jeudi 31 janvier 2013

The Cardigan Wearers (1994-2005)

 I am thinking of you all now for I have to repair it.  A big, old hole at the bottom of the right sleeve as if someone had nestled their thumb in it, like a cat about to have a nap, round and around, until it popped right through.  And there, under the collar on the left side, another hole where one is wont to rub, slowly, with the right hand; a self-applied massage where the slope of our shoulder meets the neck, there where the weight adds up.  It has been a long time since I put it on, this Ecuadorian cardy.  Somebody five thousand miles away from where I was then hand knitted the blue of a warm day ending into the grey of a gull’s mantle, and then three rows of raspberry red, on into an army tank green, a golden beige, a still desert yellow, three rows of each colour; and it has been with me half of my life, or should I say, for half of my life it has been mine.  It has taken me three years to get it back from the latest contender.   When I gave it to him I could never have imagined it would have disappeared from view like that only to be rendered stuffed into a plastic bag all creased and crumpled smelling of pure discard.   And now as I fuss with it, turn it over to tend to it, welcome it home, I am somewhat enlightened to think that perhaps it was he who had worn the hole under the  collar, as if he had taken some of the weight of our fall out, the devastation.

Here I am, darning this thing back to its former splendour so that it may go on being splendid; a lovely possession that I transform into a loving gift. I think the holes are really a result of a number of persons, a little bit of us altogether.  They have both advanced beyond the colour boundaries of stripes and as my darning skills are minimal, first off I have to deliberate over what colour ball of wool I will choose to do the job.  I choose blue, the blue of the bird landing after a hefty emigration and the even, soothing tides of sleep lapping over him until he can only be dreaming.  The blue of the collar, and the rim of the sleeves.   So blue it is.  Blue is the frame.  Blue is where I start.

In those long years between childhood and being really grown up, my willowy body rooted already in European shoe size 42, to the extreme dismay of my pin legs, took a long time to be comfortable with the regular leak of blood.  It was as if my body was running away with me and had led me under the confident blue eyes of my eighteen year old lover!  How I enjoyed them on me, behind his glasses; watching me kick autumn leaves like a little girl.  He wrote me hundreds of love letters whilst he was in his lessons, or at home without me, and into his capable eighteen year old hands I went.  Whenever we were alone, he would make love to me but not a thought of love passed my mind.  I was much quieter back then, before the cardy, less bright; I didn’t really have very much to give.  I was a young body being covered for the first time and how relieved was I when it was all over and he was far away.

My family moved from one county to another and took me with them.  After sixth form I would take the bus into the old city and roam the back alley wealth it had saved up over the years.  It was there that one of the independent traders lured me in with an Ecuadorian charm: bright, hopeful, warm, welcoming. When the door jingled behind me, and my head popped into the window display, its smell reached out for me like a bed of straw must do for a bunny.  It was beyond my allowance but luckily it was the month when the leaves dropped off the trees with the help of the wind, and so as a present it was given, by the very one who had given me myself seventeen years earlier during a windy, leafless month and also many other affirming gifts over the years.  It was to offer me comfort who erstwhile had felt rather awkward.  

And such a gift is to be shared.  The first one who came along, and shimmied his arms down the long stripy wool tunnels, was James.    Those magnificent hands emerged with his wrists and a little bit of his lower arms from the frame of three knitted rows of blue.  They spoke of his beauty when perhaps the set of his nose, mouth and ears pooh-poohed any such notion.    I can see him in it now, head bowed, slightly turned from me, his shoulders de- hinging. I wrote poems about his shoulders leaving me, going down the stairs, out into the strange London streets where we had escaped to, poems about how I could fit whole verses into the hollow of his knees.  Many poems back then for this boy who didn’t cater for any of my needs, really didn’t give a damn about me when that friend of his was by, swallowed far too much Guinness; was tawny and able but unlearned.   
We lost the right to borrow the car so filled our small backpacks and took to the coast.  My hair grew salt sea tangled as we roamed and came across market towns and went our separate ways in the second hand book shops we found.   He opened my eyes to Nietzsche and inscribed in a lovely old copy of Sons and Lovers how, for him, I was his Miriam.
And never having read it, back then,
it didn’t mean a thing to me,
although I rather liked his handwriting-
long drawn out,
like him
Perhaps he found himself too tall,
that he bent ever so slightly towards the ground, or else the world a tad assured and advancing too fast upon him.  In my cardy he had looked like a scarecrow, the gaudy colours humming below his tan skin, and the scarecrow posture to match, as if he had been somewhat manhandled in getting here to the middle of the field, and now his furrow of coal eyes asking too many questions.  Such an unruly, silly child.  Fed up of feeling like his mum trying to tame him, I soon fell in love with someone that lovely bit older than me and de-robed James of the cardy, that  he would often take from me, probably tired of seeing it shrouding me all the time.    He never once tried to take my cardy from me indefinitely, never left my house with it, always left it on the bed settee in my room or slung over the back of a chair somewhere downstairs.
And now, having read Sons and Lovers twice, maybe thrice, his inscription means a whole lot and I slide the book out from time to time to remind myself what being Miriam feels like.

Nigel was indeed older than I.  After my initial winding up, our falling was clockwork.  Transitory, for him.  At the ripe old age of twenty-four he was already weary and prone to getting podgy, and I was a blessing in the form of a young thing come to alleviate the boredom for a while.  The five years between us was an entire generation; we had no reference points except whiskey and walking in the park but he left me bereft every time he told me that I was too much… I ran after him begging him to stay, not to leave me again, and he, like a frenzied escapee, just kept running. 
 I would wait loyally for hours, a novice smoker, and he would be lovely in his welders outfit coming up the stairs from his night shift and lovely out of it … In between our love-making he would confuse me with his stories, sometimes about work, and I never made out if he was an oddball or a sheep, if he loathed it or felt resigned.  Although I have an inkling...  Perhaps by wrapping him up in my Ecuadorian cardy I could make him feel at ease, and he would let me in on it all.  He took to it.  It fitted him well.  We lived together and it came to live with us.  And when we dotted about, it followed us - Spain and Portugal; used as a pillow for siestas or a blanket on fresh nights.  

He headed north and I headed east and loathe to have him forget me, I insisted he take my cardy with him.  However, I soon got myself tangled in a love inexplicably more natural and rewarding than my three years with Nigel, even though it lasted three days.  This man (whom I knew I was to marry) went east and I went and found Nigel in Leiden.   Our old love was hard there between us like the floor under us in his friends’ apartment.  Hard; the rolling together, the keeping apart.  I crawled out, taking my cardy with me and he didn’t seem at all put out to see it go, something that had suited him so well.
Goodbye, my dear: in the end it was truly final.  After the year too long of rolling together, now only the keeping apart forever.

As I tug the cardy across my knees, I find one tiny hole in the grey of the left pocket.  It is all grey wool on the inner side of the pocket as if it would have been a shame to hide the colourful stripes.  I remember your arms flexing, pushing nail bitten hands into the raspberry-red rimmed pockets, distorting the run of the knit with a fist shape, whilst your neck buried itself in the blue collar.  I think, was it you that started this little hole in all the grey, pushed a little too far and ...That’s all I think.  I’ll repair it along with the others.

