Friday, 21 October 2011
Sunday, 9 October 2011
Saturday, 8 October 2011
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Thursday, 9 June 2011
Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Vocation - A Trio
I've never been privy to the lazy mornings of the TV generation. Waking up is a quick and painful duty. Cracking the sleep from my joints I stand bruised in front of the mirror, counting my ribs in the half-light. It's 5:30 am and Pilates starts at 6. Jake's still in bed, a shifting mass of duvet resolutely on the left hand side. I can't remember the last time I wanted to reach out and touch him or even to talk to him . Mostly when we're together I just sit and stretch while he sits stoic at his laptop with eyes full of hurt; his frustration at sitting on the wrong side of the literary agent's desk taken out on its keys.
This is our life together; like the north and south hemispheres we coexist, revolving in harmony, but always separate. I bind my toes round with gauze, swaddling blisters and masking the bunions until I'm left with a clean canvas. Today I will create something a miraculous to justify the theatre rental and to prove wrong the ballet teacher, who told me I couldn't do it. I scrape my hair in to submission, driving pins in to the thinning coil of hair and look deep in to my own eyes, willing success to come from 28 years of life experience. Constanze said that dancing is like dreaming with your feet and it's been a long, long nightmare. Grabbing water and a banana I run for the tube.
It is a perfect morning on the Westminster Bridge. Sliding in to a minor cadence, I leave the small group of Nikon wielding tourists waiting for more and lean back against the balustrade. The air is clean and it sings in my lungs and caresses my cheeks. It's that early spring warmth which melts away the winter despondency; warming your chest and crowning green beauty with a rhapsody of blossom, I breathe it all in. The change falling in to my guitar case is superfluous noise as London composes its own never-ending soundtrack of bells and languages, traffic and water. Filled with the hope of the morning, I swing my guitar round and serenade the harassed commuters who are hurrying past with the good in the world, as told by Aerosmith.
'It's amazing , with the blink of an eye you finally see the light
It's amazing, when the moment arrives that you know you'll be alright'
09:06am and I'm still tired. 12 hours sleep, 3 cups of coffee and a 15 minute cycle won't shake the lethargy of a Monday morning. I wonder if perhaps this is what it feels like to be dying; to be slowly melting in to nothingness with no way out and no idea when it will end. Or maybe I'm dead already and passing time in purgatory by filling in God's paperwork, one author rejection at a time.
Dear Mr Patterson,
Further to your phone call, we would be delighted to read a sample of your manuscript with a view to representing your work. Please send an extract of no more than 50 pages, a brief summary and a covering letter to the address provided along with a self-addressed SAE for future correspondence.
What I should really tell them is not to do it. Not to bastardize what is likely a terrible, generic but ultimately beloved manuscript in to 50 pages which will be skimmed by a bored intern, assigned two adjectives and returned to them in a A4 paper coffin whose weight will tell them that it's all over. It takes a certain cool callousness to do this job; the ability to detach human emotions and consequence from the sealing of the envelope, dismissing the tender memoirs of a grandfather as easily as an expose on cheating at the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival.
I don't think I'm cut out for this; this temporary job is taking over my life. My own writing is suffering, buried under the weight of all the rejections as I imagine each one I address landing on my doorstep. Every lunchtime I ignore the invitations to go out and live, curling in my chair and deleting page after page of what I had written the night before. There's always stuff to delete, born out of the ashes of my relationship with Anna, pages of hurt, tawdry in the light of day, cheapened by my lousy prose and clumsy metaphor. It tells the story of a writer who cannot write, but instead destroys the work of others and a dancer who dances around the truth of an injury which will never fully heal. Seeing her each evening, contorting her body in an attempt to regain the technique which age and a drunken motorcyclist have stolen from her breaks my heart, but the words which I find are no longer a language she can understand. The tragedy of our small lives is not lost on me but bows to the greater sadness of the world.
Perhaps it would be better if I went out today.
The lunchtime rush is about to begin and I'm singing Jerome Kern to an audience of confused teenagers. I continue, rising through a semitone and spiralling up through every note of the scale. This is a gift, exposing them to something new which is so old and so perfect in its construction; though it's a gift they refuse. They move off leaving a young couple behind, standing loosely apart as the diminuendo in to the final lines begins and I give them the words of Oscar Hammerstein,
'You are the angel glow that lights a star, the dearest things I know are what you are'
Their hands move unnoticed, bumping together and they look at each other as if they hardly realise what is happening.
' Someday my happy arms will hold you, and someday I’ll know that moment divine,
When all the things you are, are mine.'
As the final chord dies they smile in the sunlight, bound by the song and walk away, each wrapped in the perfection of the other.
