Wednesday, June 11

It’s Nice That

I AM SITTING, READING, on the sofa. The window is open – both windows; the original pane, and a secondary glazing to keep out the sound of the trains – but only a very warm breeze is inquisitive enough to intrude. During the heat of the day, stood fast on the sill, my basil plant has wilted considerably. I take a watering can to it while another train passes, and, with it, the gigantic metallic iron rocking its frogs. Opposite me, on the coffee table, beside the stack of books, is a glass vase, thick and empty. Once upon a time it was full to bursting, and most likely, before that, in the distance of another tenant, it was full again. I stop to wonder whether it was bought, this vase, for a particular occasion.
But it is so hot. I cannot move quickly.
There is a glass of wine by my side, balanced on the sofa. I read and take sips and perspire while barely moving a muscle. Getting into bed, I stay out of the covers; during the night, I subconsciously stir and pull the duvet over me.
When was it not so warm?
Year four, and under the teaching eyes of Mrs. Mellor. Our classroom was a temporary shed, a demounted building, stocked, to a moderate degree, of learning apparatus and the walls colourfully strapped with the excited work of now proud children. There were vats and vats of white PVA glue. Outside of the classroom our playground awaited. For an hour and a half a day, it was alive and young; then its portrait became grey and lonely.
‘I don’t like the word “young”,’ said Mrs. Mellor. ‘It’s a boring word. So many other better words can be used in its place.’ She went off listing them, tirelessly scribbling each on the board in a manic rush to get the next one down. ‘It’s not a pleasant word. It’s not a remarkable word. It’s an adjective someone might use when telling a white lie, without hurting your feelings. For instance, if you cooked them a meal and you asked them what they thought and they said—“Oh, it was nice!” Then they didn’t really like it, but they don’t want to say so for fear of hurting your feelings.’ She prattled on and it was of the hour when children are to gaze wistfully outside to where they are about to play.
The playground was atop of a hill, so that the hill ran down the side of it, and pine trees bordered the edges. That was where the wind blew and – unless it was raining – we were to play. During those winter months, all I remember of the scene is the colour grey, and all of us as a crowd that bobbed and throbbed through it. I could not wait to be out in it.
‘Before you go for lunch – I see I’ve already lost some of you – there is a competition I want to tell you about.’ She then proceeded to tell us that the school was commissioning a set of Christmas cards from the students. Everyone was to produce a card and the best one of each year would be selected and sold as part of a pack of six. Ears stirred; children love creativity and competition. I, too, listened carefully. I thought of what my card would look like.
In silence the wind shook the pines trees and took needles over the length of the playground. Some cold snuck in the classroom and crept up our grey trousers and grey skirts. It was two minutes until we were set free into it. Rosily our cheeks held on to the warmth of the electric heaters.
I removed my jeans and placed them on the sofa. All of me my flesh was damp. It was too hot to continue my reverie. I poured another glass of wine and stared at the window, ajar and unhelpful.

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