August Moon day 10: dum diddle dee, dum diddle dee

I love the power of music to lift the spirits. I head to the stereo and put on an entire Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Or I would, if the CD player on my stereo still worked. The radio is a crackly mess, and overall the thing is now reduced to a tape player, and I don’t possess any tapes.

But that’s by the by. Gilbert and Sullivan, now. Iolanthe, for preference. The trio in Act II that is all proverbs and little twiddly flourishes, and its reprise in the finale that’s all puns. Even the introduction (dum-diddle-dee, dum-diddle-dee, dum pum pum dum pum pum) makes me smile.

In fact, it tends to be tiny little phrases that get me. That triumphant galumph down the scale in I feel fine (‘she’s tell-ing all the world’), or the sequence of two-steps-forward-one-step-back fourths in O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (‘lift up… thy voice… with strength…’). I will take a whole song to my heart for the sake of a couple of bars. And why not, when they hold such joy within them?

August Moon day 9: rendez-vous

Wednesday lunchtime, and a little group gathered to eat in the canteen. I made my excuses, deliberately vague. Going out. Didn’t say where.

They probably knew, but they didn’t know. I didn’t, not really.

A rendez-vous. Meeting a new lover. Or, if you prefer, a meal with an old friend. Both. Neither. More.

I know a place. Secluded, set apart up a few broad stone steps. The door closed, and noise of the traffic melted away. A siren pierced the quiet, but it didn’t disturb us.

Half an hour, that’s all we had. And then I left. (Leaving, but not parting, not alone, you come with me, you are part of me, I am part of you). The traffic stopped for me. How could it do otherwise? Dashing back across the road, trailing sparks behind me. Sneaking in through the foyer, both relieved and disappointed that the receptionist failed to look up and see my shining face. For in that moment I felt luminous.

August Moon day 7: the city with the green carpet

I pull back the curtain and I see the ruled-out Venetian blind. Blurred white lines. The light gets in, but not much else. A sliver of damp drive, a laurel leaf or two. There’s nothing much to see, really.

Never mind the curtains. What about the blinds? I love being the first one in the office. Last night the sun will have sunk low enough to shine directly into the eyes of my colleagues who linger until six or seven, and they will have shut the blinds.

When I raise the blinds the next morning the light washes in, and I, four floors up, have the trees at my feet. Resilient London planes, stolidly breathing in all the foul fumes of the Euston Road, spread a lush green carpet out before me. A church spire rises from the mass of leaves as if it were a freestanding pyramid.

I look across to the other office blocks (nobody there, yet), down on the roofs of the other buildings. Way down, below the trees, the buses line up in neat queues and swing around the corner each in turn. Buses aren’t just red, seen from up here. I see their white roofs and their fleet numbers writ large across them. Pedestrians swim in and out of the green canopy, some swift and purposeful, some trailing unwieldy suitcases behind them.

I was one of them, only a little while ago. Now I’ve gone inside, and climbed four flights of stairs, and pulled up the blinds, and have found myself in a different city.

August Moon day 6: just a song…

There is something about twilight that makes me feel nostalgic.

Perhaps it’s those old parlour songs. Just a song at twilight/When the lights are low/And the flickering shadows/softly come and go… Perversely, it reminds me of a childhood joke book. What’s a clown’s favourite song? Jester song at twilight… Or In the gloaming, oh, my darling, when the lights are dim and low… We sang that one in my very first church choir, when I was eight or nine, far too young to be singing will you think of me and love me/as you did once long ago? I enjoyed it, all the same. I’ve always liked melodrama, and a comfortable, melancholy nostalgia. There’s no real regret to it; it’s a musical convention that goes along with the apassionata and the con molto sentimento. Loves are always lost, the singer is always mourning the days gone by. Even the Lost Chord flooded the crimson twilight. The Victorians loved the twilight, and I have an unashamed fondness for the Victorians.

Perhaps it’s Anne of Green Gables. Nobody wrote twilight like L. M. Montgomery, and that’s part of my dreamy, romantic adolescence. Perhaps it’s simply that twilight was my own time. School done, supper done, and just enough time before bed to go and hide in the garden and enjoy the cool. Perhaps twilight has been nostalgic ever since God went walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Perhaps twilight has always told us of what we’ve lost, and has always reassured us that we are, none the less, safe without it. Night is falling, but you see the stars, and the lights in the windows?

This is the right time of year to enjoy twilight. It’s still warm enough to sit outside as darkness falls, and darkness falls early enough to want to sit out there in the deepening blue, looking for the first star and the delicate nail-clipping moon. A week from now, my in-laws will be lighting the candles on the balcony and we’ll be sitting out and quietly catching up with the family news – and the news of the town, because they’ve lived in the same place for long enough that my husband will have been at school with the person who was on the tills at Tesco today, who said had we heard that…? (I always feel slightly envious of that. It’s a long, long time since I saw any of my first choir.) And old stories will be told, and new ones. It is good to be together when night falls.

Twilight, and evening bell, and after that the dark…

August Moon day 5: one step enough for me

I could see a light in the distance but I wasn’t sure if I could make it that far.

