I want to go back
It is always that day that I go back to in my mind. I can go over and over each tiny detail because for some reason that day, I was present in every moment. It is as though I knew that one day I would need the memories.
I had a cold and for once I had decided not to do any work. Although it was Saturday, I often worked on my writing, or did some PA work for a client. Not that day, I had decided to do nothing. I slept late and lay even longer waiting for everyone to leave the house. I was only half aware of David and Jennifer leaving in the morning. I heard Hugh getting up having a shower and shaving, but I waited until he left before throwing my legs out of bed and opening the curtains. The sun was shining. I smiled. It had been a bad summer and it was rare to see blue sky. I got dressed, walked to the shop and bought every newspaper they had. The girl behind the counter looked at me as she pealed back one newspaper after another from my pile and asked me if I wanted a receipt. “No thanks” I said. I was happy to leave her guessing as to whether I was a professional researcher or some kind of weirdo fanatic. In reality I was both. Accused by John of being a terrorist because I didn’t believe in bombing the Middle East and ill informed because I didn’t read newspapers, I did what I always do, and decided to read everything.
I made breakfast and sat in the back garden for hours reading, congratulating myself when I could tell on the first article which political party the newspaper supported and whether or not it supported independence. I fought back tears reading the local newspaper: an ex-solider had jumped off a balcony in Thailand and local people had raised thousands of pounds to get him home; two cats were looking for a new home after their owner had died of cancer. I was incensed about local councils taking out risky loans using tax payers money and about the biased reporting on strikes, but only mildly, because I reminded myself I was relaxing.
I lay on the lawn and watched the clouds float past like I did when I was a child. I fell asleep and was awakened by my neighbour coming through the gate to look at suitable trees to help me hang my new hammock. I joined him and his wife for coffee and biscuits in their back garden and we talked about my job interview which somehow digressed to the government, the origins of the federal bank, interest and the absurdity of suing someone for not paying back a loan of money that never existed in the first place – as always. Then my neighbour read his book, and I listened to the music of the day: the hushing sound of the wind through the trees. There is nothing better in the world than a windy day with a blue sky, I thought to myself. We sat for a while in silence. I read some short stories from the Guardian and felt sorry for a little girl whose family mocked her first attempts at writing.
My neighbour left to walk his dogs. I took the ropes he had given me and with the help of Youtube, instinct and my memories of hammocks in Australia, I threw the ropes around two trees and made some very amateur knots. I wrapped the ropes around so many times and made so many knots that I got the hammock up and myself in it without thumping to the ground or the trees falling down. I lay back and listened to the sounds from the garden and sighed.
I looked up at the underside of the leaves in the tree above me, the veins were so red they could have had blood running through them, the edges of the leaves so sharp that they seemed to cut right through the air. The sun had chosen some favourite leaves to shine on through gaps in the branches and the wind caressed every one individually as though playing an intricate instrument. I picked up Rob Roy and persevered with the strange Scottish dialogue. An insect landed on the edge of the book and seemed to lean over and ponder the words. It didn’t have the resolve I had to labour on with the reading and flew back into the air. A bee buzzed just over my face and I didn’t flinch. I was with them: the insects and the birds. For once, we existed together without disturbing each other.
If only I could suspend time and float in this moment the way my body was hanging in the air, weightless and still, I thought. It was a lovely idea and for a second I felt it, but like everything, it was fleeting and I became aware of the rushing of the river at the end of the garden. It reminded me that everything moved on. The sun was getting lower in the sky, the heat was leaving the ground and not even the blankets I had draped over me would keep me warm for long.
I looked towards the house. I loved that sight. My washing hanging in front of the white house, a record of everywhere I had been and everything I had done that week: working, running, showering, sleeping. All evidence of my weekly activities taken off, rinsed clean and hung out to soak in the sun. I breathed in deeply. I watched the birds flying overhead, intent on some task or other, oblivious to the thoughts in my head. I sat up on the hammock and thought about taking it down. It was going to rain tomorrow, so I had to take it down, but I was reluctant. There was something final about it. I untied the knots and unravelled the ropes, thinking about how everything was always so easy to unravel, despite how long it takes to put up: hammocks, societies, countries.
I took all the washing inside. I remember everything; every towel I folded, each of the cushion covers I hung on the radiators to dry off, Hugh’s motorcycle helmet on the big striped chair in the hall, the leopard print fabric on top of my clothes rail, the shoes I had taken off that were sitting on the floor, both toes touching as though my feet still turned in towards each other, the trees in the garden reflected in my glass globe on my writing desk, the white peace ribbon I had taken from Iona Abbey with Jo pinned onto the teddy Lisa had given me.
I want to catch the day like the end of a ribbon and hold onto it, but it floats out of my reach and drifts away.
There must have been more days like this afterwards. It wasn’t quite the end of the summer but I don’t remember any others like that one. Perhaps it was the last one that I spent entirely on my own in that peaceful state of mind. Perhaps it is not one memory, but several, joined together by my mind in an attempt to take me away from the torment of now.
