In the quiet of the night, silence sat beside me with its hand on my head, chafing my hair until it was a nest of knots, where it could warm its egg and rest awhile until my neck crowed under its weight.
I felt loud and angry, I couldn’t sit down, I left the flat immediately. I took a left out the door and went straight through the station, I took a right onto the main road. This was a regular old haunt I had been hesitant and too sad to take lately. Instead, I walked the route as if I was there just yesterday. I found myself striding with resolution, secretly thrilled that this contempt was overruling my hopeless sorrow. I felt purposeful even without any particular purpose. I might never be sad again, I might just be defiant. Yes, that’s right, with Gloria Gaynor by my side in one long, continuous, determined, and formidable dancefloor groove.
I had nothing to remark. I felt frozen and numb. I waited for the hollow weight to leave me. I paused until a few days had circled, then, I found that I wept again, although I found no solace in that either.
A banana skin draped over the edge of the table. Its dry, crinkly stem dangling over in mid-flight, wiggling as the table is jolted by slithering elbows and evocative gestures. Its flaccid, oxidising skin, suctioned to the cliff edge of the table like clammy skin on clammy skin. It’s ridged inside with repugnant threads, that are maybe part of the skin, and maybe part of the banana, that people do or don’t eat depending on which part they cling to. Some people don’t even care about whether the threads are the banana or the skin, they have probably never thought about it, as long as it doesn’t affect them.
This morning I am doing ok, I plan to do some writing, I make sure to eat some lunch, I find myself sat on the kitchen floor. I decide I’d like to call my friend but then I find I don’t feel like speaking. I go to the shop to buy some food, when I get to the self-checkout the ache in my chest rises and my eyes smart with tears. Butler: ‘one starts out the day with an aim, a project, a plan, and finds oneself foiled. One finds oneself fallen. One is exhausted but does not know why. Something is larger than one’s own deliberate plan.’ (2006, p.21).
In the process of making a cake there are different stages, none of which continue throughout the whole process; I do not sift flour continuously throughout the process of making a cake and this action alone does not determine that I am making a cake. I may feel shock in grief, but this is an event which reaches a peak and recedes; it will not be stable and continuous. There are many other ‘stages’ within the process. However, in the linear recipe for making a cake, I do not sift the flour twice. I wake in the still of the night and I find he is not there, reality staggers into place like uncontrolled Tetris blocks setting themselves down and I re-experience my shock all over again.
The temporal parts in the process of grief can be ultimately incoherent, they can incomprehensibly pulsate or repeat; ‘one is hit by waves’ (Butler, 2006, p.21). Narrative can offer a way of giving explanatory power to the incoherent imaginings, feelings, habits and so on, that comprise an overall experience of grief. A narrative account constructs an internal coherence where each element is integrated, configured and held within the ‘point’ of the whole, forming a unity which can be described as a ‘concordant discordance’ (Ricœur, 1984, pp.66-67).
Narrative bakes grief into a cake: ‘no matter how finely you cut it, each section replicates the strata of the whole.’ (Cusk, 2019, p.71).
In my kitchen, there’s a little gap between the freestanding shelf and the wall, it’s only a little gap—equal in width to the skirting board, which is the reason why the gap is there. This isn’t the first time that I’ve encountered the autocratic yet futile ‘furniture-meets-skirting-board’ gap. Lately though, I’ll just be minding my own business, and the image of this gap crops up unannounced.
The gap is on the left-hand side of the shelf between it and the end wall of the narrow kitchen, so it’s not very noticeable, but it sort of bothers me. I had thought about moving the shelf further to the right along the wall so that the gap is larger, because if it was larger it might not be so demoralising, or maybe it would no longer look like a gap at all. But as the kitchen is small, moving the shelf along would make the whole space quite cramped and awkward, and the shelf is only there to make up for what the kitchen lacks in storage.
Recently, I tried putting my reusable shopping bags into the gap, which when folded and pushed into it, seem to float there quite pleasingly, at any height. When I discovered this little technique I felt quite satisfied; the gap had a real purpose now, and the unmanageable size of my reusable bag collection (which by its nature couldn’t be disposed of) was abated. It was my own little secret thing and I needn’t look at the bags in the gap, in fact it would take anyone a good deal of nosing around and titling their head to discover the gap, and therefore the bags. I could know that they were there without looking and could possibly even forget about the gap and the bags, and get on with my life.
Some time had passed and the gap was altogether out of sight and out of mind. I was on my way to the shop with my favoured reusable bag that I keep hanging up (separate from my secret stash). Amongst mundane yet customary thoughts of what vegetables to buy when I got to the shop, and what emails I must reply to on my return home, the alacritous image of the gap—now with the new addition of the bags—cropped up unannounced. A dissenting feeling of resignation crept over me from the very liveness of the image, which I couldn’t fold up and put away, along with a great deal of other things that bothered me—let alone the merciless shopping bags.
After I returned home from the shop, I wished I could shove the stem of broccoli I’d bought into the gap too, because in the process of unpacking the food from the paragon of my reusable shopping bag collection, I realised I couldn’t look at the broccoli, let alone eat it, without being reminded of you. I heaved the shelf along the wall a little to make the gap adequately bigger, and I jammed all the green florets head first into the gap. All the reusable bags fell out onto the floor and unfurled into a haphazard patchwork terrain, gently sown with all the pretty, green, tiny bits of sanguine broccoli debris.
Lydia Davies is the second recipient of the John Calcutt Prize for Critical Writing presented annually by The Glasgow School of Art in collaboration with MAP Magazine. An artist living in Glasgow, she works across writing, voice, sound, and moving image. www.lydiadavies.co.uk
For parts 1 and 3 of this selection please see entries below.