins sneered up through drains but she didn’t care.
Because it was a springtime afternoon and the blossom frittered away the hours all around her and city sparrows sang joyous, despite the fumes.
Just for a moment if I could be that little girl, casting halos around the litter, that pulsing, beaming dance of limbs, I would be free.
And I passed by the little girl and held her in my mind, like a retina stain on my memories of what it felt like to sparkle under blossom. What it felt like to be magnificent in the spring.
And I passed by with her shimmering in a review mirror, with the candy pink jeans just a flutterering on my shoulder, like the falling petals in my pinned up hair.
And for a second or two, or maybe three, I remembered how I used to feel.
And she breathed and unseen beaks opened as if to say, me too. They took in the fresh morning air and remembered what it is to fly. And on her wings she swooped over distant rooves where cars parked up and bins lined up and people did their thing.
She did her thing and she did it well and there she sat on the roof of the house, ruffling feathers and with knowing eyes, she peered inside his room.
And there she sat on the floor with her back to the bed and her lap was filled with books, with the words, with his bright blue biro scrawl and she reached in.
She traced her fingertips over pages and watched as he appeared. Out he came like a thought, floating up towards her, like the curve of a balloon in a hot summer sky and he circled and he led the way.
He led her to his shed at the bottom of the garden and pushed open wide the door. It creaked and eased onto a world she’d come to know. It was as though two small girls had found their way, had dared to creep over the threshold, like a childhood place, like a secret land that called them to come inside.
And inside they looked up in wonder and stared at The Machine.
‘What is it? What on Earth is it?’ they would ask as though they were characters in a well loved book.
Till the small girls faded and she was stood with him in the dust, in their particle-wave duality. And he would be in his element, in the quiet fug as he set the cogs in motion. Gears moved and wheels turned, firing bits of muck and fluff into the air. Beetles scuttled and woodlice trundled out of sight as the universe in the shed sparked life, shaking the detritus from the gloom.
And there they stood in the photons, as he burbled through his ideas and concepts and his thoughts danced around her like a flutter of butterflies, their fresh fragile wings entangling her hair.
They flew up from the contraption and out through spacetime, released into the universe, like a tensor, like a field equation of their life to come.
And she observed it all, sat high upon the shed roof, ruffling her feathers and watching herself take form.
There was a shed and The Machine, there was a bookcase and a girl. And everything rippled and reverberated out. Irrepressible, on that day, in the embryo of their world.
And she breathed out as unseen birds sang and beaks opened loud and glorious, as if to say all’s well.
I was never one to recognise events as they were unfolding and every time they came to a breach, to a gash, they surprised me, they gave themselves a shape, a moment in time rather than a seamless continuation.
And this morning I was taken to one side by the day and told to stop and look. But before I was forced to pause, I opened the day, in my usual way, with my identity intact, my sense of where I fit into the world and I sat.
The garden was doing its thing, as it did, as it does, growing and decaying despite me while I watched and let the heat of my mug wake my hands. Two, or maybe three mint leaves pushed against the surface tension of my tea. And I sipped. I sat and I sipped in my quiet certainty and watched the surface of my drink.
And now I take hold of my thoughts and pull them apart, now I question why it’s taken me so long to reach this place. This need to draw attention to the quality of my drink. It could be fear. It’s often fear. And now it’s marching up the path towards me, through the weeds and places where the stones are loose and broken, where small things live without my intervention. And it’s here and it smacks up against my door. I let it in of course, I have no option. Not that I can recall.
Life and death belonged. And was I monstrous? The words rolled around my head, poking and prickling, nagging me into a place where I could form the thoughts and they are these.
I sipped. I sat. And then a tiny flower floated over the surface of my drink. I was prompted to remember lotus flowers, delicate edges, beauty in their fragility as they bloomed despite the mud. Or water lilies, fragrant and glorious, spread out petals, preening over algae on my pond.
And this smallness, this clump of petals moved towards me. I studied it for a second, held it in my mind and then it changed. Its image became clear. There were no flowers in my mug, just a fly. A dead fly. Its fine filigree wings reaching out as though it wished to be remembered for the way that it could move, as though in death it was captured, it was held, as a testament to its life.
And I sat back. I placed the mug down, my favourite mug that held the shell of the insect, scalded with my boiling water, the water I boiled to bring me peace and calm had killed, in a second, the living thing in my mug. I wondered how it held onto the mint as I plucked it from the plant, as I rinsed it under the tap. But it clung on until I scalded it.
