Land and Water - 3
“Paradise haunts gardens and some gardens are paradises” – Derek Jarman.
In the car, on the way here, the sun peers between the trees. Its last few days of reliable appearance before sinking below the trees’ crown for winter.
When I get to Dungeness, I collect the key to the holiday let from the woman who lives in the house two along from mine. My house, when I enter it, smells of detergent and lack of use. I can see though, it will be easy enough to make cosy when the wood burner is lit and the throws on the chairs are spread over my lap. I take my bag out of the car and sort the box of food I’ve brought into the kitchen cupboards and small fridge.
All I want to do is go outside and soak in this wildest of places, and I reckon on around an hour of daylight before night falls. I love this time of transition – the hour between the bumblebee and the moth.
Here, boundaries are blurred – nothing is fenced in, so garden becomes road, becomes beach, becomes headland. This makes for interesting walking, eliciting both carefreeness and respect in the walker.
The easterly wind is chilly, but there is still residual heat in the air, meaning my tee-shirt and hoody keep me warm enough. I see the landscape as it is now, but I imagine it as it was in the spring and summer; what it will be when winter comes. I see myself in a similar way – I, now and I, before.
The shingle on the beach is ochre-pink and the sea kale sprouts through it in bluey green clumps. Cornflowers and strident pinks mingle still with lichens and mosses, while seagulls and crows swoop to pick what they can find in the seaweed skeins.
Dog rose, fennel and silver santolina linger from summer, but the feisty marigolds are now only skeleton versions of themselves. I picture how bright the gorse bushes’ yellow will look in the future, winter dusk.
Leftovers from industry and housing leave their mark, but somehow aptly here. Railway carriage beach huts, black tar on wood and corrugated irons roofs. Upturned, abandoned boats – holes in the side, out of which I’m sure I see the clever, arch glints of rats’ eyes.
In some gardens, sculptures have been made out of garden tools – trowels, like little hands, wave up to the expanse of sky. Old posts jutting out of the shingle, edges softened by saltwater spray, echo this greeting.
On the way back to the house, I pass an old lighthouse with its black and white tower. The scent of the sea after a storm fills the air around it and I wonder whether in this place, this is the true measurement of time – everything always just before or just after a storm.
Later, I sit by the window, looking out to the night. One of the lines from the Donne poem written on the side of the Jarman house is in my head – “Busy old fool, unruly sun”. The sun seems far away now, but I can see stars in the sky and the lights from the power station beam orange. Black and orange is always beautiful together. Ask the butterflies. Ask the tiger.
And was it love or something else? Something as shiny and unreal as the plants in the office where we met, where we screwed, where I told him we were going to have a child. Where he told me he didn’t want to see me again.
In the beginning, I should have noticed the shitty modernism of the place, its brutalism. I should have trusted my instincts. I’d convinced myself he was a poet.
My decision was my own. Not influenced by anyone, or anything other than circumstance and the absence of any other, viable choice. I circled round the decision, spiralling tighter and tighter towards its centre, rehearsing myself until I could bring myself to act. Until I could go through with it. I balanced potential with nothingness, and nothingness became the thing.
In the morning, in Dungeness, just outside the house I find a seedhead from a poppy. When I crush the seedhead, the freed seeds spread across my hand. Tiny fragments of blackened matter that hold the promise of becoming glorious red flowers. Seeds are the beginning and ending of things.
Here, the shingle is a mirror to the sky – both, today, a gleaming silver. By the door of the house is a clump of green-grey rue and I consider what I shall rue. What gaps and voids will I regret when this time becomes another time?
The blood of you is still leaking on to the pads I’m using to mop you up. This morning, the sea is solemn. The sky is solemn, and you are with me.