black and white analog photograph shown with text (below)
Residency in Tsarino, Bulgaria, 2016
I remember seeing her silhouette early in the morning, walking up the hill, with a long bent stick and a small bag low on her back. I wanted to go with her. She had probably gone around the back way, past the dog sheds. She spent whole days away by herself, eating only bananas and cheese sandwiches. I knew she had her notebook, as this was no longer in her top drawer by her neatly made bed.
I wondered if she knew that I was watching her? Did she know that I wanted her to invite me to walk up that steep hill with her?
She usually returned just before three. She would set her bag on the floor, leaving her stick on the porch next to her shoes. I would rush to the table, as this is where she would sit. We would share a pot of tea and a packet of malt biscuits which we would sandwich together with soft butter. Her face would be relaxed and we’d laugh easily together. However I never had the courage to ask her what she had done in those long hours alone. For me the hours without her were endlessly long, I felt incomplete and forced in my games, which were always directed to the east, the direction from which she would return.
And now many years later, I saw her with her stick. She peeked back and saw me as I was watching her. She turned to face me, although quite far away, had she seen me? I struggled with the vision of her approaching, as her form gradually increased in size.
She set aside her stick, removed her shoes, sat down at the table and asked me what I was going to do today and if she could maybe join me. I had my books at the table and some fruit in the sink. “Yes” I replied. If I had known she would stay I would have made my plans differently.
“I don’t mind what we do” she said.
We wash and chop the apples together. I look intently at her hands, she has a cut on the bendy part of her pointer finger, with movement it opens and a little blood comes out. She puts it in her mouth and sucks it away. I want to touch her hands. Instead I keep on chopping the fruit and turn on the radio, tuning to her favorite station.
Washed and chopped, with the bad bits removed we have piled the fruit into a big old pot, with sugar and water. It slowly starts to simmer, filling the house with the dark sharp smell of autumn apples and blackberries. A flush of panic What is she doing? Why is she here? What does she want from me? I rush out of the kitchen, I need to be outside. I leave by the back door, putting on my gumboots quickly as I nearly run to my spot, shady and scented, between the big Camelias going down the drive. I feel the wet and decomposing leaves and the squishy fallen flowers beneath my palms. I take handfuls to my nose, trying to feel that I am of material and in the real world. I breath the smell deep into my gut and feel reassured by these familiar wet plant smells. What is she doing? What game is she playing? I lie on my side, my cheek squashed down on the sweet earth. I want to eat this earthy smell. I am reassured by the dirt and camelia trees.
With a stiff pain in my joints and the sun in a low position I awake. I remember her presence in the house and get tense with this knowledge. The wind moves the thick leaves as if to shake me into action.
Returning to the house, noticing the long shadows and feeling the waning soft heat from the sun, I wonder if she is still there. Through the kitchen window I see her bending over the table. I rush to the back door, not really believing it is her. “Would you like a cup of tea?” she asks as I enter “Yes” I answer not thinking of thirst. Eight jars of jam sit in jars on the table. The dark smell has sweetened. The dishes have been washed and have been left to dry on the rack. The radio is giving information on the tides. A pot of tea, two cups, two plates, a knife, malt biscuits and butter are set on the table. Saying nothing we sit. I look at her, she is looking at me, I turn away quickly.
The biscuits are gone, a few crumbs she pushes around her plate with the knife. I notice a ripped fingernail that looks painful. The teapot is empty. We do not refill it.
Her gaze I can feel and I sneak looks at her, each time longer. I notice the lines that have formed around her eyes, her skin is tanned and dry. I would like to offer her some moisturizer and apply it to her face, gently around her dark eyes. I don’t.
The evening light now enters the west facing kitchen window and leaves long dark streaks behind the sugar pot sitting on the windowsill. The yellow light softens all, my questions and doubts edge further away to an area where I no longer toy with them. I relax into my chair knowing I don’t need to know. She looks out the window to the close by hills, intense greens darkened by their own shadows.