I woke up today and started thinking about Jane. Little things about her. Things that seem to come back now and again. Just when you think you are starting to forget.
Today I was thinking about how she she read. She would always pause for thought, then go back and re-read whatever passage it was that had held her attention. Savouring it, sometimes whispering the words as though she needed to take them off the page and feel them in her mouth.
The way she loved words. I think this is the thing that put a certain distance between us. Words.
She knew poems by heart and would recite them to me sometimes.
She even had a favourite.
A man finds a pigeon’s skull among some grassland. In the poem he describes the skull.
I told Jane I liked the description, thought it was very vivid, very evocative of the place, the nature etc, and she looked at me, slightly disappointed. Which in turn disappointed me. I thought I’d made a good go of it, explaining what it was I found so good about it.
She’d shrugged. In that way she had.
“Well there is that I suppose. But don’t you like that last line then? The way it sums it all up. The life and death of it all ? She recited it again:
At the back, rising out of the beak,
Were domes like bubbles of thin bone.
Almost transparent, where the brain had been
That fixed the tilt of the wings. *
I just nodded “Yes it’s very beautiful.”
“Yes but what about that word eh? Tilt. The precision of it. He could have used any word. Movement say, but he chose tilt. The way it works so well, the way it says in one tiny word just how complicated that brain had been. So complicated that it could manoeuvre that wing so precisely, that it tilted rather than flapped say or glided. He makes it more minute than that. It’s the sheer smallness of the movement that he describes that’s so fantastic don’t you think? Because with that word the bird comes alive again, just for a split second. The dead skull is also the living bird, don’t you see? And it makes it all less fearsome somehow. The death I mean. He makes it this natural thing. Not something to be feared. The skull lying there in the grass like that, it belongs there, has a natural place there. It fits in perfectly, beautifully. And the skull, that dead thing, it also has life in it. The bird, when it was alive cannot ever be separated from that skull. There’s something eternal about it all now, just with that one word. That tilt.”
That was how she would describe things, get excited about them. That was how she saw things. We were different in that regard.
She picked up on things, like that word and enjoyed it.
Whereas I had never heard it. Wasn’t aware of it until she mentioned it, explained it.
I suppose when you have a passion for something, the way she had it for words. I suppose then you experience things differently. Pick up on things that others fail to notice. Like that word. That tilt.
She would tease me about it and I would half heartedly shrug it off, as though it didn’t matter.
But in truth, there were times when I longed to be as amazed by something so simple.
I lay there and allowed my thoughts to wander.
Then remembered that there were also plenty of things about Jane that annoyed me.
Like the way she never finished her second cup of coffee. She would drink it half down, then leave it. Every day there would be cups of discarded coffee lying around the house. Sometimes they would be lost for weeks and I’d come across them by accident, a furry mould skimming the top that made me curse her under my breath. If you asked her why it was she never finished that second cup, she’d just look at you, perplexed and say “because it always tastes funny.”
“So why start that second cup?” was what I thought but I never said it.
Or bed linen.
We had this ongoing, never resolved debate about bed linen. After a week I would strip it away, wanting rid of the musty smell of a week’s sleep. I liked the crisp, chemical smell of freshly washed sheets, the slight harshness of washed cotton against my skin. Jane would leave the sheets for two, sometimes three weeks. She said the sleepy smell was more homely, more comfortable, that cleanliness had nothing to do with it, sleep had to feel comfortable and safe, not clean. We never did find a way to agree about this.
I woke up this morning and thought about all these things.
Thought about why it was we’d parted.
And I hated it.
“The avocados are hard.”
That was the first thought I had when my head hit the pillow. I could’ve thought of a whole heap of things I suppose, but that was the thought that crept in just before I fell asleep.
I hadn’t bought any apples. If Richard was here that is what he would have asked me. “Did you get any apples?”
That was his trick. He’d keep avocados in a bowl with apples. They soften more quickly that way.
I think it was because of those damn avocados that I married him. He was domestic. More so than me. And it was an appealing trait. Or so I thought.
But last night, when I started to think about him, I was struck by a really weird thought.
I caught myself trying to remember Richard’s face when he was excited about something.
But all I could remember was my mum telling me this story about her favourite word.
She was a really small kid and her uncle – a sailor in the merchant navy- would always return from trips abroad with souvenirs.
He never came home with presents. Always these souvenirs, and my mum was in awe of this exotic sounding magical word.
It hinted at something incredibly precious and special in her imagination. The word itself became China, India, America. Allowed her to conjure up visions of these far flung, mysterious places, with their unfamiliar words and delightful trinkets.
Just the sheer mention of it, even years later, and a glint of joy would flash over her face.
And I loved that. Watching that expression on her face. Because I could see that that was how she must have looked when she was a kid, all wild eyed and excited, standing in front of her uncle and waiting for her souvenir. I caught a glimpse of her as she was before I was even born, and it was beautiful.
So I was remembering this when I suddenly thought, “What about Richard? What did he look like again, when he was excited about something?”
And I lay there and tried to recall his face.
Lay there and tried to think of specific incidents in the hope that that might jog my memory.
Like those avocados.
What did he look like when he told me about the apples and the avocados?
But I couldn’t do it. I just drew a blank.
Which is stupid really, when you think about it, because of course it couldn’t have been like that. Of course there must have been moments when he was excited and happy about something. Full of that childlike glee.
It’s just that I was choosing to forget them. Deciding instead, to be selective in my recollections.
So that there I was, lying there, trying to sleep, trying to recall Richard’s face and failing. Just blocking him out.
And all I could think about was how happy I was not to have to eat all those apples.
* “Perfect” by the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid.