Ah… Ginger pom-pom dog approaching, we’d better wait here where the pavement’s wide. Bella, it’s very rude to lick your lips like that, it’s not a snack. Leave… Leave … Good girl.
A young couple up ahead, very young, pausing, looking at the view. Young love. Will they still be together in thirty years? Three weeks? The girl, woman, casts her eyes downwards as we pass. She doesn’t look unhappy, just not happy either, as if I’ve caught her midway through a small agony of indecision. Glasses. Pale skin. Long, mousey hair and long, mousey skirt. The boy, man, has dark straggly hair, his faded jeans sit low and loose. They draw closer together, almost imperceptibly, as we pass. Claiming the space between them.
The breeze lifts my unbuttoned coat as we round the corner, cools my face, feels nice in my hair. Beyond the rooftops, in the slanting fields, a solitary cherry tree foams white against green. Such bravado. At once vulnerable and defiant. A Range Rover growls by, making me flinch. Smoked windows, bodywork glinting oil-black. The shadow of a bird in flight skims the tarmac. A shaft of sunlight illuminates a tiny, pulsating fly, darting left-right-left as if forgetting its way at an invisible junction.
Startled by a banging sound, Bella swivels, noisily bashes her head on a car bumper.
Behind a fence panel, wasps are conferencing. Earnest, exclusive, industrious. What exactly do wasps achieve? I wonder. So busy with their bugger-off buzz. Not like the languidly purposeful bee. In the gloom beneath an overhanging bush, sombre, waxy ivy leaves shudder in the breeze.
The pole-mounted bin is open-mouthed, caught in the act of regurgitating a quantity of bagged dog turds. In front of the house by the bus stop, a grey plastic tub is ablaze with tulips, exuberant hot orange. Alongside, a tub hosting one solitary tulip. I can’t help feeling sorry for it. Why plant a bulb all on its own like that?
I’m a bit lonely. Bank holidays often do this to me.
Or perhaps you just spent too long scrutinising your face in the mirror this morning, Lizzie… Peering at that tiny flake of dry skin on your nose, pressing the tip east-west, north-south, pulling your cheeks upwards with your fingertips to smooth out the gullies forming beneath your eyes and either side of those thinning lips.
I can’t get comfortable in my middle-aged skin. I can scarcely believe this skin belongs to me. It is as if movers have packed me up and rehomed me while I slept, to a slightly run-down house, a fixer-upper. My left shin itches and itches, bruises bloom randomly, bafflingly, the most superficial scratches take so long to heal… I am losing my ability to repair myself. What if my skin barrier is breaking down? The sack that shields me against the world? It certainly seems to be in trouble.
There are times I just want somebody to hold me together.
Come on, Lizzie. Snap out of this.
Tap-tap-tap rattle goes Bella’s name tag, bouncing against her harness. Even the lukewarm spring air causes her to pant loudly, producing that inimitable Staffie “smile” – all teeth and tongue. Harder to pick out, beneath the laboured breathing, is the patter of paws on pavement. The most soothing of musical scores. Pant, tap, rattle, patter, pant tap rattle patter… I momentarily get lost in the orchestration.
I am startled by a shout of bird laughter. White flowers bubble over the wall beside me, big blind daisies. Round the hairpin corner, Worcestershire spreads before us, clouds spilled milk on blue.
Why am I not feeling soothed? There’s a fault line running right through my middle today.
Here is our favourite field. Bella stops, ready to conduct her usual inventory. We manoeuvre through the metal kissing gate. Bella sniffs the grass, squats, pees on last year’s crumbling bracken. Beyond the hedge, the usual sheep, the chimney of the cottage where the field folds in on itself, that familiar tableau. It’s me that’s different, not the setting. I’m looking at a painting, I can only see it, not feel it. I’m too stuck in my own skin-sack. And I need a wee. The Pavlov principle, my bladder is triggered by this field.
There’s a clump of pink flowers by the roadside. Pretty! Pink with an ivory core, like a vanilla ice cream drenched in raspberry sauce. They look to my untutored eye like domestic flowers gone rogue. Splodged at the bottom of the bank like that, beside the jolt of dandelions…
Dandelions don’t give a damn, do they. How the sight of those ragged leaves used to enrage me, how vengefully I would gouge them out of my lawn. Brazen, tatty weeds!
I have learned, at last, to love dandelions. They are good for bees. And you have to admire the way they stake their claim in a mad splatter of untidy foliage, then throw up those fat, yolky flowerheads – TA-DA! It makes me smile. By what wizardry do those plump yellow blooms then transform into downy white seedheads? You never see the change happening… Happy memories of my woodland childhood, telling the time by dandelion clocks and plucking daisy petals to divine whether “he” loved me –
Don’t go there, Lizzie.
There’s no such thing as a weed, of course. Just flowers growing where people decree they don’t belong.
I’m not going to feel right today, am I? It’s one of those unyielding days. No comfort to be found, no matter how much I shuffle and fidget in my head.
How about this: today a weed, tomorrow a wildflower! Yes, tomorrow I will wear my splendid purple coat. I will be my own gaudy flower. I will put the mirror back in the cupboard –
BELLA! Don’t you dare eat that dog poo! Honestly, what IS wrong with you! I don’t know why I bother buying expensive dog food…
Come on, Bellabaloo, crazy girl, let’s go home.