A dawn dream: I flew. It was more like walking upright, just above the familiar trees at the end of the road. I carried in my arms the half-sculpted block of sustainably sourced teak wood. Even asleep in my nightdress I knew this was a sign of becoming. I can do this, my dreaming self said. I can be someone yet.
That morning I pottered in the garden. That’s what they call it: pottering, as though to make clear the distinction between active and passive pastimes. There is no purpose in pottering, no feminine nurture nor masculine chop. It’s sexless, product-less, apparently dead. Safe, in other words, for people of my generation. I renamed my greenhouse the pottering shed as a private joke and marked the words in my calendar so I would remember them for my granddaughter’s next visit. I like to hear her laugh. Perhaps I will pass my remaining days pottering. Producing – amounting to – exactly nothing. As though that’s how you weigh the value of a life.
Back in the house I collect my coat and a put on my walking boots. Walking is both a way to remember and a way to move on.
When we were younger we would walk out here each weekend, down the lane, past the church – 14th Century, Norman, built on the foundations of an earlier church itself raised on the ruin of the 1st Century temple of Mithras – and out into open countryside. The church has eloquently absorbed these changes, but then it has had time. In comparison a single year has passed for me since I was razed. Michael. He and I would sit here on our walks and look at the church pond. In the summer, we listened to the Moorhens beeping in the reeds or the rousing melodies of the organ music, the codas between passages. In winter we stamped our feet and watched the longest willow fronds frantically stirring the freezing water, forming irregular ice holes through which the grasping mouths of carp groped the air obscenely.
It’s the scope I find troubling. We spent a lifetime together. It felt epic at the time. Now what remains is compressed.
I take a path that I have taken many times before. It doesn’t bore me. I like it. On this path, we once saw a sheep outside of its field, petrified in freedom. As we approached the kissing gate it suddenly bolted, flinging itself bodily at the hedge to escape us, bleating pitifully until it forced its way back into the fold.
‘How stupid,’ I said.
‘It’s frightened,’ said Michael. ‘They’re social animals. Separation is terrifying.’ He looked down at me, ‘you wouldn’t understand.’ I had smiled, proud of my independence.
I let myself through that gate now and cross the field by the well worn path. Then up the hill, though slowly.
A memory: in the first Gulf War Michael came with me to London to protest. We ripped the Socialist Worker logos from our placards like other middle class non-conformists. In the road beneath Westminster Bridge I was stopped by an Arab gentleman in a green jacket.
‘Are you Iraqi, sister?’ he said. I had bristled.
‘What is that to do with anything?’ I said. ‘What if I were? I am human!’ I said it loudly and in English. Michael had pulled me away. I maintained an uneasy silence with him for the rest of the day.
I’ve spent my life outwardly resisting the easy definitions. Always contrary. We are the authors of our own destiny. I drummed it into the children. And yet, I know now that Michael authored me, and I needed him to do it because I was incapable of completing myself. And now without him to oppose I cannot write my next lines nor carve the next feature, I am paralysed, fearful of what I will become, jealous even that he was the one to go first leaving me to navigate this final stage. It’s a special sort of paralysis, more a fear of creating something out of nothing than a fear of creating nothing at all – that is the easy option. But added to this I know that we become in spite of ourselves, whether we are active or passive. It’s an entropic twist in the tale which threatens to redefine all that has come before. How can I not mess things up?
Here at last, the clump of trees at the top where I sit and look out over this ice-scoured landscape. In these months I’ve learned to love the silence up here, to discern its quality. It is textured. Like the sheep and my sculptures this silence oscillates between desires for escape and confinement. At other times it is like an awkward gap in conversation or a breathing hole in the ice, but mostly it is a restful musical interlude, a quiet launch pad pregnant with possibilities.
Everything is in the process of becoming something, pushed along by glacial forces: Michael and me, my half finished work, this view, the sheep. There is no messing things up. Even the silence is naked music.