Isn’t a party a splendid thing not only because of the people there but also because of the people who aren’t and who suppose they ought to be?
|Michelle Cardwell - Robin Hood's Bay, 2015|
I think I just fancied the idea of having a secluded place to stand about in now and then, a secret garden if you like. And I should never have said a word about it because as usual the minute I did it all became quite misshapen and not what I had in mind at all, and yet there was something so alien and absurd about how it was all progressing that I couldn’t help but go right along with it.
Where do you live, he said. Over in that house there, I said, and pointed through the window at a house across the road. He didn’t look in the direction of my finger, it was quite sufficient for him that I could stand where I was and at the same time point to my house, and so it was settled.
This is my house—it doesn’t have any curtains and half the time half the door is open, that’s true. The neighbour’s dog comes in, that’s true too, and so do flies and bees, and even birds sometimes—but nobody ought to get the wrong idea—nobody ought to just turn up and stick a nose in! I wonder if it'll become wild or whether people will stay in range of tomorrow and leave all of a sudden around midnight.
[...] she went off to place a cautionary notice next to the pond—which, by the way, has absolutely no depth whatsoever. If it were left up to me I wouldn’t put a sign next to a pond saying pond, either I’d write something else, such as Pig Swill, or I wouldn’t bother at all. I know what the purpose of it is, I know it’s to prevent children from coming upon the pond too quickly and toppling in, but still I don’t quite agree with it. It’s not that I want children to fall into the pond per se, though I can’t really see what harm it would do them; it’s that I can’t help but assess the situation from the child’s perspective. And quite frankly I would be disgusted to the point of taking immediate vengeance if I was brought to a purportedly magical place one afternoon in late September and thereupon belted down to the pond, all by myself most likely, only to discover the word pond scrawled on a poxy piece of damp plywood right there beside it.
English, strictly speaking, is not my first language by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.
Well, for your information, there are always things that must be done—this, for one thing, after the fire has been lit of course. The birds need feeding at least once a day this time of year. And after a while I make the bed. I go up the steps and take a look in the postbox. I like a coffee first thing. Sometimes I have a banana along with it. Sometimes that’s all I need. And the blue bowl gets emptied, or not, into the compost bin. And the enamel bucket taken without fail to the side of the cottage and filled up with coal again and again. And because there is no step everything gets in here so there is never a time when the floor couldn’t do with a good sweep. And of course there is always something to fold.
I was cleaning out the fire grate first thing and as I dropped the pan vertical so that the ashes released into the bucket below I was distracted by an observation that was generally comical yet profoundly concerning: I rarely acquire any enthusiasm for the opposite sex outside of being drunk. It was soon obvious that this particular observation wasn’t simply a fleeting instance of lighthearted self-derogation and as it achieved increasing firmness in my mind I felt incredulous and a bit put out that urgent tidings such as these could have remained distant for so long, since, it seemed to me, the instances upon which they derived foundation were surely not restricted to isolated and uncharacteristic phases, but more or less encompassed the entirety of my romantic career. At the same time I had to concede that up until recent times I’d been more or less drunk a good part of the time. Which meant, first of all, that a revelatory breakthrough such as the one I was presently undergoing had had, hitherto, no opportunity whatsoever to occur, and, secondly, it also implied I had, in all probability, been routinely duped by a compelling but ultimately fallacious string of attractions. So strange and inevitable was this thought that I turned away from it for a while and swept the floor, then, after a while, when I regarded it once more, it seemed to me suddenly flat and perfectly harmless, just like the sort of droll wisecrack one might see across those Technicolor postcards of sassy housewives wearing high-gloss palazzo pants in tropic shades of green. It doesn’t mean anything, I thought, you’re just going about a few tasks, amusing yourself as you go, don’t give it another thought
I just threw my dinner in the bin. I knew as I was making it I was going to do that,
so I put in it all the things I never want to see again.
Places, in other words, right under your nose which are routinely inundated with crumbs and smidgens and remains. And these ill-suited specks and veils and hairpins stay still and conspire in a way that is unpleasant to consider, and so one largely attempts to arrange one’s awareness upon the immediate surfaces always and not let it drop into the ravines of smeared disarray everywhere between things. Where it would immediately alight upon the dreadful contents therein and deliver the entire catalogue to those parts of the imagination that will gladly make a lurid potion from goose fat and unrefined sea salt.
There were grains, of course. Grains and seeds, and a swan in fact. A tiny white swan, with beak and eyes hoisted as if regarding four or five swans walloping through the clouds above. Poor little white swan, so realistic and wistful, I’ll put you back where you were. Which was, I believe, on the corner of the mirror frame. How did you get here little white swan? I turn you about between my thumb and forefinger and cannot remember for the life of me where you came from.
