And watching these twisted tangerine sunrises means so much more to me when you’re not standing beside me with your arm around my neck telling me how much it means to you to watch the sunrise with me
Thunderstorms again, and with each flash I count the miles between soul and spirit, closing fast, thinking of what if and what to say.
Between you and me, I miss it. How’s that for a start.
A start, but will a last act follow before it’s curtains, you ask? Yes, certainly, without a doubt, though I’m afraid it’ll just be words again.
Words like a bottled message to a someday later me you might someday later one day meet, if we’re lucky, if I ever get on a plane again.
It’s striking, again, and I wait for the rumble after the flash of thought of trying to alter present conceptions of self by internally revising past interactions as though changing my own remembrance translates to changing minds I can’t even know are set and past presents which no longer are, astonished by the supreme lack of profundity in that.
And out goes another batch of words rattling around in another bottle and I imagine the thunderclap is the glass shattering against a wholly different façade, somewhere out there again, out between fact and wish.
It’s a matter of is and isn’t, grays and approximates, selves swathed in raincloaks, shelters sought, the way I speak to you—to anyone—from angles, the same way I cast glances at the anyones on the train, around the city, in the corners and cabinets of my memory and imagination, and always have, there and here, never straight on, active onlooker obscured by obliques with only partial truths to tell and all the rest nestled between the lines, again.
Passion, you may feel it in obvious ways
How he leans in with his enveloping strength
Or, in the thunder of your chest, riding imaginary horses with your best friend
Forgetful of arithmetic and teachers who felt you’d end your days in borstel, because you did like running rings around them, didn’t you?
Regretting those petty rebellions later
Then in the crisp light and imagined stampede
Thrashing to the furthest point in your mind, bathed in fantasy
A place hard to reach, even splayed on cold Mexican tile, pretending your hand was his
Even, swimming underwater, until your lungs burned to surface
It was as if, once you grow up, the way back becomes harder
Like a secret language, only known to children, daunting you with reminder
The tree house of your neighbor, as you take the prescribed walk, your cardiologist insisted upon
The first rain lillies urging through Texan soil against all odds, their impossible fragility, an exquisite reprieve from cracked earth
Have you gone so far child? As to forget the combination?
Here, where verbena and lemon grass, pummel air with magic
Here, where you didn’t need anything, but the cupping of your hands, wonderment running through water, like you were born again and again, empied of harm
Full of the vigor, of not knowing, the beaten path, to adulthood
I’m on the Northern line reading Angela Carter. This book used to be yours; I remember the strange cover. You lent me this book years ago in exchange for my copy of The Bloody Chamber. Now I have all of your books. They live alongside mine in shaky stacks, perilously piled around my flat, propping doors open and lining windowsills.
I am so impressed by Carter’s writing, as I always am, that I stop reading and take my phone out of my handbag to send you a particular sentence of hers that I know you would love and to express how gutted I am that she’d died when she still had so many words left in her. Then I remember that you’re dead too and put my phone away.
I am trying not to make a habit of crying on public transport so I turn the page over to the next story and find a flattened Rizla packet wedged into the spine. On the packet, in your handwriting, is a note reminding you to remind me about an upcoming reading of Joyce’s Ulysses on BBC Radio 4. The title of the story where I find this note is ‘The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter.’ I wonder if this is coincidental and I miss you more than ever.
I always feel especially close to you when I’m reading your books. I like the fidelity of my thumb pausing in the same spot where your thumb once rested while you absorbed the page, how your thumbprints on the cover or bottom right corner are slowly being replaced by mine, smaller but nonetheless comfortable.
I remember exactly how you’d read, how you turned the pages, how you used your finger to guide you down the lines, how you would straighten the book out on the table when you stopped to roll a cigarette, putting it perfectly in its place until the next devouring.
I like the idea of my brain ingesting these words in the same order that you did, of my heart processing all of the unwritten words and underlying slivers of brilliance that exist between the lines just like yours did. I cannot live the stories of your life just as you could not live mine, but we could live the tales told by master storytellers together.
I also like the things that I find inside your books, and I’ve found allsorts. Some of your books were gifted to you by girlfriends past, and sometimes they had written an adoring note to you inside the front cover. (We personally believe writing in books to be a sin but I suppose these decades-old sentiments have survived longer than you have).
I’ve found plenty of bookmarks: a beer mat lodged at page 341 of The Glass Bead Game, a shopping list hiding in between pages 226 and 227 of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, an appointment card to see your vascular consultant lurking towards the end of The Master and Margarita. Scraps of newspaper, napkins and cigarette papers hibernating in many more.
