Tuesday 7th of November
I forgot the ribbons. For Maria’s thing. It isn’t for a few days yet but I was supposed to have brought the ribbons with me this morning. Cursed myself for a stupid moron for most of the day.
Didn’t really know what to do with myself when I tumbled onto the bus home. The whole day had been shot. The sullen rain beat heavily against the fogged windows turning the upper-deck of the bus into a sealed capsule hurtling towards God knows where. Nearly all the seats were taken while I shuffled along the gangway, swaying in unison with the rest of the passengers as the bus tilted violently between traffic. I was forced to throw myself down next to some whip-thin man who was tarred in black clothing and sporting long hair, a long face, a long coat and a long stare as I had the nerve to invade the seat beside him. Fuck him. He didn’t have any more right to the snide aspect of this commute than I did. I didn’t want to be here either. I didn’t choose to have rain blown sideways across my legs and beneath my coat as I struggled through the weather towards the bus-stop, all the while fighting with a king-coward brolly that preferred to flip itself inside out, retreating like a turtle into its shell at even the merest hint of wind. I glared back at him as much as I dared. He simply rolled his eyes and returned to staring through the slow tracks of clarity left behind on the window by the trailing condensation, music thrumming from his earphones loud enough that I could hear the screeched vocals with no need to lean in close. Not that I would. I had to perch myself right on the edge of the seat cushion, barely half a buttock clinging to the upholstery in order to keep a safe distance. Enough seat to give me purchase but not enough as to be accused of providing comfort.
I settled in to the trance of the journey, eyes glazed and drifting, so it was some time before I noticed the voice of an Old Woman talking behind me. She spoke in the tone and pitch of normal conversation, which was of course obscenely loud for the packed coffin ship we all swayed in. Normal bus etiquette determined that I couldn’t do anything as brazen as turn around to look at her. The companion she talked to never uttered a word that I could hear, but that was probably from lack of opportunity rather than shortage of things to say as the Old Woman’s stream of words was constant. Constant but fascinating. Utterly captivating in that illicit way that hearing other people can be sometimes. “Time’s relativity to other natural phenomenon like gravity and mass means that even on the merest of scales our current increased velocity has caused us to shift forward in time, however imperceptibly, in relation to those outside. We are traveling through time slightly faster than those poor saps out there. That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?” That is the only one of her phrases that I can remember in its entirety, but her speech was more or less a constant riff that veered from things like this to the complex weave used in fabrics like tweed and tartan, to the benefits of irregular smoking for the nerves. It was wonderful.
I’d hoped she would have to get off before me, but as my stop arrived she was still nattering happily behind me. I tried to catch a glimpse of her as my stop drew close and I swung myself down the stairs, but the other departing passengers obscured her from view.
Wednesday 8th of November
I remembered the ribbons today, but there was a minor panic when a rumour filtered through, via Yvonne which, in fairness, should have been an immediate red flag, that the Rose Garden had been sealed off from the public. On lunch I strolled across the city and into the cloistered quiet of the campus, which always strikes me as a strange mixture or solemnity, grey stone and static youth when I turn into it from the bustle outside. I was feeling a little panicky as I made my way to the Rose Garden but Yvonne, as ever, was as full of shit. The garden lay open and shaded from the winter sunshine that filtered lazy shafts of light through the branches. I took the chance to sit down alone amongst the trees for the few minutes I had spare. I kicked off my heeled shoes and through the ornate iron-worked fence I watched the other people stroll by within their little academic bubbles of time. After a while I got up and placed my hand against the warm bark of Maria’s tree, staying there for as long as I could ward away the feeling of looking strange. Once that finally got the better of me I left quickly and made my way back to work.
The other thing to note was the Old Woman was on the homeward commute again. Felt a little strange though. She was still talking, riffing the same as yesterday on anything from pet-care to fashion-trends of the sixties, but when I finally laid eyes on her she was sitting beside an unconscious teenager with a heavy pair of full-cover earphones clamped and blaring over his ears and a slow line of saliva tracing down his chin as he slept. She was staring out of the window, talking ceaselessly to nothing but her reflection. It made me very sad.
Thursday 9th of November
Work was shit. I didn’t get out until well after 9 o’clock. We got so much heaped on us this morning that when I left I felt like I hadn’t even begun to shift any of it. I can still feel it right there, sat on my shoulders, waiting. Had Maria’s thing hanging over my head all day too. I couldn’t shake it. I don’t know why I’m feeling so nervous about it. It’s only now that I’m beginning to realise how much I’ve been dreading it. I didn’t see the Old Woman today because of all of that. I thought about her all the way home.
Friday 10th of November
Not now. Can’t.
Sunday 12th of November
Oh my God. My head. What happened? I’m finally out the far end of this hangover, I think. Yesterday was spent in a shame-spiral that kept me in a perpetual kamikaze nose-dive of panic and fear. After Maria’s on Friday there was an awful lot of wine. And gin. An awful lot of that too.
No. It’s too close. I need to go and lie down. I can’t do this just yet. Too fresh.
Tuesday 14th of November
Maria’s thing last Friday. The city based crew had taken a half-day from work, but some of the more scattered of us had travelled up specifically for it, taking the day to pack themselves into trains or cars to journey up to this great stone expanse, to stand shoulder to shoulder in a tiny green rose garden at the heart of the city with people they seldom thought about and saw even less, all in order to perform this long-honoured ritual. While I stood on the still dewy grass with the grey sky boiling above the canopy of branches I looked across the other people that I still called my friends, but with the prefix ‘old’ increasingly creeping into my description of them, and I wondered about their trips to get here. Had they enjoyed them? Had they sat there in solemn silence, afraid to bring any levity into the day for fear it would show a lack of respect? I hoped they’d found something to laugh about. Maria would have preferred it that way. I think the po-faced aspect that these things can so often degenerate into would have appalled her.
We each tied the ribbons I’d brought to the trunk of Maria’s tree. Mike joked about the poor demented gardener who must lose his life at what would appear to be the inexplicable annual tarting up of this one perennial. We all laughed. A strange high pitched screech came out of my mouth in place of a laugh, but I think everyone forced it just a little.
I don’t really want to talk about that night. I got obnoxiously drunk, but I wasn’t alone. We drank with the force and determination of people that were trying to make up time. Years of time in some cases. Cramming it into the tight space of one night.
I don’t know why but since then I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that a little bit of Maria has finally departed for good. The ceremony had the panicky edge of the end about it. I think we all felt it. I haven’t even really noticed work for the last few days, I just keep on thinking about that time I spent a weekend with Maria drinking in our top-floor apartment that we always swore swayed a little when the wind was high.
I was deep in the past on the bus home when the Old Woman emerged from the stairs into the upper level and sat down next to me. For a long time she didn’t say a word, but then leant across and gently touched the sleeve of my coat. She wasn’t looking at me, instead she looked out the window. I don’t know, perhaps she was staring into the eyes of her reflection for company. Either way she cleared her throat and whispered, ‘Sometimes when the day lies low and I stay still on the horizon of the future, I look directly up into the deep of the sky and hear the thoughts of God’.
Written by Adam O'Keeffe / ©2015 Project Bowes