What It Is
She thought of herself as a conceptual artist so it was no surprise that what impressed her most about the ruins of the Abbey were the scoops of sky framed in the empty, perpendicular windows. The shapes the sky made held her silently on the grass while I reread the guide and stared at the architecture.
‘This is where the Bishop would have kept his carp, a muddy fish, often linked to unclean dreaming…and he would have entered here… the monks would have lined up against the north facing wall and linked their cassocks like so…’
She wasn’t listening. Triangles of blue flashed in stone arches and she stared on, her absorption unsettling.
‘The Abbey is still fit for purpose.' I read out loud, made companionable noises, anything to stop the silence and her asking the question. 'Albeit a ruin, it still prompts reflection by the accidental framing of the natural world by man made architecture. It is as if and, I quote Pevsner, “the empty immensity of space can only be contemplated through a Gothic keyhole” ’
‘It is what it is,’ she said in such a deep whisper that it had to be profound. But what was it? I had come here under false pretences. I’d come here to end things properly in dramatic surroundings but she was responding to the openness of stone and sky and I was faltering. Did I want to end it? I concentrated on her bad points. Her chin when she tucked it into her chest so she turned into a ruffled owl, only two aborted blowjobs in a year (although once I had stopped her), her meanness with money or perhaps her spaced out unawareness of how people were, her talk of openness contradicted by her refusal to introduce me to her friends. Friends I no longer wanted to meet and yet the physical side was so good, so very good and so simple. I lacked courage. The river flashed between the trees and I watched a column of Japanese climb to The Devil’s Pulpit. She linked her arm through mine and we turned back into the gift shop.
We got lost in the hills, paths diminishing into sheep droppings, paths we retrod with a frenzied circularity like our arguments. We stopped at a quarry and tripped a booming automated message that echoed through the ravine: you are trespassing and the police have been notified and then the sound of motorbikes through the trees, helmeted youths dirt-riding among the mud and ferns, roaring past us on the narrow hillside adding to the discomfort of our clenched stomachs. The quarry, the mysterious bikers, the automated message all seemed projections of our entangled terror. The argument would not end, this thing could not let us go and the path looped back to chunks of stones and the quarry.
I held her under the trees; she leaned back against me with little gold earrings dangling. She looked up and told me as I took her weight, ‘Don’t wobble…’ And it’s funny how that phrase means something more now. At the time her choice of the word was so typical -- wobble made it silly, infantile and trivial. Funny also. I took it at face value—do not wobble otherwise we will fall into the river but contained in that one wobble was our future together. She was fighting for the thing we had (‘it is what it is’) since I had stopped fighting. One only has to step back, relax one’s grip to see someone much more clearly and now I can see her so completely.
I had brought us to an area of outstanding natural beauty, approved by the Blue Guide, a place with sufficient natural melodrama to meet our ramped up expectations. I rehearse the details every evening: the landmarks, the Japanese tourists descending among dripping rhododendrons, her highly polished Doc Martins, glossy black bob with silver wisps curling over her ears. The suspended state between trust and truth and the growing intimacy in the car with her fingers circling the back of my neck. The drive past the race course and the sign to Usk and her brave joke: ‘Usk and it will be given,’ and for her that was a big thing. She had been trained not to ask, to keep things to herself, to read the signs but never speak the meaning, her reluctance to ever ask the question.
So here it was this valley, shrouded with the foreignness of another country's white stone and water and the ruined abbey by the river. A place where I might finally remove the corn cob from up my arse and stop being so fucking informative. But would I ever go off piste? Could I ever communicate the truth—that I was obsessed by her and getting ill. Instead we had the landscape to enjoy. The grandeur might punctuate what we were about to loose which didn’t need any punctuating. It was vanity pure and simple - I wanted to fix us forever in this space so she would have to remember the sky-filled windows and claustrophobic thickets. The false hope of that quarry where excavations had stopped, waiting for me to seize the controls of the digger and begin digging.
The hotel was modest, the food was good—we had good appetites—there I go again, the informative voice steps in when feeling would do better. The rationalizing spirit that makes the best out of disaster. I was shocked to see her tucking into stewed lamb shank while I had the prawn cocktail. She might even have offered to help me out. She insisted on seeing our room. The receptionist didn’t like that at all. Where else could we go at this hour in the darkness in these remote hills? But I’m not being truthful. She thought things might have been patched up by the walk and our closeness, me supporting her as we climbed down the hill in the dusk, until she asked the question.
We were lying on one of the twin beds in that abandoned room and the mind is in a vortex looking down upon this wretched scene, a hopeless battle in a red room, that surge of lust I always felt when she was in my arms starting in the pit of my stomach and she was begging ‘please end it… I can’t.’
The noisy weir tumbling through our dreams gave voice to the tumult and grief, the feeling you are losing your twin—a twice in a lifetime shot at real intimacy. After crying and roaring and an orgy of nose blowing when I tried to blow harder than her, ‘typical you have to give everything back with interest,’ she touched herself up with red lipstick and then gave it to me, ‘give it a go,’ she said.
We slept snuffling, fully clothed, she was curled next to me with my arm around her lovely plump belly. The weir was running pell-mell through the cold and dark and I wanted to get out of there: damp walls, the smell of an autopsy in progress and her black hair on the pillow. We got up to smoke cigarettes on the veranda and wandered down to the weir . She said, ‘I wonder what would happen if we made love…’
It was a winter morning in England; maids were banging doors, laughing. We had no time left, this last night to get at the truth, while the diggers in the hillside were standing idle, had passed. But we still hovered in the bedroom mirror, dabbing on lipstick.