When I rest this page (this page) face up on the bathtub lip, I notice that a streak of sorry water ups and throughs and greys the paper till soon these words are gone. By which we know: a bookie's slip soaks up a thimble glass of malt, a playing card, the philtre in a loving cup. A summons will dry off a gutter, a manifesto sucks one quart of milk. Meanwhile, our banns could barely blot a pity's weight of blood.
Always, after the full-day's drive you find the house familiar from a photograph, its brass-hung door thrown wide. A meeting party welcomes you: up front, the matriarch, corn hair tied in a bunch, the husband of few words and, in behind two sniffly, smutty boys you'll take a good few days to tell apart, a gran'ma, blunt and blouse. It's then you sense her, in and down the hall, so vague, at first you take her for a shadow or portrait on the wall, the daughter who that night will steal in slow to visit you with kisses coarse and sweet, to gift you with her heat, and who through the remainder of the week won't speak again, although you send her notes, whose name you never know. And always this will whittle at your wits: the way she spread her nightdress on the floor, one finger to her lips to call aboard the silence of the land to forge the night-time colours in her hair, until you grow unsure of what was real and what was in the wind, of all that being meant before and since that single word she said.
A hole in the sleeve of a cardigan no bigger than a penny; what used to be a turtleneck is now more of a V neck. By the weekend, a brand new pair of Oxford bags with a leg gone. On Sunday morning, you wake to feel your feet cold on floorboards. By midnight, you're unpeeling bin-bags to cobble together a makeshift tent.
A woman's silver shoe remains sole-up beneath a broken chair. A china cup with half an inch or so of something green. A thin, white line divides the TV screen. Bouts of thunder shift the world all day. A sweet voice says, hold tight, it's time to pay. Millions quietly talk of their diseases. The black-hubbed wind does largely as it pleases.
The wife's sister
She'll say you know what I can't remember about cucumbers? and never tell. She'll say I know, I look like a dog off the road. She'll say I asked can you play Wish upon a Star? But he said Sorry lady our piano player never turned up. She'll say I have a friend, she has a house on the Grand Canale, but I can never remember her name. It's in the phone book though. She'll say I'll never make horseradish sauce again though I'll cry again, again, again. She'll say I never loved him, I was blinded by love, the only alternative to loneliness, boredom, nothing.
Letter from the Romagna
"I write from Amalfi, a white winding bee's nest, jewels cleft between mountains falling seaward. Too hot for my northern blood, too claustrophobic, too many tourists in baggy shorts, the only shade beneath the blue plastic umbrella of the tour guide calling over and over I'll be right here, right here. Always something to be done, forms to fill, applications in by due date in triplicate, signed, witnessed. Though I'm busy doing nothing I keep busy anyway, what with the compass to invent, my Parsifal to write. Always curiosities, gossip, love affairs around the back streets of Salerno. Just sitting watching everyone go by. In the slow afternoons the old city whispers to itself in doorways. I fancy those conceived in the hours of siesta, they are born clever and grow up to be lawyers, loansharks, politicians who steal from all the rest of us. Ciao."
The story so far
The house on the hill, no-one knows who lives there, what they do there with each other, praying and scrubbing night and day but it does no-one any good. Fields of yellow kale, sky, to the left a stand of trees, scrub, sharp briars, what happened there thirty years ago is never spoken of, but the birds and the other wild life never go there. The sharp spurs of the teazels, weaving in the wind, landscape of innocence and childhood, pushy clouds. Who knows where the bodies and the knives are? Look to your right: the gravel ponds.