There was this house she went back to at the end of the day. She was trying to define the concept of home. What was that elusive thing that she thought she wanted? Bulbs growing in pots, a vegetable garden, a fire and a comfy chair. A desk. A bedroom with white walls, a patchwork quilt, and a bed made of dark wood, high up so she could look out of the window without straining. (Just as a child she could look down on the cows as they streamed back from milking, their breath clouding the morning air. The way they shuffled, the noise they made.)
But then what was home after all? An abstract thing. She wanted to feel at home. That was it. It was to be her home – no one else’s. Her books, her paintings, her flowers. Her antique fabrics, velvet throws, black embroidered curtains.
Everyone tries to make a home don’t they?
Matisse always surrounded himself with familiar things – bricabrac – to paint. His green rocaille chair, his dove cages, his cats.
She would put on her boots and jacket, pick up the dog lead and walk by the trout stream that ran through the hotel grounds. The trees lashed and creaked in the wind. She didn’t mind the wild weather, she found it exhilarating. The dog, a welsh collie, ran ahead of her full of exuberance and joy at being outside amongst all the smells and the quickening of life. Her feet sunk in the mud, the wind whipped her coat, her hair was plastered flat against her scalp from the rain. (It had stopped raining now.)
Black clouds tumbled above her but the rain held off. All that was left were the remnants of the storm. She would light the fire on her return, toast crumpets and eat them with homemade blackcurrant jam.
We are all searching for home she thought and it is difficult for all of us.
And when she’d made her home. Then what?
Maybe there’d be some sense of order – just maybe a taste of it – and she would stand for a moment in one room or another, maybe in the kitchen looking at a blue and white striped Cornish pot with the words SUGAR on it, or in the sitting room in front of a painting of the sea or even the corner of the stairs. Maybe the window which halfway up gives a view of the field and the copse beyond.
Certainly coming home now, down the muddy path to the row of cottages and the small stream, the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Dusk and that particular sound birds make as they settle to sleep. Certainly that felt like home.
That summer Daisy had to stay in the city even though it was hot and sweaty. Of course she’d rather be by the sea or up in the hills by a river or lake. Anywhere but walking the streets lined with shops still advertising summer sales with amazing bargains and prices slashed. The irony was her city-the place where she lived and worked-was a mecca for tourists. People came from all over the world to see its ancient Roman remains and its gracious Georgian buildings. Tour after tour ferried people around: comedy tours, horror tale tours and open top bus tours. They seemed endless.
But for Daisy it was where she worked and the city had lost its glow. Even though she loved the clothes shop she worked in, it was, after all, only a job. The best thing about it was she got a discount on items in the shop and so she always dressed well. She had a quirky way with clothes, a certain style and flair.
The trouble with Daisy was she was always wishing she were somewhere else or someone else.
Now she looked in the mirror and straightened her dress, it was cream cotton and scattered with roses, cinched around the middle with a thick, green, soft leather belt. She slipped on green ballet pumps and tied her long dark hair back with a deep pink scarf she’d just bought in a charity shop. Did she need makeup? She examined her face. Probably. Her skin was so pale from being inside. Soon summer would be over and it would be winter again and no chance of sun. She couldn’t bear it. Still today was Saturday, her day off and she intended to make the best of it.
“What are you going to do?” Tom asked as she made her breakfast in the kitchen. They’d been living together for five years and she knew exactly how he was going to spend his day. He’d skip between the sport’s channels all afternoon happily watching one thing or another. His main passions were football and cricket but it was amazing how he could settle on almost anything and become involved in it.
“Oh I don’t know,” and Daisy put her cup in the sink.
Tom’s head was buried in the paper and she knew he wasn’t really interested in her answer, as long as her plans didn’t involve him. He wanted her happy but mostly he wanted her out of the way. Still at least he had a passion, Daisy thought. She seemed to drift between one new diversion and another without any real commitment or fire.