The man I knew I should marry had no need of my stripy cardigan.  He had a checked, fur lined flying jacket to wrap himself up in when we stepped outside into the snow, and anyway my cardigan was half a world away, with my ex-boyfriend Nigel.  The day Jon left Brasov and headed South East I drank vodka in a charming suite we had taken in an elderly lady’s house.  By the light of the snow and the white sky shining in from outside and a tasselled lamp, I warmed myself in this room.  I lay out my diary on the crocheted tablecloth and wrote that I could just put my life on hold until I saw him again.  I have one photograph of him, and a box of little bits and bobs from that journey, not all related to him.  It is somewhere at my mum’s house, I believe.
See him again I did.  Almost two years later, a cool spring in London Town.  After the first beer he let me into his little secret: a marriage in the hills of India with his long-time girlfriend.  I had known of her existence but I hadn’t realised that she was to do so much robbing.  I imagined that was to be my job.  Into my arms he came for a rapid lullaby and off our love went sleeping for a thousand million years.  Yes, we were efficient and we never saw each other again and as the morning came on and he was already gone, Ani Di Franco crooned and stomped and agreed with everything I was feeling.  I pulled my faithful cardy about me and measured the eventual onslaught of the day by the weight of my tired eyes.

At last I could get on with my life.  It wasn’t long before five tremendous girls claimed me for their own and took me from, albeit stripy, loneliness to their bosom.  We had wicked stair parties in the house we shared together, where my cardy would take turns.  Everybody loved it; it was a loveable thing.  One night fuelled by red wine and not much else I found myself following Jamyang along the wide Central London pavements after his kind offer of a night cap.  We chatted all the way back to his apartment.  He was in love with one of my girlfriends (she was delightful) and we talked about that on our way back, something seeming to guide us.  I think that he was the first man I simply liked and was quite surprised at the first kiss and then even more surprised at how wonderful it was going to bed with him as it had never once crossed my mind.  And in the morning (three mornings later, one nightcap leads to another...) more surprised at how miserable I felt that it was my friend he loved and not me.

I decided to lose my friend over it but he was worth it. They are never worth it, I chanted for many years after, embarrassed to have betrayed a friendship for a mere male. But now, looking back, I’m not so sure.  We had moments of such incredible clarity together:  He was loved by me and I was the most unconventional girl in the world, and if only the bus just kept rolling and the bridges just kept coming his shining black hair would cover my lap forever, and the jolts and the rattle of the 171 would be an ever welcome medley compared to our jarring thoughts.  My sun and moon in Scorpio, or him and his fears left over?  Little scars scattered his body.  The Himalayas were in between him and his family.  Did he ever really tell his whole story?
I remember leaving him in some south London pub not in the least interested by the trouble he was getting himself into.  These guys were obviously idiots and Jamyang so gentle, so intelligent.  ‘If you are going to fight them, I am getting the bus,’ I told him.  And I did.
He turned up hours later, bloody and tired.  I took him in, cross; bathed his wounds and took him to bed and let him cry against me.  Him and his left over fears.

After that first walk home in the morning, tripping over remaining stars and reading the uneven pavement for signs was what we became best at.  We would pretend to be going somewhere but truthfully just taking in this vast night air; sometimes we’d bump into someone we knew and be elevated, ‘Oh! Here we are!’ 
I shared my Ecuadorian cardy with him because it was colourful and so were we.  With it and the furry orange hat with pom-poms that he gave to me, we paraded the streets, our warrior cries exultant.  Sometimes we would run, just run and I’ve never ever been surer of my love for anyone.  He was my size, but seemed smaller.  Whenever he came around to my place he would take off his outer garment and put my stripy cardigan on.  He seemed to unfurl with me, and when we were a little bored by the Sunday feeling we conjured up together,  we would bounce around the room to Dylan’s I want You dah da-da da dah, I Want you dah da-da da dah, I want you dah da-da da dah, So muuuuch and he’d sing the chorus in Tibetan and we’d be so warm he’d sling off the cardy and there it would lay, on the bed, as our two dancing bodies drew together .
When he phoned me out of the blue after I had left London  and was heading to France with my new boyfriend, he said, ‘You broke my heart, you know,’ his song of an accent making of the words something less heavy.  ‘Really?’ I said.  I don’t think I ever really knew.  ‘And you didn’t even say sorry!’ and we laughed.  A little bit.  For the last time.

About three weeks ago now one of those lovely girls from my time in London phoned me up.  It’s not often we speak these days and I was delighted to hear her voice with its very-much-missing-from-my-life Derbyshire lilt, ‘I’ve got some bad news.  It’s Jamyang .  He killed himself on Friday.’  Her words became a leitmotif, all that was left of him and his story. It’s all so very final in the end.  ‘I’ve got some bad news’, it could have been anything. ‘It’s Jamyang’, and I’m hanging, hanging, and it’s all so very final in the end.

I live in a different country now to the one he ended up in.  I didn’t go to the funeral or the prayer service at the Buddhist Centre.  I thought about him a lot though, that day.  I played Bob Dylan and danced about my room.  I wondered what his room was like, where he ended up.  I wonder why he wouldn’t let them in.  I wonder what was with him that night when he took his story out of reach of us all. ‘He killed himself on Friday.’  This Friday?  Last Friday?  Hundreds of years ago?  Or not quite yet?  When, just when, Jamyang, did it get so bad?

In the days that followed his death I took it upon myself to recuperate my cardigan.  It wasn’t really a symbolic move.  It was just that I had really had enough of living the worst three years of my life.  I asked for everything back from the ‘perpetrator’.  He obliged for the cardy, left it hanging in a plastic bag in no-man’s-land.  I had asked for far more ‘valuable’ things to be returned so the cardy was really a throwaway concession for him.  Little did he know that it meant the world to me.  And now in my possession once again, I repair it.  I am darning with little expertise but a lot of will, healing the holes in the blue that looked so beautiful against Jamyang’s amber skin.  It was worth it, the love I wrapped about him; my blue, grey, red, green, beige, yellow love.

I got out of the car and into his arms.  One of my best friends since sweet sixteen, he suddenly became so much more – as if the stars had lined up and we could do nothing about our change of course.  We collided; me, madly and he, slowly but surely.  I felt it was only right to confide myself in him who had been there in the back row through all my dramas, not really a spectator but present none the less, eating his popcorn...My Scotsman from the wilds of Hampstead!  How perfectly wrong we were for each other, with only our mid twenties’ stubbornness in common reaching for heights we almost got to.

Whilst I was making my irregular way across the eastern globe, likewise privileged he was packaged and paid for as far as Ecuador with a bunch of same-aged souls.  He came back with a lot of Ecuadorian knitwear, mainly hats and jumpers, to give away as presents.  I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.  He was fully aware I already had my cardy, having been wearing it sporadically for the past seven years. Long into our relationship he still had a stock of hats he hadn’t managed to sell or giveaway. (He must be saving them for a rainy day...) Eventually I became bearer of one of these leftover hats.  I have it to this day.  An habitual winter warmer.  It makes my forehead itch.

