During winter visits to distant families, play was the thing. Intricate, yet simple as a flower, it was best if the unknown children were slightly older and could create games just beyond your imagination. Behind curtains, in the attic, on the stairs, but never too much noise, for downstairs sat the adults in their stilted immobility.
My father would only join the party if the wife was good looking, fantasy perhaps helping the time to pass. He never drank, so could not even take a glass of sherry to blunt the edge of his nerve racking boredom. My greater hearted mother didn’t suffer in this way. An easy person, she missed the sociable times of her youth and could enjoy most company, taking people as they wished to be seen. Surely this explained her marrying my father. He, on the other hand, was shrewd about people, which well accounted for his marriage choice. Like a fine old fiddle he played her, she who always returned a soothing tone, no matter how he jabbed the strings with his crooked bow.
These days I become bored quite quickly and find myself longing to leave and go for a walk, or return home to read or tend the garden. Anything to escape the tyranny of conversation, soon exhausted of interest, once the key has been found and the locks tested. However there are some friendships as beguiling as those distant days of play. There is always somewhere else to explore and when death stops the way, you find loss has chewed a great moth hole in your mind.
Inverno, hiver, winter, words that work like rennet. As the body folds in, the winter migrant mind plays turnstone, scurrying along the shore, seeking under rocks what life is quivering there.
One of the greatest chamber musicians of the era, dips a spoon into deep red with floating lace of sour cream. Schubert’s notturno has drawn its last, pianoless breath, across violin and cello strings. Ladled from the ritual pot, borscht fills blue and white bowls. Try not to get caught in conversation, so difficult with musicians. Cannot say I’ve written a trio for samovar and kettledrums; my own words are dull matter after music, not even the sparkle of marcasite beside their full carat diamonds.
If everything had gone to plan thirty years before, none of us would have been in this room. Later, one would add the pen to her life saving bow, to write some of it; a difficult truth to confront the comfort of denial, philosophically in fashion. And now, forty years from those days of pre-war European cultural revival, transported to post-war London, that lasted as long as one woman who, on the last day of her life, walked from the ambulance into her flat and stood gazing at that room, ringing me later to say ‘We’ll have more music, Alberto can come and play’, the killing species does what it knows most.
So the resurrection in this room finally ended after decades of decline. Life companion instruments passed to other hands sometimes with love, at others on a stream of bad blood. I see everything in the room except the colour of the curtains, perhaps there were none. I remember nets catching the sun; at night, didn’t we look through them to the glimmer of the square in winter, its trees bare in pale light? There is almost no one left to ask and my inner eye tries dark green, dull gold but still sees translucent, veiled glass.
Two, there are two people. They can’t remember either, just the view into the square. One, an artist, says he has no visual memory of curtains and why is it so important? A good question really when I remember the paintings by his father, his own works, the Ben Shahn cello, numerous pieces of sculpture, chairs, tables, music stand. Why am I bothered about curtains, whether or not? Could the weaver bird tell me?
As I circle the garden in the dew, defeated by mathematics to know how to save the lost of this era’s shame, mathematics that plays in a trio with music and the cosmos, beautiful mathematics now harnessed to the thousand year war, my collar dove alights on a chair and looks me in the eye, waiting for a handful of grain.
Over thirty years after our meeting, her executors asked me what I would like. I chose a Japanese print no one remembered, that hung in the bathroom; a picture that fixed in my roving eighteen year old eye the first night I entered her world. Its melancholy remembrance hangs in my bedroom and I see it vivified everyday in the garden, Pigeons with Sparrows.
‘Fixing The Past’ to be published in June 2018