A huge beast had flung itself against our walls. Words and pictures caught inside us were retrieved to heave up to our conversations. This is how we feel. This is how we understand. The first Saturday was spent in hand-wringing agitation. Our ship was built in days. Rags of plans and lengths of hope were nailed up here and there. Time made a nonsense of the order of the days. The deck rolled and we were nauseous. Becalmed, we waited for change. This was perpetual Sunday morning.
The first long months were mostly hot and still. I left our ship as an explorer, walking the narrow pavements and scraping along the walls of our neighbourhood. The other ships behind closed doors showed evidence of longing. Offers of thanks to essential workers proliferated—brightly painted stones and rainbows bloomed. Soft toy bears leaned against the windows —their owners hoping the bears would comfort the young children taking their daily exercise. Red-faced runners made a hazy threat. Lovers, enchanted by each other, continued to walk hand in hand. They did not change direction. Names were chalked on the pavement and surrounded by lopsided hearts. Friendships were bound by trailing lines. These names wore away—travelling elsewhere on the soles of walkers’ shoes. Pictograms and looping doodles flowed along the brickwork beneath the railway bridge. Posters advertising the circus were torn down. Discarded latex gloves lay like beached jellyfish in gutters and empty car parks. Cow parsley and dandelions grew around street signs, and miniature habitats flourished. Verges were left wild and undisturbed.
Signs and little painted figures at the entrance to our local park told us how to keep our distance. New paths in the grass sliced diagonals and subdivisions of avoidance. Desire lines multiplied. The childrens’ playground was closed and the grass grew taller. Unmown daisies opened in the sun and closed in the shade. We heard the songs the birds were singing.
Uphill to the Copse—a green sleeve of wooded land that opens up between the gardens of the big houses. The snap and rustle in the shadows sounded out how we circled each other. We were wary of each other’s threatening breath. Found: declarations of still-here—buttons and pill packets lying in the ivy; shapes and tracks solidified in the hardened earth (by summer the paths turn dusty); ‘LOV’ painted on a wooden fence. Love had been interrupted and left incomplete. Dens were made with branches and sticks—these communities of spines and ribs fell down, to be re-assembled. The name of a school, a child’s name and the name of their class were written on the trees (the pillars of sanity); more names were carved into bark or scrawled on logs. An arrow, drawn on a park bench, pointed to the summit—this-way-to-the-top-
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