Archives for posts with tag: Tao

My friend’s husband retired last year. She talked about it the last time we met and how she felt it would be strange, how odd to have him there all day, every day, getting under her feet and tripping up the routine that she’d made her own over years. I listened. He was always into trains and, without doubt, would take the time to wander down to the stations, to stand around and watch and note the numbers. He would tinker and mess about and finding himself with the hours, would reflect on his years, would adjust to a new way of life. And my friend would make adjustments too. Arguments would come and go, redrawing boundaries and negotiating space in the way you do when you spend your life with someone. I’ve been thinking about her recently, wondering about her world and how they relate now as their children grow up and they face old age together.

And when my parents retired I remembered a lounge full of boxes, of china birds and paperweights, of cards and the smell of orchids and as I type, a blackbird darts in front of my window, wings stretched wide so that I can see each feather and the sky is so heavy today, solid, thick grey as if it’s holding in so much and there is stillness.

Our son left for school an hour ago, knee deep in revision, challenge all around and I think of your mother pulsing out new life back then, creating lungs that filled with air, that bought me to here, that bought our son to the edge of the man he is now and I wonder.

I wonder about our other world, one where you left this morning, where we teased you about the day. And you’d feel strange, such a mix of emotions. All the years of dealing with their blue sky thinking and politics in their air conditioned rooms. And the names and faces that came and went like Colin with his manicured nails, easing you out to your next job and suave Bob Clarke, grateful for your endless knowledge. We used to drive near the building back then and you pointed it out as we drove past. And the ship builders that came before and the East of the County who came after that.

You had two cars in those days, a company one you didn’t use and then we met. I know where the card is that I sent you, when I still lived at home, your interview on the horizon and how the new job formed our world, the commuting and my trains trips down.  I wore a Santa hat and waved to the directors and their Christmas parties came and went, corporate games in a different town. And the work that came later, near to home and our new son with the hours, the frowning as they tightened budgets, the gravitas, the stress and the respect.  It feels like a favourite book now, a story covered in dust, on your bookshelf, tucked away though I know it’s all still there.

And how strange it would be to wave you off on this day to know the relief to come, the stories and gifts, bottles of wine and then what next? And we’d laugh and make plans like we used to do and after you’d caught up on sleep and reading you would drift in to charity work. I’d be a teaching assistant by now and our son would be marching to school (as he does,) but in a different world, with balloons on the door and alternative potential in our minds.

I wonder how my friend is getting on in her new world, when the routines laid in stone came to a stop. And we would have been similar I imagine, rearranging our priorities to fit our changing needs. I’d look forward to tea and a meal in the oven when I’d come home, the only one at work and you’d have humoured me…for a while.

But I’m not a teaching assistant and our son prepares for GCSEs in a parallel world where we keep on keeping on. And while I type and listen to the silence of the house, I see us all in that other Eden,  flat bottomed clouds, cropped to fit our view, nettles you could roll in, under our rainless painless sky.

There in another universe, with a different road ahead. There in your office, with your colleagues joking, they slapped you on the shoulder, they shook by the hand – in the other land, today, where you retired.

xxx

 

 

 

 

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February 27th

It feels like November today, any sniff of spring has been blown off course by these squally showers and as I watch the fields through the raindrops on these windows, I think of back then.

My boots still smell of the farm, the hay sodden around my low heels and I trudged. The grain made my eyes water as I followed through the mud to find the sheep. And here and there low murmurings, deep bleating and they huddled and bundled themselves up. The new lambs are still unsteady and they trample around their mother’s teats. Some shy away but most are interested in the presence of the strangers.

And I am such a stranger, I tiptoe through the sopping mud, it laps my boots, it cries out for wellies as I watch. The farmer says they’ve bought the sheep into the barn because the weather had turned bad. He apologised – as though he should have controlled the sun, as though lambs should only come out to the smell of fresh grass with the rays warming up their plastered down fur. They nuzzle, he points out the next one ready for labour and she stretches her neck out, she paces and pads the earth.

She has found her spot. Once they’ve chosen their place they will not move from it, he says and they nestle down. She sniffs at the new borns in the next pen, keen for her own and I watch.

The herd wander around with little plan, like my thoughts, like the mess of images in my head. They jostle for attention, compete for food as I think of my friend on her beach at the start of her journey and me and our son stepping out then, on ours. I remember writing words for the service while she spun in chaos far from home. And there we were, unknown to each other, on that day being birthed  from the safety of our respective worlds into a land we didn’t recognise, blinking on new straw.

There was something so brutal about the farmland today, so essential, the irresistible force to push on and out and I felt it in the bristle of the mother’s tongue, in the grasp of the farmer’s hand as he eased out more new life. There in front of me dazed and bewildered, finding its feet in this pulse of nature, as I think of my friend, as I think of my preparations back then.

