I am so sick of me today, so when the sun finally drops below the spring rain clouds and fills the house with a sudden brightness I look up from my work-desk with anticipation: will it?… For I am just so sick of rain, and grey, and my own poor company and have been waiting for gold for a whole wet week. Wait in my thoughts my love, and I will talk about gold. For I am so tired of me.
The clouded window glass is turning to framed sheet lightning, and the room becomes momentarily nirvana. The light slips away, comes back, slips again. There is grey looming at the edges of this day like the dregs of a dream, the aura of a migraine that might … or might not.
The windows need their own appreciation. They work overtime to deliver whatever it is windows do when they don’t let you look out. For these are Victorian Religious and not designed for Quotidian Usage. Cloudy yellow diamonds, hundreds of them, set into my walls in latticed lead channels, within nine huge window frames: three-metre-tall arches with stone trunk and branches to hold them steadily aloft. At the pointy top of each an arrowhead of topaz and citrine. When the afternoon sun hits, they flow like under-cooked toffee, crinkled and bubbling.
The light is getting better, shadows from the windows’ ribs and bevels smearing unfocused down the walls. There’s the rub: down; the light is spilling down. The sun is still too high, and I have to wait longer for the thing to happen.
I cannot wait; I need to move out of this dreary mood and into that limpid boiling candy world. Dammit, the sun goes again; like a teasing lover at the edge of my reach, he swings in and out of range and I am tempted to say ‘Fuck you, sir’ and stomp off like a sulking teenager to find another, truer lover. But this is the sun and—like you—there is no one to compare.
Sun comes back and leans on the wall outside, stares in at me from his too tall perch. I am cool, I can play this losers’ game very well. I shrug nonchalantly… You and whose army? I say … but I know he’s going to take me, get me, steal me away from the last fired hearth of the season.
The glass of these thousand diamonds—do I have to count them for you? Don’t make me count them—is translucent and yellow. I know, I said that already. But translucent—not transparent; the light comes through uncleanly in the blur and opacity of oiled silk, of fingernails and dragonfly wings, of a hangover. And yellow, how many yellows can you think of? I can see forty shades, from the thin gold of a baby’s first hair and the pale cream of a mother’s first milk, through apples, peaches, tropical fruits—both flesh and skin—, to sands of gold and sands of dust, summer butter, winter honey and the pale puce underbelly of a flea. Some of these mathematical shards hold wrinkles so clearly I can follow the flow dynamics that formed them; the frozen dimples of a puppy’s furrowed brow, a child’s feet after too long at the pool, here a powdered grandmother’s neck sepia-photographed, there the crumpled lace that once soothed vanity at her throat.
The sun slips away again. But I am patiently here. I count a hundred colours of yellow, and seventy-three shapes of wrinkle. Fuggit, old sun, I am up for your games today… and I know the prize, for this is my house now, and accident has made it beautiful. I have only just found, a few days ago, how very beautiful. I could stop being surprised at the beauty that accidents have delivered this year, but that would seem smug.
Last week, Selwyn came over and we hung the Chinese shop sign on the high south wall above the bookshelves, between the huge door and the southern corner. I have no clear idea what the sign says or what the shop sold, or when. The sign is made of heavy old wood and is the size of a fat soldier’s billet, weighs more than I want to think about when I’m sitting below it, and took two of us to lift it into the only suitable gap, hang it on strong hooks. The sign is in crafted calligraphy, brushstrokes reproduced in fretted plywood and tacked to the blistered, enamelled ground. Part of the spoils of the overseas divorce, it’s been in storage and shipping containers for two years. A Chinese colleague, Jane, once translated it for me, as far as she could: three main characters the size of bed pillows read, from the left: Fountain/source/spring. Peace/wealth. Virtue.
Interpret that as you will, for Jane wasn’t sure. Surmise what they sold: tea? orphans? bank loans? Not important anymore; it’s not my shop. Those three ciphers, and the six hand-sized ones below, that she could not translate—address or owner’s name, she suggested, and I wondered about a language that could combine house and human in such a way—they are all gold leafed. And gold is what I am waiting for today.
On the shelf in the middle of the room is a small dish, mossy green, with a black-sketched barge sailing its shallow porcelain pool. It has a thin dark gold rim and it too is waiting. Over here a small gilt-framed watercolour. We are all waiting for the light. We are all sick of ourselves and we need the sun to—
Ayyyeeee! There!! And my breath is taken away. Like I wanted.
For the sun has found the sweet spot between noon and dusk, and shines through the thousand diamonds, flicking the bowl, spraying the walls. Sun is teasing the bottom edge of the characters, fluttering his golden fingertips at the figures on the wall. Ohhh, slips away, aahhh, slips back. It’s like he’s drawing out the moment, a skilful lover delaying the climax—or a negligent one, missing the moment and sliding away to watch TV, leaving their partner in a spate of vinegar frustration.
Light dulls again. I get anxious and watch the air darken inside the room. A tourist at a sacred rite I now feel entitled; I am owed this moment of magic between waves of light and earthy elements simply by being here, the solitary observer. I can forget that my home was once sanctified, but if ever a congregation was here at the right moment the priest would have nothing to do but let them watch. A god found; a belief guaranteed.
