Naked Music

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.


29 Responses to “Naked Music”

  • Josie Says:

    When I see writing like this, I’m especially glad that I recovered my appetite for reading. The best stories come from the heart, and this has that quality about it. “Even the silence is naked music.” Simply beautiful.

  • Marisa Birns Says:

    This is just gorgeous!

    “There is no purpose in pottering, no feminine nurture nor masculine chop.” is one of many favorite lines.

    High quality writing; well done, well done.

  • Deanna Schrayer Says:

    As always, your prose is absolutely gorgeous. By the time I got to the end I felt like I’d been to a performance by a symphony orchestra.

  • Tony Noland Says:

    This was beautiful! The aftermath of a loss, so powerfully told. Loved this!

  • Linda Says:

    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…

    So beautiful. This evokes one of my favorite authors, Julia Glass. Read THREE JUNES, you will see.

    Your best, Simon. Then again, I say that every week… Peace, Linda

  • peggy Says:

    I will echo the others. Beautiful.

  • DJ Kirkby Says:

    Each time I read one of your stories I feel as if I am looking through a tunnel into a new part of the world. Awesome writing.

  • Mel Morton Says:

    A beautiful, touching story about love and loss. There is so much that is wonderful in this story.

    Really loved the line, ‘I can do this, my dreaming self said. I can be someone yet.’

    And as already mentioned the thoughts on pottering both reflective and funny.

    A great pleasure to read.

  • CJ Says:

    I don’t think there’s a paragraph in the story that didn’t hold a gem. Your stories are filled with treasures, to be held delicately and admired for the fine filigree you weave around life’s moments. Bravo – again.

  • Carrie Clevenger Says:

    I think everyone nailed it for me. This was a remarkable piece of writing, with purposeful progression, sweet imagery and vivid prose. Excellent-as I’ve come to expect from you.

  • shannon esposito Says:

    “petrified by freedom”, love this phrase with the sheep in the field. Such a great image it creates of such a large, all consuming concept. Yes, having too much possibility, too much freedom, nothing to bounce off of, no one to oppose, no borders to create in…this is terrifying. Being alone, learning to appreciate the silence and space…hard to do. I love this character you’ve created, she’s insightful, smart and strong. And willing to keep living.

  • David Masters Says:

    Beautiful, sharp writing. A scathing critique of those who deride art and creativity as pointless pottering.

  • David G Shrock Says:

    Another touching story. You really shine in this one. Superb writing.

  • Laura Eno Says:

    This is quiet, lyrical. A lifetime shown in a few paragraphs. The uncertainty of what lies ahead, inexorably pushed into the void. You’ve touched so many of my emotions here. So very beautiful.

  • ~Tim Says:

    I especially like, “Walking is both a way to remember and a way to move on.”

    Yup, I’ve done that.

  • GP Ching Says:

    A poignant, introspective journey well delivered. Exceptional.

  • Teresa Says:

    Thankyou for another journey within – everything is physically and emotionally vivid as you read.

  • Eric J. Krause Says:

    Very well written. It’s a powerful tale.

  • Melissa Says:

    Simply beautiful. In every way–from the creation of a character who is creating herself out of nothing with each word narrated, to the linked metaphors, to the carefully-crafted language, to the astute psychological insight. Thank you for this.

  • marc nash Says:

    Gorgeous. Lush textures and yet done with an economy of words. The rhythm of the early paragraphs sweeps one along and the reader is happy to surrender to the motion. So many choice morsels lie within them, I think “as though that’s how you weight the value of a life” was my favourite.

    “petrified in freedom” summed up the tenor of the whole piece wonderfully.

    Surpasses most writing one comes across online by a country mile

  • AJ Campos Says:

    I hope I write this beautifully one day. You get an “A” plus bonus points!

  • Kim Batchelor Says:

    This is a lovely and melancholy piece. The ice scoured landscape, the solitary sheep outside the fence, and the silence as naked music. Very beautiful and moving.

  • Lou Says:

    “It felt epic at the time. Now what remains is compressed.”

    Oh my goodness, yes. Well done.

  • Amy Says:

    A peaceful, thought provoking story. Beautifully told. Enthralling.
    Well done!

  • Deirdre Says:

    I really liked the end of this one.

  • Mark Kerstetter Says:

    A grandmother still becoming, that’s beautiful, as is your writing once again. She’s lucky. It seems like people generally leave their dreams of flying behind with childhood.

    I was thinking about Henry Moore’s Sheep Piece when I read this.

  • Cathy Olliffe Says:

    A friend told me great things about your writing and I see she is right. This story took my breath away.

  • Virginia Moffatt Says:

    This is a beautiful piece. A real sense of loss and someone trying to move on without their life partner…

  • mazzz_in_Leeds Says:

    Beautiful as always. What a wonderful character you paint here. The line about naked music, the one about being petrified… magnificent.

    “Producing – amounting to – exactly nothing. As though that’s how you weigh the value of a life.”
    Loved this too: I’m a big fan of pottering and have been since childhood 🙂

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