I wake early, pull back the thick curtains and make welcome a new day. I wash, dress, breakfast and marvel at how, over just a few days, a routine has been establishing itself despite late rises, missed meals and all-night absences. Natural rhythms asserting themselves, absorbing, making sense of the everyday activities generated by acts of free will.
Today, I leave.
Perishable food has been bagged and placed in the grey bin at the top of the lane. Some loose papers, packaging and glass bottles have been carried to the green bin and placed inside. I have washed, dried and stored my plates and cutlery from breakfast. I have wiped down the sides, brushed the floors and left the dirty and damp towels alongside the bed linen in the bath, as requested by the welcome note I found when I arrived. The cottage is tidy.
My bag is packed and sits on one of the spare kitchen chairs. There is just room for my laptop. This sits open on the table. The snow-white page still floats on a grey still sea, but now the pulsating black cursor beats comfortingly in its own silence. I watch it flashing like a negative lighthouse and wonder at its constancy. Only a few days ago, I was intimidated by its persistence, as if it might jump off the screen and chase me into a corner and terrorise me until I give in to its demands. Now it marks the passing of time, independent of anything I might or might not do.
I came here to write and I will not leave until I have, although the words I have hunted down will not form themselves into a Classic of any kind, just a brief note. I pick up a black ballpoint pen and take two plain sheets of A5 writing paper from the middle of a small stack that has sat undisturbed on the hall table since I arrived five days ago.
Finally, at last, I write.
I fill three sides of paper with an open confident script that leans a little impetuously to the right. I offer rough directions and a brief explanation of the choice I have made. I toy with the idea of adding a sketch like one of those found in a quality guide to local walks, but it would take some time to work out a scale and my drawing today is limited to inevitable conclusions. For formality’s sake, I sign and date the note. For clarity’s sake I print my name and my home address.
There is no envelope, so I fold the two sheets of paper in half, plain side outward and write: ‘To whom it my concern’ on the front and add a full stop for no good reason. I place the note in the centre of the kitchen table.
I rise and wonder who will find it. I suppose it will be the changeover cleaner when she arrives the day after tomorrow. Why ‘she’? Cleaners these days come in all genders, particularly those attached to small businesses. Less so in the home, perhaps, where domestic labour more often than not remains the preserve of the woman, with the more enlightened households containing a husband or son willing to ‘help out’.
We shared everything back then, including the drudgery. I miss that the most, I think, the sharing. The wealth of our short-lived tiny island nation was not based on a division of labour into specialisms. We mucked in together and mucked up together. What we lost in efficiency, we gained in laughter and the joy of being in it together. Our thoughts and memories seemed to merge the more time we spent together and the more we did together. We would bicker not over future plans, or the hopes and dreams we expressed for our girls in the quiet hours that fell between putting them to bed and falling asleep ourselves, but over who laid claim to origination and who to mere amplification. We created memories together and remembered together.
For a while after, it was enough to hold a photograph, a postcard, a note, even a scribble and remember alone. But each remembrance smudged just a little, the details shifted to the edge and then the memory moved out of sharp focus. I noticed it first with the voices. They became echoes floating away to the back of my mind. Actors or voiceover artists mimicking the people I loved could have spoken the words on the few digital recordings that we had made together during birthdays and holidays. The people, the real people, not their digitalised representations, but their flesh and their blood and their laughter and love, they were gone. Of course, I expected their smells to fade from the pillowcases and T-shirts, even though I never washed them. But now even the aroma of sweet tomato, garlic and basil sauce simmering on a low heat no longer situates their clear, bright expectant faces around the kitchen table we shared. The memory of each face no longer bears much resemblance to the images caught in such exacting detail on photographs and videos. In the early morning or the fading evening light when I see them together in the intense shadows, I recognise them by the way an arm swings or a hip shifts its weight to allow a torso to twist or a head to turn, but never by the sharpness of a facial feature.
I have the idea of them still and it is more intense than ever, but the reality is gone. I share nothing with any of them now. They have moved beyond any place where new memories can be made and they are in no position to remember with me. Tomorrow, I will remember a little less clearly and the day after that a little less clearly again. It is not a forgetting that clears away and opens up space. It is an intensification of a loss that replaces presence with absence and empties more and more everyday existence of its meaning. They are here with me now by not being seated at the three empty kitchen chairs, and they are all around in the silence that should be filled with shouts to hurry up, get ready, make sure you pack your toothbrush, fetch the dog’s lead and what else was it we used to always say before leaving somewhere to head home?
I leave by the front door, placing the keys in the holder outside. I shuffle the combination lock and check that it is secure from the opportunistic burglar who might pass by.
I walk toward the woods and hope I’ll find them there in the shadowlands.