If your life is shit, it’s your fault. Just like when someone reviews a film, says it was godawful, heaps the blame on the script, the actors, the director. But who was really responsible for its failure?
She looks at her hands in the white glow of the computer screen. She’s had these since she was seventeen. Her heart beats faster. She had them before then too. They held her fathers thumb, whole once, but she cant remember that. They held a pen, held a hand, held a door open. They glided over her own body, they felt for a moistening and warmth amongst thin wispy hair, and she made herself feel something new. That glow kept radiating through her all that evening, sitting in church with her parents, her heart beat faster still, and there was a mist in the air, a brightness. The warbling bass singer went through a carol; io io io io made her smile. His vibrations continued her delight.
She sat in a rainy doorway by an aluminium framed window with her boyfriend. He told of his greatest shame. His biggest regret. Plagiarising a story for a creative writing competition. She couldn’t believe it. That was it? She had seen things, done things, and had things done to her that were much worse. Her hands had scrambled to defend, held a screwed up face against a black background, but… He brought that upon himself. That was stupid self indulgence, wanting to be someone he wasn’t. She wasn’t who she wanted to be, but these things were forced upon her. Her head rested in upturned palms as she waited for the bus, and waited to say goodbye.
She sings looking into the bathroom mirror. Her hands grasp an invisible mic. Never mention mirrors in stories, she had been told. Or was it films. Why not? She was older now, but looked better than she had. There were lines leading to her brown eyes, bracket symbols that encapsulated the words that came from her mouth, and a soft fuzz that held pale light around her cheeks and neck, before relaxing into tawny darkness above and below. The reverberations from the tiled surroundings make her sound amazing! She really should try to sing like this, freely, but in public. When she tries that her larynx must go shy, and retreat into monotones, which never gets a good reaction, so it quietens further.
Age 11, looking across a playground of a school she is visiting. There is a heat haze coming off the baking asphalt. The place looks American somehow, maybe just the clear blue sky of movies. There is a boy standing behind the chainlink fence at the other side of the tennis courts. She smiles at him and imagines her smile rising into the sky, flashing in the sun, a lens flare drifts across her vision, and it descends on him, radiating warmth, brushing his lips gently. He smiled back over, he was far away, but she could tell, because of the glimpse of the darkness as his lips parted and… he walked away, behind the crest of a grassy mound. She went into the cool darkness of the school building, found the toilets by following the signs, and used her hands to think of him.
If I’m 30 now, how much longer do I have left? She had done some things in her life, she was just getting started in fact. These hands had been held aloft at clubs, tracing in multiples in her vision, they had flailed and scratched with nails, been burnt by her first baking and held tightly across her eyes as salty water and mucus was produced to remind her of just how unreachable her first love was. The thought of these hands being held by a child, made by her, was beyond. The thought of them crinkled and thin, yet still nail-varnished, made her look away.
They rode along, her hands and her, dashes of the freezing air occasionally licking at her thin white wrists from underneath the outsize gloves. She tinged the bell and two magpies flew the bushes. The graveyard ended, and empty plots, waiting, glided into view. She shifted up a gear, to make it harder to pedal, but easier to go slow. The tarmac was smooth and dark, the grass lush, verdant. At the turning circle, she stopped, swung her leg over the saddle, caught her skirt a little, the bike crashed down and the wheel kept turning. She looked back at the empty space, beyond it, graves, beyond that, the spindly capillaries of trees, beyond, wires in the sky, and a small black plane buzzing into view. The beating of her heart and the hissing of panicked breaths became shorter, her hands trembled in the gloves, she tore them off and flung them to the bike. Him? Right? Work? My art? Promotion? The house? My brother? Dad? That dinner? Christmas? Enough money? Flat tyre? She could never be sure. She heard this internal chorus vamp up, spiral, lunge into her consciousness, her nose streaming, wiped away by the right.
The image on her retina of black, green, brown and grey became stronger, and flooded out these thoughts. This scene was so simple, she would not forget. The last few nerves shouting negative went quiet as the magpies returned. She got back on the bike, leaving the gloves (she had found them anyway) and cruising through the graveyard, felt as if she would be happy to float away right there and then. Prudence Williams. Xou Xen. Jon O’Duffy. William Dunhill and His wife Margaret. Bertie. Our beloved mother, Anne. As she felt these lives slide by her, her eyes filled with water. Tears? Or the cold wind? She looked away from the lady exiting her car. She could never ever, be quite sure.
She turned right at the end, avoiding being knocked off her bike, thanks to her right hand flinging a signal; her left, thumbing up some thanks. They knew what she needed to do, and showed the world where she was going. If they could be sure, she could be sure too. The pedalling was harder on the way back home, maybe the tyre was a little flat after all. Her phone rang. She stops and leans aside to answer. It was Dad.
“I’m out cycling”
“Oh, is it fixed? I have a puncture kit for you. Maybe I could show you how its done, so you can do it next time. I got it on the market. Its a little tricky, you have to get your thumbs right in under the rubber to get at the inner.”
“Thank you, that would be great! See you next week!”
“Bye – love you”
Her hands gripped the bars tighter.