Inhale and lengthen my spine. Feel each sinew separate and the muscles knit to control the movement; extend, extend, extend, tipping forwards in to beauty as my leg rises in an arc towards the ceiling. The perfect arabesque. Until I glance at the mirror and see the kink in what is supposed to be a straight line. This is the gift of the accident, a pelvic fracture and a deformed sacrum. My ballet will never be the same again and I've known for a year.
God! What am I doing? Am I really going to sell the apartment just to pay for a third class theatre to put on a show that I can't even perform? This isn't vocational anymore, it's deluded. Deranged. A lie. As I stand upright, the world falls in to focus, the sun is shining and I can hear music on the street. And I'm hungry, starving. I don't even pay for the studio before sprinting down the stairs to rejoin the world.
I sit down on a bench in the Victoria Tower Gardens and watch a pair of kids chasing each other around the Buxton fountain. I've always loved the fountain, especially the story it has to tell of freedom and of family. Today it glows against the sky, all the roof's little tiles wearing the sunlight, sparkling erratically where imperfections in the glaze refract the light. If ever there was a moment to write, this is it.
Ignoring the manuscripts in my bag I open up my Mac. I swear I can almost see the imprints of my fingers on the keys, the whole thing looks battered and tired matching itself perfectly to its owner. It strikes me as a sad comment on us all that you can identify a person more accurately by their appliances than by their hair colour or their clothes. Seems like we all look like our blackberries now instead of our dogs, I'm just a guy in a tired suit with a cardboard coffee cup working through lunch on his laptop .
Now that it's fully booted I hesitate to open the file, not wanting to sully the day with the imperfections of my writing. But I do it, beginning to read; there's no colour here. My work and I sit here, a dark spot on a postcard picture; conspicuous in our lack of vitality, our lack of life. I start to edit. Normally I cut out anything that I would reject in a submitted manuscript, but today I decide to cut out anything which is not real to me. I remove the forced sentences, delete the pretence and the dead hopelessness, the sections where nothing happens to anybody likeable. And I find myself staring at a blank page.
Nothing. Empty nothingness.
At a loss I close the laptop and pull out the scripts. The first, a story of a Polish immigrant whose brother transforms in to a dog, goes straight to the no pile. The next, Life as the Bird Flies, catches my eye as the sun slowly toasts me by the river.
In the mid afternoon lull the bridge is at its quietest. Pigeons search for the smallest scrap and take advantage of the lack of traffic to shake out their feathers in the sun. I strum a few chords with no one to sing to and serenade the day with David Gilmour's melody and the words of the bard,
'Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st.'
Who am I if I am no longer a dancer? Ever since I was a little girl I've pictured myself dancing, alone on a stage framed by a single spotlight. I never imagined how lonely that spotlight could be; all-consuming and cold, holding you apart from not only other dancers but from everyone. Swallowing the last of the hot-dog I bought, I smile at the grease on my hands and marvel at my body's easy acceptance of long-forbidden carbs. On a whim I pull out my mobile, wanting to find Jake and tell him of my realisation, but then pause before pressing the button.
How must it have felt to live with me? After two blissful years of almost sickening happiness he watched me replace him with a guest soloist role at the Royal Ballet. But it was him who sat at my bedside for a month when the motorbike tore my body apart, taking a job he didn't want to pay for private surgery and my recovery. He must hate me. I would hate me.
I've been walking a while so I sit to take stock of where I am. It's the South Bank, quiet on a week day but still dotted with of entertainers and families. I sit on a bench absently running my fingers over the inscription, thinking of Jake and how to prove to him that the girl he fell in love with still exists.
The inscription says
Love sat here every Sunday for 52 years, but will be remembered forever.
Always yours, Jack.'
All the things I ever wanted to write but couldn't find the words to say; words of comfort and hope for Anna, an imagined future for myself, a lovingly crafted spectrum of emotion encompassing the history of human grace, tragedy and remembrance. There is a twinge of sadness as I realise that a long-cherished dream of writing may never be realised, but at the same time I feel a new faith in the ability of humanity to survive and flourish.
I will survive and I will flourish. I yank out my phone and dial the number on the front of the script. I tell the answering voice to send me the rest of the book post-haste and schedule a tentative meeting should the conclusion match the breathtaking opening. My first book, first author and I know I can succeed. I consider running back to the office, to start planning my new life; mentally listing publishers, potential reviewers and readings at Foyle's. But I decide to wait for the rest of the script. Instead I begin to walk along the river bank towards Covent Garden determined to find Anna, and to make her look me in the eye. Tonight is either the end or the beginning for the two of us; I'm scared that it's the end, she's been so far away but I can't live like this anymore.
