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moments around a heatwave
1. It starts in London.
There's a couple next to me. They aren’t together, I don’t think. Both are in their seventies. The man is telling the woman that she shouldn’t have written, “hope you have a happy day” on a birthday card to her sister-in-law whose husband just died. “But it’s just such a lovely card,” she sighs. “I’d hate to waste it.”
The man looks over at me. “I hope you’re not writing about anything here!” the man says.
2. On the walk from the Almeida to the Highbury/Islington station, a stage actor asks us about buttons; “Do you know why a woman’s buttons are on the left, and men’s are on the right?”
“It’s because women didn’t dress themselves, they were dressed by maids instead.”
3. There’s a painting of him by Leonora. He looks like the Hermit, holding a lantern with a horse inside, the woman he loved, the one he would carry with him. A horse behind him, melded into the landscape. In a book forwarded by her son, an art historian describes the two horses as a symbol of their love; “Where I am, you also may be.”
In a book written by her cousin, the author describes the painting as, “she would be dwarfed by him. She would be a bit-part in the painting of his life, like the petrified horse behind him in his portrait.”
4. I wake up to a text with a photo of three men I went to elementary school with. “Such handsome boys!” I reply. I feel like their mother.
5. It’s the first time being back in London where I don’t feel Covid until she points to the upstairs seating area. I can’t go there, I tell her. Why not? My hand starts to shake and there’s a small bead of sweat on the back of my neck. “I don’t want that,” I say. I smile. “I won’t do well there.”
6. I’m in Camberwell at a friend’s house that her dad owns. She’s telling me about the man she fucked the night before. “They’re just scum, aren’t they,” she says, picking a blackberry off her plate. “All of them. Except dad.”
When I stand up, I trip over a simple, white polished lantern. No candle inside, she’d left it under the table. “I’m going to a sperm bank when I’m ready,” she tells me. “We can do it all alone, you know.”
7. Dear God, send me a —
8. I want to call the girl and tell her that 15 years later, he’ll text you to come to his mother’s house so he can, well … Oh, I can’t write that here.
9. I arrive an hour late to eat prosciutto sandwiches with an old friend who claims I never tell him anything. I realize on the walk home that he never actually asks.
10. We call ourselves Kundalini. There’s the NHS doctor and the human rights lawyer and then there’s Daphne, and me. On Sunday nights we sit in a circle, and we pray for each other. I turn up to find Daphne’s turned off the lights and lit four oversized lanterns, made of dark brass. They pray for peace, for stillness, for calm. I pray for every dream to come true by the end of this week.
11. “A bit-part, a small acting role in a play or movie.”
12. I’m at the pub when she texts me with a ring on her finger. I walk out, and as I do, the woman running pub trivia yells out Houdini.
13. I can’t find Dan’s key in the house. He’s angry, hungover. I apologize again.
This is a problem for me, he says.
It’ll show up, says the woman giving me a wax. Nobody steals a key.
14. I feel so ill and then I drink water. If only he’d liked me at 15.
15. Daphne’s little sister asks if she can come over. She’s only 22. When she walks in, she hands me M&S chocolate almonds and says it’s time we wash my face. I think of the few childhood boxes left, headed to wherever she’s gone. She asks if she can braid my hair, too.
16. Please, forgive me, she says. I’ve done nothing wrong.
17. “The lamp was a key symbol for Carrington, used numerous times… and held a special albeit unknown meaning.”
18. It’s raining the night I go to the National. 7 pm show. I hit my head on the bridge by the river and arrive at the theatre by 5:56.
19. She never went to the ponds. 15 years and never once. “Only the Mediterranean,” she’d say. I get there before eight in Daphne’s suit and close my eyes. Two laps, I decide. Just focus on your breathing, and the cold becomes less. Think about anything else. I leap from the ladder. Think about anything else.
How many summers did I spend watching her swim out, wondering when she’d realize she’d gone too far?
20. In a small corner at Waterstones, Eimear McBride recommends Annie Ernaux’s Getting Lost. Why read it? “Because,” she writes. “It is the first in which she is able to leave the past behind.”