And I had drunk for while before it appeared, what if I had swallowed it, but I would not have known. And worse, as it drifted loose from beneath the leaf, in its first silent moments, when its body had ceased its purpose, what if I drank from its form, if some escaping essence of the fly had been consumed? And I, responsible for its death, or at the very least, a co-creator, now held, now owned a part of the fly in my mouth.
And I swallowed and I hoped. I hoped that death was in an instant, that there was a split second when its identity was whole and then the water came, the heat appeared like a thought, it drenched and saturated its tiny form before he could react. And that is all.
But then my drink changed, no longer warm ceramic to settle nerves but now it was a resting place, an in-between place and the weight of responsibility came. I left the mug and walked away to contemplate my options.
My friend Jenny jumped into my mind, Jenny with her backpack and packed up tent and her wheels spinning, biking and hiking to Wales. And I wondered how many insects her tyres had taken down, how many smears on concrete she’d created and as her hiking boots stomped and trampled the dirt down did creatures search for shelter from her feet?
But nothing helped the thoughts because Jenny wasn’t still and contemplating, Jenny was full of pumping blood, of sweat and motion, Jenny could never be pinned down. But I could. I was used to being calcified and my reward was the remains of a fly.
And so I needed to be exempt from myself, to make the best of decisions. And if I think the thoughts with the sound turned down I can admit I considered drinking up, to paying tribute to the fly with the act of consuming, to complete the job I had started and allow its carcass to rest deep within my own.
And hope maybe in death, it could step out of the shadows and see that it had lived. And I would know and I would make its essence subsume into my form.
And I yet I couldn’t and I didn’t, I couldn’t cross the line. Although I studied it floating for some time, I wondered would I taste it at all, as it slid down. But it wasn’t the tasting that prevented my mouth from its work, it was the need to honour, to live by a code that would bring structure to my chaos. And so I let the tea cool down. I left it for hours alone and silent, the mint leaves disintegrated around my fly and I noticed that he had become mine. Not an it anymore, not now. Now he belonged to me and I must do him proud.
And later when the chattering of children in the park has seeped away and the garden has regained a sense of ease, I will go out.
I will take my mug, my favourite mug and the body of my fly and I will tip out tea. I will find a quiet corner and a plant it may have liked and I will pour. My morning tea will soak the soil and if I focus I may just see the body of the fly fall into the ground.
But if he’d left the mint leaf before I plucked it from the plant, then we wouldn’t be in this place now and my eyes would not have seen the things they did not want to. But the fly hung onto the mint leaf and I scalded it into the void. Everything is relational.
Still, the sun will set over the plants soon, over what remains of my drink and my fly upturned in the soil. And as it sets there will appear a prayer in the photons, in the dust and the muck in the air.
It’s been a long day. I apologised to the fly and at the edges where our lives merged, we took responsibility, we impacted each other’s lives. It was a difficult joy.
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.
I will build a house of feathers and hide myself away. I will make an eiderdown embroideried in your name and under it, the weight of silk will keep me warm. The feathers will bend in the wind, glistened layers, diamond friends and they will protect me like they do, like they promised.
I will fashion out some wainscotting from the pebbles at stream, drop them into my sodden skirt, scooch them up to me. And with the lace hem tattered at my waist, I’ll leave and heave them home.
And the window frames, I will weave from pussy willow sticks and when I pull the curtains closed I will stroke each tiny bud. The curtains will be gossamer, of the whisps of web and morning dew that coat my gentle lawn.
My bed, my thankful, grateful bed will be sewn of a thousand daisy chains, round and round and round again until they form a pad, my place to rest.
And windows made from the frozen lake will keep me warm and safe. Hard caked ripples lost in time, like sugar drips of popsicles down a young girl’s arm. And I’ll look out through the ice before I pull my clouds across. My plumes and flumes and drapes of cowslip stalks and then to bed.
And crows will give me comfort, will shield me from the storm. Their wings across my shoulder blades will soothe and calm and over my tiny feet, stoats will curl and nuzzle down, their fur, to balm my toes.
My basket will be by the door, willow, of course. And tomorrow, yes tomorrow, I will pick bilberries and bramleys and my nails will bleed in juice.
And I will bake, bake the very best of apple pies. I will fill the woodland up with them, as far as the creatures can see. Their tiny faces peering out, sniffing the air, eyes shining as they wait. And sliver fluted dishes will carry my pies to their door.
Yes, I will bake again, so the pastry will lull me to sleep and my feathered home will wrap me up, will keep me dry and warm.
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.
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.