Nature charging on regardless, relentless and driven.

 

February 28th

I’ve been watching the clouds again, how they’re pulled into a vortex to my right, the shadow trees were waving at me this morning as I passed by and now the rain is back. It’s dripping cold onto the farm pastures, the animals are inside and I arrange flowers back at home.

I bought alstroemerias, they look like tiny lilies and as I shuffle and tweak them in the vase, the rooks and the crows take flight, they cut up the air in such haphazard patterns. They look like they don’t know what they’re doing, absent minded winging on the winds but they’re guided by instinct, by nature and far away from them, in the warm, in our home  – so am I.

 

March 1st

There was a stillness down on the farm this morning. it wasn’t cold or warm, no biting wind or early rain, no spring sun, just a grey heavy cloud cover and a sense of the land waiting. The crows circled and landed, poked about and waddled in the mud, they’d found a puddle to drink from and gathered like old men at a wake, heads bowed, arms folded behind their backs and they nodded and paid their respects to the earth. They sipped and pecked around for food, then took off in a scattering, zig zaged black in my view and then the seagulls came in. They flew across in a broken badge, in a triangular twist with such purpose and I watched them pass by like my thoughts, like my feelings of back then.

I didn’t see the farmer today but his wife rushed out, their daughter was stuck in the mud, her truck revving up, going nowhere and she waved and laughed. I noticed her pony tail, hair scaped up for the day’s business and her practical clothes as she jumped from the cab, a round reinforced girl, fed from the land, unattached to the animals she raises and then eats. She didn’t mind being stuck, it happens and sooner or later you get out. She clambered back in the truck, plumped down on the the ripped leather seat and reversed out of the ditch.

Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can go forwards again.

xxx

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I used to love chicken, with a hint of salt, the way it melted in your mouth and whenever I went out to lunch, which to be fair, didn’t happen often, I would order a chicken salad sandwich and peer inside in case any of the meat dared to be pink. I could only do white meat, not grey, or darkened near the bone. If I was feeling reckless I’d have a Cajun chicken salad and pick my way around the bits that were too hot.

I can see the white ceramic bowl from the first meal in the Fat Cat restaurant where we checked each other out over my drizzled rocket and basil. And the radical chicken carbonara that I ate on one of the early visits up the motorway when we went to a new place by the garden centre that I’d found. I found bits of bacon in the creamy sauce and was surprised at how much I liked it.

And when I’d relocated South, Saturday mornings became the trips into town, a visit to the book shop (obviously) followed by a baguette stop in the café on the long main road. We looked out from a window seat, on high stools where I would have sliced grapes and green peppers in my packed chicken salad roll. I can see us leaning into the melamine, spotting strangers. I wonder how their lives have changed by now, those abstracted people we never spoke to. They wandered past, oblivious, heads in the air, wrapped in their own universe, unaware of the couple in the cafe looking out.

And far beyond them, up the road and miles away to a Christmas table, precision laid with finely sliced turkey in a lean-to on the edge of the hills. A gong still reverberating to summon us to the table and the best cut-glass glinted as we sat with napkins on our laps waiting for dessert.

I seem to have anchor points in my life secured by one foul or another and they lined up with me recently as I stood by the deli counter, waiting for the nylon hatted assistant to rip it from the bone. I thought of the cottage pies, the diced turkey hid away under my best leek filled mash, how it scalded your mouth if you bit in deep too soon and in those days we had table mats, procured from various places, usually scribbled on in crayon with images of trains and random birds.

And then the tasteless chicken came, the thick white bread stuffed with something rubber on a platter, in the visitor’s room, when other people said that I should eat – when I’d fainted on this day back then. I tried to eat chicken but couldn’t swallow, so I sipped water and stared out into space.

***

It’s raining today, an ambivalent, half-hearted drizzle. It feels like it wants a downpour to clear the stale air, but it can’t. Waves of cool drops come in then leave, the patio is dark grey and in my peripheral vision the robin nips in, grateful for the earth I’ve turned, hopping amongst the fresh seeds.

At the deli counter the other day I stood staring at the samosas, the premium quality scotch eggs and hunks of meat. How I used to relate to the image of a carcass, in the early months and years, something left over from the creature it used to be, something strung up on a hook with its insides hanging out. I’m more a piece of reformed meat these days, changed and reconstituted, shaped into something different, fit for purpose and as I stood on their sanitised floor by their gleaming glass, I thought of my absent face years ago at the same counter, going through the motions, ordering food. An assistant who I half knew said she hadn’t seen me for some time and had I been away? I remember staring blank at her moving mouth, not really caring what she thought, not being able to form words and I made some attempt at an answer then held it all in and rushed home.

