Authors: A. L Kennedy
âThe council are turning off the street lights.' He does this occasionally: follows her thinking while it runs inside. âThis winter.'
âReally?' It's generally a thing to love: the way he is mixed in her thinking.
âSaid so in the paper. To save money.'
âCan they do that?'
âApparently.' He lifts her hand, which means he intends to kiss it and â
â does so, as if she were delicate fruit, the touch light as a breath and elongating. âWe needn't go out any more in the nights.' This hot between her knuckles, before he raises up his head and stares. âWe could stop in and have lanterns and a fire.' A blue and inquisitive stare. âDo you think we'd enjoy that?'
âI've never seen you in firelight.' As if she has a list of ways in which she would like to see him: in dappled sunshine, or a CT scan, perhaps in evening dress, or else a movie of the 1930s with a railway platform underneath him and leather luggage and a hat. In school, at his first job, with his first love â so much she has missed.
âWe'll make sure we have a fireplace. Garden and a fireplace. And then we'll get ourselves in firelight.'
âOn a rug.'
âOn a big rug.'
She can't deny this curiosity, this ache to have felt his earliest kiss, his potentially scared or possibly reckless activity when no one had ever been with him, or left him. Imagination is inadequate.
Asking him â
show me your past, let me have it
â could be misunderstood. She doesn't want him to be the man she's seen in photographs: Polaroid Christmases, dated clothes; that isn't who she loves, or who makes her undoubtedly satisfied. At night and on their daytime occasions â celebratory occasions, in his study with the paperwork jolted and spilling occasions â then he is always new, as smooth and new as teenage nonsense and summer running, as the best kinds of games. His pacing has maybe changed from what it was â he rolls up in waves and then back, has pauses â but his truth is only young and in the present tense. It is important that she keeps him absolutely sure of this.
If he doubts, she convinces him. That's how it is and will be.
And each time he's reassured, he draws in slightly closer.
âHow are you surviving?'
âOkay. How about you?'
They are solicitous in balanced but not identical situations. She asks how he is during illnesses, if political news has upset him, if they have quarrelled. He asks after lovemaking, if she's tired, if they have quarrelled. They quarrel mainly at great speed, so they can move on to enquiries and holding and being held and can have nothing wrong any more. They lean on the rise and fall of their ribs when the shouting's done, old trouble in the press of breath. As a rule, they don't like being scared without each other, not even if each other is what scared them.
This morning hasn't been frightening, not quite. They spent it with each other in a lawyer's office, going through unspilled paperwork so that their lives will be coordinated and tidy from hereon in.
She called it
This made matters slightly confusing and so she changed to
and eventually everyone â all three of them â was
Afterwards, business over, he kissed her in the street â a grey building at his back with a grubby doorway, and so she closed her eyes while they hugged and therefore spared herself the ugliness. He kisses very well. On that occasion, he was particularly fine.
Such an uncomfortable day, though. She would prefer if it were done.
But no need for worry.
No sense in making assumptions, or being bleak in advance.
There's no way to be certain of when anybody will leave.
In every doorway, without fail, he tells her.
That's what she wants.
Then at least she'd keep the whole rest of him and miss nothing else.
But he has to be the gentleman, can't help it.
No. After you.
Which wouldn't be right.
But neither is right.
Someone else having their apple trees, lighting unwatched fires.
And she isn't sure she'll manage, not in the end, doesn't see how she could, and she wishes she wasn't carrying this silly paper bag with the fig in it that she won't eat, can't eat. She wants to fold her arms, or put her hands in her pockets, she isn't clear which.
He settles his hand at the small of her back and then lets her swing and face him and see how he is weary and gently and sadly himself. âAre you okay, though? Really?'
She doesn't ever lie to him unless it's for the best.
WHAT HAPPENED WAS
that I got lost.
I swear to God.
I got mixed up and then was lost.
I didn't mean it. I didn't mean anything. I had, in fact, headed out on a jaunt, I might say if asked, so that I could skip meaning completely for a spell. I'd hopped on a plane to Over There, slipped out from the airport and into a brand-new Having A Break kind of city with hope in my heart for sustaining a speed consistently sufficient to outpace myself and every trace of significance.
There's no law against it.
Other than that, I had no intentions, not one in my head. I promise you. Truly.
And then in the hotel later that funny sleep caught me: the twitchy and messy unrest which comes after flight. A wrong sun was behind the curtains and my day had been knocked all westwards and stretched and my skin smelled frightened and of catering in confinement, bad catering, and also carried some harsh/sweet combination of scents that wasn't like me and wasn't something I could like. This despite having taken a bath as soon as I'd got to my room. No one can win with long journeys: in every case, they precipitate bad bodily changes.
That's what I'd say. If asked.
That's what I'm saying.
I'd go on the record should I have to, although I won't. Why would I? To whom would this be of interest?
After the bath and the lying down and the discontent I woke up fifteen hours later raw-eyed. I'd got a headachy thirst as well â drank the whole big bottle of bedside mineral water, which I thought was free, but it turned out not.
What had roused me was the so, so quiet quietness â everywhere the broad silence which is the same in no matter which country and indicates snow. Even before I'd gone and checked the windows and worried I wasn't keeping up my pace, I already knew that, close around the outer walls, normality had been taken and this pale stasis was locked down in its place.
Same every time. One understands the symptoms, causes, and maybe refers internally for a moment to girlhood information about each individual flake being not quite the same as any another and having continually found this a source of disappointment when so many seem entirely the bloody same, just bland clumps and gobbets of cold. Not the miracles promised.
