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Hollie Lewis

        Shadowy and Glittering Revisions

Remember, love, that summer afternoon we met blushing in our café? You asked me with that considering and amused expression that made me weak: did I fancy a coffee? It was highly inappropriate behaviour, because I wanted you.
I tried very hard that day, in that café courtyard, pretending we were on holiday in rural Italy somewhere – you were framed by the sewing shop and its sentinel mini lime trees in tubs, and behind me a crumbling red brick wall was blessed with old creepers and terracotta pots on brackets that stared. Every time we looked sheepishly sideways, away from our delicious and fulfilling transgression, we’d see the wonky alleyway back to the high street, hung with shapeless clothes and the abandoned eyes of Christmas lights, and the placement of our tryst in such a familiar place was even better, and even more strange. It was a wonderful summer; the holes in the knees of my jeans were just the right languid size, old t-shirts fitted better, and my steel toe-capped boots meant that I kept weight and self-assurance when I wasn’t on my feet; I felt more physically relaxed than I have before or since all through those months – I was so much my own woman I could dress like a boy and still look warm and earthy.
    That doesn’t really capture it though does it? You often smelled of dust and your hair was just so proud to still be attached to your head that it stood up and glowed blond in the gentle sunlight that wanted us to feel warm together, on opposite sides of that elegant iron table, on the uneven brick of the courtyard. Everything looked like the way the whole of the seventies looks in my head, long dry grass, roll-ups, simple, scruffy cotton shirts – you looked like you were born in yours, then, in the seventies: my access point to that vital past time. So many of my favourite songs, which are less to do with you than with that wonderful summer when I listened to them, and lolled on the grass after work with San Miguel and tobacco, and damn-near climaxed every other day or so when I read your emails.
    The colour of the air of that summer – dessert wine with midges – was made by the afternoon in the café too (you had matches because you thought they were ‘the only way’ to light a cigarette), and I didn’t laugh even when it took you three times to do it. It was quite ridiculous, but it didn’t seem that way at the time and I didn’t smoke but I don’t know why – perhaps it would have made our meeting seem pathetic or seedy, if I’d asked you, the adult, for something as naughty as a cigarette…

‘16?’ you said. ‘I’m twice your age!’ and I said ‘So?’ just amused and interested in what you would follow that with.

Though it wasn’t really about anything – putting context to such a comment would have been more troublesome than just leaving it out there – too much of a gap to have coffee, to talk, to talk like equals? (We paused anyway as you had to get up and move so the vicious natural blind woman could clatter her way past, perilously unaware of the cracks in the floor, and she almost hit me with the grey trunk of carpet she was inexplicably trying to cart home.) I didn’t wear uniform anymore by the time you knew me; you didn’t have to deal with my mind as it was attached to pubescent legs in a short elasticised skirt in which I strutted and swayed much more impressively than in my grubby old rigger boots. I tried to be as sexually neutral as I could around you, except in my face which strained to tell you all of my life and passions even as we talked; I’ve never made so many faces at a single other person; I wanted you to know me. Still, my face was probably subtler than myself that day in the café, as I was, if not gregarious, a little over-enthusiastic in proving to you that I was complicated but comfortable. I remember you writing something to me afterwards about being a whale and brushing your teeth so they wouldn’t fall out next time your jaw hit the ground as I embarrassed you – a lot – in public, by talking loudly about sex, and making my discomfort much more obvious than you did with your matches…
    When you didn’t smell of dust, you smelled of red wine, when your big nose, thinning blond hair and wrinkled cotton shirt were close to me in the long darkening hall with stolen light coming through cracks in the black paint that covered the windows, as I stayed late between school and rehearsals. Not very close, but pulsing when you gave me Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, and that first CD that contained all of what was singing your life at the time when you knew me. I ache to think how I’d feel now if I didn’t have that book, with your real handwriting in it, not just the shy, typed words. You wrote on the inside cover, and the first page has been cut out. That always held so much promise for me; perhaps it blotted under the fine-line pen you used and you didn’t want it to look messy, or perhaps you wrote much more effusively on that first page, and, discovering you could not just erase what you’d written – that each letter pressed the ‘send’ button by itself – you shook yourself as you took the scissors to the truth of your feelings for me.
     The night you gave me the CD I went home and lay on the floor in the dark while it played, and Nick Cave gravelled out the mystic and vital pain of art and love that we shared: ‘do you love me?’ seemed to be your rough demand, coming melancholic, vulnerable and brutishly masculine, out of black bile lit by piercing orange embers and their reflection in red wine.