“ I’m passionless,” she said to her friend Rose who’d met her for a coffee in Waterstones. ‘Nothing seems to interest me anymore.’
“Perhaps we’d better go to the self help section after our coffee.”
“Oh don’t” Daisy protested. “ I’ve read every book they’ve got.”
“Anyway you’re being too hard on yourself. What about the tango?”
“I gave it up.”
“That Poetry group.”
“Gave it up.”
“That too. And my singing lessons.”
“But they were going so well. You’ve got a lovely voice,” Rose said.
“Don’t you see? I give everything up. I’m a butterfly and butterflies have short lives. I’m going to be dead before I land on the perfect flower.”
“You’re only twenty six. You sound like you’re about to die.”
“I could be. How am I to know what fate has in store for me.”
“You’re so melodramatic Daisy,” and Rose pushed her hand through her short curly hair in mock despair. “Maybe you should become an actress.”
“You’re the actress. You’re lucky, you’ve found your passion.”
Rose belonged to a community theatre in the town. They were surprisingly successful and she was always busy with one thing or another.
“Why not come to the show tonight?”
“Well it’s not getting you very far just moaning. Why don’t you commit to something and stick to it?”
“God you sound like my mother.”
“Thanks, that’s just what I need to hear.”
“Sorry. But it’s no good trying to get me to pull myself together. My mother’s been trying for years.”
Daisy wandered aimlessly into town. She didn’t want to shop and spend money she didn’t have. As usual the town was full of buskers so she sat down on a bench in the main square to watch a man juggling and performing acrobatic tricks. He was very funny and had packed quite a crowd around him. There was something brave about being a busker although many of them these days seemed to cart tons of equipment around with them, vast speakers on trolleys, backing music and props.
The juggler left and a diminutive Japanese girl took his place. She was quite charming, dressed in a black bowler hat and black waistcoat with a red spotted handkerchief in the top pocket, and a pair of blue jeans. She put out a table and laid out her tricks ready to do a magic show. Daisy watched entranced. She was immediately taken by the girl’s ability to hold the crowd.
One trick involved a young man in the audience and ended with her pulling a folded card as if by magic out of her mouth. “Sleight of mouth.” And she grinned.
“Who’d like this card?” and straight away the young man stretched out his hand and took it. He wanted the card because it had been in her mouth not in spite of it.
Her last trick was called ‘the bag trick’ taught to her, so she said, by her grandfather. She held up the black cloth bag and asked a little girl from the audience, Veronica, to check it was empty. Much was made of pulling the bag inside out and shaking it. This having been done the Japanese girl with elaborate gestures put her hand into the bag and slowly pulled out an egg. “Now I’ll show you how I did that but don’t tell the magicians.” At the end of the show her hat was full of money.
Daisy waited until the crowd drifted away and the girl had cleared up her things then went over to speak to her. “You’re very good.”
“Thanks I need to be.” The girl grinned at her. “It’s how I make my living.”
“Can I treat you to a coffee?” Daisy asked.
“Sure. I’ve got ten minutes before I start again.” She folded up her table picked up her suitcase and followed Daisy to Starbucks. “My name’s Billy,” and she held out her hand.
“I got fed up waiting to be asked to do acting work. I’d been working in the theatre in New York from the age of twelve.” They were sitting at a table and the girl’s bowler hat was on the seat beside her. “This way I’m in charge.” She’d given Daisy her card. On it was a photograph of the girl wearing her bowler hat. She had on a white shirt with a red tie and a black jacket, a red spotted handkerchief in the pocket. Across the card were the words Billy the Kid. She was very striking with her straight black hair and her oriental dark eyes.
“Have you ever been to Japan?” Daisy asked.
“Not yet. I’d like to. My dad’s American it’s my mum who is Japanese. She’s got a lot of family there.” She took a sip of her coffee. “The trouble is stuff takes you over and time slips by. I’ve always got a plan, I’m always busy.’’