Darkening again… the walls have receded into dusk, the ancient enamel of the FountainPeaceVirtue shop has lost its redness and sits in a slab of dark brown. I washed the bottom half of one window last summer, and now I focus on that one while the others rebuke me with their dirt, a hundred years of plains dust in their corners and latches. The sun calls me back: ‘look at me’ he says, the jealous tart of him. Yeah, what ya got? I say back, but I know what he can do, and he does it: a flood, a rush, a pulsing of light on gold.
The gold leaf itself, like the windows, is not of one colour; a sign-maker’s skill and age have made layers of light, floating leaves over sanguine water.
Outside in the trees and here in the roof, the birds are doing their evening prayers to Chaos. But I’m trapped, stuck like a fly in treacle, pinned by the sight of a proximate lover. I can do nothing but wait and enjoy, and wait for the chill of loss, and then wait again. In here there is silence and poise and poignancy. Imminence. If any action were available to me, I would take it on the rush.
The wind picks up outside and, over my shoulder, I see the east windows have become clouded, opaqued by failing light. My back is turned to the east, warmed by the late season fire, averted from the night and obligations to work.
For I have no-one to share this glory with. I am thinking of you and wondering what and why and when. And if. If you ever come here can I turn on this spectacle of accident, of gold flashes from the words on the wall, the bowl on the shelf, the corner of a tilted picture frame. Where would we be, that you were here with me looking at this? For we’re not at that place now nor have we ever been through months of me slowly occupying this space of mine, this carapace, this house as exoskeleton. I smile to think of me, once mistaken for Sigourney Weaver, striding across galaxies in a battle suit of Victorian brick and a thousand yellow diamonds. And you, my untouchable, burning love, blazing beside me.
The sun drops low and shines again. A hot white dot on the wall, limping across the edge of the board, tells me that somewhere there’s a hole in one of my diamonds; I’ll find it one day and seal the draft with clear packing tape—my glazier’s weapon of choice this impecunious year.
Something taps so convincingly somewhere that I get up to open the door. Of course, there is no-one there. I’m the only witness as the sunlight once more rises into strength; my evening is being tantalized by a skilful tease-artist but I’m ok with this. Soft, strong, dim, bright, dim, bright, soft, strong… what are you doing out there, sky?
The white dot is a few centimetres higher now and I can see where the break is, a sharp prick of dazzle in the top of the end window. That’s going to need a long ladder. But this year I have acquired skills and one of them is moving 25 Kg, 3 metre ladders through the crowded room like a toddler bringing a feather through a kindergarten. Another skill is stretching the ladder out to its full 6 metre and—and I want fucking applause for this one—getting to the top without screaming, freezing or falling. Thank you; I agree, amazing.
Almost the end of the day. Mottled glows spread along the walls and across the darkening spaces of my strange little home. One last bright burst, like the green flash of an eclipse through the congealing glass, is now missing the gold and hitting my eyes directly. OK, burn me out; the end of a day with only myself for company is often problematic, and this day is just one such. For I woke thinking of the day we met and how I rose and fell like tides over the two hours, like a house in the inconstant clouds, shifting in the light of your new-found friendship, thinking I should run as fast and as far as I could from the unintentional hurt I knew would come. Yet here I am, and I am learning to … cope? No; to absorb. Learning to absorb as if I were sound-deadening foam, or some bomb-disposing robot, wiping out the bombs I made all by myself. To die at the rising pain and revive at the ebbing of pain, like a disaster victim. To say: the joy yes, but the hurt. The hurt yes, but the joy. With a form of practiced resistance that some might call resignation.
The light is dying. The windows become the yellow-grey of mould, of cheap cooking and stained sheets. My mood sinks, for the dark can be lonely and I am so sick of myself. Why can’t you share this, why weren’t you here, how can I tell you how beautiful it is and how it bleeds through me knowing that you are this beautiful too, that you contain a light I can only see in memory. The windows darken, the toffee burns. The touches of gold across the room become the lights of distant cars on a wet night road.
I am suspended, a wasp in amber, a thought in coma. You are held in my mind, as the observer behind my eyes, the hearer of my inner dialog, the tangible absence that a year ago didn’t even exist. I suppose that magic will come to me again if I just wait long enough. But it feels that I don’t have long enough.
The light turns briefly roseate in the last, western-most arched spear of diamonds. Half a thousand yellows have become a hundred pinks. FountainPeaceVirtue gleams like the memory of a childhood party as the white dot of missing glass moves further up the south wall then fades to gone. The sun falls faster as it approaches the horizon, the mythic horses of its chariot are bolting home to stable and a feed, in an unscientific metaphor that I smile to think you might hate—or love, just to tease me. The tops of the arches are rusting towards a fleshy orange: dried blood, precious metal, blushing afterglow.
It is now completely dark inside, except for the red scratches of the fire behind me. One window burns bronze. The dancing characters of FountainPeaceVirtue are no longer attached to a thing; they are darkly adrift above a black hole in space. I pour one—golden—whisky. Birds scramble in the rafters.
Night has come home. I miss you, and it’s right that you don’t know how much.