‘This is no-man’s land. This is Elsinore’ you told me, a thin wall of discretion hiding us from the eyes of your colleagues. For me it was venom that paralysed, the fear of being in persistent darkness, in spite of having bright eyes.

An unvarnished wooden coffee table appeared in front of the dark red wood-smoked sofa of rough corduroy on which we sat, huge wine glasses and blue stained-glass hung on the walls, tall and fat candles sat straight on the table and their flames pulsed. Suddenly you were above and below me, I was limp in your arms and sunk exquisitely into the sofa, your face was unshaven and your tongue was strong but still my ravenous living mouth felt that you weren’t kissing me hard enough – I must groan and pull your face closer and almost into me, but it was holding your head that did it. To be actively touching you. That was as far as the fantasy went that night; what I really wanted was really to touch you and see if you smelt the same up close as you did from our safe distance, where my desire played such a big part in making you what you were.


Snip snip…


    I hope, your eminence, that if I saw you again, I would be truthful; that I would let my feelings rush out of my face and keep my mouth firmly closed, if ever I saw you again. But I am somehow unwomaned, something (you nourished) within me contrives to let you sail on guilt-free. Mine would be the role of surprised and life-invigorated, growing person, person who has moved on, forgotten you, found other Gods; and I would play the part.
    My Lord, I was extraordinary, and let my indignation assure you, that while you thought me special and praised my insight, and my precocious speed up towards the light, you saw so little of what terrible power lay beneath the surface. I slurped up your compliments, desperate to believe the truth of them (so desperate was I that when I looked to check how tall I had grown, your body was my yardstick and I measured myself, valued myself on how high I was in your estimations). My own individual symphony – the cannon waiting to shoot me into the distance – was silenced by the louder song of you, and by the time you left, it had died.
    It strikes me that part of you understood this; you sought always to keep me distanced so I would not succumb to leaning my considerable weight against your unreliable chest. I must now accept, sir, that you were right; I have been angry at you, I have swayed and fallen many times without you, my crutch and my yardstick. But it is with even more bruised pride that I must admit that I have proved you right again; my ‘inherent strength’ has picked me up without my noticing, and the next day I don’t realise that I am standing. It seems I can live without you. My only complaint, teacher, is that I wanted to be able to stick it to you, I wanted to drown out your piece about my being ‘capable, independent, brilliant’ with my own assertion of that fact –but you told me before I could remember it for myself. I hated my age, I wanted to be like you, and you wanted me to be like me, to find the words that would re-open innocence for me.
    I have been looking to explode the myth of your superiority, to explain how exactly you were wrong, how you wronged me, but it is not the discovery of your mistake that has dissolved my anger, it’s the discovery that you didn’t make one. The reassembly of my innate orchestra. You were right and so am I, comrade. It may take a while to shake the desire to prove myself to you, I might not stop looking for you; but hopefully my success itself will matter more to me than shoving it in your honest, impressed and encouraging face.
I am now taking and spreading root in the earth of all the world, I have dragged myself aboard to captain my own wayward ship. And you, friend, are no longer a shimmering ghost on the pink and orange rice-paper horizon ahead. You are a string of my many strings which sing my life as I conclude the act, slip the hawser and escape from Elsinore; a stream of the wind that helps to power me forward.

07/11/07, ed. 05/12/07, ed. 13/02/08, ed. 14/03/08

Are there too many different metaphors? Sight and blindness (including the elephant), the plant, the ship, the soldier, the orchestra, the cannon, the well, and Hamlet. Shouldn’t metaphors be there to add layers and connotations beyond themselves? What does each one suggest beyond itself – are these things relevant and apt, are they contradictory, is that important? Were we seen or weren’t we? Do I need to link the two better, in a more meaningful and obvious way? I at least need to decide how I think they do relate to each other and structure accordingly. Do the scissors make it look like the first half is my true feelings? Should I include the stuff about life interrupting dreams, the positivity of action versus reminiscence, especially since memory is faulty – is that why I should put the holy cow in, or something less incongruous but equally as obviously unlikely? Should I put the bleeding anchor stuck behind a rock in somewhere, to make more sense of the unattached and heady ship, and should I describe the rice-paper hanging with shimmering ghosts (not moving back and forward in all the normal proportions)? What about the structure of the piece in general, paragraphs etc, and semi-colons, think about sentence structure and the effects of it. What/should it be titled? Is the whole thing a letter? Does the fact that it’s addressed to him negate the moving on? Does it matter that it’s not really the end, the mere act of writing a testament to its own lie? He’s still in front of me and he shimmers more than ever…



Hollie Lewis is a second year English Literature student. She enjoys trying her hand at various forms of creative writing and hopes to be a director in the theatre and to grow her own vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

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