Figure XXI

July 24, 2006

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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.

Figure XVIII

July 19, 2006

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She finds her in the hallway, holding her coat like an unfolded child.

“Anita?” the ampibrach quivering in the air between them, not caught, not taken, “are you going out?”

She stirs, as if noticing Nancy for the first time, “I’m not sure, I don’t know any more.”

Such connections falter for the moment. Either one of them might smile, or simply turn and the day would progress along its intended course, but here the hesitation is what is felt. Their mutual doubt, uncertain but in being so, somehow concrete. It is seen by both of them in this instant. Neither moves, neither speaks and it is as if this shared commotion of unbeing seems to stretch before them with all its lunatic possibilities, out of the hallway, out through the stained glass doorway and into the gunmetal sky beyond.

“I think I’ve felt like that for years.” Nancy says finally, “Undone. Not knowing. Maybe it’s what happens.”

“I got a letter,” says Anita, putting down her coat, “they won’t be exhibiting my paintings.”

No condolence is given, but neither of them seeks it. Theirs is a matter of fact; a statement of the hopelessness of failing.

“So no plans for the day then?” Nancy ventures.

“No. Not today, not tomorrow.”

“Horrible isn’t it?”

“I don’t know why I do it. I don’t even enjoy painting very much.”

“I think too often it’s easiest to stick with what you know.”

“Even if you hate it?”

“Even if you hate it, and it’s horribly impractical, and the thing’s falling down around your ears. Even once the moment has gone, when the purpose of the thing has long since passed and you’re acting out this masque of an existence as if everything were still the same.”

And suddenly she laughs, as if hearing her own voice and the absurdity of what she is saying.

“Sometimes that’s easier?”

“Maybe so. Maybe… or it’s the thought that things might right themselves that keeps you going on. The thought that things might one day all fall back into place and everything be good again.”

“So, no plans.” Anita says.

“No plans.”

Nancy turns and walks back up the hallway to the kitchen. She pushes open the door and enters into the cool, damp greyness beyond. The smell of rain and washing detergent broods about the place. Anita follows.

“But there is one thing I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time.” Nancy says walking over to a plant pot on the window ledge. She removes a squat, dark key and unlocks the back door, “Come on,” she says, “you don’t have any other plans.”

Out, into the undergrowth behind the house. Less a garden, more a battle of branches and dripping thorny shoots. Nancy presses on ahead. Suddenly purposeful, she pushes her way through briars that loom in the sable mass of bushes. Occasionally Anita catches sight of something she recognises, a garden plant grown large and strangely wild, unchecked too long, now rampantly feral and scratching at the sky with twigs. She has no idea where they are headed, or what there could be within this growth that Nancy seems so keen to find, but she follows her, beating down the bracken, beating back the years of this woman’s neglect.

Figure XII

July 5, 2006

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Through the steam that follows breakfast – the dire task of washing up, arranging plates on the drainer to drip alongside the slowing rain on the leaves outside the window – Nancy makes her peace with the world. The house guests have dispersed: Laura and Steve (such a quiet boy) back to their room; Ernest stumbling blind as the worm he represents to the doorstep to wait for his lift to the museum; Rupert to his van, off out into the world of wigs and ladies consumables. The voice of the radio, sombre and slow, filters through the thick, moist air in the kitchen, condenses upon the glass and falls in tiny droplets of sound about Nancy’s head. What would he make of her, standing here, doing this? What would he say if he could see the house in its current state? The back attic ceiling will need looking at after this rain, she tells herself. The French windows onto the terrace will no doubt have leaked again, turning the newspaper she has placed beneath them (to stop them flinging open in the smallest of breezes) to a soft grey mulch of lost events. But has she ever been happier than she is now? A guilty admission to be enjoying life more with these strangers, these fee–paying guests. She dries her hands on the tea towel that hangs above the sink and sets off upstairs to change. There are things to be done, she tells herself, things more important than leaks and damp paper.

Figure IX

July 1, 2006

 

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And there he stands in the doorway, six feet seven inches of grey silicone rubber. Had he known his career might come to this, perhaps he would have done things differently, but right now he just hesitates, trying to locate the position of the breakfast table from inside the suit’s bulbous head. The room is silent. With his limited vision he wonders for a moment if he hasn’t perhaps entered the sitting room by mistake. He cranes his neck backwards in order to see under the creature’s upper lip, and makes out the outline of feet in the shadows beneath the table. He shuffles towards them blindly, feeling for the point when his body will make contact with the back of his chair. Without arms a great many things have become impossible to Ernest this morning. As he reaches the table he feels some unseen figure assisting him, the shuffling of feet, a chair is pulled out for him and he is guided carefully into it, and then and only then does anyone in the room dare to speak:

“Do you want Grapefruit, Ernest?” asks Nancy from beyond the darkness.

“I think I’ll just have tea, but you will need to pass it in to me.”

He listens to the sounds around him shift. Liquid passes from one vessel into another. The dull thud of the pot being returned to the table, the clatter of a spoon, and then through the wide letterbox of the mouth an arm appears holding a cup and saucer. Tentatively, after a few minutes have passed there comes a voice:

“Ernest…?” begins Laura.

“Nematode worm.” he replies, predicting the question.

“Right.”

“Community outreach project. Bringing science alive at the natural history museum, ironically by representing living organisms by artificial rubber characters.”

“I see.”

“I might be wrong,” says Rupert after a pause, “but these worms… I expect they don’t have faces, and hair and the like in the real world.”

 

Figure VIII

June 30, 2006

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Above the coffee cups and crumpets, between the chimes of the half hour, through the hazy scent of flowers cut from the garden; conversation is exchanged. Nancy brings the teapot through from the kitchen. Rupert, the salesman, describes a consignment of ladies wigs that has just arrived at the depot;

“Beautiful styles, they are Nancy, really tip-top–”

And the artist, Anita, awaits the arrival of an envelope of bad news as she has done all the week. It is through these vignettes of life that our story shall be told. Through the snatched glimpses of incident and waiting, through the momentary struggles and unimportant meals of tea and toast; all shall be documented, recorded, reported and sketched.

“And for the first time they’ve produced the Enchantment range in bruised apricot. I’ve always said that the Enchantment was deserving of bruised apricot.”

“Do any women really still wear wigs these days?” asks Laura, one of the students.

“Wigs never go out of fashion.” Rupert replies and is about to enter into his sales patter, ready to dive into the pool of familiar rhythms and rippling cadences, its proud boasts of how another look might be achieved in a matter of minutes, and these wigs are an investment – classic styles that will never look tired… when the attention of the room is taken from him by the sudden appearance of Ernest in the doorway.

Figure VII

June 29, 2006

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Our story begins some time around seven on a wet Thursday morning in June. Rain beats out a steady pulse upon the windowpanes. Tealeaves infuse in the rich darkness of the pot. Nancy lays out breakfast thing in the dining room as she used to for her husband and now does for her guests, who one by one descend the staircase and enter the room.

Figure II

June 23, 2006

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…where your Aunt Nancy lets out rooms…