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.


Mary said...

I agree that the small exchanges with strangers, a courtesy, a smile across a platform mean just as much as the galleries and churches when you are away.

I agree that each day should be lived to the fullest - even though I may not achieve that.

I hope that you had a lovely day with the fishette.

Ampersand Duck said...

You had to go to a funeral? My, isn't life strange. I hope it was as joyful as the one I went to.

I buy one piece of (usually cheap) jewellery when I travel, which is usually more evocative than an entire collection of photos. I'm sure the dress will be the same.

Jellyhead said...

oh fifi, your writing is as perfect as that dress. I have goosebumps.

A dress is just a dress - except when it symbolises so much more.

I hope your day turned out well :)

jane said...

oh fiona....

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh. You know I have held my tears at bay all weekend and then I flicked to your blog and now - well, now I cannot stop crying.

I needed to cry so that is good.

I have a dress like that - well, it's probably nothing like yours, but I have not worn it for exactly a year - a year tomorrow funnily enough. Well, it doesn't feel very funny actually.

fifi said...

yes, they are important. But what was truly joyful was having people to connect with, and also the reedom of being there.
I was going to mention it at your place, but was feeling strange and ambiguous about the whole event for a million different reasons. An "auntie" also. Sort of nice to be synchronistic. And it was quite joyful. Elvis was there.
Jelly, thank you, you are too kind. I seem to be having a dress thing at the moment. and lots of other "things".
yes. i found it. It fell out when you rang me and was on the balcony. Now its back where it was.
well its monday here for me, so I will think of you.
You probably know more context to the dress story I just realised. Take care.

Suse said...

in which the fish is a poet

weaving whimsy, melancholy and strength all together with her words

Anonymous said...

It's Monday morning here and I have started my week crying. This is a really beautiful piece of writing.

Kirti said...

Obviously one day you will write a book, and that will be the perfect, beautiful beginning....

boynton said...

so beautiful.

Pod said...

i am just back and blurry eyed from richmond too. i found water nymphs near eel pie island. i must show you...perhaps it was you? and you turned to stone when i caught a glimpse of your other watery form?

meggie said...


travistee said...

lovely! so you have terse silences in your house too? hmph!

fifi said...

My apologies to all whom I've made cry...

fancy you spotting me at eel pie island, pod. wonderful. I love that.

Thank you for all these lovely things. These posts just write themselves sometimes.
and I am hoping for a book. It will have pictures.

Red Hen (dette) said...

I hope it has a picture of the dress, I am curious to see it. Mind you I enjoyed the image you created in my head!

alice c said...

I really love this post - you have absolutely captured the beauty of the early morning river. Thank you.

genevieve said...

I love it all, but I think this bit was for 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.'
SAME!! You clever fish, you.

molly said...

Fifi, I love your Ode to a Dress! And I love the way a simple thing like a dress hanging on the back of a door can bring such a cascade of absolute poetry....

Anonymous said...

Whata beautiful post Your words are so... I can not find the word. The pictures are wonderful too. I feel as though I rode along with you.

You are right about the dress. Life is short and sometimes you just have to step out of your comfort zone and just jump in!

fifi said...

Thank you, Sarah.

Some things just have the power to transport us, to other times and places. I am so happy that I had that particular experience. I was so blessed.

RW said...

I come to visit via Alice.
This is a most lovely bit of writing.
I look forward to reading more.

Jackie said...

Alice (Magpie)pointed his out and I have absolutely loved it. I live in the North of England but was once a regular Richmond riverbank walker..I know the feeling,and the dress...I now that feeling too- but I don't think the expanse of your arse, and the 'fear of trying' that it engenders, quite matches mine!