I rushed home the other day too when the foyer of their store was full of a school trip with staff I used to know. An even though I was wrapped in my best hat and scarf, even though I was the best version of myself that I could be. I couldn’t walk up to them and say hello, I couldn’t even hurry past and nod but then I wasn’t having the best of days. Instead I took my reformed shape and hid behind the clothes and bags peeping at them through the 20% Off bright red tags. And when they moved down the shop I took my chance, I chucked the basket back outside and ran for home. My short shopping list could wait. It was a day when I couldn’t handle the old world pushed into my face.

Today it’s quiet, inside and out, it’s grey but my hyacinths are being delivered soon, I look forward to their pungent smell and buds searching out for the sun. My road beyond my windowsill is often full of vans, plumbers and Outreach men, fiddling with wires, landscape gardeners who live nearby and my neighbours’. Their extension is nearing completion, the huge grey wall out the back will he be rendered in a white finish. And although it hems me in, I see such potential. I will hang garden mirrors to reflect the light and I will grow clematis and buddleia for the peacocks. I will sit in the bee-loud glade when summer comes but for now it’s still my winter. All the vans are away today, the building work has stopped and the road is empty, it’s almost as though they know I need some silence, as though the dankness of the day is just for me. Memories come and go like the showers, I top up my earl grey and wait for my flower delivery. The only sound is the whirring of my dishwasher and the chuntering of my head.

At the deli counter I chose roast turkey. It felt appropriate, the finely sliced pieces, carved and weighed, wrapped in thin paper, neat and contained in my basket. But how I empathised with the bird, with the assistant’s hand inside it, and she wrestled and ripped, her hand full of giblets and I winced as she tore and looked away. How I wish I’d asked for a scotch egg instead.

So, it’s lunchtime on the 15th, my mind playing its little games. I drink tea and write as the rain falls, now a chicken goujon in the memory of my carcass. And so it goes.

xxx

hyacith

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The tree outside my window is showing berries now, it’s so proud of its changing form. The leaves have turned; they crumble and slime on the lawn that I haven’t cut and winter’s near. I can hear the neighbour’s daughter outside my window, on her way to playgroup, full of joy. Her high voice filters through the glass and I can see our son sat by a bookcase years ago on a bright duvet cover, surrounded by new friends. His playgroup still ticks and churns near our home, welcoming and nurturing, then letting go of tiny hands as they move onto the next phase.

I saw someone I used to work with, the other day. She hadn’t seen me in years and as I gave her snippets from our life now I could feel myself being scanned, being checked to see what the years had done to me and there, in the hours in-between us, on the bus, we chatted and told each other the little pieces of our life that we wanted to disclose. And after the bus ride we laughed and joked with our son by my side, taller than me now and somehow in the words that passed between us, in the early evening chill I saw myself, leaning up the radiator in the hall at the pre-school where I worked, next to my colleague and we laughed while children played. It would have been a Friday lunchtime in my mind and we’d have talked of our plans for the weekend, before everything was packed away with care, in a community centre cupboard until the Monday. She invited me to go back to the group and have cake and tea with the faces that used to fill my day but I doubt I’ll go. I know where they are, I know that now, just after nine in the morning, as I type this, that they’ll be having a last coffee before they let the little ones through the door and their aprons will be ironed and the toys set out for play but I don’t need to re-immerse myself in the old world, maybe coffee in a café but not there, en mass surrounded by a life I used to live.

And now as people outside leave for work, I am waiting, waiting for a call about a bed. I remember a Saturday in Southampton years ago. In the pine furniture shop and amongst the cupboards and bookcases we found his bed, a dark wooden one for his new room. He found a toy car underneath, separated from the hand of some unseen child, left and lost to them but an exciting find for our younger boy and it served him well. We emptied drawers yesterday and tucked at the back behind bedding and clothes we found old things, boy things, the secret bits you need to keep and some arrows.  He s been watching a new YouTuber, sing Acapella Science, parodies laced with science fact and his favourite, the Arrow of Entropic Time plays around the room as we undo the entropy of years and turn the arrow forward and fire it from the bow. I watch our boy, his mind buzzing with potential as he sets up his music system while I brush up.

Now, waiting for the men to take the bed away, to fill the stairs with their loud feet and the rustle of plastic and boxes and by the time he gets in from his last week of mocks, his room will have changed, like our home changed back then, when men came in, loud in the grey February morning, their fluorescent jackets an insult to my mind and then they left. They left us with a new world but one we hadn’t ordered, one we hadn’t scoured the Internet for, a world that forced itself in around us and took the old us away when they left.

I noticed the calendar recently, how this month, the days and the dates are the same. I don’t count much these days, months come and go, hours play around me but now when Monday is the 14th and Tuesday isn’t far, I go back there. I see our home as it was the week before, with all the old things in their places and our settees as they were. And upstairs, our son’s old bed with him there, sleeping, as the strangers knocked the door.

