Grains of the shore

The golden rills of sunset ran over the sky, parting it, delighting it, and giving us splendour in a sigh. They crouched below, a gathered crowd telling of curses taken and worship not yet granted. A trickle of words that ran constant from one mouth to another. Time traced her veins down weary forearms, wrists tied to an airlock of memories revisited and turned away.

Garlands were laid below, as if the truth might be lured out and accepted should it be spoken to them. Sadness wrought itself in long lines and dusty skin, ears stretched and chewed. So many grains of the shore that were pinched and taught no more. Closed hearts, in which nothing would lie still, not even their belief.

The air overhead bellowed, tearing at its bound audience. Their weaving and chanting all a charade, no listening to be found here. They would stand still to catch another voice, one of their own careful choosing. At times it seemed this spoke to them, when the wreaths lay right and the words were well said. Incidental patterns that were easy to cling to, a simpler swallow than the depths which held no footing for their evasion.

Unheeded, unheeding, waves beat a pattern that would erode even the hardest of tongues, the sharpest insincerity. It is time repeated and unending, until all our walls falter. Carrying more than a reflection of the blue skies beyond. An ending, and a beginning, made two and the same.

Unspoken, a brief visit

Something a bit different. Modern-sounding, a keyboard lead and an overlay of brief electronic sounds. Taking you on a beautiful little journey.

Imagine a quiet afternoon, with a soft summer rain falling out of a sky that is neither bright nor dull, grey and yet not stormy. Long curtains are drifting to and fro around a door that is open to the outdoors, letting in the scents of the wet, the green, the fulsome earth. Here are the quiet times that are all yours, pieces just for your memory evermore.

A wordless feeling rises in you, heralding an unfolding. Moments flash by but you are caught in the current in the middle of it all, a place between here and there. Where time recedes, and what is revealed is all that is unspoken.

Idleness and roses

I’d stretched and felt where your skin might be. Drifting in a half-forgotten dream of the warmth of a warrior holding her child. A space held them both safe, watching from the edge of the daylit world. Another place beckoned, but they’d found a way to let it pass by.

It was so hard, all the same, not to retreat there. Even though all that would be found was punishment and tense familiarity. Once taught as the right path, though driven by another’s anguish and fear. That in turn driven by the same, again and again. A common thread stretched through all the ugly cycles. Here, perhaps, it was slowed at last.

Turning, a shift of covers and another memory opened. Here I stood for a moment on a platform, cracks in the paving and the spiralling weeds that shifted in a brisk wind. A familiarity of ease, brought to myself by many a trip on many an afternoon. Warm sun and grey rain, changing and surrounding with each passerby. Black coated ladies and tired fathers, newspaper people and a mother of us all. Memories, good memories, reinforcing the moments to be found right there.

I stretched again. Rolled to my side, let my mind wander. Standing on a concrete path after summer rain. My feet were bare and could feel the water lying between the ridges of concrete. A storm freshly fallen, its mists drifting in the sky. I was in a garden, and knew this rise and those beads of stone. I knew this moment, although I could not place it in time. A mid-afternoon sky that rumbled as the thunder carried itself away. Everything resting in richest green as the sun broke through. And there, next to me, the brightest delight – a huge rambling rose. Turkish delight flowers in deep pink, a heady scent. I knew that nose and always would. A familiarity that was whole, and kind. I rested with it a while longer.

The better ways

A stand of saplings flickered past us. The lichen-stained trunks were the only touch of green I’d seen for miles. It was the cold season, although the light was a beguilingly soft orange as it neared the end of the day. I felt rather than saw the clear sky that stretched ahead. Glassy reaches of possibility pulled in and held close in a sharp breath. A quiet roar of engine, a long road unfurling.

I listened to your solid and reassuring conversation. The mindfulness of water, the moment when love found you again. Times spent stepping and turning to beats, your travels over the years. Almost more words than I could let in at once, the sluice gates sliding to and fro – much as your feet once led you, then and afterwards.

The window caught my inner eye and contemplation drifted over a bared world. Fibres of thought, shed and stolen and reformed. These trees so plain, so uniform and young – suddenly the embodied possibility of long lives. Ones that I could hold fast to as I did my own. Strong, together, passing from day to day. Until thirty years of choices were mine, too. All that I held so dear yet at times could forget. The cycles, where you’d barely realise you were in the faltering moments. Name them, know their spell is only in stealing away your focus. Look here, and here, and here again too. A beautiful place where we all could live. Far from the old habits, the steps guaranteed to take you in one end and spin you out the other, sick but alive.

There were better ways. There are better ways. Listen to all of your senses, especially those that had been carefully and neatly placed away. Listen to the silence of these steadfast woods that will greet you every day if you’ll let them. Let open the gates. To the kind words and the choices, the full hearts and the voices. We’ll wait for you. We will always be waiting, in our endless green-skinned patience.

In the café it will be alright

The front of the café is all glass window, peppered with notices and advertisement cards and posters for shows from last summer. There is a heavy door, and it swings back quickly as I enter. Above my head someone has pinned an American license plate. Las Vegas, Nevada, it tells us. So very far removed from this place that it is almost a perfect mockery here.