An hour later and I'm still sitting on the bench, palm resting on Jack's everlasting love letter. I'd never really thought before about how long life was, and how beautiful it could be. A little girl in a pink dress and tiny ballet shoes runs across my consciousness. I try to block out the memories, squeezing my eyes tight shut and to imagine the future instead of the past. The tiny dancer stubbornly trips across the floor, arms raised to her father and it's Jake scooping her up and holding her close, kissing the auburn curls. He crosses the room smiling at someone and I see myself, the dance teacher, healthy and happy, watching my daughter and her father together. I don't want to open my eyes and break the picture but as a pigeon brushes my leg the spell is over. I sit a moment longer with ancient love at my back and a tentative future before me and then start to walk towards Westminster Bridge.
She looks as though she's sleepwalking; tiny steps and a detached expression, ballet shoes dangling from their ribbons in one hand. He's just watching her. I think they know each other, or at least they used to but I can't read his expression. I'm struggling to find the right song to make things right for them. It's melancholic but beautiful, a song of hope and recovery and I can't think of it. I search her face, delicate features picked out in a pale ecru, eyes shadowed and almost violet in the sunshine. Something more or maybe less than human in her manner, she leans on the railings dangling her shoes over the drop and closes her eyes.
I find the song, Sarah McLachlan's Angel, and as I strum out the opening lines I see a tiny smile.
'Spend all your time waiting, for that second chance, for a break that would make it okay There's always a reason, to feel not good enough, and it's hard at the end of the day'
I'm glad that she knows it, and I see him mouthing along eyes fixed on the side of her face, where her beauty is cut by a cheekbone sharpened with hunger. When a passer-by brushes her elbow, my fingers tighten on the frets, as if they could break her. I see him take a step forward too but still he's unsure. The verse's not enough, so I roll in to the chorus, pouring a lifetime of small moments in to the words,
'In the arms of the angels, fly away from here.
From this dark cold hotel room and the endlessness that you fear.'
But it falls short, she won't turn around and he's taken a step back again. Desperate I reach for inspiration and with a rush of breath I leap up on the balustrade. Someone shrieks and she turns around and darts towards me as he does the same. Feigning obliviousness I deliver the last two lines and leave them to end their story.
'You are pulled from the wreckage, of your silent reverie.
You're in the arms of the angels, may you find some comfort here'.
She's a body width away from me and looking at me in a way I barely remember.
'Anna', I reach a few millimetres in to the gap between us and she's in my arms, tiny and broken but all mine again. She doesn't say anything but just breathes in to me, filling my chest with her warmth. She fumbles for my hand, unsure of a welcome and I take it without hesitating.
As we turn to leave I see her pointe shoes are still on the railing. She sees me looking, tugs on my hand and with a smile she says,
'Jake, leave them there'.
Monday, 23 May 2011
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
It was one of those nights where the very air seems thick. An unhealthy orange pall diffused from the streetlamp and settled thickly on the courtyard, reducing the contrast of green varnished doors and white walls to a vague stripe. The light quality is the thing I remember most clearly, its levelling effect broken only by the metal dustbins which stood in the centre of the space. These glowed dully, refracted images carried to my feet by the thin layer of water which always remained, no matter how long the rain stayed away. I hated the courtyard. Spiders lived behind those doors, brushes and mops and spiders. I avoided it when possible.
But today was bin day. I had the bedroom bin, and I was cross. It was cold and damp here and I'd had to put my shoes on, which meant a battle with the laces and with my mother about the laces. The resulting knot was loopy and trailing in the wet, and I knew that I was going to have to touch it when we went back indoors. I was cross. Waiting, barely higher than the bins, absently crushing the red berries of the overhanging yew with my toe, the first thing I heard was the thud.
I spun, fighting a brief but perilous battle for balance with the now undone shoelace, and saw nothing. Nothing? But something had happened, I was sure of it. From her five foot five vantage point, mother was my scout, and following her gaze, I saw it.
Crumpled on the top of a wheelie bin lay an enormous bird. Fallen from the sky, one wing so abstract in its brokenness that a childish instinct to fix had me moving forward, hand outstretched. This was not the birds of my window box, or of my grandparents' orchard, darting for crumbs one moment and the next a 'V' in the sky. This was a museum bird, striped and mottled, cruel eyes, hooked beak, fixed in position and unable to move. It didn't matter how many times my father told me that these were birds who ate other birds, even the babies, I admired these savages, wondered at their way of living, jealous of their wings, and pitying them in their immobility. But those birds were dead. My bird was alive.
Moments from contact, I paused. Perhaps it was my mother's shout, or the bird's eyes. Wide and yellow, they regarded me with no fear, me the giant, great clumsy fingers reaching towards its broken wing. Seconds passed, and it never blinked, just watched defiant, confused, banished from the sky. The chest rose and fell, so quickly, I tried to match its breathing, panting, and failed. My mother took my hand and I flinched, so isolated had I been in my vigil as she pulled me towards the door. But I wouldn't go, what did I care if it was damp and cold, or that my shoe was undone or that I was in pyjamas. I needed to fix my bird. She sighed and called for my father.