And so this man never really wore my cardy, having a jumper very similar.  His colours deeper, more maroon than raspberry.  All his friends that used to come and visit had at least one woollen garment hanging loosely off them.  I kept mine tightly pulled around me.  I must have confused him.  After all, he had seen me joyously offering it to others over the years.  Like a good mother, pulling out the spare pullover when required to warm or to comfort.  Perhaps for that, he didn’t wear it.  Or perhaps because he measures over two metres tall and my cardy struggles to cover the two limbs it normally swamps on others.  Or, better still, perhaps because I never really offered it to him, knowing he didn’t really need it.
He comes to mind more in his own jumper, maroon-framed with the autumnal stripes.  How many worlds in between maroon and indigo blue?  Perhaps if we had never asked, our answers wouldn’t have been so different.

At last, I saw the perfect candidate for my cardigan of love a mile off.  He beamed.  He darted back and forth below the terraced-garden wall, his back bowed but with the force of moving forward, and I just knew he had to have it.
And so after I had broken my best friend’s heart (and this time I knew I had done it) and invited this stranger to come and live with me now that I shared his country, I remember very clearly the day when I handed my Ecuadorian charm over to him.  By now it had become for me almost a ritual.  ‘Will you take this cardy?’ It is yours.  You will wear it forever, I know, beside me…He seemed so pleased and made his promise to wear it.  It’s not a keepsake, you see; my cardy, it’s useful.  It works.  It really does keep out the cold.
It has taken me three years to get my cardigan back from this man who has obviously mistreated it like he has a penchant for mistreating things.  Unfurling it from the bag, I am delighted.  It smells slightly stale, but not as bad as it could have been.  I have seen things leave his jurisdiction in a worse state.

I place it as soon as I can into the washing machine, all by itself, and turn the knob to the gentle 30°.  I add a little savon noir and a sprinkle of patchouli into the drum.  Firstly, I want it to be clean, to have lost the odour of his discard. Then, once dry, I trace its wellbeing for signs of time and two, no, three holes come to my attention.  I commence my work of reparation, joining the new wool into the knit of the old, creating the blue lattice base for the patch of interlacing wool to grow over.

When I have finished, one will see where the holes have been.  One will see that it has been worn and loved enough to mend.  Even as the holes dwindle – and I am taking my time- I sense that it is really far too big, and even too heavy, for me to wear by myself.  Very selfishly, I must give it away, and I can’t help but wonder who I am darning it for, this time!  Who will appreciate the joy and the colours of this too heavy thing, who will make it light?


A cloud hovered over her, designating divine presence, all the way back from the hospital.  Nobody saw it.  They called her Rebekah anyway.  A complete coincidence.  And they let her go on her way
That was many years ago.  They were never sure how she really functioned, even though they knew so well her weathered family tree.
All through her early years she conjured up rain when neighbours started spying on each other’s use of hosepipes, and she knelt down purposefully somewhere calm and charmed the sun when everyone just looked too sad.
This girl, whose name was Rebekah, lived two stories above the postcard and picture shop.  If only it had been three.  Or four.  Imagine the view from the roof top if the stair well had had a trap that one could push through and be instantly closer to the sky.  Feet on the concrete altar, nothing between her and the trip down into the street below except the idea that she was already in heaven.  As it was, Rebekah’s flat was in a building that only had two floors.  Its roof slanted and it looked out across onto the department store on the other side of the road.  From her own flat it was possible to see a bit of Neville Street too if you craned from the window.  There was no little-used stairwell with secret traps.  No concrete terrain brushed by heaven.
It sold other things too, the Postcard and Picture shop.   In its annals of two shops now joined into one, were hosts of goodies that one wouldn’t have imagined existing before entering into the brightly-lit, tightly-packed labyrinth.  Once inside, the possibility of owning all manner of seemingly essential (for a millisecond) knick knacks grows and grows and could take over if you had left your sensible head behind.
Rebekah rarely pops inside, she feels guilty just looking, and she certainly doesn’t want to buy anything. She passes by without turning her head, goes in the side door and begins the climb to the second floor.
Everybody calls it the postcard and picture shop, like everyone calls her Rebekah.  Established.  Early twenties and her hair’s mid brown and mid-long, and it sells postcards and pictures.  What you saw was what you got.  But the things hidden in the labyrinthine interior were a different matter altogether. 

And so this girl – whose name was definitely Rebekah; remember how she had been brought home from the hospital with the cloud trailing above her, unbeknownst to anybody - lives two floors above the postcard and picture shop.  She hasn’t lived here for very long and most of the shelves have only dust on them.  Leaving the window open sometimes seems to displace some of it.  She is impatient for windy days and being Rebekah that usually works.  Her boxes are sagging beneath the shelves.   Her belongings are comfy in there, although the empty wallscapes make her try to remember where her photos might be.  One night, after a quick meal of bland noodles, a cursory search finds a pack of them and she spreads them out over the parquet.  Rebekah in the garden where it all started; the roses and the maze that she knew by heart.  Snaps of houseplants in their element, over the years.  Her years, alone, after the people whose garden it was sent her on her merry way.  She is not alone tonight.  Tricky, her mongrel sleeps soundly beside her. All is well, God might just be in his heaven: the day had been a lovely crisp grey, just like she wanted.
Tricky stirs a tiny fraction in his dreams, and it is there, poor Rebekah, in a dark corner of her mind, the thought that she might go back.

Three days later, Rebecca returns home to find her dog smashed on the pavement outside the picture and postcard shop.  There was a little crowd.  Nobody had bent beside him.  In the flat she found only the upturned geranium on the ledge, probably the result of Tricky’s last ditch attempt to hang on to the real world.  She wondered if she had left his half-finished tin of Chunky by the half open window…she wondered if it had rolled off down the street, with no Tricky to chase after it.  She sat at the kitchen table and slowly unpacked the groceries, not wanting to associate with any of it, let alone put it away or eat it, for the time she had queued to pay for it had probably been the death of Tricky.  Then she had shut the open window.  He had been bored and had nothing better to do than sit on the ledge and wait for her to appear around the corner from Neville street.  Then as the day began drifting into night and she had rubbed the dust and the tears out of her eyes, she began to wonder if someone had pushed him.
She had scooped him up, leaving some remains on the pavement.  A little smudge of blood and gristle that someone saw to.  ‘It was most unpleasant,’ someone else says.  Rebekah doesn’t say anything.  She lives with the unpleasantness, doesn’t go to the doctor’s, only wishes she had a garden so she could bury him close.  But she lives on the second floor above the postcard and picture shop and leaves her window open sometimes.
She doesn’t know whether to water the geranium.  She hasn’t slept.  Her thoughts are as tangled as her hair.  She knows it is coming.  Her divinity goes into overdrive.  She starts knocking on the ceiling trying to get through to the sky.  She kneels down and begs.
Today, Rebekah is going to write a story.  True, she had been prompted.  It wasn’t like the rest which flowed freely,  a scanty breeze or a westward rush; a trickle down, then temperatures logged lovingly in a little thing she called her diary.  But the only real constraint was the end.  Isn’t it always?  It had to end with Home.  One single word.  Rebekah could live with that.  She had lived with worse.  She is not going to set any other objective than that it has to be finished by this evening (so they told her), so no sleepless nights, just a free-hand story.  She is going to make it up as she goes along and there must be some poetry in that.
Rebekah woke with the skin taut around her eyes where she had let the tears dry.  She felt a pain coming alive in her shoulder and along with it the memory of the day before that had woken up with her too.  It all comes flooding back – she had ordered rain, rain so much rain – a torrential, angry sea.
It always happened like that.  When they found her, all they could do was to take away her belt and put her in a room with bars at the window instead of curtains.  All that rain had been causing damage and she’s here so that they can pin it on her.  But she won’t let them. She’ll deny the storm, the wind, like she always does. And they never get to the snow that she falls down into, soft and comfortable but so, so cold.   Luckily the day before she had been up on the roof, through the trap that only she knew about and kneeling on the silver pitch, she had elicited the sun for the next day.  That way, the remains of the rain would soon disappear and no one could be disapproving.  It would filter through the bars on her window and make pretty the yellowed tiles of her room.
And the next day he had his hat on.  That was a relief to Rebekah because if the skies still listened she didn’t need anybody else to.  They all did so much talking here.  She should have been able to remember names by now and converse, but her mind had a particular way of wandering off, avoiding introduction, farewells and anything that came in between.
“Miranda’s here.  You coming?  Didn’t you hear the shout?”
 Rebekah has been finishing her story, her right hand cramped, sprinting towards the end.  Now the shout, the tap on the door, and she can flex her hand like a cat’s paw, and lean back in her chair.
“Yes, I’m ready.”
There is a room for various modules that the folk can do here.  Today, it is creative writing.  Rebekah sits through the reading out, and then reads her own story. There is silence.  They begin to clap her, this girl, whose name is Rebekah.  She lives two floors above the postcard and picture shop, sometimes.  When she doesn’t live here.  Afterwards, she goes back to her room feeling like she might have disclosed a bit too much.  These things that have indelibly marked her; incidents to shape a life… forever she will step around the third pavement slab from the entrance to the postcard and picture shop out of respect for Tricky. If they ever let her out of here. (Had she been doing it when they came for her?) She does not trust humans.  And she will not leave it to the winds to decide what sort of day she was going to have when she is perfectly capable of doing so herself.
Rebekah brought a cloud home from the hospitable; an unshakeable cloud, a magic cloud, that when the sun managed to burst through it, she became gold and glorious.
She misses the stairwell; she has photos to hang up.  Her geranium must be dry.  She has things to do.  In the dark room with the yellowed tiles, she closes her eyes and goes back home.

