Amersham meandering

Walking over pitted concrete, between red brick houses in the bare winter air. Along the trellised walls, winter jasmine in flower. I stumble over a time warp. What was that? Just a scent, or a birdsong sound, or the chill? Remembering – even transported – into some childhood world. It’s like a brief Narnia moment.

These are books, childhood books, aren’t they? I can’t imagine such a uniquely felt world arising from TV or film. It’s a Secret Garden I once inhabited, unlocked through some barely perceived, unpindownable stimulus.

Somehow then the phone in my pocket – looking-glass into globalised culture-on-demand – seems irrelevant, even toxic.

On Amersham main street, I dodge Costa bitterness, heading for Nero smooth. However, I’m intercepted by the locals. Harris+Hoole? Never heard of them. On a hen-speckled brown saucer, I’m served toffee-tinged latte.

Stacking cups clink like cowbells. Blondie sings Heart of Glass. Saucers stack. Handsome English women sit chatting by the window on mini wing chairs with spindly wooden legs. Milk steamer hisses. Businessmen with confident accents exchange technical vows centre-stage. When one leaves, a laptop-wielding blonde emerges from the shadows to take his place. Girlfriend? Next client? Unsure.

“You busy this week, then?” he begins, as she settles into the easy chair opposite. Client, then, I think. Some kind of coffee house micro-dealing.

The initially solitary couple by the window seem to be acquiring more children by the minute.  I guess school’s out, then. As son number one begins to expound on some Important Fact, Dad’s eyes are introvertedly unfocused, and Mum’s the sole audience. Dad engages briefly then begins thumbing his phone, head down-turned. The dog stands bored under the table as Mum pulls out her phone too, bidding the boys farewell and arranging a rendezvous in the park. Thumbs tapping, they half-attentively converse over the empty cups and crumpled napkins. By the till, the barista briefly shoulder-massages his colleague.

At the window, the chatty women stand, tapping a next meet into electronic diaries. Except cable-knit cardigan woman. She seems to have a brain.

Elderflower wine

I’m running, flying, up the back track in the dark after Erica. My head’s spinning like the stars. The trees are just dark giants laughing down on us in our crazy, drunken escapade. I don’t know where we’re heading, or even if we’re together. I know she’s not fleeing from me, but neither is she with me.

The wine wasn’t ready, really. Some house kid stole it from her mum, still in the carboy, and donated it to the dorm full of teens. Among those pert-breasted girls, adolescent hippy dudes and alternative oddities, I too drank my fill. The sediment churned in the glass as I sat on the mattressed floor and made vain efforts to be included.

In the morning, it’s a scene of vomit. Buckets and washing-up bowls and ice cream tubs litter the floor, like boulders in a maze.

June steps into the room, a wry and patient smile of fond tolerance on her lips and in her eyes. “Let’s get this cleaned up,” is all she says. No reproach.

“June… June… I really like you,” is all I can manage. The alcohol still has its hold.

It’s true. Perhaps more than any of my cohort, my peers, I prefer one who’s one of their mothers. Hers would be the arms to hold me.

I’m just a child. This adult striving isn’t yet for my world. Perhaps just a mother to hold me.

Mermaid

A stick scratching in the sand fashions your form – and from Melissa’s mind, you are born.

“We were only trying to drown her.”

Innocence and caprice. Like the sea.

As I watch Enya squeeze into her wetsuit, arm arched and over backwards to feel for the zip’s tail, pulling upwards as it shrink-wraps her lovely form, I’m happy to take my chances.

Body boards and bodies run down to the surf. The waves, high, three or four feet at least, crashing on Tiree’s Atlantic shore. The board jolts upward, like a cork bobbing from forced submersion, shooting to the top as the wave’s force hits. I swim beyond the breakers and wait, scanning the near horizon for the next “big one”.

The salt’s in my hair, my ears, my mouth. My nose. It stings my skin. I’m alive.

Later, as we shiver on the rocks, hypothermia sets in for Melissa – too long in the water in ill-fitting suit. Emergency towels and warming drinks bring her back from the shivering, shuddering brink. So frail, such alertness needed, just to survive each day and the next. So glad as they grow older and take on more of their own survival – yet so happy to remain involved and connected.

We fight great random battles with flopping sword of kelp. The brown fronds slap like flaccid translucent whips, as if some merpeople enact a farcical sadomasochistic rite. Progressively shortening as the duel takes its toll, the stalks diminish to little more than daggers. Close combat ensues.

What more is written, drawn in the sand? What will wash away in tonight’s tide, and what new imagination from passing stranger will illustrate the dawn?

Fever fit

Sleeping fitfully on the youth hostel floor with baby Melissa at my side. She’s burning up – and coughing woefully. Like a pitiful kitten. I rest a paternal hand on her back as Amy and I try nonetheless to get some sleep.

Suddenly, a scream, a jolt. She’s shaking, jerking. I jump up and turn on the light.

“What…?” asks Amy, blurrily.

Melissa’s eyes are rolling back inside her head, and her back arches with involuntary spasms. She’s almost on fire. I grab her from the floor and stumble to the basin in the corner. Splash on water with cupped hand, grasping her writhing form under my other arm.

“That guy’s a doctor! The goose fat guy – the cassoulet guy!” Amy is pulling on her shoes. “I’m going to call 999.” She rushes out.

Where’s the doctor guy? At 3am, anyone’s guess. My only reference point is my mother’s room, so I go, just go. A naked man running down the corridors with a naked, fitting, baby girl.

The youth hostel is pretty much in uproar now – doors banging, the doctor summoned, lights on, on every floor. Amy, having failed with the public phone, is flagging down a lorry in her pyjamas in the snow. The young female warden appears from her room, sees me, and screams.

As doctor friend administers Calpol and confirms cooling with water had been right (although “a bit extreme”) I figure it may be time to go and find some clothes.