A sparrowhawk, he said. My sparrow hawk, mightier than the urban sparrows, hunting them as they scrounge crumbs on the pavement. Lost, he said. Oughtn't to be in the city, or even in the night, they are country birds, day birds, sky birds. Why was my bird here? Why did it fall?
Another move towards the indoors, this time the sparrowhawk came too. Covered in a towel, lifted oh so gently in to a box, in to the light. It looked so small now, edged in pink towelling, trapped by cardboard and walls and a ceiling. I wondered if my bird had ever seen a ceiling, what it must be like to travel upwards, without boundaries, without gravity and stupid short legs which could only jump so high before tumbling down again. Whatever my bird thought, it did not blink, only lay still, chest fluttering, its yellow stare challenging, but cloudier than it had seemed in the darkness.
There was a plate of chicken in the fridge, raw, waiting for dinner time. I had eaten fish fingers already. The chicken was a special meal for my parents, a treat, leaner times called for emptier tables, but my mother took it, and cut it up for my sparrowhawk. I knew then that more was broken than his wing.
Next came one of those silences where even as a child, you know that something is being communicated that you are not supposed to understand. Through the partition wall I could hear my father on the phone, in the dining room, nothing but breathing. I watched the hawk lying still and grave, a strip of meat inches from its beak. Another swayed from my mother's fingers, pink on pink, a metronome as uneven as the bird's breath marking the seconds until something happened. Something must be going to happen. This was our world, our house, where the things my mother and father wanted came to be. My faith in their ability to heal was absolute.
Then suddenly as the bird had fallen, everything started to move. Winter coats and gloves. Car keys. The bird borne to the back seat. Hurried exchanges of foreign sounding words. Toxicity, decline, RSPB, quickly, quickly. We drove outwards, away from the house and from the city, pools of lamplight giving way to the subtler tones of the moon. On the seat next to me lay my sparrowhawk, a shadow in the box with a single shining eye. As we pressed deeper in to the landscape the night grew wilder, calling the hawk home, winds tugging hopefully at the car.
But wilderness was not our destination. The prim Georgian property which awaited us seemed even less suited to the savage we were carrying than our city flat. Striding towards the car, a man who seemed an extension of the house, tall, angular and impressive, this was the bird doctor. Glancing in to the box with a brief noise of concern, he gathered us in to the house before drawing my father and my bird in to a separate room. Minutes passed, me gazing at my shoes, mother picking at her fingernails, both straining against the silence to hear an explanation of the bird's condition which would justify our presence in the home of a stranger at midnight. A lifetime later my father and the bird doctor returned. Words told me to return in the morning, how lucky it was that I had found the bird, that the doctor was the best, but their faces told me that this would not be a happy ending.
Back at home my mother asked if I wanted to sleep in her bed. I told her no, I wanted to be by myself, to think and to dream, but sleep never arrived. Morning broke in a washed out fashion, the sky dowdy and the air wet. Returning to the country we were flanked by other vehicles, by people, it was not the same place I had been before. Arriving at the bird doctor's house we were greeted by a tiny shake of the head. I understood, but pressed forwards anyway, desperate to see for myself. For the first time I saw my sparrowhawk in the light of day. Tawny wings rearranged in a semblance of nature, the chestnut breast fringed with white, it was utterly still. This was a different bird now, a dead bird. I asked if I could bury it, but the doctor said that it wasn't safe, that someone had poisoned my hawk, and that he needed to keep it. It didn't matter. My bird wasn't there anymore.
Gone away. Alone in the box my bird lay dead. Deader than the birds of the museum, the stillness of its chest made my own heart beat harder, willing the hawk's to flutter back in sympathy. I looked at my parents looking at my sparrowhawk, they seemed smaller than they had before, standing with joined hands braced against a lost battle. And then they looked at me, a measuring look which would lead to sugared half-truths that would soften the blow of the new understanding which the night had delivered. In the box the yellow eyes had closed. I closed my eyes and breathed in.
And opened them again. This was not a bird to be pitied. In death, as in life my hawk lay proud and beautiful, resolute in his refusal to regress from hunter to prey. Poisoned or not, here was the end of the food chain. In spite of myself I felt a tear forming and defiant, I crouched down and began to retie my shoe. A crisp knot, loop, tight twist, and pull through. I checked, it was all connected, all entwined. Far from the paisley carpet the wings of my knotted bow stood secure, ready for the journey home. Reaching out one hand, I gently stroked my bird's head, from the beak to the back of the firmly feathered neck. Breathing out, I smiled, turned away and walked onwards.