La Fin

mercredi 30 janvier 2013

The Books by her Bed

 At the moment they don’t even have a real place to be.  Even though someone put a ring on me recently, my bedside books are tilting off an unclosed suitcase.  They are uncomplaining as long as I open them often enough and pick up the ones that have slid to the floor.  At present, I have Jung to choose from, Mrs Mortimer, and a certain Monsieur Mauriac. They change all the time.  A relay race.  One finished, and the delicious moment arrives when I can sink down beside the book case and have my fingers glance over old friends or halt at something worthy waiting there, unread on the shelf, for its timely discovery.  A gift.  And I will unwrap it every night until it is consumed, and we are a part of each other.
 So there I had been; they had all ran the race and were now hanging about on my makeshift bedside table. A pile up.  And the lonely moment of respite had been going on and on for days.  What to choose?  What did I feel like?  Where was I to go?  I had just met Anne Wiamesky, a fine, honest writer.  She had let me in on a world to which I was a real stranger; a world of films and banter, where life, tricky yet forgiving, got taken for a walk in a safe part of Paris when evening fell.  A little bit of research later and her grandfather, François Mauriac, was on my list of things to do.  After all, Anne had invited me in, even to his study, so why not see what he had been writing there?  Thinking I’d hitch a lift if he ever came my way, two days later I found myself at a village fête, tracing my fingers along dusty discoloured ridges of unloved paperbacks, unread romances.  Lo and behold! There he was, tucked up amongst the shriff and the shraff!…Mauriac’s ‘Noeud de Vipères’… and the exchange with the lady who was emptying her attic was sweet and short. 
 Now, he is by my bed but I am not entirely faithful.  A few days before Mauriac, I had found Jung forgotten under papers on my desk.  I had reached for him initially to help with my novel but since,  despite the size of ‘Psychological Types’, it had been laying there under the fall out of novel writing; shirked irrelevant notes, collaged scribbles and random stationary… I had wanted to unpick my characters so I could create something vivid on the page, threads running between them, like a beautiful abstract textile project.  On second thoughts, I decided I would rummage around inside my own psyche as, after all, they were my creatures and, of course, I had been an introverted sensation type long before I delved into Jung, so I would just let things happen naturally.  Therefore, he had lain forgotten until a shift in desk geography had him thudding to the floor.  And I picked him up, shameful, and took him to bed.
 Now, Penelope I had found on the bottom shelf, next to Ms.Drabble, but I think I’ll slot her back onto the top one.  I had devoured ‘The Pumpkin Eater’ once before, and here I was doing it again, after picking it out simply to have a little breather from male viewpoints.   It stayed in my belly.  It was private and sickly within.  I wouldn’t have been able to talk about in public.
            “So, you’re reading Penelope Mortimer?”
            “No…am I…how did you find out?...It has nothing to do with anyone…”
 No one.  Except me.  I have never sought out critical views of Mrs Mortimer’s work.  I don’t want to know how she was thought of by everyone else.  Later short stories left me disappointed.  But ‘The Pumpkin Eater’ lays bare a woman’s thoughts, has them reeling on the floor; then dressing themselves up in something that is deemed respectable only to be ripped off again by her own hands so that she may breathe.  ‘The Pumpkin Eater’ is between Penelope Mortimer and me. It is a talisman and it is a joy at the side of the bed, or often on the bedspread, where I have left it, laying it down by my side, whilst I close my eyes and gorge on words.  A very unhealthy way of falling to sleep, I am sure.  In the morning, I make the bed around her.  She will be there when I have a moment during the day…

 And how shall I do it?  How shall I get back to her without upsetting anyone, or shirking duties?  Or, feeling guilty! Well, sometimes we ladies just have to find these moments for ourselves!  Like Emma Bovary, we must close the shutters and lay out with our books, let our husbands (or whoever.  Or the world) come to terms with the idea that we would rather ‘stay in our bedrooms and read’ than do anything else.  This luxurious past time arouses the suspicions of the elder Madame Bovary into stopping her daughter-in-law’s supply of books from the library in Rouen.  And perhaps she was right for it was Emma and Léon’s  shared love of books that drew them together; and her memory of heroines and the ‘lyrical legend of … adulteresses’ in the books that she had read that fuelled her affair with Rodolphe.  Unfortunately, in Rudolph’s bed side drawer can be found only letters, locks of hair and handkerchiefs from his past Loves to which Emma’s offerings will be added as the most recent.
 It is so terribly intimate what we leave there, by our pillows, at hand to steady ourselves as the night thoughts gather round.  A guest might climb the stairs and spy the little pile, perhaps in part hidden by the flung duvet;  a hint at who we share our private moments with. Rodolphe chooses proof of his beguiling charms, whilst Emma piles up books.  Books; past lovers and future. They charm her away from the window, and the grey unsympathetic day passing below.  They reveal to her luxuries and living beyond her confines.  I think Flaubert should have popped one in her purse, too, for those occasions when Léon kept her waiting.
  Each to their own bedside table.  We may roll from them now and again onto common ground, and share our common points together, our carnal needs, yet all the while – just an arm’s length away – guard our illumined vision of the world, propped up by our solitude.
 I wonder what was lying on Emma’s bedside table, dusted daily , with lace embroidery between it and the varnished wood. All that finery, and words and guts…
 Not wanting to intrude too much, but Flaubert suggests Walter Scott, Hugo and Voltaire.  More rides to hitch. More giants to add to my race track accident scene on top of a suitcase.


