Monday 4 September 2023

You, Precursor

I said that I would buy the flowers myself.

I said this despite finding their names off-puttingly medicinal and reminiscent of foot cream. They rolled up the screen of the nursery catalogue website, with an RHS plant profile opened for each new suggestion: aspidistra, oxalis, acacia, calendula.

The garden was rented, damp, and overshadowed by a neighbour’s horse chestnut. It seemed like a sad thing to invest in. In the pink of the afternoon, it clung to one streak of half-sunlight, a watercolour smudge across the paving stones and the dirt.

As you scrolled, you read phrases to me, as if trying to prove a point: Oxalis corniculata has a creeping disposition and diminutive yellow flowers. In time these give way to upright seed capsules...

I watched your teeth as you read and wondered who wrote these things. I didn’t like their use of adjectives. If I were writing your plant profile, I would invent an inaccessibly long Latin name and describe your growth patterns according to the hours of the day. Favoured aspect: early morning, North, South, East, or West. Exposure: sheltered and well-wrapped, susceptible to frost.

In profile, you are uncannily like a weasel, I thought. Your face was pointed and perfectly-toothed. When you spoke, it sounded like each word was a seed, held between incisors and flicked into the air. There was a fine down of hair all over your face. You were too unselfconscious to pluck beneath your eyebrows. 

My mind was wandering. I thought about us inside the house as if we were two characters in a book, and wondered if you could tell that I wasn’t listening.

I pulled myself off your tightly-made bed and went to the kitchen. I made a cup of tea in the dark. I couldn’t stop thinking about the name of the flower that had just started to turn brown on the trees outside my window. I wondered how it was that flowers could grow on trees and bushes, from seeds and bulbs, with no discrimination.

My stomach was so empty that I started to shake. I ate five biscuits with no breaths in between, but I wasn’t any less hungry afterwards. I turned to the kitchen window and put my hand on the glass, hoping to leave a handprint and wondering how hard I would have to push before it would break.


You told me that the parakeets that had taken over Hyde Park, Richmond, Hampstead, had hunted London bats into extinction. Meanwhile, the shadow of a suspended shirt swayed across the vegetable patch. It swung back and forth on the washing line. I lay supine on a deck chair and let my skin be dappled, longing for freckles but getting the patchwork shadows of leaves and catkins and the corners of bed sheets instead. The blue was hot from inside my sunglasses. We might never see another cloud again, I thought.


I wanted to make a narrative that meant something without autobiography, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I made shapes out of silver eyes and wings and set them loose. A beautiful, strong-winged bird. A girl with metal rings in her eyebrows, arm outstretched, leading me up a set of stairs. A tiny, thin-boned bird with translucent skin, held in place with ink and metal bars. A feathered, soft-winged thing, lifting me into a nest lined with bad timing and impossibility. 

I am

I will

I know 

Maybe I did

Maybe I do

The room had blurred into block colours and silver eyes. I saw a moth on the wrong side of the window. The lamplight-moonlight-headlights-would-be-candlelight flashed over every face and held it there, for a moment, for a lifetime, between each blink. There was never enough time, and too much possibility. The sting of it pushed through my ribs and expanded inside like a bubble.


I am staring down at my lap and in my lap there is a picture of your face. I am staring at a picture of your face and trying to visualise how this picture of your face differs from your actual face. You are far away. This picture was taken from across a field and zoomed in using a long-focus lens. It has spotted the spot on your cheek that you thought would be invisible from all that distance. You are far away. You are not you in this picture anymore. You have grown older. You have wrinkles now - just two, between your eyebrows, but they are there and they were not there on that day in the field when you looked back over your shoulder at the glint of the lens in the sunlight. You looked sad the last time I saw you. In this picture, you are smiling, but I don’t feel as though you are smiling at me. Your eyes don’t meet anything - they are focusing on a glimmer, on a flash, on a reflection of light.

So when I stare at this picture of your face and into the reproduced eyes in the picture of your face which are themselves looking at a something that was so transient that it might as well have been nothing, I can’t see you at all. The harder I look, the more the components of the picture of your face become unfocused, disconnected, unreal. We are both looking at nothing, but our looks don’t intersect. We are both too far away.


Sometimes, though, happiness creeps up on you without any reason or notice.

Tomorrow, I would step off a bus at the stop nearest to home, and it would start to rain. The drops would fall timidly on the pavement, not quite there. I would feel myself flushed with warmth from my toes as they almost touched the drops on the ground, as new drops fell imperceptibly into my hair which smelled of your shampoo. I would walk in the halo of that scent, in the echo of your voice, cross the road without looking and wish that a car would crush me, then, and let me die in complete and unfounded happiness. I would reach the door, put the key in the lock and feel it turn. I would wish that all locks were so easy to unlock and that I could make myself turn, so predictably, so gently, just like that, with so little pressure.

- L


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