And I must go. I need to parcel up the old mattress and hoover up once more. It’s nearly time. Today on the 14th as I remember conversations, faces morphing with alien words and I look out of our son’s window, over his music system, to the shedding leaves outside. Our garden coated with old things, crumbled things and trees becoming bare. Winter is close, a silence before the Spring and I am waiting, waiting for the new bed, the changes we have chosen, waiting to fill his room with the next stage and our neighbour comes back.  She’s dropped her little girl at preschool, she’ll be sat on a bright duvet somewhere, scrabbling around amongst bricks. And they build next door, their extension is growing despite the greyness of the cloud and it creeps and it spreads out, a widening of their world as we prepare ours here.

I look out for pigeons, they like the berries on my tree, to land fat and clumsy and the branches wobble under their weight and they eat. They peck and burst the ripeness, it floods their bellies with what they need.

We did well yesterday, we found so many things to look at, to remember and let go and we laughed as we sang to his new favourite songs. And as the pigeon lands on cue outside my window, I see our boy, scrabbling under a pine bed in shop miles and years from here, he comes out with dust stained knees, holding up his find, like a trophy, like a staff to lead the way. And here, now, in the quiet of the house, as he sits at school, head down thinking, studying – he leads the way again.

The heating has gone off; I need a drink.  It’s nearing the end of Autumn and I have a mattress to wrap.

xxx

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I’m sat at my screen and I type like I did back then, when all I could do was to sit at my screen and type and words tumbled out in no particular order but they came out and they come out now. Now I sit at my screen and I’m aware of the fragments in my head, of the way my mind is trying to process the news but like back then, the images and thoughts are coated in a thick gloop, they pull apart from each other, they struggle to make sense but they don’t. In my head, like in the early times, there’s just a fug, a twisting, churning mess and I just follow it. All I can do is let the thoughts and feelings bubble up and jostle for position. There is a sense of being propelled from a familiar place again into somewhere strange, into a different land and so I type.

My devices are all active, they hum and bleep with updates as a spectrum of people post and grapple with the news, all affected by the connection to you. I remember sitting, staring at the flashing curser, in my week three, the TV bleating out downstairs, my son watching cartoons in his own fog and I took calls. I rambled and sobbed to the friends who reached out and then I posted. I typed and wrote the words and you responded, from out there, lost in your own hell at day nine, still counting on your fingers as you reached me.

And now I keep turning over the words and the messages, the encouragement and support. And while I type, I can feel the buzz of updates I haven’t read yet, of people calling each other and reaching out. A web of connections from your life, I can hear it now, a background radiation of complex links and all of us with our own stories, our narratives of how we knew you and for each of us somehow, in the places where we collided, there is a tearing now.

I used to post so much in the early days when every journey to the shops was an event, when the smallest interaction provoked a stream of emotions needing to be expressed and you encouraged me to start a blog. I remember being in another country with my son, away for the first time in our new world and as I took the hairpin bends in a coach, miles above sea level, riddled with anxiety, surrounded by strangers, I planned out my first post. There up a mountain in my chaos, I was anchored with the knowledge that I would write it out. I held the thoughts, I made mental notes and I coped because when I got home, when we’d survived what others saw as a holiday, I knew I had a vehicle for the pain and so I typed. And when I was finished, I sent it to you because you wanted to link it to your blog and give me the springboard into a world I relish now.

Now I process everything, up and out from the dust filled corners and the dark places that hide around the back, to the joy and the lightness that come from a full world and when the feelings make no sense – like now, now in this concentrated tapping on the keyboard, when the desire to check updates makes me type faster than I can, I turn to words. You were two initials on a forum, you were the stretched out fingers that reached mine and we travelled together. And now all your fellow travellers struggle to make sense of this place, we reach out to others like you did and we hold on.

Through my open patio doors, the sound of another Saturday seeps in, people mowing lawns, toddlers shrieking and my washing machine churns like my head, like my stomach when I heard the news. I must check my newsfeed; I need to keep close to the others touched by this. We stumble, our virtual family but we reach out, like you did on our journey. Our paths entwined, a patchworked tribe and I’m one of the many threads,  grateful for the entanglement, so thankful for the hand of a friend.

My washing has finished but my stomach still churns. I must check my newsfeed.

We are all connected.

❤️

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February 22nd
It’s quiet – apart from the birds opening their breaks, trilling their throats to the skies. It’s quiet apart from the over the fields sounds of traffic and high above this quietness is the hush brush throb of a plane. People going places, like they do. To the right, out of sight, the ubiquitous farmer pulls his trigger yet again, startling a flock of large birds. They scatter in a cluster over me, a few stragglers hurrying behind and rain pats at the old patio knocking down the moss, splitting a splot on the car roof and I watch.

I try to hear a rhythm in the rain, a haphazard pattern almost there. I’ve been learning about counterpoint and variation with our son and everything seems to be made of music, of repeated imagery, broken up with altered patterns and we note the numbers underlining it all, the circles of fifth that encase us and we are this song.

