Romaine Hill

A bricolage of self

Creative and creating,
Writing is like therapy:
The voices, falling into deep space
Never dead, become to me
an instrument of sound –
Creative and creating

In static photographs
I see a girl sitting in the sun
Beneath a sail;
A breathtaking rally of changes
Making for a bricolage of self

Creative and creating
The voices, never dead,
Become to me –
waiting for intoxication –
an instrument of sound.
Writing is like therapy
Creative and creating

Romaine Hill

Sipping

My writing this year was like sipping, thoughtfully, suspiciously even, a drink I was not sure of. “Why,” I asked myself, “would I want to write a story, however much I like writing, about two Frenchmen, with snarly, smirking lips and a tableful of red, bloody-looking distasteful sausages?” Sure, it could be World War  II, and they could be part of the Resistance. Their saucisson could be stuffed with an assassinated Nazi general or with a darstardly Nazi collaborator, and about to be diabolically cooked & served to the SS High Command in the fortress towering above the village. But did I want to write such a story? Not really.

So I sipped unwillingly, thoughtfully, without enticement. Then I began to see – huh, this is not bad, bouquet is better than I thought, not total plonk. I sipped and inhaled. High alcohol content, I thought. Must be a stronger blend than I anticipated and I waited, now, for the intoxication to set in, to carry me forward, into another writing space. As words began to flow, I wrote on in a slightly alcoholic haze, happy, contentedly floatingly, fluid, with a far greater sense of well-being. Sipping no more.

Romaine Hill

another kind of ‘night wind woman’

there are, you know, two kinds of night wind women:
one, like the poet, ‘throat of the Sandia range’;
one, like myself, another kind entirely
of night wind woman

I like my red with dinner – half a glass each night –
at day’s end, it casts a certain kind of hue,
never more it is than twenty rand a bottle –
no connoisseur my man

quite Scots he is and not much of a drinker
but for a coke, laced with a tot, at parties.
wasted altogether on the Winelands he;
my half of red, I like

at twenty quid a bottle my gut is filled
night after night, with wind, loud and distressful –
the sulphur in the blend it is. I become
night-wind woman wild

while happily for me – or p’raps, less happily –
hubby soundly sleeps, I, the great imbiber,
reading, working steadily beneath the duvet,
fart quietly, gently, almost inoffensively,
‘night wind woman’, I

Romaine Hill

Knowing and seeing

The woman grey-haired, alert, head up, bird-like, moved out across the shore. Behind her lay the dark strip of the mountains, separating the Helderberg plain from the wheatfields and the orchards above and beyond, and the sea towns reaching back along the father shore. Before her stretched the bay, ‘False’ they’d called it centuries ago when man had first arrived in ships from Europe and run aground. She could see the mountain shapes on the far horizon, where the Table arose to the left, meeting the sky and blending with the grey-white cloud. Moving south, the mountain ridge ascended and descended several times, until finally it dropped steeply into the ocean at the point called ‘Cape’.  These were phenomena daunting to her spirit, even now, after her long journey overland from the north, where she had left behind the graves of her most recent forebears, Afrikaans, Scots and Cornish. Before her, the open sea moved crystalline in the morning light out to the far horizon, way beyond which was the reach of the cold Antarctic. She knew – her intuition she trusted – she would find what she had come for, but where, she had yet to find out.

Around her waist was a slim leather belt, earth brown, on which hung the wooden amulet, an object both sacred to the hearth and prophetic. She had found it deep in the inner pouch of her grandmother’s travelling bag. On the reverse, carved into the wood, was the image of a simple dwelling, a table in front, shaded by a large tree.  It was this known place she journeyed to find. Would it be here, she wondered, where the concrete blocks of the encroaching city shed their long, dark shadows. Further she might have to go, on past the high mountains and along the line of the west coast. But first she must stop, on the high dune, and rest a while. So thinking, she settled her pack under her head, threw her indigo shade cloth, edged with carmen, over her body, and lulled by the sound of the sea, fell into a deep sleep.

…  it was then that the child came to her, skipping up over the dune, a little girl child, carrying two golden oranges. Close to the woman’s sleeping body, she crept, knelt down beside her and lifted the oaken amulet on its thong, scanning both sides, as if to find something familiar. Then, searching the weathered face for a further clue, she knelt quickly and began to peel the first of the juicy fruits. Its scent, as she broke it out of the peel, was sharp and fragrant, and the sleeping woman stirred in her dream, sensing something desirable, known.  The child saw the woman’s eyes flicker – open, close and open again. And then the sleeper, stirring, waking, saw the little girl.  Her dream, could it have become reality itself?

