Figure XXI

July 24, 2006


And dappled light and dark with leaves, and momentary glimpses of the sun through cloud, Nancy bends back bracken from the path, folds away the mossy arm of a pear tree hung with grey and swollen fruit. And as if forgotten, there it sits, as if to say “civilisation has crumbled and I am all that’s left” it bows beneath the tangled canopy, humble, rusting. Its windows are blurred with a veil of green. One of its headlamps has fallen through. Bindweed has torn the bumper to the ground to be swallowed up by dank and light-starved weeds.

And is this all there is? Is this all she brought her out to see?

“It was Henry’s father’s,” Nancy says, clearing nettles to reveal the number-plate but finding that the thing had long since fallen off, “he was in the diplomatic service. Do you drive?”

“I don’t think it’s going to go, Nancy.”

“No, but I mean, can you? I thought I’d sell it, but it rather needs bringing out of all this mess.”

Anita stands disheartened. She watches as Nancy clears branches from around the driver’s door, but the door will not open. Is this what little hope was offered? It is as if she cannot see it, cannot see what a mess the car has become in the years since her husband died. She tells Anita what a good car it was, and Anita listens silently to the stories of trips down to Brighton, picnics on the Downs.

In the air there is the sound of scaffolding being erected some streets away, and overhead the rumble of a passing aeroplane, but here in the garden there is only this; the snap and snare of twigs being broken away from a rusty car.

“What are you doing?” Anita finally asks, “Why are you doing this?”

Nancy continues with her weeding, pulling coils of bramble from beneath the car’s mudguard.

“It’s too late,” Anita says, “there’s more plant than car here.”

“People buy cars like this even as wrecks.” She stops, leaning her arm on the bonnet. “It’s all there is left.”

What Nancy means by this, Anita does not comprehend. It is probably money, but if so the sale of this car will not save anything. Though they live in the same house, they know virtually nothing about each other’s lives, but the one thing they do know, the thing that they can see in each other is their suffering. They recognise it in each other’s looks and movements. Anita cannot deny her hope, even if the act seems ridiculous, its basis is that of change; it is rectifying something so small, but it is something. It is a remedy of sorts.

She gets to her knees and begins to prize a root away from the axel. For the moment, she thinks, this is enough.


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