Because, of course, I continue to have an appetite for miracles promised, I stood and watched the whiteness dropping, fine and gentle, and wished them all well: not flakes, more a wavering dust, a disturbance barely visible in the blanked sky. This is the style of fall that doesn't seem it'll be a problem, but it's deceptive. The stuff doesn't stop and tenderly eats up your street, your views, and settles, and being out in it will make you end up cold â cold in the lungs â and still it keeps on and overwhelms and then the fun's gone.
There is usually fun at the start, I think. Snow makes the only wholesale change that human beings choose to tolerate. People embrace it.
We're an odd species, embracing ruined water, a gradually sifting possibility of disappearance. Some of us don't, I realise: those trying for specific ends and getting trapped away from them â making hospital trips, for example, contending with rural environments â residents of places held habitually under various things like winter, the effect of winter.
But city snowfalls conjure up simple delight. Often. More often than in the country. The older woman who comes and stays sometimes in the flat next door to mine, she adores it. Or, more properly, she demonstrates her adoration on behalf of someone else. That would be the best way to put it.
Oooh, la neige. VoilÃ . On peut faire les boules de neige
. One morning she was there on the front path with her bilingual grandkid looking up, or else with her she's-sodding-well-going-to-be-bilingual grandkid looking up â I don't know the woman, only to say
to, and am unsure of her details â the grandkid looking and complete in wonder â beyond the
thing having been established, I can't recall exactly how, she's really a blank â this kid looking â pink outfit, so I presume a granddaughter, the nose visible and eyes, but not much else, which led to guessing â the bundled-cosy granddaughter looking up and widely about herself and breathless with the newly bright air and amazed by the strangeness lying and giving beneath her feet and the wonderful â
attention aux pieds!
â and the wonderful danger there, made fresh and lovely.
It was a great morning. I wouldn't swear to it having touched on fun, but it did feel clean. Or cleaned. Erased. Eradicated. I have an inordinate fondness for blank sheets.
Bright white and unbothered, that's what I like. A crisp domestic glare of cleanliness.
Crave. I feel I can say I crave it.
I crave the potentially fraudulent kiss of fresh hotel sheets along limbs, even though the mattress beneath may be a nightmare of mites and skin cells, sweated into by strangers for several nasty reasons. It's a stupid thing to crave.
But I long for and choose to believe in the sharp linen. I allow it to give me confidence.
So here we have it.
Me standing by a foreign window on a valeted carpet, underfloor heat that's pleasing the bathmat, through in the bathroom where I'd have a shower soon â I had confidence.
Wash me in the water where you washed your dirty daughter and I shall be whiter than the snow.
I had a relative used to sing that.
Granddad. My grandfather sang it.
And, in addition, we have â
Kid standing and about to pitch in for a go at a laundered world. With her relative. Who maybe sings, perhaps French standards, favourites, Belgian show tunes, I couldn't say.
There's a type of confidence in both of them, too. There's noticeable faith.
Sod that, though.
It's all nonsense.
We can forget about the plane and the hotel.
They didn't happen.
Or they did, but they're not relevant where we are.
We could also get rid of the snow.
It has no place in the current narrative.
The winter-sports granny is true, absolutely, and numerous hotels and aeroplanes and weathers have been parts of my life, but they don't belong in the story I'm telling you.
This didn't happen abroad â this thing that happened â this parcel of things that happened â and this also didn't happen on the morning of the grandmother â
Vous parlez Francais? Un peu?
â and the obliterating sky. I shouldn't begin with leaving her behind and a walk to the bus stop beside the park and seeing the narrow balances of bleachwork along tree limbs, frosted trunks, the fountain halted.
There wasn't a fountain.
There never has been.
I don't know why I added it.
I want to describe my genuine circumstances on the occasion in question, but I can't.
I don't remember a bus stop, a bus, a journey of that kind. I usually drive. There would have been parking and, before that, the customary instances of discourtesy, bits of waiting â I'm sure there must have been â only I had no idea they might be of importance and paid them no heed.
But I was neither in an alien country, nor suffering unusual conditions.
That rubbish isn't true.
I did get lost. True.
I was raw-eyed. True.
I had passed a shallow night holding on against a memory of altitude and claustrophobia. Doesn't everyone? True.
I was tired. Contributing factor.
I might have thought briefly about the bread rolls served on aeroplanes and how they're incredibly cold, as if they've been delivered straight from the screaming sub-zero outside. Wherever they've been kept is somewhere unnatural, unbearable.
I might have thought that.
I do wander. In my thinking.
I have the impression that â on the day I might prefer to recall more entirely â I'd loitered in several places once I'd reached the city centre. There was a cafÃ©, a health-food store with bargains offered on useless supplements, as endorsed by celebrity photos, none of which were remotely trustworthy or familiar.
That's probably the case. I can rely on myself about these points.
And then I went into somewhere that sold clothes that I would find despicable and therefore preoccupying as I pottered about, loathing bad seams and poor cuts and weird colours and cheering my mood with how horrible it might be if I were someone else with stridently different tastes, which would make anybody who saw me think I seemed dysfunctional and bizarre.
This was just a way to waste my time, not serious.
I was aware that, if I were someone else, I would have been pleased by the awful clothes and have bought something I'd feel was charming, or else have put it in mind as a possibility for later, a treat, and â either way â I'd have gone home satisfied. I did realise that at the time.
I don't habitually hate or mock strangers and what they might like.
Unless I'm depressed.
Then I do it because it's cheering, but not too much and I get it over quickly.
So the proper preamble to my story is a blur of avoided purchasing and raised spirits.