The doctor peers suspiciously at my arm. Pokes it.
‘You fell on it when?’
‘Four weeks ago.’
‘You need an x-ray, it’s probably broken.’
I regard the sulky bruise that has not healed. I have not paid attention to myself.
Finally, after months of missing each other, we manage to catch up with friends over Sunday lunch. I apologise for the house, which borders on slovenly. Michelle looks past the unkept sofas and unswept floors and out of the window.
‘The mountain looks beautiful today,’ she says.
I wake in the night, finding myself in the comfort of my own bed, wrapped in warm arms and soft duvet. I turn my pillow over, rest my cheek on the cool side, and sink back into dreams. There are still hours left to sleep.
Beatrix, aged three, likes to fasten her mummy’s coat. Her small, determined fingers reach up, grasping the toggles – shiny, brown and not brown – concentrating hard on their pointy ends. She pushes them precisely through the loops. When she has finished she looks over her work. It is pleasing.
‘There,’ she says, patting the last toggle. ‘You’re all set.’
His familiar face welcomes us to the red lights where our impatient cars bunch together, idling. Spidery biro on the torn cardboard he holds tells drivers of his plight. Three children and no home. Please spare a coin. I have seen him here at rush hour in every season for three years. His clothes are clean and warm, his hair is brushed. Through my closed car window I smile at him and he smiles back. What do they mean, our smiles?
On the pavement there is a woman’s shoe – soft black leather, a ballerina pump with a tiny bow. It looks almost new.
People are hurrying, stepping around the discarded footwear that litters their path to work.
But where is this Cinderella now? Is her foot cold? Is she waiting for her prince?
Moscow bomb recalls years gone by. There but for a fluke of timing go I.
Sunny morning meadow. Cow bells tongka-tonk and the stream gulish-a-loshes. A small soft hand in mine and whinnies from Amélie’s imaginary horse. January would have us think it’s spring.
Outside an icy wind blows down from the mountains. Inside we flop like a pile of puppies on a giant beanbag, sharing warm popcorn and wondering if Alice will ever find her way home.
Her skin is soft and lemon-sweet. Her breath is slow and warm. I smooth her hair back from her cheek and curl close as long as I dare.
A champagne moon, a wolf moon, fat and benevolent in the half-awake sky, hangs low over scurrying cars and yawning office blocks. The woman-worker walks slowly, enjoying her insignificance, reluctant to assume the importance that waits beyond walls.
Dangly knickers. The smell of grilled cheese. Leopard skin leggings pegged high. The entire back wall taken by a photograph of Venice. Students with thin moustaches and insouciant scarves. A child’s T-shirt, with spangly fish swimming across the front. A harried waitress. A pair of socks. Railway Pizzeria.
I have blown this bubble, slowly, carefully, taking care not to burst it. But today its time is here to become something else. A word, a keystroke, changes physics forever.
Pop, pop, pop, a ring of rainbow-lit daughter bubbles are born.
Pop, pop, pop, grand-daughter bubbles, one hundred, probably more. Shifting, bursting, spreading.
I am elated.
One minute’s silence for Vincent and Antoine, a colleague and his childhood friend murdered in Niger. I stand at the window. Beyond the concrete and glass where we in our thousands work on, cars speed through my reflection. On the wall is a photo of a sandcastle. I had put it up to remind clients that everything we achieve risks being short lived.
Death is visited upon my day. I spend the afternoon in the long shadow of worry.
We go to bed late. ‘I can’t sleep here,’ I say, ‘the bedclothes smell of lamb.’
‘That can be your small stone tomorrow,’ says my husband.
We laugh like teenagers.
Cast as the evil and stupid witch, because Amélie is a princess, Beatrix is a fairy and “…every story needs to have a baddy, Mummy, so she can get beaten. And it has to be you.”
I cast my best spell, putting them to sleep for a thousand years. There’s no need to worry. Later Daddy will wake them with a kiss.
January 14th 2011
At Carcassonne we sigh to a halt where the tracks cut through higher ground. I lift my head to see gravestones slipping sideways, mossy tombs. The thought of bones suspended in the earth above me brings a shudder of vitality.
January 13th 2011
I say, “Bonsoir.”
The manageress of the café looks down at my book and says, “Good evening, Madam.”
Cogs turn as I juggle linguistics and social niceties. I opt for, “Good evening.”
“Vous desirez à manger?”
Oh. I back pedal, revert to French, stumble over my words. “Er, ah, oui, je veux bien.”
“What would you like?”
I stare at the manageress and she smiles an enquiring smile.
January 12th 2011
With the click of the brown glass door I closed myself into the small, parched box. I wanted to breathe the cedar-smell deeply but swallowing scorched my throat. I curled, foetal on the burning bench and waited for the blurring of boundaries between steam and skin.
January 11th 2011
Built to look like a kindly faced whale, one hundred and fifty tonnes of metal sail through the sky. The Beluga comes in to land, soft as snow.
January 10th 2011
I stare out of the window, squinting into the morning sunlight as we scrape and rumble along the tracks. Flamingos graze in the lagoon by La Franqui. From behind the glass I conjure the salt smells of the étangs and the sun-warmed pines. I think of my children’s faces this morning as we kissed goodbye, trying to recall which emotion filled their eyes. There is no good answer.
January 9th 2011
The eve of a trip away from home to work. Moments spent with family are amplified and heavy with love.
January 8th 2011
Three of us in pyjamas around the wooden table, because there’s no hurry today. Pops and cracks from blazing logs in the hearth. Hot, hot tea to drink in my own time. Silence from the children, intent on mining the warm chocolate from its soft pastry bed. Buttery flakes tumble onto the tiles and are investigated by purring cats.
January 7th 2011
A damp-dog walk in white mist, by verges ragged with dried-out dock and russet branches of leafless vines. I try to be present and concentrate on their beauty but instead am filled with the desire to see springtime poppies bloom.
January 6th 2011
The soporific blow of the gas fire, the Doppler effect of an ambulance passing the house, the echoes of my inbox which does not ping.
January 5th 2011
White roses and peonies, my past and my future, arrive to mark the passing of time. As I bow into their scent my mother calls. She is worried to find me crying. I explain it’s because I’m not alone.
Beatrix is allowed to wear her party shoes to school. When teachers and children ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ she closes her eyes so no-one can see her smile.
January 3rd 2011
Out in the ink-black of 6am, under a scattering of stars, a woman brings firewood. She will warm her tiny corner of Earth.
January 2nd 2011
After two weeks under low, white skies, we are woken by luminous blue. Through open windows a kindly warmth rides in on the back of winter. Our eyes stretch up and out towards infinity as though waking from a cramped sleep.
January 1st 2011
An e-mail arrives: “When you said the risk would always be there does that mean you definitely won’t leave (him) and we should just keep going as we are as long as it lasts?” Somewhere another Claire King is cheating. I feel sad for these strangers. I do not reply.
About These Small Stones:
The River of Stones is a project which aims to get people noticing one thing properly every day and writing it down. People from across the world will be joining in and we’ll be creating a ‘river’ of these short pieces of writing.