My wife is overseas. Shirley is at her father’s farm in Lancashire, England. Her father Jim lives alone since his wife of 55 years passed away in 2014.
I was at Linda’s funeral. Family, friends and farming folk gathered at the local church and comforted Jim throughout the day in solemn and respectful tones.
My abiding memory of Linda? A gravel driveway leads to the farmhouse door. Linda was often in the kitchen, by the window. Whenever I approached the house, my boots crunched on the gravel. Linda would look up and out. I would wave and Linda would laugh. Every time.
There’s a line in a song by the Irish rock band, U2: “As you enter this life, I pray you depart with a wrinkled face and a brand new heart.”
I think of Linda when I hear the song: her humility and warmth.
Now Shirley and her brother Graham, his wife and their son David will be with Jim for the next few weeks, chatting away like birds at sunset. They’ll drink tea, watch television and talk about the weather, potato crops and cricket. Small stuff, but true.
I, meanwhile, am home alone in the company of our two cats. Mickey is more dog than cat. He follows me from room to room and waits on the letterbox when I go out. Jude is rarely sighted. Head high and ears back, Jude is a creature on urgent business; more company director than feline pet.
I am happy in my solitude. I work by day and rest at night. I quote Lord Byron:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods;
There is a rapture on the lonely shore;
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar;
I love not man the less, but nature more…
I am happy in my solitude because, paradoxically, I feel so close to Shirley.
My wife is a fair and generous woman, content in her ways and secure in herself. I am, as such, free to write and free to dream – and when the day is done, we each have more to share.
There is a fireplace in the room where I write. Yesterday evening, I piled it high with kindling, logs and paper. I turned off the lights and struck a match; it hissed into life with a brilliant flash.
With a single touch to the waiting wood, flames took hold and gathered force, rising in a shroud of smoke. The dry wood spat and crackled and the dark room glowed with light. I stepped back and watched in awe.
Later, when the flames died down and the logs had turned to crumbling coals, I made myself a plate of food and opened a bottle of wine: a half bottle; a 2005 Chateau de Malleret from the Haut-Médoc in Bordeaux, France.
I settled by the fire in the company of that exquisite wine and stared for several hours at the dancing, fluid flames.
Lost in dreams and shapeless thoughts, the fire drew me from my head and brought to a halt the ceaseless chatter that defines my inner world. I moved through time and memory as a bird is swept through open skies on gusts of sunlit air.
When at last it was time for bed, I dragged a mattress into the room and slept by the dying ashes. In the morning, there was frost on the window and two cats at my feet.
I rose from the floor and stood for a bit in weary, happy silence. The bottle of wine was empty. The glass beside it, empty too. The sight of them provoked in me the feeling of a job well done. I showered, shaved and went to work.
That night, I rang Shirley. I told her about the bottle of wine and my travels by the fire. I felt her warmth come down the line and wrap itself around me. Then Shirley told me stories about her family and the farm.
And so we stood together, half a world apart.