We don’t believe in dog-earing books and you would scold others when they borrowed a book from you and returned it with folded corners. I found a couple of “real” bookmarks, one made of leather with your initials on it and a metal one in a Celtic cross design. I like the beer mats more.
You’ve given me tens of thousands of pages, all smoke-stained to a degree. In fact, I can work out when you first procured a book based on the level of smoke-staining. Your books from the 60s and 70s are tar brown and smell like stale incense and damp fireplaces. Your books from the 80s and 90s are entirely yellowed, the edges of the pages are darker than mustard. Your books from this century are less ‘smoked’ but all smell like Golden Virginia tobacco, a smell that will always remind me of you for as long or short as I live.
I also like looking at the prices of books and how they’ve increased over the decades. Some of your books are priced as costing a florin (two-bob), four and thruppence, and 4/6, all shillings and half-crowns and other ancient values. Then there are the books costing 25p, 40p, 60p, 75p: classic novels that would now cost me around £8 paperback in Waterstones. And the prices go up from there.
Your books present all kinds of other matter, too: cigarette ash, sand, the odd blade of grass, a flattened bug, biscuit crumbs, sticky tea rings on the back cover, strands of your silver hair caught in the spine, a smudge of blood from a paper-cut, train tickets, a pressed flower, general grit from your manual labour days, splashes of paint where you’d been reading on your lunch break, post-it notes, business cards, phone numbers written on the back of receipts, prescriptions, an unwritten postcard from Milan, a cartoon strip cut out of a newspaper, a £50 note… last week when I opened up The Rebel I found a couple of tiny rocks of hash stuck in the valley between pages 14 and 15.
It was decided about 15 years ago, when you first faced death, that I would get all of your books and my brother would get all of your music. I am lucky and grateful to have all of your books. You didn’t start reading serious literature until your late 20s/early 30s, and I am so glad you instilled a love of literature in me from day one.
And I am really enjoying making my way through your books, your favourites, page by page, word by word, and finding odd little notes from you. Like in The Snow Goose, you wrote (against your own rules) on the title page, “To my darling girl, A book as precious as you are. Oodles of love, Dad.” You wrote that in 2002. I just found it a few weeks ago.
These books were yours, you held them in your hands, you learnt from them, you formed opinions from them, you had your own ideas from them, these books informed your personality, your thoughts, your attitudes, these books inspired your own writing, your own poetry and art, determined how you treat yourself and all human beings, enabled you to grow and improve and teach others. Now these books are mine, and through these books you are giving me the opportunity to become great, just as you were great.
You are still here with me. You still exist every day: through your words, through my words, and through the words of all of these incredible authors who continue to teach me even though you no longer can.
You were gifted a collection of Emerson essays in 1978 by a girlfriend, we will call her H. I just found this smoke-stained note inside it, handwritten in blue biro, saying, “Don’t think anything of me giving you this book, but DO read it, right? (You know it’s very inexpensive to sit in the garden and quietly read a book– you can even afford an occasional ‘special’ cigarette, for example).” This little note perfectly captures you as a reader, and is how I will always remember you.
[Featured image source here]
Where are you? I don’t know where you are. I wonder what your piece of sky looks like. I am sure that your sky looks different to mine, even though we’re under the same one.
We lost each other, somehow. Perhaps we lost each other deliberately, although I prefer to think of this divide as a tragic accident, our totality sliced in half by the universe and her clumsy but ungovernable path.
We used to share so many things: you know what so I shan’t patronise you by listing them, all those things we shared, all those things we lost. The only things we share now are this sky, and the sun and moon that live in it. And, even then, they are not shared equally or fairly. But at least we can say that we’ve still got something, we will always have something.
You see the sun more often than I do. You adore her, you worship her, you welcome her. You actively seek her out. You chase her. She makes you happy. I loathe her, I hide from her, I dread her arrival. I can’t stand the fact that she is so committed, so steadfast, so predictable, so fucking resolute. I hate that she never stays away for long enough and I hate that she always returns. She bores me. I am bored of the sun.
But we will always have this in common: we are both her dependants, entirely reliant on her for life, even though we never wanted to be. I’m angrier than you are about the fact that we need her. We are her slaves, we exist at her mercy; and this is a situation that we will never have the opportunity to challenge or change, a reality that was forced on us all without warning or argument or even explanation. None of us ever agreed to be solely dependent on a faraway celestial body, and yet here we are, going along with it, accepting that we will die without her but we will also die with her. It reminds me of the fact that no baby ever asked to be born.
We will always share the sun, this sun of ours. And while you worship her, I wish she would hurry up and explode. Then our sky would look the same no matter where we are because I suppose we’d be nowhere, but we’d be nowhere together.
