Sunday, May 20, 2007

Remembering Aphrodite

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.

10 comments:

nmj said...

Signs, I just got to your Mr Moon story, very lovely it is too, will not be able to think of forget-me-nots the same way again.

Collin said...

You never know how people are actually going to touch your life. The part about you going up to look for the tearoom made me flash on "Brief Encounter". Tearooms on train platforms always do.

Ms Melancholy said...

Good grief, I think I met her once on a women's massage course. More baggage than the left luggage deparment. And I get that when you see her there, all alone on the platform, you see something new. Quite lovely.

Reading the Signs said...

nmj, I'm pleased that you liked it, thanks. Me, I love forget-me-nots. Where these stories come from - a mystery sometimes.

collin, yes - I hadn't considered that but of course. And it was, in its way, a brief encounter.

ms melancholy, I think she is all over the place and you probably did meet her - or the shadow of her. I only "saw" her when it was too late.

nmj said...

Re. Aphrodite,you get her on every writing course, don't you? And even though she makes you insane, you don't want to see her unhappy and abandoned like this. That is awful for anyone to face.

Reading the Signs said...

nmj, it's funny how one assesses things looking back. She was chaotic but actually had a naive happiness about her - and she was a good writer. She just needed to be "met" and we couldn't, or wouldn't.

cusp said...

Glad you're back and posting again.

The sort of person you describe is terribly dificult to deal with I think. Their need can be suffocating -- for themselves and others. The sadness that surrounds them seems to invade any space they enter. In the past I would have been unable to walk away. Now I try to be more protective of myself without being cruel. Often people like her will go on receiving until you have nothing left to give.

Reading the Signs said...

I know, cusp, but feel in retrospect we missed a trick somewhere. Our loss as well as hers.

Anyway - hi, I'll be over to visit soon.

goodthomas said...

Oh my goodness. What a story, a beautiful and sad and wonderful and vibrant story. What a wonderful character.

You painted her beautifully, from "All her luggage was in a small overnight bag. She made up for this in emotional baggage" the rain falling from her eyelashes. Oh goodness.

So how was the play?

Reading the Signs said...

Hey, goodthomas - so you caught a glimpse of her too ? :)

The play was an extraordinary undertaking and I hope good things come of it for her. She has real drive and confidence in herself - so good to see, as I never had enough of those things.