Driving to my canal walk I see a party of parked cars, a garage sale, holiday board games on my list. A young couple moving to Queensland for work. Spotting a demurely coquettish teapot plus the happenstance of a dollar five-games-in-one box I tell their owners I have done what they are doing, offer encouragement, pay three dollars towards this next phase of their adventure together. In my car the box plans quiet holidays with the teapot.
I head off down the canal path, a usual threshold of feelings of loss, thinking of my own sell-up-and-leave trip north in the published past and beyond, a carpark in the shadow of the cathedral in Strasbourg where, for a pittance, hustlers sold me a vase of carved maidens with a hole in it, now on my busy desk, balm for the impossibility of forever. To head north. To sit at scarred tables, begin again. Teapot, vase, ripples downstream, all gorgeous.
Adventures morphed into dreams, I see a terrier, distant, skittering my way where I sometimes sit, solitary, on a bench watching cyclists, joggers. I expect its owner carrying a leash but I’m alone with what I now see as a rabbit approaching fast, not a terrier, more terror-stricken, like me by the notion of appalling decline.
This happens in seconds before I realise it’s a hare, fugitive over gravel, not on the verge, so I stop before it veers to the softer grass, slows down, adjacent, eyeballing me as though I’m the one lost, endangered, heading in the wrong direction recalling a Cambridgeshire field, wind in my jacket, flints and hares abundant, time’s triumph distant, thinking now of Auden’s years running like rabbits.
Our escape route led to a culvert system between school, railyards, and slouching town. A couple of teachers crossing the football ground separated, circling to trap us smoking in the scrub. Our hideaway resembled a birdwatcher’s blind I saw recently on my long, reflective wetlands walk. We watched their comical efforts at stealth, casually stubbed our ciggies, concealed the tobacco tin in its usual artful place, then descended into the underworld.
Along stormwater drains, cool on a hot day, about five feet in diameter, murky, lit by matches, distant openings, oily water inches deep at their centres, sometimes a bestiary of small drowned creatures, furred and winged, viscera we stepped over, stooped, pants tucked into socks, we waddled, our contagious echoes ringing with bravado, subterranean cartographers, or escaped convicts darkling through catacombs. That reek, squalid confinement, would churn me with claustrophobia now.
Emerging in our bayside terminal town we worked the usual shops; newsagents, or either of two rival stores where nothing cost over a quid, swift without seeming so, school squatting a phone call away, two distracting while another palmed preselected items for resale, marauders buzzing with adrenalin, glorying in peer status.
Heading for sandy tracks threading through tea-tree scrub behind the foreshore, we tried door handles of parked cars without shortening stride, cigarettes, change, disappearing from unlocked gloveboxes. Relying on luck, animal cunning, we lurched, maculate, towards early exits from an education as rank as those culverts into deadbolted work, domestic and other disasters, a gradual thinning of hope, yet I recall those times with an ambiguous wan fondness, this retrospection about squandering risk, the bluster of daring, blood’s weight pumping through untried hearts.
Burgeoning morning on his longed-for summer holiday, that universal hope birdsong beginning, a susurrus of surf, no phone, computer, or babble of messages; tantalising words have whispered since 3 a.m. Revolving a biro, he writes in the third person, his past self someone else, lips moving, crosses out inadequacies, the caravan a cocoon, smell familiar, apt words avoiding capture. Any prompt; reading foxed anthologies, a cello’s sombre notes, reverberations from the vanished back streets of youth, death’s ubiquity, the luminosity of sculptured angels, shreds of understanding, giants, ghosts, that endless depository of remembrance childhood, a quivering wren ventured inside bewildered by books, a dolphin pod sighted from a deserted beach, newspaper spreadeagled on a fence, the remains of lost friendship sifted gazing through glass stained by rain, might trigger a cadence junkie listening to his heart’s murmur, his, a love story, however strange, daydreaming of lyrics, witnessed by smiles pinned to a wall, drawings, reminders of dark menageries of the past, crumpled drafts fallen flowers, blanched, like so many aspirations. A subscriber to artful magazines, he would burn on high beam but no sooner do words draw near the further distant they seem.
© Ian C, Smith