Place of writing: My home in South Wales
When I began writing for Times Shifting my life had been put on pause. I had moved from my university in London back home to be with family during the lockdown, and in many ways I felt that I was regressing.
Taking part in the Times Shifting programme allowed me to find the value and beauty in my current experiences again. Even in the midst of a pandemic, I was able to give myself a sense of freedom to explore and expand my world through my writing.
* * *
The Half Alive
The only thing less bearable than the cold was the screaming.
The empty car park was coated in ice, I shivered and prayed they would let us inside the store soon.
Somebody shouted. I turned my head, it was a young man at the back of the queue, telling the old woman to be quiet.
She lay on her side, out in the centre of the car park. She paid no attention, or perhaps she could not hear him. She continued to cry out as she had for the past half hour. Rivulets of blood had long congealed on the ice around her. Her face was hidden but if I looked closely, I could see the bone that pierced out of her leg. I swallowed the bile rising in my throat.
I didn’t see it when she fell but I heard the thump against the ice and the sickening crack of her leg. She didn’t scream at first, but the sound of her leg shattering was loud enough to draw all eyes towards her.
My jaw locked and I bit so hard on my bottom lip that I drew blood. I shifted, muscles tingling ready to sprint towards her. But the woman in front turned and fixed me with her pale stare. Her eyes froze me in place, seeming both to plead with me not to go and condemn me for even considering it.
By now the screaming had begun and the blood began to spread around her injured leg. I noticed the bone had ripped through the skin, and I knew there must be more injuries somewhere for there to be so much blood.
Balling my fists I forced myself to stay where I was and think of my family. My wife at home, big with our second child, wrapped up warm beside the fire, our daughter playing and laughing at her feet. Both were safe. Both were healthy. Wholly untouched by the virus that had scourged the world. But that was only because I kept them so, because I put them before everything else. Neither of them had gone further than our garden in months, since this all began. My wife had wanted to go on living as normally as she could, to take our daughter on walks through the deserted town and visit the supermarket on Fridays. It had all seemed like a dream to her, like a strange surreal nightmare. The real threat was hard to comprehend. But she had listened when I begged. I dreaded to think what could happen to her in her vulnerable state should she contract it.
I pressed my mask closer to my face, smoothing down the gaps at the edges like a second skin. I fixed my eyes on the back of the woman in front of me. I tried to tune out the screams. The security guards called for us to move forward, and we did so one by one. I moved into the next space, maintaining a distance of four metres from the woman in front.
Behind me people whispered, shifting uneasily. The screams only seemed to get louder but I rooted my feet to the ice. All of us had parents, and spouses and children. All of us had people we had to keep safe. Was it worth it, to go to her? An unfortunate stranger. To pick her up. To put your face so close to hers. To risk the contact with her bare skin.
None of us moved from where we stood.
The queue shuffled forward again, and I prayed that they would let me in soon.
* * *
Glossary of Words with New Meanings
You counted the magpie, one for sorrow,
knowing that you must leave tomorrow.
The empty streets are crowded with silence,
filled almost to bursting with the quiet.
There are masks, gloves, arrows on the floor,
and security stands at every door.
Mistrust comes first with every stranger,
and the hours play out like dystopian fiction.
Silence’s skin spreads over our small town
wrapping all in its black burial shroud.
Broken by birdsong and our fearful moans.
We lock the doors but still it fills our homes.
After one final meal, we shut up our house.
Our suitcases packed, and friendships thrown out.
Goodbyes on the doorstep, the first in months.
They fled away on trains and planes. A bus
took me to my home under the mountain,
a refuge from the uncertain future.
Two metre’s distance, from family, from friends
Two thousand from blue kisses and cruel men,
They kept me clothed in spider webs, barefoot
But now I cocoon in the realm of my girlhood,
and I’ve grown to worship these solitary nights,
so black the stars shine blindingly bright.
* * *
Life has not left forever
Life has not left forever.
Cry! But remember this –
The birds will go on singing
when all of us fall silent.
And the children will keep laughing
though we’re driven to crying.
And though we do not feel it,
the earth, it keeps on spinning.
Although we stand alone
And feel we are isolated.
Your laughter turns to tears
when the telephone call ends.
But so does everybody
who feels they’re without friends.
The injury and heartbreak
is enough to lose all hope.
And you’re no less a person
if it has made you so.
But hands are still made to be held.
And lips to sweetly kiss.
Life has not left forever
Cry! But remember this.
All writing, all images © The Imagining History Programme UK