I walk past the rows of seating, long ago clad in salmon pink vinyl. The corner spot is the most popular and it gathers the unsettled folk. One sits there now, dark hair hiding half their face and a worn hand another portion. Coat collar pulled up, restless eyes. He doesn’t stop nervously watching the room. I’m watching, too, but I learnt to do it so that no-one can easily tell. Use the corners of your eyes, nothing direct or fixed for too long beyond your own space. Gaze at nearby objects with a faraway look, and note the sounds. They’ll always tell you more than you can see, often before it’s too late.

Moving up to the counter, I recognise the man behind it. He’s often here. Always deft, with quick and definite movements. Neatly trimmed hair. A hi buddy, and hello madam, to every person who walks in there. Cheerio, and see you again soon, to every person as they depart. Even you, later, though you hold your breath a bit until they do. For just a little while we all belong.

What can I get you madam, as I pause to look at the menu. An efficient but friendly voice, and they are patient if you stumble or stutter. No articulated frustration, no demands – beyond the question that reminds you of what you need to say here. You weren’t sure but suddenly say something that you’d been half-thinking of. You watch them writing down your answer in their catering code, and yes – it is okay. Your silver coins for a coffee, with carefully frothed milk tipped into a waiting china mug. A ticket stub for your fried breakfast, cooked on a scoured griddle. A few orders are in at once, and they’re lined up and sizzling.

Here you go lads, and three breakfasts are served up to the table nearby. Yours follows. The table ketchup is oddly orange and translucent, so you opt for brown sauce. Good with the bacon, better with it dipped in egg yolk. I wait, carefully resting, as you eat.

A lady who’s had better years, let alone days, coughs and chokes behind you. I pause, then look round. She’s okay though. Eating pie and baked beans with a spoon, scraping up the sauce as she goes. The lads are talking football over bacon and fried bread. We listen to their banter. The thing is, the louder one says, is he’s just got no accuracy. Yeah well, the dark haired one replies, they won’t sign him when they’ve got… a door crashes, and I sit up. The politics of the teams are drowned out. From the back kitchen someone speaks loudly, briefly, in Mandarin. They bustle, more meals emerge for us. Here you are, madam.

Golden wood panelling runs up the walls to the ceiling, catching my gaze as the noise rises and I try subconsciously to filter some of it out. A newcomer, a gent, is greeted. He picks up a few papers, orders a tea. Finds the corner spot now empty, and drops in to the booth. You watch him for a little while, wondering whether you could ask for the crossword. Someone behind me is leaving, tall and in blue jeans and just a white t-shirt. You are huddling in my coat, fingers still taking warmth from the coffee mug. See you mate, says blue jeans, with a wave. See you soon, the reply. Outside he nods to a passerby as he walks away, another person he knows here. They all know each other here. Coffee clouds spiral. It’s quieter again. A few more come and go, some staying and some not. It’s never busy but it’s never quiet.

The sky’s cleared a bit outside, and I weave between the people and the water droplets falling from the overhang. The light has picked up, making the trees sparkle a little where they’ve collected the morning rain, and you’re glad. It’s strange to be locked away from so much of it now. My car is there, reassuring and unassuming. Still seems an odd extravagance, just waiting there for me. I turn on the radio, lock the doors. Toto’s Africa is playing. I relax, and you smile. No-one knows you’re here. It’s safe, safe for now. Spinning the wheel one-handed, I circle away, and we enjoy these moments. It’ll be alright. It will be all right, in the end.

Carrie in the river

I reached out and touched her cheek, her cinnamon brown damp hair. Carrie, I whispered, but she ignored me still. I leant back, not knowing what to think. Suddenly reminded of the time she’d sunk purposefully to the bottom of the river, dark water and hidden currents. She’d risen at last, to my chiding – and told me it was alright, as it was okay for actors. That in the depths she’d trodden the boards that were silt, moved under the lights that were just bubbles flying through the water. That as long as you knew how to act wherever you were, you’d be okay. I’d shaken my head and pulled her up the bank, dripping and shivering and grinning. She’d given me a hug, all mischief of course.

Carrie grasped at everything – seeing it all as one and the same, and so very vital. Reached out to anyone who had ever surrounded her and took them in. Gave them warmth and comfort, her love and care. Some loved her back and some hurt her as people will do. She never stopped, not even once, to see if she could pick and choose. To pause and find something in the spaces inbetween.

I’d told her once that there was a difference she just wouldn’t see. We’d argued about that, sitting on the worn wooden bench in the little meadow behind the houses. It was a place for days that were lazy, as well as the cool of late summers and their early evenings. Watching mists roll in, listening to the faint roar of life ebb and flow in the river there. Talking and disagreeing but trying to see what the other was saying. Startling the birds when we left, as we’d sit out until the moon rolled around. Carrie and me, all those times together.