Today is the first day after half term, it’s grey but almost fresh. And although the dates lie one week out I remember. Five years ago we went back to school for the first time; the first time since we’d been changed; the first time since the world we’d known had been severed away and our friends walked us in and I left. I took our son to the door, everyone had been informed and I watched his back as he started his new day. I peeled myself away to the headmaster’s office and there in the black sphere that became my cell, I started to try to find words. And afterwards I must have walked back home where my parents waited and people came and went with flowers from the day before, with faces and information that I couldn’t understand and then they left.

The unseen farmer interrupts my thoughts with another salvo, he’s on a mission again. There was a dead rabbit on the drive yesterday, maybe stopped by the circling kite and somewhere in the prickle of hedges a family carries on foraging because they have to.

I remember this date from seven years ago. We were leaving for school when our son noticed that his fish was on its side. I told him we’d check on it later and later while I was at work you rang me to say it had died. We’d bought three fish, one each and I sighed that it had to be his that was the first to go. We discussed the plan for the evening, how to manage his first loss and when, if he wanted to, to go back to the pet shop and buy another, and we did.  I remember the sound of the door closing as we’d walked up to school, then with a fish floating, and two years later in our brittle broken world and the sound, the leaden searing sound of closing the door again from the inside, when all of the visitors had gone.

And now. I watched our son’s back this morning, his trousers are slightly too short. I used hemming tape on some new ones but it didn’t work well, so just for a day or so he’s still in the trousers from last half term. They sit just above the shoe, showing his growth, showing the passing of time. He has mocks around the corner and I help him prepare, now like back then, I support, I encourage him to find what he needs but then I watch him go. Into his world, to deal with it all in his way, in that classroom five years ago, in the school hall soon, this week and next and in life. Trousers getting shorter, birds calling out for food and our planet, turning.in its orbit.

On the way to school we pass new builds. I notice the lintels hanging from cranes, the fluorescent men manipulating windows. Someone will live there someday soon, in a new way, in a new world for them and they will stand at their window, like I stand at mine. The rain will wash the muck away, cars and people will go about their business and the birds will open wide their beaks and sing.
A repeated song, a variation on a theme. The music of our life.

February 28th
I brushed up brittle bamboo leaves in a chilled afternoon. I must have disturbed so many creatures building homes underneath the mush of winter. I looked out for them as I cleaned but they were too small to spot. They were busy rolling in the dust, startled, wiggling their feet to find more soil again, to right themselves and regroup.  I watched a sycamore spore twirl in the air, it spiralled up and across in haphazard patterns till it settled out of sight. Our son was warm indoors, studying atoms, how the outer shells will seek out what they need, if they haven’t enough electrons they will bond to other elements, they adapt and  make changes to their structure. And I prepare the new food for the birds, hang it in the tiny cage up high, sprinkle more seed on the brushed patio and go back inside.

February 29th
And now before he strode off to Chemistry and English, I reminded him to watch out for marriage proposals from all the girls today. He checked his watch for the date but the small rectangular plastic still flashed out that it was the first of March and somewhere deep inside, it still was.

Steam rises up from the new flue outside our window. I watch the conservation of energy, the water transforming, changing shape and form. As its elements become a part of everything, the birds peck and fill their bellies with fresh food from our patio round the back.

Its early, I have work to do. We have all we need.

xxx

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And now Key Stage 4 scoops up the child we knew into the confident teenager he’s becoming. Armed with fresh hormones and a barber’s shop cut and he’s off again, polished up to take on the new timetable with a refuelled sense of what lies ahead. And in all the change I see that nothing changes, that the permanence sits below the shifting patterns, the threads that bind us tight. And we move and we grow and the deeper things remain.

New bags and a brushed up resolve. Our son, heading out on the next part of the journey. The keratin in his hair catching the early morning light.

Ps

July 1st
Long ago in a distant land when our son was first learning language, we started to name all the animals. His expanding repertoire included a selection from the farmyard:  Le Ma (sheep), Le Mei (cat), Da Woof (self-explanatory) and Le Moo (ditto). We never understood where the Frenchness came from but like all things it was a transitory phase. Wild animals were also covered with a particular favourite being an elephant or ‘A Twunk’ as he would say, swinging both arms as the two trunked creature stomped around the lounge and of course there was the lion. A-Wor, loud and fierce prowling the kitchen for the next biscuit or two.

Years and worlds later he has gone back to school tonight to see the evening production of The Lion King. His best friend is playing the young lion cub and I wonder how that will be. Watching James act out the rights of passage that our son has had to live through.

We had both wanted to go. In the old world I almost lived at school, helping out here and there, in class supporting, Governoring and Chairing, more assemblies than I can remember and any production going. At Primary I would not only have been there, I’d probably have run up a few lion costumes in the process.
But by last week there were no tickets left.

