The first words she said were, ‘thank you Mummy’ and she witnessed herself making a melodrama of life as one tear welled and then another against the mantra, punctuated by the beat of a throb or a pulse in her ear as she sat up; the mantra which told her off for being ridiculous. She heard herself chastising her mother for telling her on answering the phone that she wasn’t quite sure if she still had a voice since she hadn’t spoken to anyone since Tuesday, testing her own on the cat. Suffering is wishing things were different. She knew her sadness or regret was manufactured. She had a perfectly lovely life.
She’d been sleeping in the garden shed for what she thought of as about five years now. It was nine. It was nine and a half. She pretended she slept in the house but she’d just invested in a mattress that would probably last till the end of her life while extending it, all at once. This miracle of sleep-technology had arrived, custom sized and vacuum packed that it might fill the cavity of her cabin bed in the shed and yet never be removed. She was committed now she had released the seal and air had filled the vacuum and only now did she risk a glance back in time. She could surely revel in it now, five minutes more. Feel it. The ad hadn’t lied. It was the best bed in the world.
She was there, now, she assumed; the Summer had made her walk the walk and she’d arrived at that point from which one could allow oneself the luxury of living a life that no one would ever understand. That point at which the need to be understood became utterly absurd.
The post-alarm ritual began as she struggled with fears of her mother’s dementia, struggling to remember who wrote what about sans ears and eyes and the like – that one, she fought for it – ‘the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time’ That was it, T.S. Eliot. Four Quartets. But then, we make it up, don’t we. She knew less now than ever. Never mind no one else understanding her life. She’d been led astray by many a theory along the way and what it came down to, what mattered, despite many a grand stand it wasn’t winning the argument since she was fickle, they call it that – she called it open – and listening – and on the verge of changing sides.
The cat tried to engineer a broken hip as she climbed down from her bunk bed; her nose dripped; she filled the kettle, checked emails, sms messages, Facebook, twitter, WhatsApp, texted her chaotic son to alert him to the arrival of yet another bank credit debit card that he wanted her to send through an entirely insecure world-wide postal service to tropical-island-living-hell-without a cash card; she checked Flipboard, BBC One, BBC online, Radio Four, the highlights of Xfactor news and realised she’d filled the bath with cold water. She started again and drank her second cup of tea.
It was hard to imagine what they’d thought they were making a difference to in 1976 when you watched the news.
There was a cake on the kitchen table. A whole cake. She knew that it was not supposed to be cut until her colleagues had seen it but she was very good at creating new narratives for projected events. So she cut herself a huge chunk, regretted not having photographed it first for a major social-media fraudulent cover-up, dripped the delicious icing down the front of her specially ironed cool-tunicky-top and bent to collect a validating harvest of carefully timed arrivals from thoughtful friends and relatives on the doormat.
She pretended to play the game – ‘I wonder who this one’s from’ but consciously and rapidly scanned the handwriting and filed them as she picked them up arranging them in a hierarchy leaving herself the ‘best’ to open last. One threw her completely. It was the last, of course – all stories go like that – she had actually left it on the mat until the end since it had, at first, simply confused her with its mystery. She hadn’t recognised it. It had simply looked ‘different’ and, ironically – unknown. The horror of the thing was that each line of the address had been written by one of her younger selves in the favoured instrument and stylised script of its decade. She sat at the bottom of the stairs, panting, wishing she had never smoked.
She fumbled in her pocket for a discreet makeup bag a younger woman would have shoved the personal into, pulled out the rizzla and the Amber Leaf and rolled a cigarette. She swore at the air telling it off for chastising her. It was her house. She could do what she wanted. No one who says that out loud believes it. She knew that. That’s just the way it was. She lit the cigarette and started flapping – desperately trying to unlock the front door, dropping all the post, shedding cake crumbs and effected her escape from the householder’s disdain. That she was the only householder, resident or responsible/irresponsible adult evaded her. She lived with an orchestra in her head which she struggled to conduct.
Outside. Inside again. Carefully piling the other cards – taking the one from her former selves outside to sit on the porch with her coffee, her cigarette, her self that had decided she need not be understood, she gave herself a moment. Something someone had said on the news. Was it called ‘mindfulness’? She watched her breath. She paused and then she opened the card.
An Athena Print – a slogan told her what the picture said: ‘Life is a Bowl of Cherries’ and within a parable countersigned by her five younger selves.
The seed grew in the valley where hills inspire ascent and peaks invite flight which demands risk. When the winds descend from the hills a whirlwind whips up the dust in the valley and its seeds are caught in the spiral and carried far, far away to find their own harvest elsewhere. WE are your decades and we are your potential – carried within you from the valley to the wider world.
Flowering in soil with different nutrients from those of its indigenous origin a longing arises for all that had once been; seeds find themselves returning again with the birds as they migrate between seasons. WE, your younger selves, grew in ever changing situations. Backwards and forwards from East to West, from commune to marriage; from limbo to the wilderness; through chaos and order, accident and trauma, recovery and return, whatever narrative might be told.
Flowers of every decade have done all they can to survive, prosper and wither to ensure the prosperity of the next, whatever the condition of their seed’s accidental landing may be. Migrating birds, like decades, survive through forgetting: returning, they arrive where they started and know the place for the first time.
Celebrate. Live now. Look forwards.
Love et al from et al.
Hum. She closed the card and rubbed the red glossy cherry rich surface across her face before reversing the card to see if its white side felt cooler. Did colours vibrate and give off heat? She was back in 1976 at the Festival of Mind Body and Spirit with the Kerlain machine that took photos of auras. She stood up and swore at the air again for holding her up. She really had turned into her mother. She thought she’d put that card somewhere special but not let it stop her now. She’d have a think. It was a bit much really after all this time. She should have had that sorted by now. But anyway. She had the timetable for the morning in mind and if she didn’t get through it she would feel all wrong all day. As she turned on the doorstep to go back into the house, cool blue autumn sun shone through the Virginia Creeper, vermillion in its autumn coat, flooding the hall with fire. This year, at last, for once, finally, she loved autumn for autumn’s sake and felt no resentment that Summer had passed. She wrapped the cake, wobbled it into the boot of the mini and drove to work.
She was singing. She was wondering if he might be there today. She wasn’t quite sure if he was around this term.
Huh! 60? What was that supposed to mean?