A MAN AND A WOMAN IN A CITY – 3

3. Symphony In Blue

In one direction, vaguely south east, led an avenue of magnificent beech trees that had lined the road for more than 200 hundred years. He came upon them by chance and walked under their majesty with humilty and an almost feline grace. Behind them, new hornbeams grew, planted by the estate managers with a view to securing the effect for the future. It seemed odd to think of trees as having a natural lifespan, and that one day all those he had come to know would end. Species matured and decayed at different rates. That to him was a much a part of the wonder of ancient woodland as the colour and textures. The age of the trees, varying from sapling to splendour, brought to any woodland a sense of the passage time, of movement and purpose and something bigger than now.
“Mind you,” he smiled, brushing down his shirt sleeves for the umpteenth time. “Now is big enough, thank you very much!”
‘Now’ was upon him, and just a few trees away from the gatehouse that led into the estate. He counted almost 300, appreciatively, and started on the driveway.
Sheep, deer, jackdaws. Bales of recently cut grass.
Lawns. Miles of lawn.
And something blue. Someone blue. A little patch of sky, dancing on the grass like a sprite. Smiling blue. The sort of blue between clouds when the sun comes out. All kinds of blue, whizzing like a dragonfly. An iridescent dervish of cotton.
Yes, she was there. He knew it instincively, without any kind of rationale. She had watched his approach and was unable to keep still, her excitement belying any attempt she might have considered at grace and composure.
“Don’t try to talk,” he said. “Just hold me where we stand.
You know I need so much to give some time to you.”
When they opened their eyes again, and moved apart, they were in a courtyard of the sort she knew well. Once stables, now tables. Tea and plates where once were horseshoes and hammers. Notices and information signs, prices and temptation.
He had a problem with tea, other than tea he prepared at home for himself. It was a ritual, and when the process was removed from the experience, the product was persistently disappointing. There were some hotels he had found walking round the city that still made excellent tea, and he frequented these habitually rather than seeking out other establishments in the parks and streets.
But he trusted her, and ordered tea. Triumphantly, and with a knowing, tender smile she set a coaster on the table beside the pot when it arrived.
“To put the teabag on,” she grinned. “To stop it stewing.”
That she should have thought of this, for him, was nothing short of staggering.
A tiny little nonsense of a nothing-much-at-all kind-of-thing concealed volumes of thought and consideration. An insigificant handle on an ordinary-looking door that was not there before and had not been opened for years.
But it was still a teabag. One thing at a time…
Around them, blurred and out of focus as if projected into a holographic ‘reality’ from equipment behind the various windows in the courtyard, people came and went. Meeting, greeting. Talking. Eating. Small white dogs in the latest style; children, some without cycles; lovers, friends and familes. Staff with trays and unfashionable hair.
The projectors whirred and flickered, finding their synchromesh, and a giant hoarding appeared on the wall of the old forge. They sat back, and watched the images taking shape on the screen. Fragmented at first, pixellated and random, becoming identifiable, and then digitally crystalline. Sharp and clear.
A black and white surreal fever dream, set in the formal gardens of a seventeenth century English house, soundtracked by a Gothic organ. Liturgical, like a requiem. A man and a woman brought together by various means, both recognising and not knowing each other. For a while they are half-remembered acquaintances, guests at the same party. They become lovers – at least, the film suggested that perhaps they would. Or had been. It was hard to tell. They seemed to occupy different planes, even different states of being. And they moved both together and independently through the landscaped garden planted with rounded, clipped yew and banks of tied-up dahlias. Hydrangeas, buddleia and ornamental roses. Then an fernery, where stoned carved-owls played hide and seek with delighted, squealing children cut from lifestyle textbooks and made into puppets with string and split pins. One scene showed the woman in a bookstore, browsing out-of-print volumes on textiles and places she thought she might like to visit. Against this, the film showed a man either noodling about in a potting shed or striding purposefully across a city plaza dressed in a sharp suit and shiny shoes. Drinking, cutting deals.
