Coming past the apartment below me I heard from the stairs the unmistakeable noises of grief.
Fresh, recent, still shocking grief. It was new, and she was pleading with him. I stood hesitating on the steps. He had just delivered some devastating blow and her voice rose and I heard how clearly everyone must have heard me, all this year while I’ve been grieving.
I could hear how it hadn’t quite sunk in, she still sounded like it might all go away, if she could reason with him – with death. With Fate. Oh, denial. Your friendly, obtuse embrace, like a bear hug from a family member we don’t quite know well enough and aren’t comfortable with.
It is autumn and I pass a tree which seems always to be filled with birds. This singing tree is in the street where my former lover lives and which I pass down every week on my way to life drawing. I showed him the tree one day, five years back when we were courting, and remarked what good fortune it made to have a pretty, mop-headed tree shaking its tresses in your own street. “I’ve just never seen it,” he said, looking blankly at the coffee shop beside it where he bought his coffee every morning on his walk.
That love is in the past now which is the natural goal of everything we have and are. I kept pedalling and a man with golden hair flopping over his face said, Careful there. Your skirt is in the spokes. “That is so love from you,” I said, using the German formulation and the Berlin-informal friendly ‘you’. And he went on with his guitar strapped to his back and then another man passed, riding with his hands folded in the pits under his shoulders and whistling.
That night I tidied til everything in my house was sweet and in its good order. I chased down the characteristic daddy long legs of my own hair which dance around the corner of any house I ever live in, collecting fragments of dust and leaves which have dropped from the ferns as they dry. I ran a bath, which entails literally running – back and forth with saucepans and kettles filled with hot water from the stovetop to fill the tub. I whipped by hand a stiff batch of Dutch peperkoek, a spiced pepper cake whose batter is so thick you have to drag it with pastry hooks, if you have them. I battered the cardamom pods, the peppercorns, the anise stars, the cloves and the ginger with my pestle and later when I’d subsided into the brimming bath, my legs disappearing in the steam, I rolled fingerwads of peperkoek mix in my mouth thoughtfully, the raw batter, and the spicy sharpness had such fire it stung the insides of my cheeks and my tongue. Outside, the griefs of the world carry on and roll over us as they inevitably will. I’ve had griefs of my own, this year and last year and other times, continuous at some times like the waves that slap the incoming water traffic of the tide as they recede. But in my bathtub there were only the gentlest and the smallest waves, as the world slowly sunk to salt and storms for miles all around.
For Alison Lambert and her son