Sunday, June 1, 2008
in which the fish speaks on another dress and a faraway river.
The sun sliding ever north, I take from behind the bedroom door my beloved charcoal grey coat.
When I slip my hand into the pocket, I find a printed page: the train timetable from Glasgow, downloaded from the internet, and kindly printed out for me. I look at the times, I run my finger down the column, remembering which train I finally took: the earlier one, as it happens. The colour of the numbers, blue and green.
Behind the coat is the English dress. It has hung on the back of my door, along with the coat, like a souvenir. Every so often I peep at it, and think of where and when I wore it: now time has come for me to put it on here, and thus it is like a touchstone from another time. Images and thoughts flood in. The hot few months passed, here I am back for my second dose of autumn in six months: a neat trick, I think.
The weather a glory: clear sunshine in a soft sky, bright enough that you raise your face up without squinting.
I am riding Sophy’s bike, since she is in Florence, and Damien has lent it to me. I am puddling around being an English person, so full of happiness that I am swollen with it. People feel this, and are drawn to it: I am constantly chatting to strangers who tap my arm, or look into my face.
I ride along the banks of the Thames: there are swans, which makes me want to cry just a little, and stately geese for whom I swing off my bike to peer into their black eyes. I park the bike on cobblestones and secure it to a railing, over near the river.
I carry out my small errands for Damien and Sophy, small bits of this and that. Scotland waits in my future, St Petersburg still flickering in my head. I wander along the street, with crowds of people I will never see again, when I reach a corner and look across the road.
There, hanging in the window, is my dress.
I must say here that I don’t buy clothes too often, I hate trying things on, the mirrors terrify me. So when the dress smiles at me I lower my eyes and scurry right past Fenn Wright and Manson. The clothes all seem lovely, but I tell myself, Australian pesetas will buy me little, and there is a hint of antique golden mirror, and swathes of white drapery visible in there from the door. I walk on. I have a sandwich. I talk with the girl in Neal’s Yard and buy something small, just for the blue of the jar.
But I walk back, pretending I haven’t seen a thing. The open doors suck me in.
I slip it over my head: The drapes shield me from the outside world, and the huge gilt mirror on the wall a thing to be avoided. I can’t look for fear of the sight of the hollows under my eyes and the broad expanse of my arse.
I smooth the dress down, it has a sash which I don’t know quite how to tie: the beautiful shop girl comes to look.
I feel like crying.
Such a lovely dress. She reaches around my waist, and takes the sash. She ties a bow on my hip.
I look from beneath my eyelids. I love it. I peep from the corner of my eye: I wish to be the woman in this dress.
I ask them stupidly, does it look alright? do I look stupid? Sometimes I feel that all clothes look awkward on me, I am just not the right shape.
I know they are paid to tell me I look great, but I ask them , seriously, really, how do I look? Just tell me, I say, do I look in any way ridiculous?
Of course, before they have answered, I have deliriously decided I am going to have it anyway, ridiculous or no.
They of course say I look wonderful, but I don’t care whether I do or not. They deftly wrap the dress in tissue and place it in a splendid bag with satin ribbon for handles. The metallic bronze, and the grand writing swing from the handle of Sophy’s bike as I pedal home, the pale chocolate satin of the ribbon against my hand in the breeze. I remember the way, by myself, no directions.
I pedal past lovely houses of red brick. I cycle through a pile of leaves, under a bridge, past a pub. Down all the way along the river. I feel strangely connected with its brown bulk: you have carried me somewhere once, river, I tell it. Once, bits of my being you carried to the sea, but this is a thing I can only feel , and sense, and never know entirely, river. The colour of the Thames, I note, is the same brown as my posh shopping bag, but splashed with pale blue from the sky.
I almost forget to collect Sophy’s parcel, so I swing by and queue up at the post office. I reach the window, and am asked for identification before I can have the parcel, but I have left the ticket at home. But lo and behold, because I am family, my name matches! I am given the parcel, I have the same name, all is well. I am able to complete my chore, because I am one of them. I can complete this task because I am me.
Small things, creating a momentary other life, one in which I feel far too happy: I fit too well. It is as if an empty space exists there, waiting for me to slip into. Small ordinary acts rather than the grandeur of standing in front of Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, the “Hello, again” from the porter at the station, are just as wonderful:
the sound of bicycle tyres as they dip through the puddles, the creak of the gate as I push the bike up to the front door.
I wore that dress numerous times on my journey, and each time was magical. I presented my paper in Glasgow, and didn’t stumble on one word. I had dinner, I walked, I sparkled and sang. I sang on the platform of Birmingham station in it. I walked secret places with wonderful persons in my flowery dress.
That posh bag is in my study now; I look at it and feel a rush of joy, the satin handles hang down off the shelf. I took the dress down yesterday, because the weather is cool enough to wear it, and occasion dictated that I wear such a thing. I needed such a dress to cheer me up: the light is clear, the day is silver blue, but as always, my thoughts are far away.
I had to attend a funeral, so yesterday was a day of strange emotions, the grand shift of time brought into focus, the reminder of years passing at terrifying speed.
Though we go on and leave others behind, they are forever with us. We looked at each others worn faces, and saw the lighted faces of each other’s childhoods. We measured up our own lives against the one laid out in front of us.
One thing I take with me from yesterday, is that one should live each day as if it were your last, and that one should be passionate about things, while one can. Days such as this serve as a marker point, to take stock, to think.
Today, I will invite my girl to spend the afternoon with me, I think. We may stop our bickering and shouting. I will avoid the terse silences that my home contains. A dress is not the answer to life’s ills, but today, I may buy one for my girl anyway.
And my hand, in the pocket of my coat, can feel the folded paper of the Glasgow train timetable: trains come and go in Glasgow, whether I am there to see them or not, silently, so very far away. The brown water of the Thames makes its way to the sea without my gaze upon it, the sun shines on its surface.
I hang my dress behind the door, smooth it straight. Turn off the light, and leave the room.