 When they found my aunt, they found a stack of books by her bed as well.  Or so the story goes.  After she was cremated, these books remained in a bundle and were kept by people who had loved her.  First, my granny, and then my mum, her sister.  There they were; a whole colony of little penguins, silky cold to the touch [1].  They look good enough to paint.  Or frame just as they are.  They seem strangely un-thumbed, but perhaps good old-fashioned quality of printing has kept them intact and their mythic bedside status is not to be undermined…?  They are all nigh-on identical in size, going on two hundred pages or so, and all of them bought for no more than 25p. The 1960’s yell from the front covers; a spring coil between fierce orange type welcome the reader to ‘Human Aggression’, whilst ‘Anxiety and Depression’s’ turquoise and violet hypotrochoids lure you in.  Perhaps my aunt did have these piled up in the room but I don’t think she had read them yet. And I wonder how close they were to her bed? They indicate many of her concerns, on the back burner whilst she got on coping with life and doing her best to fight off mind spectres with daily stuff, like we all do.  She was an apprenticed lawyer.  She had major Life Plans. The only book that has tell-tale tiny dry rivers running along its spine is Stengel’s ‘Suicide and attempted suicide’, which I am willing to have on top of the pile.  It was a subject she kept too close and delved into more often than the others.  She must have got comfortable in the single, too soft bed, and filled her head with statistics and read about the research.  It was published ten years before she offered herself as just that, and it is in my hands now.  I breathe it in and feel exactly the same fullness and impatience as she must have before these unread cradles.  I smell the same, strong pages, each one a variant musk.  In one of the books there is a shiny page, slippery to the touch, whereon a reproduction of  a 15th century engraving shows a potential dreamer holding Zizaa, a stone heralded for generating marvellous dreams.

 I hope you held tight as you transformed yourself to an eternal sleeper, and that your dreams have been peaceful.
 But, more than that I hope you let your hair down sometimes and sniffed at some fiction just for the fun of it.  I hope you escaped the flat and your future super projects and gasped with glee as Julien brought Mathilde to her knees, or you read again your favourite Auden poems, in a favourite broken-banked-river-spine edition that you would stride through until you fell asleep, comfy in your single bed.

 I think they had fallen under the bed and weren’t gathered up with the other things.  I think whatever you had really been reading remains a secret, like why you chose to go.

 The constant relay race that goes on beside the bed does have some almost ran’s. These are the Stalwarts.  Hardly ever budging. With me, it is often Jean Rhys. Nearly always, Stendhal.  I wouldn’t give ‘Le Rouge et le Noir’ back to the library after I had saved it from the bottom shelf, forgotten and falling apart.  Shiny silver with the inevitable Red and Black letters and a photo from the film adaptation.  I was in love and jealously so.  I used the cheap, tatty binding as an excuse not to give it back, handing over a new edition to the suspicious librarian, whilst keeping their rightful copy very close.  My donated copy is now in pride of place between Steinbeck and Sulitzer in the small village library and I got away scot free.  Whereas ‘my’ shining, chosen copy is never far from my pillow.  And I’m sure it will be there when the time comes for my loved ones to gather round.
 On my bedside table now the lay of the land has changed.  For a start, I found myself one! Metal work the colour of young vines, strips of wrought iron interlaced beautifully so that it serves very badly as a surface for anything that might spill or that you may take off at night.  Coffee mugs and rings and all else have found their place on the floor, leaving my books masters of all they survey.  For the time being I am hosting Huxley’s ‘Island’ and James Kings’ appraisal of Virginia Woolf’s writing life.  There they found themselves together, and imagine my surprise when the introduction in one mentions the other.  Almost as if it were meant to be….

[1] Personal relationships in psychological disorders, Gordon R. Lowe. Penguin, 1969.
 Pschoanalysis Observed, Charles Rycroft & others. Penguin, 1966.
 Suicide and attempted suicide, Erwin Stengel; Penguin, 1964. 
 Human Aggression, Anthony Storr; Penguin, 1968. 
 Anxiety and neurosis, Charles Rycroft; Penguin, 1968.

My Lost Saint

 It wasn’t ‘Jude the Obscure’ that made me shed tears.  It was his predecessor, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’.  There they were, as the clock struck eight, compelled to turn at the top of West Hill and look back down on the Wessex city; and there we were, in a French campsite by the river;  it was just after siesta and little Bertie had woken up and her daddy very kindly stopped her crawling all over me so I could sob in my own fashion. So when asked which books have made me cry, yes, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, ‘The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’ (sweet sixteen) and Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’.  The first two, at the end.  The last, a bit all the way through…

