Their paths cross continuously on the trail. They meet in leisure-centre foyers that reek of disinfectant and on factory floors that smell of salty bodies. They collide and speak and pass in airless town hall ante-rooms among trays of untouched dips, in school classrooms where the furniture is miniature, by rostrums in medieval market places and at the side of community- centre stages usually reserved for dramas of a more amateur variety.
Virginia came in, lit a cigarette on the stovetop, and sat next to me to watch the downpour. I loved that she smoked, if only because we could sit like this: me eating, her with a cigarette—“indulging our vices,” she would say.
I am falling deeper, becoming more remote. I sense more haze, more flowers, more bees and then visions of the accident surface. The stench of diesel and red wine penetrates my nostrils. I see broken glass everywhere, and a fractured window open to the sky.
It is so hot in my apartment that I soak my t-shirts in cold water and wear them dripping. I make small puddles on the floor, but everything evaporates quickly. I like it when the dust from the gutters gets ground into my bed sheets at night, and my days seep yellow into the mattress. It is evidence that I am living some kind of life.
They contained us, we, I, in their bellies, blood, and water; constrained us tight as seeds in the cells and in the breath. Before the splitting, the infinite doubling, and now I hold them all, a rabble of ancestors, pressing up from inside against my skin, and too, I contain the next generation, if I wish.
You drive through the clouds to get somewhere. You get out at the side of the road to eat flabby tortillas off a polystyrene tray inside some comedor. Outside, the road disappears into cloud as if into heavy snow. The air is thin and damp, your lungs feel infinite in their greed. All the colours were left behind at a certain altitude and you will go back for them.
The Stoodley Pike monument has stood on the ridge of the Pennines above the Calder Valley towns of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge since 1856, a thick finger of gritstone pushed from the moorland into the wind like a finger dipped into a cooling stream.
I spend my days on the roof of this fort. Looking for you. It’s how I fill time, in a sagging beach chair so low my backside rubs coarse ground. I did think of leaving, in our boat that I would fix. But I can’t ditch these forts – these stilts – that stand proud in the mist. Jagged metal and bird-waste stain. Weird, like a distant planet. Scarred by wear and wave.
As 1951 surrenders to the first breath of 1952, Albert Burton sits hunched at his kitchen table, spelling truths for his wife with a near-invisible hand. How he is able to grip the pen, to touch it to the paper, he does not understand ... Because Albert has been dead for exactly seven days.