‘No,’ I say, but when she tells me the news, I realise I had heard; a comment I picked up but didn’t understand. I understand it now.
‘I’m upset,’ she says, and I want to tell her not to be silly. Instead, I feel my eyes well up.
We talk and she hangs up. I realise I’ve burnt the toast.
I see the calm colours of autumn in the jam-jar on the windowsill – cinnamon, sage, red apple - but the sky is overcast and the colours are dull and shadowed. There is no sense of purpose to the day; no list of things to do. Time hangs on a nail behind the kitchen door. I take it down, shrug it across my shoulders and go out.
My walk takes me through the cemetery and I see the damage done by yesterday’s weather. A young couple are tending a grave. I don’t look at the headstone – I know what I might see. I’m reminded that nothing is permanent, even underground, and the peace I expected to find here escapes me. What do we leave behind when we die? A name and a memory... If we’re lucky, a touch on someone’s soul.
I cross the road to the park, narrowly avoiding death by BMW, the female driver of which has mistaken the 30mph road for the autobahn.
A man is putting tables and chairs out in front of the cafe. It’s not open yet, which means the Winter Gardens aren’t open either. Why did I think they would be? I tell myself it doesn’t matter but I’m lying. The Winter Gardens are my thinking place; the place for sitting by the giant thistles and fitting pieces of my life together.
I cut across the grass to avoid the woman who cannot control her dog and continue down to the boating pond to sit on the bench. There’s nobody here except me.
That’s when I feel it - the warmth of the sun on my face. I hadn’t noticed it come out. Across the water, diamonds of reflected sunlight sparkle - so bright they bring tears to my eyes.
“She’s not dead, you know,” a voice beside me says. The woman sharing the park bench in Kensington Palace Gardens has been observing me write on the back of a postcard. Years have passed since that immeasurable worldwide torrent of grief. Even so less than fifteen minutes ago, I’d found myself unable to walk past that famous face on a display of vintage cards at a Bayswater Road stall. “Diana’s not dead.” The woman shifts on her thighs and re-settles herself on the bench, a faint unidentifiable smell exuding from her dirty grey overcoat. Really, I can’t help myself when it comes to Diana. You have had to be around in her time to understand the mesmerising effect she had on people. “Oh?” “She wasn’t in that coffin.” “Oh?’ Despite myself, I am intrigued. The woman eyes me steadily, holding me fast with her gaze. “No. She’s in a mental institution.” The tone is matter of fact. “Under lock and key. They’ve kept it from everyone.” She gives me time to consider this, turning her attention to a m…
The little dog is tethered in the sun. From a distance, she has a rough coat. But when I’m close enough to stroke her, inside the pool of her reflection on the slow-baked sand, she is soft. You tell me not to touch. “Fleas, Simon,” you say. I drag your case up the hill. So many clothes. All from the cheap shop so you can justify their number, their casual disposability. I hoped you would spend all week in your white swimming costume. But you want changes, multiple changes. The room disappoints you. The humming fridge disturbs your sleep. The toilet gasps and gurgles. The ceiling fan struggles to stir air thicker than Brown Windsor soup. “I can’t breathe,” you say. The little dog cries all night. You burn on the beach, so you stay in the room. You smother your skin with cream, but refuse to let me baste you. I buy you more lotion—"Too watery, too melon scented"—from the shabby shop. Down the hill, up the hill. You want stifado in a carton. Down to the jaded restaurant, up again. Yo…
The orange fell apart with a single push of the thumb; the segments, juicy and firm, their pungency piercing the air. She let the aroma envelop her in a sweet embrace. Even the cicadas in the long grass were music to her chambered ear. How she had missed them on those cold silent nights when the snow had smothered her world. How she had yearned for the rhythmic clicks that rose to meet the stars with orchestral inclination. It wasn’t her idea, or even her wish. Decisions like that were never made by children. ‘We are no longer a family,’ he’d declared. ‘It is time to go and you are coming with me.’ She opened her mouth to argue but only howls of pain emerged. Of the journey, she remembers only the dark hull on a black sea, waking up to the sound of the ship’s horn echoing against the walls of a foreign harbour. The new home was a place as harsh as the marram was razor sharp, as unforgiving as the barren dunes that were set like concrete in the constant freeze. She always knew she would…