I always believed that wherever we are in the world, however far apart, we would always share the same moon. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that even this is not the case.
I spend so many hours now just watching the sky move on the other side of the glass. All those days where I am too sad to get out of bed, people assume I am reading in bed or writing or painting or watching movies or sleeping but really I just lie there and watch our sky performing its never-ending dance, with its clouds and colours and weather and stars and sounds and speeds and aircraft and fireworks and pollution and promise and a stray green balloon. I spend so much time just watching the sky and wondering what your slice of sky looks like. I hope yours looks happier than mine.
I am infatuated by the moon, arguably obsessed with her. I always feel a strange sense of relief when I see her and I am disappointed when she doesn’t turn up, worried even, as if the sun might have burnt her to death while I was in my windowless bathroom where I couldn’t keep an eye on her. I don’t know what I’d do without the moon: if she died I would miss her just like I miss my father now.
I know that you have always liked the moon too, especially when it’s misty, or on those stoned Sunday nights we shared years ago when we’d look for words on her skin, convinced by the crater edges forming silver tattoos on her blinding, imperfect shell, like when we couldn’t unsee the word ‘SIN’ branded diagonally across her left side. We like the moon. We trust her.
But she shows me a different face to the one that she shows you. We see the same moon from different angles, at different times, in different stages, in different moods, in different countries, in different lives, with different eyes. The moon that I see and the moon that you see are the same, but different.
Like us, I suppose. We’re the same but we are different. The same, but different. Same but different. We are different people now but some things will always stay the same. So as long as there is a sky above us, and a sun and moon within it, I’m yours.
[Featured image source here]
I think that,
from now on,
whenever I get so sad
that you don’t know what to do
with me you should
of the fact
that in my police mugshot
I have bright green hair
and the specific type of smirk
that may only be worn by those
who are entirely fearless.
of the existence of that mugshot:
the hilarity of the image itself,
the absurdity of the surrounding events,
the possibility of seeing it printed in the newspapers
and the memory of a time when I was free
will always cheer me up
(or at least distract me
for a moment
while you hide all the knives
and pour tranqs into my cup).
Silently crying on the morning train she was, all arms and legs and despair half-heaped and sliding like a pile of melting Dalí clocks over the blue vinyl seat-back beside her and I thought she might finally pour off onto the floor in a puddle of person if not for that crooked arm all crooked for cupping her buried face, crooked and hooked and holding her in place, I saw, snagged as if on a broken branch like the one that cut the inside of my thigh when I was seven, it seemed, and I wondered if I should do the thing and go unhook her.
It was just us we two, me and she perched up above on high on inward-facing foldouts on the car’s second level, windows at our backs, the always-empty aluminum luggage rack overhanging the first-level aisle in front like some kind of gang plank running from the front end of the car to the back, complete and perfect strangers separated by unknown degrees and about four empty seats.
I watched her without watching; lingering peripheral scans and a few quick eye darts enough to catch piecemeal sights of her face once it had risen from its hiding hanging place upon hearing the conductor rapping, gently rapping, rapping on the metal bar by her feet with his shiny silver hole-puncher from the floor below, requesting her ticket.
Miss, ticket. Tap tap. Ticket miss. Miss. Ticket please.
She looked at him with liquid eyes from deep underwater and I peered into the pool as best I clandestinely could from my angle and saw hair matted to moist cheeks streaked with eyeliner like two river deltas viewed from airborne heights before she broke the surface and leaned forward to extend a mechanical hand at the end of a mechanical arm to pass the kindly mr. blue-capped conductor fella her paper rectangle ticket just like mine and I thought he should’ve just left her alone this time, should’ve just let her be.
Maybe he thought so too once he saw, because his expression changed slightly just barely for a split of a split second as he reached up to receive the offering. Just for a split, I saw it seemed, before his sedately aloof workdayman-like placidity washed it away and without a word or gesture he resumed his business of minding his own, punching her ticket with three rapid clicks like they were a single motion and handing the maimed marker of mostly guaranteed safe passage back without his eyes landing anywhere near that teary face of hers again, handing it back with the subtle, arm’s length cordiality we learn to show to strangers with the sads, and I wondered where we get it.
She cried quietly, quietly draped, hooked, and sliding, from the moment I noticed her till we got off. Yes, we. Seven stops, and the last the same as mine. Then off the train and half-hurriedly with obstinate resignation into the small crowd of bobbing mannequin heads she went with my eyes a few degrees shy of squarely watching, off into an undulating stream of hair and coats and bags so thick I could hardly tell her from the rest. But I caught glimpses, and down the platform she went till around the back of the train and across the tracks at the crossing and gone and I walked myself along to work like nothing happened but inside my insides were stumbling back and forth between relief and apprehension and I can only imagine what my face said about all that.
