Errata

Hard to know what to say at the closing. Everyone is still neck deep in ice we were told would melt some months ago. Everyone is mourning something, loss is etched into the skin around our eyes, we strain our conversations like whales sucking at the sea. After the hot rush of summer survival, these dark mornings are swelling knuckles and turning lips blue and dry, and still there is no rest.

The trees are asleep and uninterested in the glow of the news, the groundwater waits in cold soil chambers, the sky is still empty of anything but air. The Earth has let out the long, melancholy breath of autumn and now she waits. We are done with waiting, the news tells me, we are all too raw for January. We have done our time, kept busy being Saint Bartholomew all year, our flayed skins carried casually in the crook of one arm.

Time is a drop spindle, pulling every hour tight, and we are still in our rooms thinking about what we’ve done. The world, her scalp itching with Californian wildfire and Amazonian industry, has shrugged off our ordered days with the catastrophic indifference only a planet can muster. This sudden landslide is no more than a fallen hair, and I envy her relentless apathy. I envy anything rooted and content with its edges. Our lives have utterly lost their definition and pooled into greased film. They have changed their shape as fast as fried butter.

The book of 2020 is written in a rushed hand, too distracted and irritable for diarised detail, the ring marks of half-drunk cups of tea linking arms across the boards. I have not helped write it well, some months I have pressed the sharp nib of my will too hard into the paper, and broken them both. I can barely make the story out myself, it is too full of annotations, and underlining, and errata. It – like everything else – lacks the proper form. It too has no skin.

It notes that my mum had chemotherapy for stage 3 cancer, and that I couldn’t be there throughout the long months of her almost-dying, watching her hair fall out via video call. It notes the hours spent underground, in anchorite existence. It notes the empty roads howling with silence under the baleful instructions of the BT tower. It scribbles my many personal victories, it tallies my heartbreaks, it ends abruptly. It is blotchy with fist-sized splodges of leaked black and blue. It is not just stained, but bruised.

When I was first in therapy, in a rehab clinic in Luton, my counsellor taught me to push away distress with the unifying nature of physical sensation. Pressing a bag of cold peas to my face, stroking the smooth curves of a precious stone, silencing the brain with the undeniable. I am doing it now, as these final months have lifted my skull and poked holes in my coping, and they have filled up slowly with thick, wet grief. I am coming home from work and feeling the key’s frozen tongue fumbled into the lock, the scent of bergamot under boiling water, the banister beneath my hand like a warm wooden bone.

I am cautiously reminding myself of my form as midnight approaches, rebuilding that skin. Rebinding loose pages for the second edition. I may yet become a beloved volume, one I myself enjoy reading.

My mother once told me that loving me was a sort of nervous shock, like being dropped into cold water, or licking the tip of your finger and pressing it against winter glass. I do not always know how to blend myself into connection, to soften my own exacting edges. I can be abrasive to sensitive skin, I can, in extremis, be an axe to ice. It is not a failing I am proud of, this chronic tendency to splinters, but as I have said before, the human character and its defects are a thing to be worked like the land:

And yet…the roses bloom more beautifully for their beheading, for facing the genteel executioner of the secateurs. Ask a gardener.

It is an evergreen resolution. A thing to do in the dark hours, and God knows we have enough of them left in the shadowed pocket of the New Year. Let us push our fingers to the very seams for the last of our resolve, along with our spare change, and our change.

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