I wake up. Gray light falls through the curtains into my bedroom. A sleepy tabby is curled up on my legs, no doubt exhausted from a long night of conducting important cat business. I get up, get dressed, fill the food bowls, get coffee. Or maybe tea? It’s all the same, anyway. I turn on my computer. I should get to work…or maybe I should look at the news first. No.
I start typing. Letters, words, sentences…what’s the word I am looking for? Oh right: pages. Inconsequential streams of consciousness. Someone else’s idea of enjoyment. It gets old really fast.
Time doesn’t exist in my office. The curtains keep away the Outside, until the number of completed lines on my screen tell me it’s time for dinner. I go into the other room. It’s dark out, so it must be evening, yes? I cook. We eat in front of the TV while watching some show. It’s all the same, anyway.
I remember holding his hand as he led our family in prayer when his father died.
The strength of his faith coursed through his firm grip, but I saw he had tears in his eyes and his voice plummeted to gravel now and then. One or two adults among us shifted awkwardly, for their faith was not as strong, but they persisted in the ritual. For all were joined by sadness and family ties as we held our similar-looking hands together.
The catapult of years is swift and now he, my uncle who loved his Lord — for that’s what he said years later — is dead.
All I can think of, apart from the warmth of spirit in his hands, was that he told us kids that there was an insect inside a mango pip, and we should try to get it out. I don’t know if that’s true. In the forty-six years since, I have never been able to open a mango pip.
My builder father was very good at mental arithmetic. He played games with us as kids. How many years’ difference between his year of birth and my mother’s? 4. How old would I be in the year 2000? 36. And how old would he be? 65. And how old would I be in 2020. I said 56, and I was right. And then I said he would be 85. He said oh no, he would not be alive by then. He was right.
I rise at 6.15. I’m in my pyjamas and I water the garden; Wednesday is one of the two days we are permitted to water. Wednesday and Sunday are our days.
Watering the garden takes some time because I have to make sure to move the sprinkler every 10 minutes. Apparently overwatering is nearly as bad as underwatering. I’ve applied soil conditioner, so the water sinks in instead of pooling and then running off. This is because the soil in this garden is sand. Beach sand. Hydrophobic.
I finish watering and Yoga asana practice follows. I have breakfast and then get dressed for my volunteer job at the Seniors Centre. So, I get in the car and off I go. My seniors are happy to see me and I get a lot of hugs.
“Will you marry, me, Mrs Johnson? ” Ted asked, putting two milk bottles through the kitchen window, always ajar, one gold top and one silver top. He asked this every morning as he delivered the milk. My mother gave him a tired little smile and said what she always said “Oh Ted, I’m already married, you know.” Ted nodded at the customary answer and walked away with his head down, back to the milk van, his sadness palpable.I think he really wanted a wife. Ted was a “mongol” as we called a person with Down’s syndrome in the sixties. At eight, I wondered at the word. He lived alone with his mother and we never knew who his dad was, or cared. Ted was as much part of the village as the vast oak tree on the green, Mrs Hurley in the village shop, or the village vicar. He was always immaculately dressed in a clean, pressed checked shirt, a home knitted grey tank top and twill trousers. He had a job on the milk-round and everyone knew him. He commanded his own respect and only got angry if anyone was unkind to him. Ted and his mother taught me what Care in the Community should be.
The image of a painting by Sally Swain was hard to track down online, but no matter. In the end, I photographed the image I have.
I have often thought of the wife of Fauvist artist Georges Henri Rouault and my sister while washing the dishes. Let the record reflect that her name was Marthe Le Sidaner. My new abode has the perfect window when engaged in this activity.
The colours are frequently as bright. The colours are either in the glorious sunrises or in my imagination. Sometimes it is a touch of both.
Artist Sally Swain published a book called Great Housewives of Art. The image here is of the greeting card my sister sent me thirty years ago, full of the news of her adventures as a young woman in London.
Oh, the dishes I have washed in my life! Oh, the colours I have had the enormous privilege of seeing! The ink of the letter has faded; the colours in my mind’s eye do not.
So many pictures, all in frames. I am good at drilling holes in walls. I am. My father taught me well, you see. Plus I have had practice. Plenty of it. All the places I have lived.
I won’t be exercising this talent this time, though. I am letting go. Such things are burned already into my soul. I have kept one. My sister knows which one. She and I took turns with the handle of that press.
Her first wood engraving. Nothing else matters. I have an easel on which to display it – as if it were something special. It is. I’ll clean up the easel and the picture this week.
In front of the house there had been a dead tree. Its bark had long scaled off, leaving it white and bare and raw. A rosebush had fancied it the spot to make its new home and entwined itself around its tall stature—spawning myriads of bright pink blossoms every year, imbuing the air around the house with the scent of summer. There were so many of them that every visitor would get a bouquet of roses, should they want one, and sometimes I would feed one or two flowers to the iguana.
I turn around the corner and reluctantly step onto the street. I used to live here. This is weird. Nothing has changed. The narrow street is lined with the same neatly cut hedges, behind which the deceivingly friendly dwellers of this village lurk. It’s quiet, eerie, just like it had always been, back then. I keep walking towards the house, each step slower than the one before—
…and there it is. A low, wooden fence, and behind it the cowering, red brick stone structure, a lonely, garishly green watering can, and a bench that wasn’t there before. The dead tree must have had to yield to a neatly mowed lawn, and the scent of summer has long since faded away.
James, the geologist, had to walk through my office upstairs to his. That day, he came in after lunch with a new black leather folder that held a pad of A4 paper, and fastened shut with what purported to be a brass clasp.
I greeted him and asked how the interview for the new job had gone. He was somewhat astonished at the question, since he had not mentioned anything about looking for another job to me.
“How did you know?”
I smiled, and took out of my desk drawer my own new folder, identical to his.