South Africa. South Africa! Can you believe it! It turns out my little stove comes all the way from an incredibly distant continent! I can see chickens with extraordinary manes stalking atop the flaking hob rings, pieces of caramelised corn wedged in the forks of their aristocratic claws. And all these big root vegetables with wrinkles and beards and startling fruits and rice hissing out the sack like rain. Everything red, everything yellow. I know nothing of course; I remember standing chopping vegetables for a salad in a kitchen in south London very many years ago and a man from South Africa stood beside me and showed me how to prepare the cucumber, that’s all.
Then I came across a company in England who supply spares, parts and accessories for all kitchen appliances, including the cooker, dishwasher, extractor hood, fridge and freezer. However, despite an impressively extensive catalogue of replacement cooker knobs my particular model is nowhere to be found in the existing options and elicits zero response when I enter it into the site’s search facility and so the only remaining course of action is to fill out an enquiry form which I do because as far as I can see this is the end of the line and I may as well get to the end of the line and accept my inevitable defeat fully. Sure enough, approximately three hours later I receive an email from the company web support team informing me that unfortunately on this occasion they have been unable to find the item I require. They assure me that even though they haven’t been able to deliver on this occasion they will continue to attempt to source the item—“If successful we will add it to our range and notify you at once”—I don’t expect to ever hear from them again. I always knew, in the heart of my heart, I would not have any success whatsoever with locating replacement control knobs for my obsolete mini-kitchen.
I feel quite at a loss for about ten minutes and it’s a sensation, I realise, that is not entirely dissimilar to indifference. So, naturally, I handle it rather well.
If you are not from a particular place the history of that particular place will dwell inside you differently to how it dwells within those people who are from that particular place. Your connection to certain events that define the history of a particular place is not straightforward because none of your ancestors were in any way involved in or affected by these events. You have no stories to relate and compare, you have no narrative to inherit and run with, and all the names are strange ones that mean nothing to you at all. And it’s as if the history of a particular place knows all about this blankness you contain. Consequently if you are not from a particular place you will always be vulnerable for the reason that it doesn’t matter how many years you have lived there you will never have a side of the story; nothing with which you can hold the full force of the history of a particular place at bay.
I don’t see anything odd or ridiculous about writing in green by the way; but, alas, it is not really something you can go on with once you’ve come across those unkind and boorish remarks and recognised the stigma attached, and then of course one just feels very embarrassed as if caught out and doesn’t do it anymore and sort of pretends they never did. The reason why it’s happening again now, or soon will be, is not because I have recently returned to green ink but because recently a cartridge of green ink was discovered in the bottom of a shopping bag I haven’t used for a very long time. The reason I haven’t used this particular shopping bag for a long time is because it has wheels, and while it was very useful to have a shopping bag with wheels when I lived in the city, it is completely impractical now that I no longer live in the city, and so the last time I used it was when I moved from the city and I filled it up with things from the kitchen cupboards in the house in the city I was moving from, and even then I didn’t put it to its proper use and pull it along on its wheels from the house, a man carried it over his shoulder from the kitchen to a van that was quickly filling up with my stuff from the house I was moving away from in the city. Sure enough the shopping bag with wheels was stuffed with bubble wrap, which I’m sure I will need again one day, but I’m sure I don’t need to hang on to this particular bundle, so I discarded the bubble wrap actually, and then, at the bottom of the bag, well not very much really.
I shall admit that I have always had an innate weakness for shabby clothes and so inured am I by now to holes and so on I have become quite impervious to the offense or alarm or unease or pity such thread-worn garbs might occasionally cause in others. I remember once years ago seeing a French girl in Dublin wearing a light coloured corduroy coat which had large stains down the front of it, on both sides of the zip, and the stains were very dark as if they had come from the pulp of a dark fruit such as a damson or perhaps some elderberries and when I was first introduced to this French girl with the filthy corduroy coat I couldn’t take my eyes off these decadent blossoms of deepest crimson that thrived on both sides of the zip and whenever I met her on subsequent occasions I’d always feel a bit put out and slightly bored if she wasn’t wearing it. I thought those stains were quite exquisite and exciting somehow—as if she were brandishing a glimpse of herself in process; they were so vivid and unashamed
Everyone has seen a sunset—I will not attempt to describe the precise visual delineations of this one. Neither will I set down any of the things that scudded across my mind when the earth’s trajectory became so discernibly and disarmingly attested to. Peculiar things, yet intimately familiar. Impressions of something I have not perhaps experienced directly. Memories I arrived with. Memories that snuck in and tucked up and live on within and throughout me.
I get so violently upset often. But now, look at this, not anymore. This morning everything is fine with me. I even stay after eating some toast, which broke up pretty badly into very unequal pieces when you tried to apply some cold butter to it.
I hated feeling that actually yet it was sort of attenuated by the anticipation I had towards the evening to come and didn’t those two sensations, first loss and high hopes, combine to produce possibly my initial experience of melancholia. And didn’t I immediately discover that melancholia brought something out in me that felt more authentic and effortless than anything I’d previously alchemised.
Claire-Louise Bennett - The Pond (Riverhead Books, 2016)