Life, she had said, was just all that was given to you and all that you knew. That is our everything, she’d insist. I’d shake my head. There’s something else, I’d retort. Something that remains once you’ve taken away the words and the people and the things that have happened to you. She’d go quiet sometimes then, though I didn’t know what she thought of. She didn’t talk much of times from before, just shared glimpses. Always bright happy moments, which made me wonder what filled all the gaps. No, she’d reply briskly, there’s just what we’re given and what we find, and that is our life. I’d pass the bottle, the flask, or the paper cup, depending on what we’d brought along. The old dry grass rustling under my feet as I finally stood, declared to the stars just what I thought of her perpetual contrariness, and we’d finally collapse in giggling heaps. Sweet Carrie. That had been part of your everything, too.

We’d once shared all the same ideas, but one day I decided I had a new understanding. It had burst upon me, and I’d tried to tell her in so many breathless words as I danced along the riverbank. We’d disturbed a heron that night, and decided it was auspicious. Every word we shared was newborn, fortuitous, and would be carried aloft to new lands. I talked and talked of how I could see all those I knew and all that had happened to me, and yet also see set it to one side! That there, underneath, was something exquisite and alive. In my breathing, in the sense of my pulse. Life, all on its own, raw and undemanding and endlessly whispered. Free of all that had gone before and all that might come.

No, she’d always tell me, that’s just your blood echoing. It’s biology, it’s not special – it’s not other-people special. That’s what she used to call it, and I remembered the evening light falling on her face as she said it. Carrie would reject this every time I spoke to her of it again. It was somehow all too dear to her, and she wouldn’t let anything go. Thought all her obligations and fears and loves as inescapable as the pulse in her wrist. She seemed to be waiting for someone else to carry them for a while, if they could prise away her child-like little fingers. As if someone could do that, in our heads, where time runs amok and we’re the ones who shuttle it to and fro. Binding the threads, snapping frayed ends and locking away the parts we do not want anyone to see.

This evening, back here and so long since that night, I recalled her words on the phone earlier. A brief conversation unlike all the others. Meet me there, she’d said. I want you to be there first, and I’ll come and find you.

I’d gone and sat for a while, enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon. Kicked at the dust under the bench that was partly us and partly the earth that had come before. Watched a dragonfly dart, the ash trees gently nodding. After a while I’d gone for a walk, wondering if this was some prank. Circled the meadow, tearing some seedheads to feel the sharp husks as I rolled them between my palms. Teeth, she’d always called them, trying to bite us before we eat them. Birds had called out, flew on, and eventually come round to roost. I mused, and mulled, and eventually left. Decided to call in at hers on the way home, still wondering what she’d meant, or whether she’d just forgotten.

She was lying still, in the hallway, her mother sat near her. Just staring. The paramedics had cleaned her up and were about to take her away. Her skin was cool, not my Carrie at all, although I knew that cinnamon hair. It wasn’t meant to be like that, all dull strands and dampness. Her mother asked me, did you know? As if anyone could ever know this. As if I could explain what she thought of living, and how that might be a reason. As if everything she wouldn’t set aside could ever add up to this.

I want you to be there first, she’d said. How could I ever know why or what she’d meant? How would our place in the meadow ever know, or the ladybirds we had caught or the rabbits we had chased to keep them safe. I knew there was no sense to it, or to any of my thoughts right now – but I wished she could at least have seen it all as I did, just the once. Perhaps then she might have figured out how to be an actor in the water for a little while longer.

Morning lake

Plumes of mist slowly rose from the cool waters of the lake. A frost had touched upon the surrounding treetops, and we all stood under the brightness of a hazy winter sky. I smiled. It was a perfect stillness, tracing this mystery of the lake’s living surface. The strands of vapour were scattered but numerous, and they gently rose and billowed in unison. The water below was otherwise unmoving and held a clear vision of the sky. A delicate reflection, reminding me of porcelain poised and waiting. I lifted my eyes to the deep nest-like branches that encircled us, seeing colours where I had not expected them. A fringe of pale gold bulrushes stood tall and rigid. Long bleached by autumn rains and days of fading light, their ghostly framework was all that remained – the soft and living stripped away. Shifting in the breeze they felt coarse beneath my fingertips. I strode past them, their shadows on my path and their rustle in my wake.

Soft, dark clay pulled at my feet as I rounded the bank of the lake. All so very quiet except for a bird, my breath, the wind. Cool air and colder water lay before me. I watched as the tiny cloud forms swelled and drifted up from the lake’s surface. I did not understand it, yet it was beautiful. Happening just beyond my touch. A sacred thing that would linger until the sun rose and diminished it, or fell and obscured it.

The rewards of winter that you would not think to find – moments of such wonder, tucked idly here and there. It was no friendly season, nipping as it did at our fingers and toes. Easier for some than others but all felt relief when it passed. That this season might work a magic of its own was easy to forget when it must be sought out, and the bared teeth looked over. We stand in our trembling paper-thin skins and reach into the throat of it for our satisfaction and joy. What creatures are we, truly?

I stamped my feet, further thoughts gathering in my brow but not yet welcome there. Here were my moments, safe and still and spectacular. Breathing out slowly I joined the lake in its game. Shifting to and fro, the waters claimed me too.