I am wet, sitting clothed and staring. A silence tuned into waves and sky. The salt holds me still. I am cold, smiling. I have been swimming. November. Scotland, and I have been swimming – point to point – the thought of this makes me wild.
Crushed cardamom and honey: the only way to eat porridge. I toast the seeds counting out five. I like to hold them in my palm when they’re warm. Rub the shells off between thumb and finger. I used to only have time for toast, but now I have time for warm cardamom. And Chopin, I have all the pauses in a day for Chopin. I eat my breakfast on the windowsill wrapped in a towel and blanket. My hair patterns the glass if I pull away, and my toes twitch on the flagstone.
As I lie here, in the bath, I think of you. It’s not because I want to but because the taps remind me. It’s your blue suit I think of and how I’d splashed it that time you tried to talk to me when I was reading. (Each person who comes into your life comes like a tide.) You had been angry about that, hadn’t said anything, but angry non the less. I had been reading Hemmingway and not enjoying it. And then you’d paused in the doorway to look back at me, shaking out you cuffs. I’d watched you half in the mirror. You said you would be back late, told me not to keep dinner, and then – as though asking the time – questioned why we hadn’t had sex for seven months. I thought it an unfair thing to ask as I lay naked in the bath so didn’t answer, but you had already gone – not expecting one. It irritates me that I still think of you. Although it irritates me more that I finished The Old Man and the Sea when I really hadn’t enjoyed a page of it.
I thought it would possibly be a burden: filling days. But days are a lot easier than we think. After the bath I’ll sit by the fire in wool socks. On some days I’ll be quite still, on others I’ll lightly stretch. Tea will always follow, lose leafed and green. No I don’t listen to the radio, nor read newspapers, and I only keep the phone for emergencies. I’ve actually got into the habit of reading poetry, not that I understand much of it. I’m always reminded of the English teacher who had wrists so large her blouses were unstitched at the sleeve. She read Milton in a way I’d imagine whales call to one another. Larkin is currently my favourite.
The carrots I grow are purple – isn’t that exciting? The broad beans have a pink tint and are best eaten in a barley risotto. This is what my father used to make – not that I add the wine. The garden is slightly windswept. One Sunday I built a scarecrow with a warped sieve for a face, but now only its legs remain. I like to think the birds imagine the rest has been eaten and so stay away. Light passes silently when pulling weeds, shifting soil, tending rose stems. When all the seeds are lined up in their bed – not like soldiers but skeletons – I have to cover them quickly. The beetroots were very tasty but have stained my chopping board. I take all the time I need to wash the mud from my hands, scrub under each nail in warm water. The garden catches a grey light, silver in the sun. Once, when an animal buried into my tomatoes I cried the whole day through.
But that wasn’t about the tomatoes, or sadness. Something else all together.
I’m practicing my drawing. Starting simple – flowers in a jug, apples in a bowl. The charcoal smudges nicely and when wet you can drag it across the page. I used to draw a lot. The best I remember was of a dead bird I’d found under the tree house – that was when I was ten. I was very good when I was ten. My mother praised the picture and had framed it, hanging it in our kitchen. My father must have disagreed as it moved to the downstairs loo. I’d planned to let the bird go in the stream after, but Max cooked it over his campfire. I don’t know why he thought he was a Native American trapped in Hampshire. Funny how I’ve forgotten how to draw. Funny that my parents look at my picture each time they drop their trousers. Funny that they most likely think I’m dead.
For supper I am making soup – parsnip. I’ve left them a little too long on the windowsill and they’ve softened in the centre. Usually I would peel them, but not today. Red onion – diced, a clove of garlic – crushed. They blister in the butter, sweat. The stock needs its top skimmed but still smells okay. The chopped parsnips roll over in the bubbles. Lid on.
I’d bought you the blue suit, Ted Baker. You’d like it a lot, but later you resented this. After, when you no longer liked me but liked the suit you were torn between wearing it and it reminding you of me. For this reason I’d always be pleased when you left the house in it. It became stained somewhat, however, after you wore it to the funeral. I don’t know why you did that. But the suit shows how it wasn’t her that pulled us apart – we were already waving from opposite sides. I hated you, a little, on occasion.
When I look out the window I see land and skies. Cliffs in the distance, and when the light lifts, the sea. Back in London it was dogs walking women, vans, school bags, coats, babies, runners, bicycles, children, phones, cars, teenagers, prams, post men, kids, umbrellas, taxis, hats, suitcases, couples. Now all is empty, but for me and some rain. No noise. A space not demanding your attention, kicking and crying like a toddler. This landscape cares for you as it cares for the gulls. From time to time I feel bad for the city shapes I left. For Mo who used to bring me coffee on a Tuesday. For Jenny who’s very kind and wears nude lips. It concerns me too that I would have wasted police time. No doubt you made them tea with sugar in even when they didn’t ask for it. Sitting there describing my shoulder length blond hair, green eyes, hips too large, and seeing me last in purple Nike trainers. Sat picturing my body churn in the Thames. Everyone probably suspects you. I only thought of that up here. The feeling this gave me even sent me into town to check the news. Nothing came up. When I’d been in the café a little girl had come in. She ate carrot cake with her granddad and had her hair in plaits. You were never very good at plating, always leaving too many strands around the ears. Soft brown strands. I am trying to forget.
My parsnips are boiling. Salt, pepper, thyme. Heat off. People pull us, have the potential to drown us. That’s what they meant when they said each person who comes into your life comes like a tide. I hadn’t understood it at the time – thought it a pretentious and odd thing for the grocer to say. But here now, I understand completely.
You have to ask yourself, where did all the blue birds and ten year olds go?
I eat at my kitchen table. This jug of lavender is drying nicely. The soup is a little chunky but I am yet to get a new sieve. Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor plays. My hair is plaited and the evening is flat. The butter is hard to spread across the torn bread. Tomorrow I will walk, leaving early. I will finish my drawing, make a blackberry crumble and attempt Auden. The days are passing quietly, gently.
The swimming is a new thing. I used to be scared of water until I realised others decided your fear. It takes everything your body has to make it point to point. It’s also nice to remember how close living is to dying. It makes the shock of both numbed.
As you float, splayed against the tides, your heart will try to leap back to the shore – hold onto it. For right there, you have what you are – uncompromised – as solitude holds you on its giant palm.