This afternoon he announced that Phoebe didn’t want to go and that she’d offered him her ticket… so with an earlier tea and tightly squeezed in home work, he decided to go by himself.

The temperature is cooling now, though I wonder how hot it is in the hall, I wonder where he’s sitting and if he’s buzzing with some friends.
We had a brief talk before he left and then he strode off wearing his new top looking older, with a swagger that comes from pushing boundaries and testing out his worlds and I’m sat here, quiet in the echoed scent of underarm spray with his discarded comb on the chair, wrestling with a foreshadowing of the empty nest to come. A lounge packed with the prowl of conflicting emotions.

I like to believe we’re ageing well, me with my deserting hormones, mellowing into my new roles and our son, sat there now, not here on the Pc but there, on the plastic chairs under lights with his mates. I hope he’s found some familiar faces to sit by, not just surrounded by whole families sat together. I hope his face is turned upwards towards the stage, glowing in the heat, projected colours reflected off his changing contours, eyes watching James as he roars.

Our son, striding forwards, his mane brushed back from his forehead, stretching out, growing strong towards the light.
In his best shirt, without me.
Finding new lands, our heir taking it all on – and he roars.

An end of hot-day-fly hums around the house. The trees brush rustle against the sky with the hope of a storm to break the heat.

I wander to the kitchen for some earl grey.
It’s quiet – I’m surrounded by lions.

Xxx

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It’s getting close now, it’s February 5th, moving around again, noting the dates as you can’t help doing.

Our son is off in the frost, no winter coat. It’s not the done thing as it’s more to manage at the other end. Bags and bustle to organise so you don’t need anything else to complicate the process even if it makes you slightly cold.

We’ve had the letter now. Next week is Options evening. Somehow we’ve arrived at that point, already planning for the next two years. I wonder about the conversations we’re not having, the other versions of everything from a parallel world. And I wonder if the end results would have been much different, if we’d been talking on un-reupholstered settees. Would he still be taking triple science? I believe he probably would.

I can’t know of course, I have to just work with what we have, with these conversations and the choices we make now. I find it so hard to keep up with him these days. I’ve been left way behind with maths, not hard really as we were both so rubbish weren’t we? I think he’s skipped a generation and picked up the skills from your Mum. Maybe it’s just who he is – the sum total of all his genes and experiences fermenting into so much more.

I guess he’s down the long road now, he walks so fast these days and the pavements are full of children chuffing, red cheeked, dripping noses, bags stuffed ready for the day. If I listen deep enough I can hear it. The sound of traffic, the floof of exhaust fumes around the car behind and the footsteps. Quick, focussed heading off to do what needs to be done.

It’s grey today. Solid low cloud, not like the rain from back then. I remember walking through the puddles with Jenny and following your Father’s back when I couldn’t raise my head. Some of it is so fragmented now like a broken mirror on the past. But it’s still there in the pieces and I can look at the shards and if I choose to I can reassemble the moments with care, hold the sharp edges in my hand and look deep inside.

He’ll be nearly there now, in the noise and throb of day. I need to fill in the form for the meeting, need to talk to him about the questions we need to ask, the things we need to understand and the decisions that we need to make.

I watch him straighten his tie in the mirror, the reflection clear and strong. And next week we’ll be going out to have conversations in different rooms with different faces. Walking alongside him as we plan the times ahead.

It’s after the 11th now. We negotiated the old faces on the bus, felt the shock and judder of who we used to be in their awkward smiles and I followed him around the rooms, sat through the presentations that explained the jobs to come, the roads that he would walk down.

It’s the 15th now as I tap this and I remember walking home with him after the Options evening, down the long road that seemed shorter as we talked. He’s just taller than me now and he was buzzing, so sure of the direction he needs. I can’t take it all in, the distances we’ve travelled, the new lands we’ve found. He walks so fast, like he talks when he’s in full flow just home from school. I wasn’t looking forward to Options evening, it seemed so out of place. But part of me looked out for people I might have known and felt less inclined to hide that night. And I sat next to him with my silver shot hair and best coat and scanned the crowd for the backs of heads from our past. I felt us pivoting into some place new and did my best to hide my beaming as he nodded to mates and clocked girls from a world that’s all his own. We did it all and did it well, an unexpected excitement running on top of these parallel lands underneath us.

Somehow so many tiny steps are making miles now. We are right where we belong.

We have choices.
It’s up to us.
xxx

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Through the dark and scary woods, a long long time ago we visited Brei in Oxford. I believe it was the winter after we’d lost your Mum and we pulled up and parked by their tiny stone cottage and waited for the sound of the dog. I can’t remember which breed it was now but I wasn’t comfortable around it and with a certainty, protected our son. I remember when we visited their workshops in the woods that the dog would be locked in the toilet. A rescue dog, the potential to be so lovely but they were always too busy to train him so he forged his own path with no boundaries, galloping around the rooms and leaping up at customers.

