‘No,’ I say, but when she tells me the news, I realise I had heard; a comment I picked up but didn’t understand. I understand it now.
‘I’m upset,’ she says, and I want to tell her not to be silly. Instead, I feel my eyes well up.
We talk and she hangs up. I realise I’ve burnt the toast.
I see the calm colours of autumn in the jam-jar on the windowsill – cinnamon, sage, red apple - but the sky is overcast and the colours are dull and shadowed. There is no sense of purpose to the day; no list of things to do. Time hangs on a nail behind the kitchen door. I take it down, shrug it across my shoulders and go out.
My walk takes me through the cemetery and I see the damage done by yesterday’s weather. A young couple are tending a grave. I don’t look at the headstone – I know what I might see. I’m reminded that nothing is permanent, even underground, and the peace I expected to find here escapes me. What do we leave behind when we die? A name and a memory... If we’re lucky, a touch on someone’s soul.
I cross the road to the park, narrowly avoiding death by BMW, the female driver of which has mistaken the 30mph road for the autobahn.
A man is putting tables and chairs out in front of the cafe. It’s not open yet, which means the Winter Gardens aren’t open either. Why did I think they would be? I tell myself it doesn’t matter but I’m lying. The Winter Gardens are my thinking place; the place for sitting by the giant thistles and fitting pieces of my life together.
I cut across the grass to avoid the woman who cannot control her dog and continue down to the boating pond to sit on the bench. There’s nobody here except me.
That’s when I feel it - the warmth of the sun on my face. I hadn’t noticed it come out. Across the water, diamonds of reflected sunlight sparkle - so bright they bring tears to my eyes.
I’m not lover of art. I don’t know how to react to a splurge of colours on canvas. Or appreciate fine brush strokes on paper. And yet, this evening, I chance upon your painting. It has started to rain, and I don’t have an umbrella. So I step inside the nearest door. As I brush off the raindrops from my coat, I look around. I’ve walked into an art gallery, and you are there, beaming at me. Urging me to come and look at your art. I hesitate. I don’t want to move around and make appropriate noises. Nor make eye contact with you. I have things to do. But you seem so alone in this space. So needy of appreciation that I walk around the room. You paint local scenes. The farmers’ market. The Dover crossing. The white cliffs seem to be your favourite subject. I cannot believe what I see. This painting: The study of a boy with an aeroplane. I look closer and my breath stops. I turn to look at you. Are you some kind of sorcerer who has drawn me in here? Where did you do this painting? I ask. By the…
“She’s not dead, you know,” a voice beside me says. The woman sharing the park bench in Kensington Palace Gardens has been observing me write on the back of a postcard. Years have passed since that immeasurable worldwide torrent of grief. Even so less than fifteen minutes ago, I’d found myself unable to walk past that famous face on a display of vintage cards at a Bayswater Road stall. “Diana’s not dead.” The woman shifts on her thighs and re-settles herself on the bench, a faint unidentifiable smell exuding from her dirty grey overcoat. Really, I can’t help myself when it comes to Diana. You have had to be around in her time to understand the mesmerising effect she had on people. “Oh?” “She wasn’t in that coffin.” “Oh?’ Despite myself, I am intrigued. The woman eyes me steadily, holding me fast with her gaze. “No. She’s in a mental institution.” The tone is matter of fact. “Under lock and key. They’ve kept it from everyone.” She gives me time to consider this, turning her attention to a m…