 At secondary school we hung, drew and quartered ‘The Return of the Native’.  On skipping through pre-emptively I thought all that landscape would have me bedding down for a kip.  A portion of rolling Wessex under the curve of my hip, the distant town making a pattern of the horizon, sleepily turning into a dream…But I never bedded down; there was always someone coming back across the heath, or a figure to be seen on the ridges.  Magnets on the earth, Hardy’s characters each played their own game with Fate.  But, like Tess later on, they were mostly stoic when the full stop approached.  But there were those more stubborn. I have taken Vye as my pen name.  This villain girl had me rooting for her until the end.  Like I’ll root for myself. Like we all do. Did this woman, who could be coaxed to a Sphinx-like stillness with the brushing of her mane, leap into the roaring Shadwater Weir?  Or, like ‘thistledown in the wind’[1], was a tumble and a fall her true Destiny in the end?  Anyway, they all left me wishing they’d come back, and they do from time to time.  Like briefly meeting up again to write this essay…
 I was now on the Hardy track. I was beginning to find my way around.  So, after the first ‘so long’ to the Reddleman, Thomasin, Wildeve and Eustacia, I sought out ‘Jude’. ‘Jude the Obscure’.  I had heard of him. What a title! How not be drawn to a book which gives one character all that importance and then erases it.  Hardy has an accomplice, because doesn’t she…?  Doesn’t Sue steal the principle role right from our first sight of her photo on Miss Fawley’s mantelpiece, filling Jude’s head and hopes? We do not know what part she is to play, this cousin, but we wait for her like Jude. First we get photographs, and then comradeship, until soon they were inseparable; ‘fools-like two children’, happily relettering the Ten Commandments in some out-of-the way chapel, no sign of a ring but the beginning of a rounded belly.  This is a sweet episode, with Jude reverting to being a craftsman to earn their keep, his theological studies on the backburner and Sue less outraged by ‘ghastly glories of saints, dead limbs of gibbeted Gods’, the very spectres that would eventually lay her low.
 Years after our private first meeting, I tackled ‘Jude’ with a seminar group of strangers.  Or maybe I only went to the lecture. I forget. Either way, I haven’t kept the notes.  I imagine class oppression was discussed.  Perhaps even Hardy’s solitary revolution of Victorian Literature juxtaposing pagan joy against pale Christianity…?  I felt far removed from all discourse and found it hard to open my mouth, sitting there in my corner, but I’ll essay it now: I was on the road with Jude.  I was the collision with Sue when he finally made it to Christminster.  I was hoping.  I was dread.  Because there are some things we can’t forget.  I was a crash through a training school’s window, and a contented huddle by the fire, with a spoonful of brandy gently administered.  Face to face with Jude again, I hadn’t wanted to pin him down in a two thousand word tract, although I probably did come up with the requirements. I probably praised Hardy on his prowess through his life-size pretend world, and got marked accordingly…
 And just recently he came off the shelf into my hands like an Egyptian cat.  What magic made me turn to him again all these years after?  Bertie ten years old and me and her daddy separated these last six.
Diary entry, September; Spain
We have been rosé-d.  He lies on the other bed in this bright little hotel room, sticky with the last drops of wine.  The others had gone to bed earlier.  The room is dark.  I am writing into the long dawn.  As I am wont to do, persevering, after wine, whilst the others sleep…
 Before the tilt of wine sends me scribbling back-bowed over my notebook on the floor, I sat on the tiny balcony, my arms gathering up my folded legs.  The staleness of wine breath had me gulping in the night air.  Glimpsed through the half light of the retired village square, the church rose out of the trees whose shadows were performing to the delight of the moon.
I used to stalk churches; I’d dare to go inside and then talk to myself, head bowed, hoping.  On the other side of the world I’d wait to be invited into places of worship, I learnt beautiful prayers to cope with all my desires and volatile reasoning that, now, I can only just conjure  past my lips.
The church bells have begun!  They are filling up the half-light and their echoes are finding me on the balcony.  They are sweeping me clean, my ‘kindling glance’ is shut, nun-like now…
 The churn of sweet wine turned sour in my belly, I go to ground.  The church bells have beaten out a ghost.  Where had she been hiding, that this sound could unearth her?  She comes at me with an enquiry of relentless love.  She wants to know what happened to me after I had left her on the other side of the world.  She knows all the mantras by heart, she smells of fresh night, and she has what I had been looking for: a beautiful recompense for all my confessed remorse.
My back is to you, who lie on the other bed.  The love that I had been saving found you.  And I seem to have shrunk to a girl, angry and impetuous, a quiver full of broken arrows. By then, you took too much science on trust; like God not existing! You sleep through the bells ringing ...What am I to do? Wait, there is another sound now swirling in from the night sky.  It is enrobing the noise of the bells, letting them fade away, warm.  But the sound stays.  The Spanish square is breathing aloud inside the room, as big as Spain beyond.  I strain my ears to hear, frightened that my visitor didn’t leave with the last echo of the bells.  But it is not her.  All I hear is you, on the other bed.  Sound asleep.  Breathing.  Church bells.
She must have lain awake from him some nights and thought, O! Jude, you are church bells! It is I who make the difference…
 Some years after this, we found ourselves in a French campsite by the river and you stopped our little girl climbing all over me so I could cry in peace.
 You did always understand my need to cry.
 I know you thought of me as symbolic of something larger, like Jude saw Sue in the engravings from paintings of the Spanish school, and, like him, you warmed to know how near I was. And there we were in Spain, starting out.  And then there was that night when Sue made a dash from the College, as I was always absconding and rushing to you; she settled by the fire in his suit, as he rushed down into the street for brandy to warm her chilled limbs, her rushing heart.  He came back to her clumsy excuses for her under garments, drying there before the fire.  I spent years clumsily excusing away any feeling I had for you that did not pertain to the pure.  How could I have curled up with you after it was you administering the remedy?  How to give myself to you, even falteringly, when after I fell asleep you stood regarding me and saw in me something much more than I was. Hence, my ode to a sexless love affair, my appreciation of all that you taught me, asleep on the other bed, and then at the side of other littler beds, because for a time we ‘kept house and managed everything’, and came up with two delightful souls. Our Aldbrickham days! Our cheery walks across fields and our cold dinners because of them.  I offer you all this and my reading of Jude the Obscure for the third time…will you accept it, friend and comrade?

You are church bells
In a sleeping Spanish square
My stony mantra
Unmouthed these past six years

 I would wait tremblingly for Hardy’s full stop.  Trudging around the rooms for let with Sue and Jude, starting on Mildew Lane, and being refused further down the tiny streets until a misunderstanding allows Sue and the kids to rest for one night. Just one night.  After this, I was less naïve as I followed Angel and Tess creeping across the countryside waiting for Fate to catch up with them.  Less naïve and less hopeful.  Yet, he had turned and waited for her, this figure in the distance, and as she came closer he could do nothing but feel tenderness for her. Their last days together in the forest were solemn and still and peaceful, and in the mansion draughty and candleless; shuttered, sweet and lovely.  If only it didn’t have to come to an end   But my breath baited, my heart, like Tess’, being roused and spent, when they came we were ready; they let the sun on our eyelids wake us up …

 Funny how we don’t always remember the endings even of the novels that we love the best. Not exactly.  Certainly not word for word.  The only one I have managed off pat is ‘The Fox Cub Bold’.  It didn’t come to mind earlier but it is another real tear jerker… ‘Bold looked towards the watchful figure in the oak tree and prepared, at last, to leave the Real World’[2] had my mother busy coaxing me back to reason many a night during my childhood. I don’t remember anything about Laura Palmer except that she stayed on my bookcase for years and I was too overcome ever to read her again.  I could describe to you the smell of Ayemenem in ‘The God of Small Things’, and if they ever made the, thankfully, forbidden film it would be me playing Ammu disappearing. Years between readings, I completely forgot that Eustacia Vye hadn’t made it.  That the Shadwater Weir took her down.  I had her on the boat, brave sailing…
 Yet I had remembered that Sue and Jude parted. I knew that she went back to Mr.Phillotson. I knew that it was tormenting and sad.  But I hadn’t remembered exactly, and how much. Even this time there were no tears.  As we all know, there are many different ways to cry. I could even count the ways…
  I just put it down on my knees, along with the saints and along with God, looked up high, thought of you, and sucked down an awful lot of air…

[1] All quotes are from Thomas Hardy, ‘The Return of the Native’, 1878, ‘Jude the Obscure’, 1896, and ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, 1891.
[2] Colin Dann, ‘The Fox Cub Bold’ 1983
‘The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’ (1990) was written by Jennifer Lynch and the ‘The God of Small Things’ (1997) by Arundhati Roy.

mercredi 24 octobre 2012

Violette du Silence

  There is a prism corner bound, the glint of something diamond inside her head. There is no idea of retention.  Just a loud, brave laugh as the immense confinement of her head comes upon her.  The vague brown room exists somewhere outside, and she slowly breaks up the things in it until they settle back into the same colour as her.  And so her evening begins.  She will stab into it, V-shaped, and make of it her very own kaleidoscope.  But for now she is there in the corner, laughing at the size and shape of her head.

  She didn’t quite know where to put this traverse across town.  She had been there a moment ago.   And now, here.   For remedy the reason.  And the remedy, because she is human.  And so the walk across town for the remedy.  The knock.  The painful initiation.  The drag (of other people) and then the relief.  Violette is soothed. 

 Of course, before she had gone out, she had felt into the gaps in her room.  She had had the familiar feeling that she would find something lovely between the other useless things, but came up only with the recompense of a gentle persuasion that it was all within the reach of the day. 