That was the last time we visited. We talked on the final stretch of the journey home. She hadn’t seemed that interested in the things you needed to say and you felt it wouldn’t be worth the effort to divert our route south again. But she still promised to re-upholster our settees. We confirmed phone numbers and emails, she vowed she’d get back to us but of course she never did.

I remember when they bought them down, right at the start in the autumn. Both she and Colin negotiating our new threshold and squeezed the sofas through on their sides. We paid for one each didn’t we, (though I’d agreed the fabric) mine was the terracotta one, a slight nap to the fabric, almost suede and yours was old gold, although she insisted the shade had another name. I’d bought fabric too for curtains and took forever to make them up. Always more confidence than competence when it came to sewing and I was there in full bloomed pregnancy, over two years later, crawling on the floor with pins in mouth trying and just succeeding to get the others finished for ‘the baby’s’ room. I believe my plan was to alter the lounge curtains to make them fit the play-room, years later when we moved in. But as with many things in that world, it didn’t quite happen and I didn’t get around to it and now the sun comes in with ease through those windows at the back with nothing to block the light that falls in, charging photons on the things I need to sort.

It’s the end of the year as I tap here, another swathe of time moved through and at the bottom of the stairs I have some swatches. Our son has chosen the new fabric and new colour. Soon as the days dance into weeks they’ll come to squeeze them out of these new doors, just after my birthday will be the way to go and I’ll watch the shapes of memory as they pile into their van.

Jan 1st 2015

And now I’ve crossed that bridge again into another year. My birthday tears up at me, somehow welcome, somehow unknown. I drop back to our hotel and the waiting faces that you planned for me. Ten years back then, with the friends who cannot be there for me now and the ones who remain by my side. And our settee that I sat on, on the eve of our eve that was piled high with cushions months later when my back had had enough and I sat through the hours like the Princess and the Pea until I could sit once more like a proper person again.

There’s something right about the timing now. Easing the old for the new and I’ll look to the door and our son as he tries it out for the first time. Making indents in new fabric. The fabric that sits on the top, the structure solid underneath. The foundations firm under a wave of change. The places where we sat, the life and times around us. Us in the moments, in the threads that bind and us now testing out of new material. Making our way, with new places to rest and to be.

Jan 10th

Fifty years ago my Mother went into labour and last week on a rare trip to town, I stood behind a fresh young couple. They bristled with new life, chirping over the pinkness that was snuggled deep in their pristine pram. I overheard their conversation with the cashier. How the baby was born at the start of the year, they were in the papers, and the Father yawned about how tired he was. I didn’t see the Mother’s face, but I could sense it, her exhausted euphoria, her aching pride and her primal commitment to the work to come.

They were on their way to the Registrars, they were excited to sign proof of her birth. I remember the building, where you went fourteen years ago while I lay upstairs on the bed, immobile with our own wrap of pinkness by my side.
I walked past the building many times in the old world, buses to catch, places to work. I see it now, from my wrapped up place on the journey home, I pass the small window by the railings, where from my inside view back then, I saw people’s feet walking by, and Jenny sat beside me and I couldn’t hold the pen. Couldn’t form the letters, couldn’t focus and all I remember was the enduring sense of Jenny on my left, their Pc screen and rub of tissues.

Same room, different forms and the circle completes again. My wanderings around town is framed in the look in their eyes, their joy carved out in the moments that lie ahead of them. And me, framed by the seat I sat on at the beginning of this journey. A document signed to force a new me to begin. And it’s that new me now who, with our son, has chosen the fabric to coat our life for the years ahead.

They’ll be taking the sofas away soon, peeling them back to their basic form and building them up again, into something new, something more padded, something able to withstand the moments to come. And we will sit and settle and welcome the newness.

Sofas and softness, stainings and scars and a life turning to renewal.
The re-upholstering of the girl I used to be.

I think of my Mother in labour,
I remember myself in labour.
Your face, his face
and our sofas at the door.

xxx

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March 15th

Twenty years ago I sent you a card and you thanked me for the ‘home-made’ one. At the time I was almost offended, from my old bedroom masquerading as a studio, where I painted with care, in soft subtle shades, where I’d sat, considered and produced the piece. Home-made? It was a one off, obviously, Designed by Hand watercolour, finished off with my finest 000 sable brush, of course. You never quite ‘got’ my work in those days. I showed you the cats at some point and we talked about what I was doing and why but we both knew they were too garish for your sensibilities.

You commissioned me once at Christmas, and somewhere in a drawer I still have the small sign I made for your front door, the door I got used to, at the side in your small cave by the candlesticks and curtain rings and the wooden stairs over your corner.

