Copyright is held by the author.
I’LL KEEP these stories for when we’re dead. The boy who missed the bus. The living room of the seven clocks that delayed their chime so that the cacophony didn’t all ring out at one, stricken hour. The three girls who were all 18 months apart in birthing time. There’s one broken clock, still in the garage, unfixed.
The crawling wisteria is everywhere here, the pure white buds against the white brick graduating to lilac and deep purple tips. Down between the hills you dip to the town, the railway station. The trains pick up a single passenger, and leave.
My mouth tastes of paste, thick and clinging, my tongue a distinct organ emerging from the well of my throat. I’ve spent the morning stretched out in bed, feeling like a corpse full of life. Reading news articles that say nothing different to yesterday; stay home, save lives.
You receive stray thoughts about ex-loves, ex-friends, ex-acquaintances. How well did they ever know you, or you them? You wonder if a single text, thinking of you, would scare them or make them momentarily happy.
Each day accumulates, sour and sweet. Sweet as you meditate on the quiet drip of the seconds, sour as you realize each hour passing has marked no change. It rains today and you want this to excuse your attitude, sulking in your bedsheets, clutching onto books like they are floats. You remember how on airplanes they recommend how to wear the air mask as it drops and dangles in front of your nose. But would you be able to do this, with the roaring wind of a pandemic bursting through the windows, so many miles from the comfort of what you know, so far from safety, your mother crying and her tears do not stop.
Today, I go to visit my friend whose father has died. Death acts like an opening of Pandora boxes, revealing layers of stories about them, old memories you didn’t even know you had burst out in blossom, like the gentle snow of the trees in Spring. His fresh death.
I’ll drive in the deep gloom and hope not to be stopped by police. What will I tell them? I am taking personal care items to my grieving friend. I am traveling into her grief. I am traveling to console her. And they will say, how can you, do anything. I’ll clutch my items, a loaf of bread, a cake, shampoo, these small reminders of small pleasures we can have.
As the days pass, I think we change. Is it that I’ve changed for you, or is it that the relationship has gone stale, no longer fed by our conjoined sleep, our limbs on waking in cold beds. I know that you change, your hope has dissolved and now, perhaps it’s meant to be me that is hopeful, but you refuse to be soothed by me and sit in judgment on me. I touch my face several times for reassurance, yes, I still have eyebrows, yes, my lips are where I left them.
In the park the tulips purse their red tips at the green world falling into place around them, and storks are breeding for the first time since before, they say. I try to snap the heron but he flies from me, skating above his shadow in the water. The swan sits on her nest like a King with his harem might sit in a grand opulent hotel, separating ourselves from the touch of skin on skin. Who touches who, one of the most powerful acts.
I listen to a podcast on trauma. You see, it might be like seeing a lion, and yet the lion is not visible; time is like a continuously circling tiger. I revisit memories of places, tastes, sights, smells, they are vivid. You judge me hard, your stare blank and cold, your emotions behind your eyes. I say things like, what are you thinking? I feel as if you are not saying everything you are feeling to me. Across the distance we only have words and they live and die by our breath. Our poisoned breath. It all reminds me of that scene in Indiana Jones, where there is a display of goblets and only one contains the elixir of life. All the more beautiful ones will perish you. I check my body for signs of beauty. I burn the roof of my mouth.
The police would say, and what is your purpose? And I would say I need to see her, console her, remind her she’s loved. Is this an essential visit? I’m not sure, essential for the body or for the soul? I carry conditioner, to make her shine again, does shining matter to you?
Our half mended, waiting to be fixed clocks that are in the garage. There’s still time, she says, to fix it. I check my body for signs of youth. My feet are not swollen, my cellulite is not deep. I watch a green bus coil upwards into the hills.
This is a story to cover all the stories we haven’t heard, the ones buried in the English small-town country sides, the echoing houses with their empty upstairs. In the streets the newly homeless still have their waitressing legs, the tendons tense with pacing the same floor over and over, a continuous circle, now stopped in doorways of the former shops. They are called the hospitality homeless, new to the streets and unsure, unsafe.
It will be so strange to grow older, to journey into the future.