… there the child knelt, proffering the segments she had placed in a perfect round bowl, white and orange that she had curled from the peel of the fruit.  Who was this child, and how had the dream so sharp turned into reality so sweet? The features, were they those of her own mother, her beloved grandmother, or of herself?  What she knew was that this child was of her very being.  Had she come to aid her in her search?

‘Child,’ she said, ‘I know you as if you were my own. Your gift of a golden orange is life to me. But what do you know of the dwelling I seek, the one you have seen on the amulet I wear?’

‘You are rested now,’ said the child, smiling, ‘and since you know me rightly for your own, I will lead you to the hearth which is your journey’s end. Come.’ Springing to her feet, she took up the two small bowls she had shaped and breaking off bits of the bright, pungent flesh, one after the other, she skipped back up over the dune, laying a golden trail for the grey-haired woman, who took up her pack and her dark cloth and moved quickly after the trail-laying child. Crossing a wide road and three smaller intersections, she saw they were moving up along a row of little white houses, each set about by a garden, adorned with trees and plants. Turning now away from the direction from which she had come, still following the golden trail, she found herself on a rise of grass above a narrow, fast-flowing river.  A heron stood quiet, intent among the reeds, its one foot in the water, while a flock of Egyptian geese circled overhead, called and flew off in the direction of the lower slopes of the Helderberg that rose discrete against the blue sky. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the child perched on a large step that led into a simple, white dwelling, the exact replica of the one she had journeyed to find. There, on the stoep, shaded by a giant old coral tree, was a weathered wooden table and two chairs. Here she would lay down her pack, light the fire in the hearth, take down the kettle from the hook, a book from the shelf and here, she knew, she would wait out her days, till the child, who was neither mother nor grandmother beloved, nor herself – but something of all of these and known to her – and whose presence lingered now only in the scent of the oranges in the deep blue bowl on the table within, came again to lead her over and beyond, into the world where dream is reality and reality little more than a deep dream, indigo bordered with carmen, of ever-present knowing and seeing.

Romaine Hill

Surrounded by needs, others’ needs, she was not needy but needing – space, time, peace, deep indigo peace. A long hot bath, a chair in the sun, walks on the shore when the tide was out.

Hugs and kisses, and grandchildren’s visits, but only for tea.  Simple suppers, sometimes in bed, and late sleep-ins, a few good books and desultory calls to those she loved, near and afar. Nothing disturbing, demanding, requiring; only what was affirming, of her deep need – for peace and calm and rest.

Work she had, interesting challenging work, but work must wait, till she herself was rested, renewed, refreshed, replenished, by sleep and peace, sunshine, and calm and rest. By doing only what came to her naturally, as if she’d returned to the days of barefooted, earth-roaded, endless, childhood summer holiday-time.

Romaine Hill

Chant for a voice

All is spoken,
too much spoken,
much too spoken:
silence is where voice is found.

Pitch high
pitch low
often both I feel.
Feeling pain,
I speak it evenly,
feeling joy, evenly

P – I – T – C – H

Pitch high,
pitch low
sometimes both I feel;
calm sometimes
anger, too,
and indignation:
Where my voice
will you be found?

Is this modulated moderation
linked to age, to disposition?
Can modulated moderation
find a voice?
Feeling thus so evenly,
can she speak her voice?

P – I – T – C – H

Pitch high,
pitch low.

All is spoken,
too much spoken,
much too spoken:
silence is where voice is found.

Silence is where voice is found –
perhaps one must go underground

Pitch high,
pitch low

P

I

T

C

H

Romaine Hill

Roma’s story

Roma: voicing one’s longing

June 6,2007. still here. 6yrs 14 dyssincejim died just before our 89ths. I miss him but how could his tired body keep on going? I thought I’dgosoon after him, but I’mstill here. not another day do iwant to live. am finished. oldage who’d hav it? no purpose now in living. 2 children grown. romaine with tim, the doctor – my David – with his wife. their families. they don’t need me. not a trouble to them, i try not tobe, but tired, finished, iam. terrible this old age – one day after another waiting to LEAVE MYSELF but must wait, till iam called. ‘can’t go before your time,’ mom used to say. justmehere now & phylis, but too far for us ever to meet again. first Doug went & then mom, before my stroke – & Ken in his sleep and Phyllis waiting for her tea, with him dead beside her. so unfair. Jimmy so good to me & him so sick at the end not himself atall . why Kenneth, in his sleep? ‘tis the good die young,’ Dad always said. why’s Kenneth gone then and me here, living this half life? him a troublemaker always & her always taking his part and blaming me, the eldest & a girl! hit me over the mouth for taking his reader. wht’d I want with that stupid reader – so slow, behind always – I was readers ahead. mom knew that.