Sometimes I used to try to prove that I could draw ‘properly’ with sketches of our baby and all sorts. I was going to copy that favourite photo of your Mum, the one where the negatives were reversed and she came out back to front like this parallel world now. Like many things when life was linear, I didn’t get around to it, like finishing sticking in the photos in her big brown book. I remember you delegating the onerous task to me when it slipped into being a task too difficult, not long before I had tasks of my own.

The only drawings I do now are silly ones with our son, his People City concoctions. And I don’t paint now, hardly ever, I don’t need to anymore
– I write.

February 27th

I got into the back of things today, underneath and out of reach and found the bits that we’d forgotten, the bits we’d shoved away and the hard fast memories of the lives we used to know.
The collection of pots that are going to Mum and the toy remnants that I can recycle, the skipping rope from the last days at primary, the mug tree from the old place when your Dad used to send us presents. It was all there, the things I’d hung onto just incase and under the fluff and muck and time I find our son’s first changing bag, battered with love with tissues in the front and I remember how it felt to push it over the handle of the pushchair, the tight fit and early shopping when we lumbered round panniered and loaded like the amateurs that we were. And it travelled with us to Grandma’s home, up the hill singing that song and she used it when she took over, when she cleaned and cooed when we lay in, in the Devon days when we were all young.

And behind it I found your old briefcase, the lock pinged up despite rust and it had lived in this cave since you placed it there, when the job encouraged less formality and you tucked it away with the things that I found. I peered inside like Pandora, half mesmerised, half petrified and found letters and slips of notes and documents that document things that have long since passed. I found a letter to William from your on going discussioned debate and you leapt from the old paper in an unformatted type with all the strength of your convictions and enquiry. I was grateful for this print, the hand written stuff was always a challenge to read, but this was neat and thought out and sent to him who struggled so much. Strange how the most religious of your friends couldn’t cope with the event, couldn’t deal with me or the service and for all his faith and intellect he crumbled and disappeared like the arguments he’d trounce you with, when you listened and learned until you found your own way. I found your dissertation too, unseen throughout our marriage but I found it today and skimmed through, the type of a world before me on a typewriter before we had Word and it was kept locked safely away, a part of you that time can’t touch.

And I started a new road today, long and complex but it rises up behind me gives me momentum, gives me torque. I can feel it pulling me to sort, to discard and to keep and I’m here on the carpet by our life, in the dust and moments holding on and letting go, respecting the transient and being with permanent. I move while I’m here, in time.
It’s only time.

February 28th

It’s cold outside although it looks warm. I get layered up and find my gloves. I’m continuing with the work I started yesterday but now I’ve gravitated to the garden and its jobs.

We were never gardeners. We got ‘men’ in even when our terraced courtyard became overgrown. I fiddled and failed with hanging baskets, tweaked on the surface but ran away from the bugs. You did the lawn and watched nature do its thing, studying the leaves from where I sit now in the sun. We weren’t really designed for outdoors, we liked the idea of it, appreciated seasons and force but hacking and pruning weren’t in our books so we paid out and sat down and looked on.

Our friend The Gardener took root, helped out in the days before I let the garden grow. We were keen to employ him and talked about it before that world stopped and I took over the jokes about the ‘staff’ and you’d have found it funny too if we’d have continued on that path.
I’m brushing up now, annoying beetles and soft brown worlds that I can’t see. These leaves seem to have etched themselves into the fabric of concrete itself and take all my weight and a coarse broom to shift them. There’s something quite respectful about clearing up from storms, renewing and breathable and I feel it as I struggle and fight with my gloves. The cold burrs my nose, my eyes runs and my hair gets in the way as I pick through sodden memories of where we used to be. The table we built the last snow shapes on had long since given up, its cheap coating sagging with the weight of mud and slick. We were out there me and our son, too early, the snow too powdery to do anything so we just made his school logo and photographed it before the thaw. His old wheelbarrow’s there that we picked up from ‘you know who’ at the car boot when you bought their book on Italy because we were heading out that way.
The bamboo is still in charge, forced back where I cut it last year. It’s relentless isn’t it? Nothing is still despite leaving it, it piles and seeps and mulches down, feeding the earth turning round. But while we’re here, we interact, we have effect if we choose, we work with nature not against it.
I like the sound of bristle on wet concrete, something determined, something focussed about it. I gather leaves. I notice their colours and shades, a glossed out collection of polished wood, deep and aged, crumpled in my hand.
I may clean the windows later…maybe. The patio is cold, chilled through from the saturation of winter. I’m cold but it’s ok.
I feed the earth, I’m turning.
Everything moves, including us.

11am – Today
Sun’s up, first time in ages after months of rain. Pools of white shining off our life, lighting up the places I need to look at. It’s warm, our son wakes – I’m waiting for a delivery.

xxx

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