On Friday I went to London to see a play written and directed by my daughter as part of a festival she has been involved with. The high of this made me think I could, at 11.30, trawl with daughter and others over to Charing Cross, mingle with the bright, the gifted and the energetic in a smoke-fogged corner of a bar and drink champagne, lending my voice to the swell that was chorussing along with the pianist singing Bohemian Rhapsody (thunderbolt and light’ning, very very fright’ning), not remembering that I don’t do the Fandango or this kind of thing any more. Sometimes I am like Mickey Mouse running off the edge of a cliff and, in a cartoon, you can keep going for quite a while before you stop and look down into the abyss. I used to think that if only Mickey could stop himself from looking down everything would be ok and he would get over to the other side without going into free fall. Next day, after not much sleep, it was poetry workshop day. In the middle of the workshop I felt the ground go from under me. I am getting a cold, or the M.E. equivalent. I have too many things lined up for next week. Life, even in the slow lane, has to be managed. Begin to speed up a little and soon you expect to be able to do more. I am not looking down yet. I know what’s there.
I am still catching up with the landscape and images from the Hebrides. On the long drive home what occupied me was not so much the week just spent but a time from the past – a writing week - spent with a group of women on one of the islands. There was one woman who joined us at the last minute. She wore a thin, low cut T shirt and was badly prepared for the conditions of a place where the weather is changeable and often cold. All her luggage was in a small overnight bag. She made up for this in emotional baggage. In the first five minutes of meeting her you knew that her marriage was in crisis, she and her husband had six children between them, she was into Wicca and nature goddess worship and she had changed her name six times, the latest name being, let us say, Aphrodite. Any opportunity and she would talk without taking breath about her life situation, concerns and philosophy. So set was I on avoiding her that I didn’t discover what that was. She borrowed clothes and wellingtons and took energy. I would have drawn lots not to sit near her at supper and when landed with her next to me on the coach back to get the ferry I made it clear I didn’t want to talk and looked out of the window.
On the train back to Glasgow from Oban, she texted her husband to say she was coming home. He replied telling her not to bother. She telephoned a B & B number she had written down on a scrap of paper, a place en route where the owner said he’d fetch her from the station. A group of us looked at each other, relieved. Less of her company. One useful item she had brought with her was a thin red pac-a-mac rain jacket with a hood which she had on when she stepped off the train. There was no-one to meet her and she stood on the platform grinning at us through the window, rain dripping from her eyelashes and nose and running in streams off her red hood. As the train began to pull out she held her palms out, shrugged her shoulders and pulled a silly face before waving goodbye. I don’t know what happened to her. But I do know that as the train moved away not a girl or woman of us wouldn’t have pulled her back inside the carriage, shared a bit of time, something warm, set her up for the journey ahead, embraced her. And when she’d gone we missed her.
I remembered her as we passed by that back-of-beyond station, in the car, looking for somewhere to stop. A rusty sign said tearoom, but there wasn’t any. I went up to the platform to see if there might be one there. The platform was deserted and there was nothing. Just the ghost of Aphrodite, waving.