It was hard to believe they were the same age. Billy seemed to have crammed in twice the life experiences, to be twice as confident and assured.
“You really make a good living from busking?” Daisy asked. She nodded.
Daisy loved the idea of Billy wandering the streets and towns of England putting on her magic show. No one seemed to tell Billy what to do.
What attracts you to someone can appear mysterious Daisy thought as she walked away and yet it was so often based on instinct. Something seemingly insubstantial can be bedded in something solid. She loved the way Billy had taken risks to pursue a true life, her single mindedness. She loved her independence and self-reliance.
Daisy went and sat on a bench in front of the Abbey. A girl was playing the violin; homemade CDs were stacked in front of her. People clapped when she finished, put money in her hat, some went forward to buy a CD.
Daisy approached her “Can anyone busk anywhere in the town?” she asked.
“Yes but you have to reserve a time. We all meet up by the side of the Abbey at ten in the morning and the guy from the council allocates spots and times.”
“You play beautifully,” Daisy said.
“Thanks,” and the girl smiled at her.
So it was that easy Daisy thought. She looked around at all the tourists and strangers. To be anonymous. To stand in front of them all and sing seemed a huge thing but she would never see them again. So what would it matter? She felt a thrill at the idea of taking such a risk. She was bored of being predictable. She wanted to look at life in a different way, to turn it on its head.
She got out her phone and checked through her numbers. There was the number for her singing teacher. She pressed it ‘Hi it’s Daisy Goodwin. I’d like to book a lesson if that’s okay.’
A thrill went through her as she put her phone back in her bag. First steps. She would keep it as her secret. Looking around her she found she was smiling, an old man passing smiled back at her.
She began to hum Three Steps to Heaven; she felt light as air, just to make a decision and act on it made her feel good.
Back at the house Tom was still wrapped up in a football game. He glanced at her, “ You seem happy.”
“I am.” Daisy went into the bedroom and went to a bottom drawer. All her sheet music was stored carefully away. Now what songs would she take to her singing lesson?
That evening Daisy went to see Rose in her play. Watching her on the stage completely wrapped up in her part Daisy realised she no longer felt jealous, always the one on the outside looking in.
“I’m glad you came,” and Rose hugged her.
“So am I,” Daisy said. ” You were great.”
Outside, waiting for Rose, Daisy breathed in the night air; it was laden with the scent of Jasmine from a nearby garden. From where she stood she could see a sprinkling of lights as the city stretched out beneath her. It was quite beautiful. She had become stale, she thought, not her city. And she imagined standing in the street, beneath the shadow of the Abbey, singing her heart out.
They look at him
‘Is he one of the them,’
‘or just one of ‘them’?’
Their dogs lie quietly,
in the absence of malice
He, with his book,
sits at one end of the bench
chewing on the world,
as much on its discrepancies
as its gods of light
She (who is not one of ‘them’),
is poised, is cloistered,
and keeps to her own end
of the bench,
her own books
and her bag-of-tricks
With her dark glasses in place,
he’s never seen the colour
of her eyes,
but she does smile sometimes,
or the sky
or the thoughts
passing through her head
When the weather’s like this
they sprawl long legged on the grass,
and the dogs
have their jaws propped
on the long legs,
People walk up from the city below
and traffic spins
around this grassy crown
of urban landscape
And the tall plane trees
interrupt the sunlight
with fingers of shadow
she seems the kind of woman
already on a pedestal,
a mysterious figment
And the empty bench
or someone else’s,
is like a blank canvas
When the light changes
and the gods toy
with its last threads,
when he closes his book,
and moves off
as softly as the light
She folds her sunglasses
into her bag
The dogs and their masters
have dissolved into the evening,
the cars and buses
have their lights on now,
as they spin homeward,
and she gazes
at her long pale legs,
gleaming in the leftover light
He has green eyes,
she knows that,
he reads Defoe and Swift,
and he sleeps naked