(after Dylan Thomas Quite early one morning)
Quite early one morning in the springtime in England, time is rewinding. I am fifty, thirty, nineteen, twelve. I settle at nine with the spool fully unwound. The air smells like 1973. The newly germinated day unfurls as I walk. Its perfection induces a faint and disturbing craving, like lovers wanting to eat each other up. Like staring at a baby’s toes. Bottle this, remember this, savour this. I want to make it last, to save it, to own it. Its beauty lies in not being able to.
The street is not yet awake. I walk slowly and the sunlight hits roofs and trees and gardens, a stage lit with hot anticipation. The birds are energetic. They leap between branches, shouting at each other. Warning, food, do you fancy me? Stop showing off and help me build this bloody nest.
It’s all potential right now. Everything is wider, taller, heavier, lighter as I am smaller. It’s the first day of the summer holidays, days on days. It’s untrodden snow, an empty sparkling swimming pool, a new layer of a box of chocolates. Stand still. Concentrate. Feel. Ripples of warm and cool are discernible in the air, like hot water mixed with cold. Pay attention and see it. Feel it. Images, memories triggered – dawn walks in seventies woodland, the promise of bacon fried outside for breakfast, of sea, of hills, of sunlight and shadows played out in panorama. The promise, the promise. I try to seal the moments, one by one, inch by inch. Remember this. Hands outstretched, time falling through fingers. Aged nine, watching ants on blades of grass, lying at eye level, boredom lapping deliciously at the edges.
Everyone is home. The mother of a young tribe rouses as her children wake, and feels herself brace for another day of quality family time. She wonders before leaving the bed how long it is until she can sit down with a glass of wine. The hours lie ahead to be filled with home-made entertainment, with picking up toys and socks, with carrying the emotional load, a term that keeps swilling through her mind. She counts herself lucky to be on a career break, full time caring for the children, and throws herself into ever-increasing educational activities (whilst remembering that unstructured play needs to be built in too). Her friend and neighbour pities and secretly scorns her as she herself settles down with a sigh and a mug of strong coffee to do her day job in the evening. They both keep their fingers crossed all the time that they are doing right by their offspring, doing right in their own right, keeping everyone safe and not ageing too fast. They worry, and pretend they don’t, and can’t help getting drawn into competitive uploads of Easter eggs, bonnets, cakes #lockdownEasterfamilyfun. They stare at the future with fear, as it barrels towards them with the brakes off.
Everyone is home. The elderly couple, locked in. They are annoyed with their adult children who’ve suddenly become extraordinarily bossy. Who are they to tell them what to do? They didn’t bother to ask much about their lives before all this. They keep phoning from Manchester and Bristol and telling them to download things on the iPad that they had foisted on them, and eat vegetables, and stay where they are. What do they know? They fuss too much. They interfere when it suits them. They call us names now. Stop being a stupid old arse, he said just yesterday. Is this love? Leave us alone.
Everyone is home. The two doctor families, shifting the kids and the meals as much as the work, passing the bed like a baton between them. They wonder how it came to this. In flashes, they remember meeting at medical school, the plans they had for fascinating and meaningful work, for well-earned holidays, for the promised payback in security, respect, a job well done. To reap the return of spare time, that most precious commodity, in the long run. Well, at the very least, whilst they are still healthy enough to enjoy it. They are buoyed and exasperated by the public perception. It’s good to be appreciated but we’re not only here now. We were here, working this hard, all along.
Everyone is home. The teenager stirs as a door bangs and the toilet flushes in their house. They groan and turn over, hefting the weight of sleep over themselves for hours yet. This has ruined their life. Their summer is in tatters. They hate their parents. They are furious with their siblings. They can’t stand another day of this. If anyone says, ‘why don’t you….?’ with another lame suggestion of activity, they will kill someone. Maybe themselves. The Easter break is even worse, even more intense, than the weeks up till now. Parents will not go away.
Everyone is home. The single woman puts the kettle on and watches the birds on the feeder in the garden. She’s happy, more or less. She’s careful and responsible. She’s learned to be self-sufficient over the years. She enjoys not having a man depending on her. She reads and phones friends and listens to the radio and grows vegetables. But she mourns the removal of human touch from her life. A whole sense amputated without a second glance. The casual handshake, the soothing stroke of hairdresser, the hug with grandchildren, with old friends, the passing accidental brush of skin on skin at a checkout or in a café which she’d never noticed until now. Her skin aches.
I walk. Time stretches and rebounds in elastic loops. The air settles and warms and the show begins again. Everyone is home.