My mother’s eyes looked as though they were full of black smoke. They looked like this a couple of times a year. Ordinarily they just looked muddy, like the paint water I would always leave too long before refilling when I was a child painting at the kitchen table, for whole days.
She would moan at me then for waiting until the water was a foggy brown smudge before heaving herself up from the sofa, grabbing the glass, and emptying it down the plug hole where it would create a swirling kaleidoscope pattern on the cream plastic sink. She’d then run the cold tap while she looked ahead out of the window, nearly always filling the glass until it overflowed with clean clear water.
Perhaps it bothered her so much because it’s what she did too. Perhaps she waited too long herself before she grew tired of the smudge in her eyes and that’s why she’d empty herself of food and open herself up fully to all the narcotics she could stomach until her eyes were a solid black soot, thick and heavy like the tangled mass of hair that used to hang lank down her back like splodges of black ink on white paper. Her pupils were spreading in her eyes and I wanted to reach out to her with a tissue, pinch the edge into a point and dab it into those eyes to blot away the darkness.
My glass is taken around the corner
to be warmed,
and brought back to the bar.
A bottle of cognac
is dusted off and I’m poured
I hand over my money
and once I let go of the cold coins
with a warm glass
against chapped skin.
I handle it
as though it were a crystal ball,
with its bulbous bottom
in the palm of my hands.
I feel the muscles in my fingers relax,
and as I circle the drink
under my nose
the solitary ice cube spins
around the edge of the glass
into the toffee coloured liquid.
I take a sip, and think
about how good this drink
against burgundy coloured nails.
I hold the drink on my tongue
for a second
and let it warm every part of my mouth.
This amber syrup
with its golden fumes
melts away my ashen memories
of an air-conditioned day
in a grey office.
I think about
nothing but crispy fallen leaves,
and chocolate Labradors
pawing unfamiliar snow.
I think about hanks of wool,
piled into bookcases
ready to turn into gifts.
I think about matches
rattling in their tatty boxes,
waiting to envelop
the corners of logs in flames.
I think of fur collars and hooded coats,
antique fountain pens,
and sepia ink.
I think of the unassuming brown second class stamps,
lined up on the bottle green leather of my bureau,
ready to send
my warmest wishes
across the world.
I always thought his chair looked strange without him sat in it. You had to sit in the room a long time to get a glimpse of it empty. When you did you couldn’t help but notice the difference in colour of material where the sun rarely had a chance to reach the places masked by his body. On the rare occasion that he left the confines of the chair it would be because he needed a new, sharper pencil for his crosswords. He kept a healthy supply of orange coloured 2H pencils in an old coffee jar. This lead stained old jar was always wedged into the corner of the windowsill, tucked behind the curtain and more often than not next to a red poinsettia, the pointy tips of the freshly sharpened pencils contrasting with the withered pale red tips of yet another unwanted gift from his daughter who offered endless plants instead of her time.
It always confused me how someone who couldn’t go to bed on a blunt pencil was not affected at all by the noticeable layer of light-coloured dust on the dark red radio next to their bed. I had heard the radio several times on a Sunday morning, so I knew he used it, but it was so old that even the sound coming from it sounded thick with dust. I think he was focused on the things that would keep his mind from wandering, and this was his crossword competitions, so the only things that warranted his time outside of this pursuit, was the sharpening of his pencils and the hole-punching of his competition entry forms so that he could store them and keep on track of his lack of success. The only reason he kept the poinsettia on the windowsill for so long was for his neighbours to see that someone had been there to see him. The plant itself was just one more unnecessary object around him.
Outside the office I can hear the traffic flowing along the dual carriageway, with a large roundabout facilitating everyone’s movement. The sound of the rain mixes with the engines to create a gritty swish of relentless noise outside the window.
The wind zigzags through the few token trees which struggle to stay green amidst the grey weeds circling their roots. At this time of day, as the offices release their workers onto the greying turf the dutiful roundabout starts to heave with fatigue, taking deeper and deeper breaths as it breathes in the approaching cars, swirls them around and around, then spits them out the other side. The rows of cars at the edge of the shore keep growing, becoming huge tidal waves, swelling and roaring while they wait for the next wave.
People sit motionless in their cars staring ahead at the monster they must face. As they trickle forward towards their sacrifice they think of the other side and how if they just get through this, another day, they will make some changes. They just need to get through the sea storm ahead of them.
During the dead time before the storm there are people who are listening to the same radio station because their mouths are moving along in time to the same songs and I wonder what everyone sounds like inside their bubbles. They are tapping the steering wheel and waiting for their turn in the storm.
She can inject life into the empty rooms and turn all heads towards her, awakening lost and tired eyes. Her energy prevents you from succumbing to the routine of daily life. She can whisk up the debris of her surroundings and pick you all up until you are like plates on a stick, spinning and balanced high above your usual level. Your comfort zone fades into the distance as you are swept along on her wave of laughter and lack of self consciousness. Her raw energy inspires and intimidates. She does so much for other people. She exhausts you. Her relentless introspection and projection of her findings leaves you craving a solitary corner. Bewildered at her lack of awareness of those around her you withdraw into yourself, at the same time reaching out to those closest to you for reassurance that you are right in feeling how you do, and for some mutual understanding. She talks of nothing but herself and her work for others, work which noone asks her to do. She is compelled to offer up her time for all those around her yet is unable to act altruistically for long. Those closest to her are subjected to list upon list of charitable acts which have rendered her more tired than the rest of us, and therefore more deserving of preferential treatment. Any attempts to articulate ones own voice is met with a lack of awareness that someone else has spoken. Her need to be in constant contact with someone means that she gives the impression of being more supportive to others than the rest of us, but they don’t hear the way she applauds herself for this and judges those who choose to keep their problems to themselves.
No matter how many times she tried she couldn’t dislodge the eyelash from the sheet of paper. Every time she brushed her hand over it the eyelash got more and more embedded into the snow white sheet.
The eyelash was thick and black. Not dark brown or just dark because of being against the white, but black. It was like a jet black ink stain, a fresh tattoo on flawless skin.
Her hands grew clammy with sweat, and beige fingerprints started to form on the paper where she tried to lift the eyelash up by getting it to adhere to her skin.
She thought about getting a new sheet of paper from the pack but there would be no way to explain why she needed another sheet. She took pride in only ever needing one sheet to submit her designs, and asking for another would involve having either to say that she had made a mistake or that she had been careless with the expensive paper and damaged it.
So she incorporated the mistake into her design, picking out a long thick black eyelash for the other side.