The Night Step
I work at the bureau desk most of the day. My body’s hunched in a pine chair with its rattan seat and I feel listless, fatalistically imagining the slow atrophy of my body, countering this with restlessness. The children move in and out of the room waiting for my liberation from work; I push a pen up and down the grained wood of the desk lid where the laptop rests. I watch people on shifting boxes on the screen noting their restlessness too. Microsoft Teams, Zoom, a call on WhatsApp and a succession of e-mails. The pen leaks on my index finger. I press and push a two-pence coin up in a circle, smelling its metallic edge. I hold a miniature Yoda figure in tissue and periodically check my phone. The meetings persist but participants are concise. I rattle plastic cases of fossils and gems in boredom. A piece of antler, cut neatly with a saw, rests in my palm.
Later, we walk along the bright highway, its space and light unfurling the mind. The air is filled with dancing midges. My youngest child takes her bunny with floppy ears, the other a scooter, as we walk towards a grove of trees by the roadside. People cross the street before us and we climb over the stye into farmland. The slope is steep and trampled down by other walkers. We pass gorse bushes adorned with yellow buds, swarming with bees. I notice I am pretty remote with the children; as distant as my wife an hour ago head down at her laptop, switching all of her teaching resources to online. The children talk finding a release in our journey; anecdotes about school, about friends they haven’t seen for weeks and reflect on how weird it is to be educated online. I’m thinking about all our social restrictions and that I need to run later to the seafront. After that, I’ll need to bathe the youngest and read them each a story before bedtime. Amazon delivered again early evening and I wonder why the hanging baskets aren’t flourishing watering them again for the second time today.
It’s late and I sit on the night step before the hooded shapes of trees. The step is cool, my feet planted on concrete. The stream between the sloping gardens murmurs. The veins in my hands throb as they hang between my legs. A gentle wind stirs and the trees become shredded sails in the gentle stir of wind that rises. My skin prickles in the upward breeze.
Tungsten lights illuminate the ribbonning, suburban streets close by. I face the southward sea-channel of Swansea Bay, which rolls out to the horizon, observing infernal underbellies of cloud that rib the skyline towards the blackness of the Devon coastline. They usher in dark thoughts which lap on other shores; doomed, tide-wrecked journeys of the mind.
Miles out, a tanker dotted with lights creeps across the sea. Inland, here on the night step, I’m a shadow. I tell myself to stay here, to stay outside as dew collects on the hazels, the weighty apple trees, the overgrown bamboo bush and across the grass with the snaking hose-pipe trailing into a full paddling pool, now dark as paint water, gently bobbing with flies. My mind switches – I’m at the laptop again, earlier in the day, absorbed by all the faces waiting for my time to offer information and advice.
Thoughts proliferate, swarm like the bees on the hill. They collect and break again. Fragments.
The news runs on a loop; children starve in Yemen. Convoys of white militias on the streets of America. Secret police beating protestors. In my mind, I see the news feature that showed an image of George Floyd’s face rising above a tattered Stars and Strips flag, in flames. Footage, too, of a belligerent, barrel-chested president, with his custard-coloured comb-over biting his tongue failing to condemn. Across the world, people in white suits bury COVID victims in mass-graves, photo’d from the air. And all day, every day, people walk apart, cross the road avoiding each other, worry about shopping deliveries, cancel holidays, educate their children, struggling to work, make a corner for their work where they sit with bowed heads, use their self-imposed breaks to arrange online quizzes and sit alone, in solitude and melancholy.
My youngest child stirs upstairs, cries out my name. I rise, heavy hands pressing on knees, lock the back door, switch off the Television and go to her muffled, riddling words, amid sobs in the dark. At her bookshelf, I choose the story of the nativity, my great Aunt’s with her juvenile writing – ‘Margaret Smith – Christmas 1926’ and its vivid cover-image, repeated again pages later, of Mary at prayer face upwards to Gabriel, the dazzling messenger-Angel.
Matthew M C Smith is a Welsh writer from Swansea. He is ‘Best of the Net’-nominated by Icefloe in 2020 and has work is in Barren Magazine, The Lonely Press, Arachne Press, Fly on the Wall and Anti-Heroin Chic. Matthew collects vintage Star Wars toys and edits Black Bough poetry. Twitter: @MatthewMCSmith IG: smithmattpoet
Banner Art: Inner Light by the Sea, a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter. Twitter :@frede_kenter