   “What are you drinking?”
   She looks first at her glass, to remember.  And then up to where the voice came from.  She hadnt seen him before, not even tonight, at the bar.  She realises she must have been staring intently at the table for a long time, or the lines of her knuckles, her eyes only going as far as that.  But she does look up at him because she remembers how to be polite.  Oh, and because her small leather pouch so light, unburdened is flopped over the edge of the peeling veneer table, like a dead bird... She knew it! He is beautiful.  Volcanic eyes giving away his age along with the grey hair that hangs like an adolescents about his face.  It is like this, ever since she started coming to the bars in this fashion. Without pre-thought.  With only the desire for a drink.  She wears a dress, one of the bunch she buys for a pound or two, scouring second-hand rails.  She loves her body, its essentiality - there is nothing left over now that she fuels herself on drink and little presents, alone - and does not hide it in folds or frills.    It is thirsty, she lets it drink.  She walks into bars and knows it was always going to be like this.  She was always going to be like this.
  She waits for a voice.  It is her own.
  “Im perfectly alright on my own.”
  He smiles, “I know.  I can see.” There is a pause. “A drink?”

  She looks at the froth at the bottom of the glass, slipped down the sides, the trail of a drink had.  It is in her belly now, causing this pleasure. She is a part of the world.  There is blood in her.  Blood in the guts of every person in this bar.  The braise of his eye have disappeared. 
 The last drip of froth.  A smile, a scrape.

Out on the streets, she is her father’s daughter.  Under the moon, refracting colours.  Her mother had met him at various twilight gatherings, like that.  But her family had made sure to chase this foreign creature back to his original habitat, and even though they had made of Violette the memory of a colour, a scent, she couldn’t help being what she was.  The name he had given her (so it goes) after a passage in a book he loved.   He had taken to the road years before his daughter was born so she couldn’t really set about finding him.  But she knew his family had a business that stayed put somewhere in a city hidden in the Massif Central.  A shop, a city, and tilting rope ladder streets.  A city of cobbles afloat on the sea of surrounding mountains.  That is how she imagines it.  And the business: a Quincaillerie.  She had thrilled at the name.  The word.     Quincaillerie, the word had jingled and the hardware shop came crisply to her, like the bell ringing on an opening door.  She often went adventuring along the corridors, into the adjacent rooms, tip-toeing under the stock.  So highly, tightly packed; correct and attainable with the aid of lovely old wooden ladders.  She became familiar with the Quincaillerie and at a certain age took to wearing bolts threaded onto utility string about her neck, rubber tap washers circling her fingers.  She became her own jingle jangle Quincaillerie at the sweet age of sixteen, seventeen; so that people may come to her, open the door, and be glad to find what they needed right there before them.  She would be of service to mundane wishes.

  “Fancy a drink?”
  He is young this time, unkempt, wonderfully not at ease.
  She is herself perfectly and they know what that is.  At least, they are learning.
  “Red wine, please.”  (Secretly, inside: shimmering, red.)
 Time to move on, to redden the lips.  She is without cash.  There is blood in her guts.  She must quicken the tempo if she is to reach her haven tonight.
   He gathers their drinks from the bar, and they sit and talk.  Especially alone.   She loves to give this pleasure; a saintly mirage for the thirsty and crumpled…this time he is armed with a larger glass than the previous...handing out soul saving tools…
  She wonders what he would look like back in her room.  Here, rather pink.  But there, in her dwelling place, beige.  She had nothing in her cupboard, in the shared kitchen. He would go hungry in the morning and she would have to make excuses, her belly rumbling like his after a night of antics.  But she doesn`t, and never has, made love to beige.  She doesn`t take men to her room, however sweet, however pliant they make her.  She thanks them for the wine and cigarettes.  And then goes home to make love to her own wine stung lips.  How they gloat in the mirror!  What jewels in the dark frame of the room. 
 She is glad that no-one is there to see the next game of the night (or by now it is early morning) when she slides into gaps, finds things, when her fingers alight it is a little celebration.  Presents to herself.  And where she gets them from, the day could tell you.  But Violette, she forgets, and fumbles for them at night and is always delighted to find and unwrap.  And now she can finish the night, leave behind all the faces that helped her along its way, and place herself in the corner, the victim of her odd-shaped head and her need for this moment of utter delineation.  The white lines deviate into colour and, in this moment, she does not ask where from or where to.

  Violette never went to the mountains.  Her mother turned her English.  Turned her father into a farce.  Had she slid her hands against him and with her steel eyes stay any thought of his entering?  Did he, then, a full grown man, disappear into the grey, foreign city, without hope or friends?  What did they do to him that he never came back to look for me?   Violette remembers the muffles downstairs, the tap on the door, and then again, low voices, the door.  Unlike her other memories this one did not become honed.  Rather more vivid than all the rest, she let it lead its own life, and the healing was natural.  But it left a scar.  She became quite accustomed to its size and shape (ever so slightly changing as Violette grew and the years laid shadow and light over it).  She never had the notion to step onto a train bound for a country that could have been her home if it weren’t for a man disappearing into the fog, unaccustomed to pulling his collar up around him (the cold, or the memory of lovely fingers that had lost all their love?).  Perhaps on peeling back the landscape, the blood would seep out of her like a full grown woman, and she would have to take count at long last of her wounds.  She chose instead to stay and live with herself, an English Violet, and with a little scar. 
  She is waking up in the corner of the brown room at the top of the stairs. It is still half-light, half-dark dream station outside.  She knows she will probably fall back to sleep.  And the house will be emitting sounds of roused bodies below her when she opens her eyes for the second time.
  In this half-light she lies crooked, and cold.  The skylight is open.  A tiny bird alone in an unkempt nest.  A perfect picture of abandonment.  She should be a lot larger by now, but her rib bones press at her skin and her sweet call for mercy (at least some relief) borders on silent and goes unnoticed.
  She manages to stay awake through the half-light.  She doesn`t usually feel like smoking so early but the first thing she does once on her feet is to head to the right-hand drawer of the chest and fumble for an old packet.   She remembers being given ready rolled ones the whole night through, and after she had left the bar with the pink boy in it, she had bumped into Larry.  He had seen her alright, invited her for a smoke.  She had declined but she is already planning that maybe today she will search him out.
  She finds what she was scrabbling for.  Unsealed, it is old and dry.  Pushing her hand farther back she hopes to come across something more savoury.  What her fingers alight on is a surprise.    She pulls it out of the drawer and barely recognises it.   It had suited her well, she remembers.  Now it is a sorry sight next to how she remembers it crested on her grandfather’s perfectly groomed head.  She had taken it from the house at which she arrived too late.  Everybody else the cousins, the uncle and his wife, and the rest of the strangers in her mother`s family had put their colour coded spots on things earlier the same day.  She arrived just as the last quibbling over things marked with two different coloured spots was dying down.  Stained, as Violette as she ever could be.  The stain she carried from being Violette but not being allowed even that.  She wore all this magnificently as she spilt into the terse house, a dye seeping, mocking the boundaries that form give lie to, she had them pressing up against furniture, doorframes to avoid being tainted.  She performed a rapid flight about the contours, and then embarked with the hat.  Unspotted, she would have liked to think.
  She walks on with the hat tucked neatly in the grip between her torso and her upper arm.  She likes it being there, trapped.  And her, free.  She is going home with the hat he wore, the gentleman whose etiquette demeaned those around him.  Simmering beneath the smiles and the strong handshake, the generous eyes, was something that had nothing to do with gentillesse.  She knows that his booming voice gave credence to her average-sized mothers hands as they slid from the clench of their own fists against the body of someone who was once dear and put a stop to things in Violettes life.