I had been optimistic then. I believed in the good in people, and that the only thing that was important was to fight for it, no matter what was happening in the world and no matter what other people said. Do I still believe that? I don’t know. It changes you. War. Even if you see it coming, even if you know why it happened, even if you know it had to happen. It changes you. You can’t hold someone in your arms as they die without a part of you dying with them. Especially if you know it could have been prevented, especially when you know that it is not for the good of mankind. What do you do? What could we have done then? I was never even sure I was right about it all. I hoped that I was wrong, that I was one of these conspiracy theorists. I tried not to think about it too much, to focus on doing and saying good things, on learning about things, but not dwelling on them. My gut knew. Your gut always knows. Yet I did nothing. Other people took a stand and went out there, protested, took extreme views, but they were marginal – would it have mattered if we had all joined them? I say we, the people who agreed with me were few and far between. Even my parents thought I was slightly mad. I half believed them.
Is that gorgeous garden still there? Is it overgrown with weeds and trees now? Has the street been bombed, the house too? Where are my neighbours? Are they still sitting there? Does the river still run and trees still sway? Of course they do. Bombs can’t stop rivers running or trees growing. Only nuclear bombs can do that and I have to at least be thankful that no one was that stupid. In the end we were right about that too, us hippies, us tree huggers. The nuclear weapons were a threat only. We would not kill ourselves to kill our enemies. At least that is something to be glad about. There is some comfort in knowing that the trees will remain, the flowers will continue to grow, the insects will carry on.
I used to argue with John about guns and about killing. I would say that the only way to stop it is to refuse to do it. You don’t bomb a country because they have bombed you – it doesn’t make it right. The only way to stop is for everyone to stop and say: killing is wrong for any reason. Now look at me. I knew it would be different when you are being attacked. What can you do? The instinct is to survive. I am guided by reason but driven by instinct and in a life or death situation, instinct always wins. It still doesn’t make it right. I should never have been forced into this situation where I am fighting for my life and for the lives of my love ones, but fight I must.
I have killed. I never thought those words would form in my brain, never mind find their way out into the world, but I have. I don’t care if God will forgive me or not. I cannot. What does God matter to me? I looked into the eyes of the man I shot and I saw just that, a man. Not a terrorist, not a fiend, not a devil, not God, but a man, like any man and I saw life leave him. You can’t kill someone without killing a part of yourself. It happened to be a part that I liked. Why did you make me do that? I stand here, rifle in my hand, so out of place in an adult woman’s arms, but here it is and if you come towards me, I will shoot you. I might even shoot you if you are an ally, I might not realise in time, but in the end what does it matter anymore? You are as much a stranger to me as the enemy and if you are coming towards me, why shouldn’t I shoot you? Why should you survive and the other stranger should not? You see? You see? Don’t you see what it has done? I was good once. I was full of hope, full of promise, of great ideas and wonderful words. They mean nothing now and never will again, because I am a killer. I look over at John and hate him. He looks worried.
Yesterday we went in close, so close. I saw a figure coming towards me and I cocked my gun and pointed it. The figure held a gun, but I noticed it was small and it had long hair. As it got within my eyesight, I could see even from the distance, blue eyes. It was a girl. She was dark skinned and dark haired, but her eyes were watery blue and light reflected from them in every direction, like they were made of glitter. She could have been my daughter, no older than sixteen. I was struck dumb and I let my gun arm fall to my side. She kept walking towards me, and I waited. She had also lowered her gun. I heard shouting behind me, but I couldn’t hear what was said. I started to walk towards her. We were very close and then my ears exploded and she fell to the ground. I tried to run towards her but I was dragged back and pinned down. They told me that the bomb came from her side, but they would say anything.
I feel like I am in the same spot, and I am looking for her, but it is not the same field, and she is not here. The ringing in my ears from the bomb never stopped. It has made me less jumpy because I don’t start at every noise now. I look up at the sky thinking that maybe it is still the same, but even it is obscured by cloud and dust and it looks an unearthly orange colour. I look around for trees, but this is just one large field in what could be anywhere and in the distance all I can see are unnatural clouds. I look for birds and in the distance, I do see them, but they are circling an area to the left in a way that makes me shudder. I see that girl’s eyes still and I feel the tears coming, so I close mine.
I try to get back. Back to where I was, in the garden. My eyes are still closed but I can feel John looking at me. I can feel the look on his face. It is horror. Not at what I have done, but at what it has done to me. I don’t want to see the horror in his eyes, I don’t want to look at another set of eyes. I want to go back. I want to go back to my home, to the garden, to lie in that hammock where I am just nobody lying on a summer’s day, listening to the wind. I open my eyes and look at John and I let the tears fall now. I have calmed down and on my face he will see I have let something go. His expression changes: his eyes widen and his mouth forms a firm straight line as he prepares to run towards me. He won’t make it in time. That’s the thing about guns. They don’t give you time to reason. I lift my hand up and for the last time I pull the trigger.