Or perhaps that’s an overstatement. I knew that there was a light in the distance. Not even that. I trusted that there was a light. I thought that once, perhaps, I had seen the light, once, long ago, before the fog closed in around me. I kept stumbling on towards the place where I thought the light might be. It was, perhaps, slightly less dark in front of me than it was behind me. If I considered that for too long I became uncertain.

Anyway, I had to keep on in the direction of the light, and hope that I was indeed heading in that direction. The alternative was unthinkable: to sit down, and wait for the fog to lift, knowing very well that I didn’t believe that it ever would.

The fog had been around me so long that I’d forgotten that it wasn’t a permanent feature of the landscape. I hadn’t just forgotten what the light looked like; I had forgotten about the trees and the grass and the sea. All I could see was the sodden ground under my feet. One step, and one step, and one step, and perhaps one day the fog would lift, or I’d reach the light.

I wasn’t sure if I could make it that far. I had no idea how far I had to go.

August Moon day 4: duologue

So I had a conversation with my shadow. Couldn’t put it off any longer. I turned to face her, felt the sun on the back of my neck, said, ‘So how come you’re following me?’

‘Oh, my dear,’ she said, ‘it’s all down to you. I live for you; you must know that.’

I looked at her, lolling against the wall like some insolent chit, and I said, ‘We’re only joined at the feet, you know.’

‘Not always,’ she said, and I swear she’d have winked, if only I could have seen her eyes.

But I won’t be made to blush like some Victorian miss by my own shadow, and so I agreed. ‘Not always.’ And sat down, to prove my point. It did very odd things to her legs, and her neck bent at right angles when she got to the wall, but she didn’t seem to mind. ‘Talk to me,’ I said.

‘I belong to you,’ she said. ‘Where you go, I follow.’

‘You stretch,’ I said, ‘and you shrink. You’re one,’ I said, ‘or you’re many. You’re sharp or you’re fuzzy.’

‘Ah, my dear,’ she said, ‘that all depends on you. If you go out in the morning I’m tall, and if you stand between two lamps then I’m twins.’

‘You come out in the sun,’ I said, ‘and in the darkness you’re not there at all. How can I trust you?’

‘The darkness,’ she said, ‘belongs to me and all the shadows, and all the shadows are one. In the darkness,’ she said, ‘I’m no longer fixed to you, and I wrap around you like a blanket. In the darkness,’ she said, ‘you’re quite safe.’

Sometimes I think that she’s cleverer than I am. I don’t quite see how that would work, but perhaps she knows.

August Moon day 3: betting with pennies, calculated risk

It was a gloomy day, or perhaps it just felt that way because I did.

In fact, I’m not sure that I could tell you what the weather was doing. It wasn’t raining; I’d have heard that. But I didn’t go outside. The curtains stayed shut. I moved from bed to computer to bed to television. Only very late in the evening I looked out of the window and saw the last rags of sunlight just brushing the tops of the leylandii.

I was refusing to feel guilty about it. I was ill. Not seriously ill; just the irritating sort of sore throat that made it hurt to talk much, and the lethargy that made venturing outside the house an exhausting prospect. I could have pushed myself, I knew, but I would have suffered for it later. I’d done that through the working week, taken one sick day and ignored two others I knew I needed. Better a day of utter boredom than months of never quite being well, of always being tired.

This had happened the year before, you see. I’d gone away for a few days and been ill when I came back. And somehow I’d never got better, and before I knew it summer had disappeared and autumn was hurrying after it, and Christmas was a burden I couldn’t shoulder. A year before, and here it came all over again. I couldn’t face it. I went to bed and shut the curtains.

You’d like to know, wouldn’t you, what was the end of the story. You’d like to know what would have happened if I’d dragged my shoes on, gone out to buy a loaf of bread. You’d like to know if I recovered faster because I let myself rest, or if I would have just got over it if I’d only pushed myself.

So would I. I don’t know. It was only yesterday.

August Moon day 2: the room with the doors

Let me tell you what I am afraid of.

I am afraid of getting shut in. I am afraid of shutting myself in. I am afraid of closing any door, for fear that it, and only it, will turn out to have been the right door to go through.

I am afraid of shutting the door and being left in the dark. It’s possible, of course, that when the door shuts I will see the cracks of light around all the other doors, the ones I didn’t even know existed. But what if I don’t?

I am afraid of making the wrong choice, of knowing that it is my fault that things have gone wrong, because I made that choice.

For a long time I have known, in the part of my mind that knows facts, that staying in that cramped little room is as much a choice as walking through any of the doors, that if I stay there long enough the doors will open or close without my hand touching the handle, that I will have chosen without the privilege of choosing.

It is only this week that I have come to understand deep in my bones that the house is mine, and that I am free to choose walk through or to ignore any door I like. Even though I don’t know what’s on the other side…

I’m scared of what might be on the other side, yes. I think, though, that it might be slightly less terrifying than finding that all the doors have locked themselves while I was stuck in the middle of the room, thinking that I wasn’t allowed to touch them.