The hat leaves a little tumble of things behind it as it comes out of the drawer into the room.  Violette is beneath the skylight with the hat in her hands.  By the light she sees clearly the water marks on it, handles its sagging deformity with care.  A while back she had left it in a friends car, had left the window open, had let the rain in.  It could no longer retain its original shape. But it is beautiful as it is, as she had made it, soft and ever so slightly stained.  She tucks her fingers in at the curve and pulls down the edges to see if it still remembers.  Do you remember what you used to be?  No, I remember the night of the rain, when it poured down and I sat defenceless and the water came in.  Its true, the shape does not come easily, and it has no intention of staying.  Breathing in the early morning, small city air moistens the taste of the night before in her mouth … And she hasnt a penny! And tonight, the same – the fatigue of starting anew when she had reached pretty much where she wanted to be the night before. And every night the descent.  The climb down to the floor, as it were.  Or else it comes up to meet her.  The drink encourages her to bump into things, make sore her existence, and confirm it. And then her little presents rescue her from the soiling, and take her up and away and the hurting ceases to hurt, the present takes charge and casts its glorious spell and she is free.  Free as a bird, flying away. A bird, staining the sky in its wake.

  She is going to go and see Larry, see what`s about, on this habitual day-after. She has dressed carefully, and has the hat in her hand.  She had touched each and every hanger that held her clothes.  Fondly, slowly, knowing all the stories. She chooses the dress that she bought for one pound from a jumble sale down south with Gwen, where the women of the village all had their stall on the green.  Gwen did the rounds and had two plastic bags full of ill-fitting (it turned out) jumpers, and one battered pair of espadrilles.  Violette had stalked more randomly, following the flutter of some colour she liked, or the emptiness of the stall.  And then she had noticed a pair of steel grey eyes.  A lady with a stall that looked as though it had arrived late, awkwardly perched amongst the others.  She reminded her of someone.  And then her eyes recoiled and soothed themselves on the soft clothes, the old style, that this woman wore.  The lady had started to talk to her, trying to empty her stall.  Shy and bent now over the clothes, Violette punishes herself with a few more minutes contact with this woman who she will never know, who she longs for, whose eyes told the truth without any intention of doing so.
  She picks a bundle of a dress from the table and hands it to the lady.  It is colourful, old-fashioned but feminine.  The exchange takes place, and Violette departs high.
  Every hanger has hanging from it such stories.  Her collection of clothes is not vast, but selected.  And when she tires of a story she gives the thing away. 
    The dress is folding about her.  Too light really for the still day outside but she hopes for a spot of sun to warm her. 


  Its not the first time shes tried it, but she was always sick before.    All the day long she had felt herself wilting.  It had turned out lovely.  The sun showing off, the city imitating it below - the sunglasses, the windows rolled down, the jaunt and benevolence of warm bodies and Violette’s mind encircling an idea with the stuttering black lines of a pattern.
  And after this, after this little present, her plan will seem even more worthy and this time she isnt sick.  Larry watches her as her wings begin to lift, and the choice is evident:  far behind now the nest and the decision to fly away.
  Okay, okay.  She hears someone breathe.  And for this, this freedom she is willing to pay.  But Ive got nothing on me and Im damned if Im going to put on shoes and go out as if I was normal, and not stainedNot Violette.  Not bruised.
  And after this, she is bruised a small mark on her arm, a memory of stinging. And, after it all, she is stained.  It had happened naturally.  He had smiled and helped her out of the one-pound dress.  Had grabbed at her shoeless soles as she lay beneath him and moaned with relief.  And it was tempting for him, her noise, this effort.  He was willing to do this again.  And it was she who smiled, then.  Recuperated the bundle of her frock from the floor, and with it the memory of steel, grey eyes, and left.   Still stinging, still soothed.

And she walks home through the centre where things have begun to close, and night owls are preparing for the feast ahead of them.  Past that and down the hill to where the buzz of the city peters out and the possibilities blanket down. Violette climbs up the stairs to the landing, closes the door steadfastly behind her and then climbs the staircase into her room.  Twelve steps, narrow and steep, leading up to her own mind meanders.   Violette has a penchant for this, for creating and adorning and making shapes to end up with nothing at all.  The corner is calling for her,   Viens là.  HereLà, and the stuttering lines began to take form in Violette’s thoughts.  She will put to use her inheritance of the lost quincaillerie - her ancestors beaming at her from behind the counter, and the legacy of the other unremitting family – an unbending steel that she will wield with care.  And she will become Violette.  Quite silent.  A present all wrapped up.


Il ouvrit la fenêtre, se pencha au-dessus du vide et respire l’odeur du violette du silence…

  Thursday.  In the city centre, albeit one of the quieter streets, people pass by, sporadically.  This is what the girl loves; she cant put her finger on it.  Cant name it, only make shapes from it, and it pleases her, pleases her.  There is a girl, on the curb of a shop that sells nothing now.  She had tried putting shoes on but they just kept having her walk out on job after job.  It was a show of unfaithfulness and the world had let her go.  Some of them pause for thought, but mainly they steer clear of the curb.  Cross-legged, she arranges her things.  Her bag, a book in it.  (She always has it on her, sometimes pretending it really was a present from him).  Right there in plain view.  Nuts and bolts. And her latest find, shapeless from its night with the storm, is pliant in her fingers.  A fold in the curve, the edges lap over.  A hat.  Mainly, an offering.  But an acceptance, too. She sits, her neck bending.  She will more than likely ache at the end of it.  Just like at the end of all the other things she could do.  This is her choice.  And the hat, beside her, is lovely, sagging.  It will perform as best it can, as prettily as it can, just to be full.  To fill up with the only thing now the world can give her.
  She is part of the scene, and cant quite believe it when the first tinkle of coins dropping stabilise her hat, lighten her heart.  She is in heaven, for her courage.  Her hair unkempt, her skin uncared for.  A cheap dress.  Nothing to prove, they offer themselves freely, Violette and her grandfathers once-trim hat.

 Somewhere above the street, in a different town, a different country, a window opens and a man leans out.  Perfectly.  For the story that he loves he makes a story of himself.  A perfect moment after the awkwardness of his rising, so still he had been.  He breathes in the cold silence.  So thick it is, it is as heavy as purple.
 There is no girl present in the street below him.  Very few people passing beneath.  He lives in the centre of the town but on one of the quieter streets.  The first moment when he leans out, when he wishes to remember what is outside his rooms, is always cold for him.  Because there is a space in him that no warmth enters into.  Because his annals are devoid of a girl and her growth.  Because his life lacks a daughter he steeled himself against a long, long time ago. Surrendering his right to give to her, he had kept everything for himself.   Roughly stitched up at the beginning but at least not gaping, and now just the stain of a scar where she had been removed.

 La Fin

(Written after a passage from 'La mort dans l'ame', Jean-Paul Sartre [Gallimard, 1949], p.177)