It wasn’t the first sighting, or the last, just the end of that one. I’d spot her often, almost every day twice and both ways in quiet reverence for the benefits of solitude, from and to the city, morning out and evening back, as a matter of fact. She wasn’t unpretty, as far as people go, but I don’t remember what she looked like, only how she seemed, and how she seemed was not unpretty if I had to put a silly watcher’s word on.
But details… those are another story, one I’m in no position to tell. I surely couldn’t pick her out of a lineup of tall, skinny, crying girls of indeterminate age with light brown hair and colorless coats and bags, and long, almost cartoonish limbs like she’d been pulled and stretched to fit almost any situation and eyes of some other shade of brown or maybe blue or hazel, the kind of girl with a nose and mouth and ears and all that, a being of unreal, deceptively shifting proportions and implicit indistinction whose movements conveyed a middling grace that suggested she could be some things and not others and I often wondered all the things anyone would, like why does she feel familiar. And she was so something that day that it hurt to look at her, and hurt more to look away.
Then I lost her, and here’s the beginning of the twist. Because one day, not long after that tearful morn when I wanted so badly to go sit beside her and quietly absorb the pain my own often in those days un-dry eyes were already soaking up, kind silent dumb companion of the moment, she wasn’t on the train, not in the morning, not in the evening, not at all, as far as my perception could concede. And I didn’t even notice she was gone till that one day became a bushel or a slew or a jumble or whatever a bunch of days become—the day after and the one after that and after that and that and that and after, absences adding up to an almost perfect almost nonexistence held together in frayed scraps of recollection and splintering cross-sections of feeling and I began to wonder what kind of real she’d been in the first place, if that whole crying melting mechanical arm thing had even happened. Or if I had.
And after a while I even forgot to look for her, the alluring mystery of objectified miseries fading into a distant-seeming moment and that moment into a span and that span into just time, plain old time, sights and senses diminished from the hopeless, ditch-dug perpetuity it seemed to be when I finally climbed up the slippery, muddy banks and out, my coiled insides finally unwound and on to bluer skies and greener stretched out open pastures, gleefully naïve in ceasing to think about how we feel and think and act in cycles.
But I never forgot that day of the tears and quiet agony and matted hair and spiritless reach. In thinking about it now, I wonder how much more beguiling she became when she was suffering and I was looking on like watching my very own self suffering too, that true and honest and irrepressible disclosure of person in the midst of a traincar full of regular empty day-blank faces that so utterly seemed not to see, not even to be. And how much clearer, stronger—how emblematic, say—this little big memory came to be once its object was no longer around in the rough-regular outline flesh to impede my ever so impressionable impressions.
I think about it now, today, on the same train, gliding west, and thought runs like this, speeding, slowing, stopping, opening up: An essence not so much hers as ours, hers and mine, very much mine, it seems, I saw, in fact, I think, now, thinking—a still-life living composition of sadness on the morning train, that’s what she was, unbound by time, disentangled and abstracted from me and my own sad days, for once unhidden and picture-perfectly present, not photographed, though, not captured on film or pixel but painted, painted in the thick, soft-textured strokes of another being, being. Bodily-departed and there, comely, delicate she—per the grandiosest corners of my imagination—sitting just out of reach, crumpled in quiet tears, and doused in the merciful gray light of an immemorially cloudy autumn morning blur diffused through big, green-tinted heavy scratched-plastic train windows. Just sadness, another -ness, shining back at me.
And I think about never forgetting how for a while, looking at her there beyond me as the towns rushed by and the stops came and went, I didn’t feel so misplaced, and I loved my sadness like a woman who couldn’t possibly love me back, vaguely distinct and sort of beautiful—for a moment, that is, one drawn out and elevated to beauty by rumination and incomplete forgetfulness, by misplacement and self deep-diving for a long, slow resurface.
That’s what I think, sitting here without thinking, gazing out the window, detached and present, and as I do so the train stops, pauses, opens, people on, people off, closes, starts again, picks up speed, slows, stops, opens, people off, people on, and I look outside and there she is. There she is, standing on the platform alone, same coat, same bag, far as I know, same hair and limbs and expression, same eyes staring straight ahead, apart, straight through the car. She makes no move to board, just stands, waiting for the next train, maybe just waiting. I don’t wonder, though, I only shift my vision to my own faint reflection in the plastic window, the face I see there encircling the figure on the platform and how fitting, mind says, how fitting, all in my head, passing by.