Paintbrush

Keep breathing, keep my eyes on her unclothed body, and keep the hand moving. No thought. Just breathe her in and stay with the movement. No real concern for what begins to emerge on the paper.

It’s like a swaying back and forth, and a circling. The brush lifts and washes itself in the muddying water, and dips in colours, spontaneous as a hummingbird, then lands again on some unexplored, shimmering skin.

How is it for her? Does she feel the fluttering wings, a downdraught of attention adding to the draughts of this spartan yet sunlit space? There’s a moment when our eyes meet – I’m just breathing, allowing the process, and her almost impassive, holding the pose. And yet, in that moment we could both drop it, I the brush and her the pose, and move together… Her hair on my neck, my hands moving, grasping, snaking down her back, onto her bum…

She can see it in me. Her eyes flicker downwards briefly to my crotch, a spark of knowing. I’m pulsing there.

On the paper, a surprise. So many strokes, and such colours, and yet a dance of breath that’s animated, that captures some of her loveliness and a measure of my lust. It is a work of art, albeit a work in progress.

I breathe again more steadily, deeply.

“Is it enough for today, maybe? I’ll get your gown.”

Sprouting potato

Green-tinged, somewhat shrivelled. Fragile, finger-like, waxy shoots emanating. This spud has spent too long waiting to be boiled, and is making a bid for freedom.

Resurrection.

Mum fishes it out of the fridge and sets it aside for planting. It’s the one that got away.

I dig great ridges of metallic-smelling, crumbly brown earth – pulling out couch grass and bishop-weed, shaking soil off the roots and flinging them in the cracked yellow pail. It’s a big task, and yet I’m happy. Inquisitive neighbours look down from the pavement passing above, and cars snore by. The potatoes are gently laid to rest at 18 inch intervals, and earthed up. No watering – it would simply make them rot.

As weeks pass, dark green leaves peek through, brushing the earth from their faces and smiling at the fickle sun. They stretch themselves higher. And yet, some gardening wisdom – handed down, but poorly understood – says I must once more “earth them up”. I bury them again up to their necks.

Wine glass

Edwardian. Such delicate glass and perfect shape, on a slender stem. Subtle engraved patterns, like translucent petals or leaves. Honesty?

They belonged to Mum’s great-grandfather, and yet we use them daily – what point in having beautiful things if they’re just locked away?

The stem is smooth, and almost too delicate to grip. The glass lip also – will it cut mine? Is it actually sharp? I overcome hesitation, led on by the melon and ginseng exoticness of Aqua Libra. The fizz gathers in a central column up from the bottom of the glass – breath bubbles from some invisible diver.

“Is there another bottle?” asks Mum – still good-naturedly, yet somewhat slurred.

Dad gets up and retrieves it from its warming-place at the back of the hob. Slitting off the maroon foil seal, gripping the brass corkscrew in place while twisting the tap-like handle. No levers to help. The bottle held between thighs, and elbow grease to heave the cork out. No spillage.

More wine, more wine. Discussion turns to argument turns to sourness. The tension builds.

Later, Alice and Mum wash the dishes, swilling the perfect glasses clean with scalding water, and placing them, up-ended, on a tea towel to dry. Ineffective – a steamy mist condenses inside each delicate bowl.

Crash.

The roasting tin slides down from the drying rack, reducing four glasses to crushed shards. A moment’s silent denial, and then both Alice and Mum turn away, in shuddering, silent tears.

Something is broken that can never be mended, and never replaced.

Kestrel

“Look! You can see how it just flickers its wings for a brief moment, and then hovers. It’s a kestrel!”

As the car continues, I twist and crane my neck to keep it in view.

“They’re slightly reddish in colour, though against the light perhaps you can’t see. There it goes!”

Closing its wings, it plummets to the ground. Moments later, it flaps heavily off to a location more distant from the road.

“I think it’s got something! Look how much slower it is now.”

The car rounds the bend, and the kestrel and its prey vanish behind a heather-clad cutting.

Sparrowhawk is something else. Sitting in the living room, face steaming with the healing vapours of thick cocoa, I gaze out at the snow. On the multi-headed bird feeder – more like a tree – they’re busy. Great tits, blue tits, chaffinches. Blackbirds and dunnets on the ground, gathering up the crumbs from under thy table.

Suddenly, a great scatter. They explode in all directions, like a silent, feathery firework.

Bang! Something hits the window glass.

Looking out, I see a pitiful small corpse. A chaffinch, so dusty-grey pink in its fine breast feathers, lies in the snow.

We pull on wellies and go round to the now deserted terrace. Picking up her frail warm form, cradling it in my hands.

“She may be OK still. Bring her inside in the warm.”

Inside, in a shoebox, sentinels warding off the cat, the fragile bird gradually comes round.