Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Woman On The Bridge

The silence sang. Vast, absolute, compressed beneath the weight of a hot summer sky, the silence sang. Alone in the wide shallow valley, standing on the narrow, raised strip of pebble rich concrete, she listened.
Every time the express had passed through the halt on the voyage out, she had promised herself that she would, one day, take a local train and alight.
Since the train had vanished in the temporal haze, the only movement was the flow of heated air rising from the platform. The languid currents caressed her face with stale fingers.
Dazed, she turned and sought shade, walking along the platform toward the old, pre-cast concrete footbridge. The steel rails shone, spearing the the world beyond to this point. The shimmering distance was heavy with time and the immediate surroundings were filled with the fading traces of things that were once there.
Beneath the uneven sections of the platform a deep ditch lay in the shade. Beyond it, a road, the surface broken and soft, tufts of parched grass erupted through the glistening macadam.
The fields, too, were going back to the wild. Hedgerows spreading, waist high thistles on the margins, and wild grasses dying in the cracked silt. Toward the river, willows grew. Even they stood still.
Beyond all that, heat haze evanesced the chalk downs where trees now put roots into the poor soil.
There was no relief from the swelter in the shadow of the footbridge. She looked up at the overhead walkway. Perhaps, she thought, there will be a breeze up there.

Layers of heat. An archaeology of silence. A wider view of the valley and a sense of the depth of all the time that lay beyond into the ever dark and empty.
A subtle flickering spoke of the swift succession of night and day, hypnotic in its regularity, kaleidoscopic; events and objects shimmered in and out of focus. For brief moments the old buildings of the station, hazy and dreamlike, wavered on the edge of vision, more a vivid memory of something never before seen than a returning reality. They had gone before their presence properly registered, but the revenant form of a woman walking along the platform faded less quickly, disappearing only as she passed into shadow beneath the bridge.

Lost there in the suppressing closeness, isolated, displaced, there was a sense of unparalleled loneliness, of absolute belonging, of her heels pressed in the sand. It had been there since she left death’s room, torn away from the dying part of herself.
Love is not a cement that grafts one distinct entity to another; it is a solvent that melds them. The space left when one is gone is no simple hole to be discerned by the absence, no simple wound to be healed. It is a series of complex and organic multi-dimensional fault lines. We look to others to find ourselves. When they have gone...
A tear rolled down Charlie’s cheek, evaporating to leave a salt track on her flesh.

To be aware of it all is a weight. It stifles. Ennervates. Nothing seems to move whilst all life goes on.
And the silence.
From the bridge, the whole valley was tangible. Ephemeral the aeons as faint creamy flecks settle in the primordial gloom. Swift the ages as the land rose and fell. Transitory the millennia as people scoured its face. Fleeting the lifetimes as they built their empires. Endless the hours in which they touched one another, dancing past, phantoms with familiar faces.
A woman crossed the tracks, upright, permanently startled, down from walking the high grassland and heading for home across the river. Her thread was bright in the tapestry, a shimmering visionary who had, for a moment, seen the world through which Charlie sailed.
She watched as the woman shifted in and out of the wavering day, lost sight of her as the lacework in the blue above was torn.

Childhood memories flashed through from a dark past, like looking from a train at night; glimpses of life in lighted windows. A beam of understanding sweeping across a hidden landscape, picking out places, times, people, incidents. The only way to see them, know them and comprehend the connections between would be to go to the lighthouse and follow the beam from there. It was something she had been trying to do ever since she knew she could move through the dark and into the lighted moments.

She woke her from drowsing over her book - a rare edition of Shelmerdine’s The Oak Tree, open at the final page. Drugged by the heat, she sat cross-legged in the small shadow afforded by the high side of the footbridge, staring blankly at the page.
Crook-kneed, she pulled herself up into the afternoon. The sky was seared to a pale blue, the sun seeking the horizon in a haze. Nearby trees were bowed and weary, limp in the soporific air.
Approaching the bridge across the river, a thin figure followed in the wake of its shadow. Charlie knew the face; long, with eyes that teetered between laughter and tears, light and dark, with all they could not help but see.

A slow, disbelieving inevitability. The vast surge of time flowed in from all directions, sweeping everything up, crushing, mixing, breaking down. Helpless, borne on the waves, carried in four-dimensional vortices, torn, broken, stranded, breathless.

Charlie closed the book and tucked it away safely in a pocket. The years had passed, the storm had gone, and slowly all the pieces had settled into a pattern. Sometimes the step across was simple and smooth. Sometimes...
She walked to the end of the bridge and looked across to the river. The trees were smaller and the view was clearer.

Here now, between the acts, the simple actions. The putting on of the coat, the picking up of stones along the way.
Who is the woman on the bridge?
Behind the scenes?
Trapped in the interstices?
Lost between events?
Drifting between one action and the next?

Moments of clarity are rare, often shocking. Charlie rushed down the steps, almost falling on that late March afternoon. When she reached the river there was no one to be seen.
And between one action and the next, that clarity again. She could no more have saved the woman on the bridge than she had been able to save the woman in blue shoes or the girl with honey coloured hair.
We each follow our arrow no matter how much we weave about in the wheeler’s dance, no matter which position we take. The patterns cannot be changed, no matter how often you turn the kaleidoscope. The elements are always the same, merely observed from different perspectives, traced from different starting points.
Charlie stood on the bridge looking down into the muddy waters of the river; left when she heard voices. In the distance, a train wrote its passage through the valley with steam that faded in the sky blue.