Then she was laughing, dancing with someone unknown, unrecognisable. The back of his head cleverly made to look like the same man. The same woman then appeared as a child, on a swing, waving at the camera. Then on a beach, still waving. Then old, mourning, standing by a grave. Then on television.
The closing sequence brought the protagonists together in a rather tasteless and incongrous love scene, snatching time that one felt they should have earned but had clearly stolen from other films and added to this as some kind of inconclusive postscript.
But it was haunting. Beautifully shot thoroughout, hopelessly romantic. At the same time bewitching, intriguing and confused. Had they met before or not? Did they even know each other?
Was it 1983 already. Or 1962?
As the film came to its conclusion and the credits rolled, they stood for a while and looked uncertainly at one another. Should they have enjoyed that? What if she had, but he had not? The air between them refracted. Jolted. Wobbled for a moment.
There was so much to see and now the clock was telling them they had to leave. They embraced (again), walked, holding hands in affirmation. They even chased one another for a while through the Japanese water garden on the edge of the estate when no-one was looking.
Her favourite tree. The disappointing orchid house and silly patty pans.
A scarecrow. Butterflies. Grazing cattle. Hips and ankles. Chances and reaction. Making moments. Glances. Double-dare you.
It was all too much, too soon.
And not enough at all. Not even nearly.
There were hills to climb and views to share.
Opinions too perhaps, if they dare.
Grasses to walk among
Time to stop. Both interpretations.
He was lying on his back, looking up at blue. Or more correctly, looking into, rather than at. That would suggest the sky had a surface, rather than a depth. It didn’t even seem to have a start, and just went on upwards until forever and he could see no further. The exact same colour as the cover of that album he liked. The one with the Da Vinci’s Immaculate Virgin on the front, her eyes Obscured By Cloud since 1972.
Thoughts spun around in his head, a narcotic dizziness filling the exapnse above him.
“What kind of a girl is this, who moves me when she speaks…”
He jumped as something brushed across his eyes. Strands of the softest fabric. Thin fibres. Hair? Thicker, more of them, moving gently like kelp underwater. The sky was an underwater blue. Birds became fish, darting and flicking above him with silver brightness. Coloured bits of broken glass, catching the light. Singing, a chatterng song. It was laughter. Her laughter. Music. Blinking and pulling his focus back from the infinity above, he felt the light change as the shadow of her face fell over his. A smile descended.
Soft as the air and oh, so bright
So wild and yet so bright
“Turn around, turn around. Don’t look back and don’t look down.
Sleep with me gently
Slowly, through the sunset.
It won’t be long now…”
From the mound where they sat on waking hours later, days, lifetimes and entire centuries radiated as if in ripples from the pool into which the pebble of her tenderness had dropped. In the fields, villages, trees and distant hills that spread towards the blurred, unfathomable horizon of time, he could see both Past and Beyond.
The sun had fallen, and the azure had given up to orangepink. A gentle fusion of soft hue harmonics. Nothing dramatic, no cloud. Just a change.  Like new light through old windows. A silence and a passing. Fragments of blue lingered defiantly in the harebells,
They sat as one, close and engaged. Involved. He rose first, light and nimble, interchangeably older and then younger than he had ever been.
“Come on,” he asserted. “I’m hungry.”
He reached out his hand to pull her up, and laughed aloud to see her on all fours beside him, kneeling on the skirt of her dress and unable to stand. She had one shoe missing and leaves in her hair. So wild, so bright. There was more humanity in that stumbling, slightly ridiculous position than he had ever previously noticed and for the first time since he’d looked inside there was a reality that encouraged everything.
HIs heart sang, and he heard its voice.
As he knelt and gathered her soft, inappropriate jade green slippers, she clung to him, smiling heavily and pulled herself upright. She was not dust, or light. Or delicate. Not fragile or dreamlike at all. But temporal, tangible and real.
There was an insect in her shoe, and the fabric was slightly frayed along the outer edge.
She was there.
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