Her head nodded & the old hardcover exercise book slid with a thud to the floor …

… Thump the book struck her, on her head, her mouth; ‘I didn’t do it, Mommy, she shouted. Why do you always believe Kenny? Why would I want to hide his stupid reader – I’ve got my big one for 9yr-olds.’ Her lip started to bleed. She wiped it on her sleeve, trying to stop the raw salty trickle filling her mouth, to hold back her tears.

‘Roma, don’t you cheek me,’ Mom yelled, the reading book still flying through the air. ‘Kenneth needs to practise his reading and you, his big sister, must help him, not throw his book onto the cupboard so he gets into more trouble and I have to get another letter from that Miss McGregor. What will your Father say then about his brown-eyed girl?’ She ducked the next whack, her eyes flashing, her thoughts seething, but Mother’s face was closed, her mind made up.

That Kenneth, she thought, how Mom favoured him. But she, Roma, she’d known about him always, how sly he was. Later she could stand woman to man against him & he hated her for that. There was Mom’s money that night. He hadn’t known she was sitting in the chair pulled deep under the lamp in the corner, reading. He’d crept in late and started to ferret behind Mom’s favourite picture of Mullion Cove. How could he? He’d surely not come to take the five ten-pound notes Mom kept tucked under the picture-wire.

‘Ken,’ she hissed, ‘how can you?’

‘Sis,’ he rounded on her, ‘what business have you got her, its past midnight?’

‘That’s Mom’s, Ken, her rainy-day money. It’s not for you. She scrimps and saves to put it there and it’s how she tides us all over.’

He was stuffing the notes into his inner pocket, his hand shaking, head down.

She rose, stood before him, tossing her head, eyes afire. ‘Put that money back, now. If you don’t, I’m going straight in to wake Mom and Dad, and tell them what you are up to and what you intend using Mom’s money for. Don’t think I don’t know. And Mom, so good to you always. She deserves better from you, Ken.’ And she stood there till he had relocated the money exactly, behind the picture. ‘I want your word, Ken,’ she said. ‘Or you know what the outcome will be.’

‘My word,’ he said, and looked at her, biting his lip, ‘you have it.’

.. never another mention of the money between us then or later. and he never touched it again. mom’s money sacrosanct, as it should have been. but ours – never what a brother-sister bond should be. how I think of mommy. I hear her voice in the passage coming towards me. how I want to go home now, too. iwant to go. ‘can’t you give me something,’ i ask. it’s been long enough now …

Her head nodding again, she pitched forward in the wheelchair, the thick marking pen falling from her left hand, her right, useless, clawed in her lap. Her specs sat askew, digging into the side of her face and her breathing was so low-pitched as to be almost silent. Her daughter, arriving for her afternoon visit, couldn’t be sure – was still there or had she slipped, this time, quietly away?

Romaine Hill

   
Sheena’s  story
      
It was dusk, she was watering the garden in the cool of evening. The girls were rolling down the grass bank when the youngest called out,  ‘Look, Mom, look. There’s a tramp-man at the gate. ‘Silly,’ said the eldest, ‘it’s Uncle Graham’, and righting herself she ran to meet their uncle coming up the long drive.

‘Graham,’ Sheena heard herself saying, as she turned off the hose and walked toward him, ‘It is you. What’s the matter?’

Her brother stood, head down, hands in the pockets of his pale jeans, hair falling across his dulled green eyes. ‘Shee, he said, ‘I need your help. I must get to Mom. The Volvo, remember?  It’s been confiscated, with all the furniture – everything that wasn’t in Vera’s name – until we can settle our debt. I must get down to Maritzburg tonight.’ 
 

Suddenly she was back at the bottom of the steps, heart racing, cheeks flushed, her stomach cramping. Her brother was revving Dad’s Volvo down the drive. But her friends were waiting for her to collect them, at half-past six, at Mel’s in Greenside. She’d got her licence three days ago, just after their final matric exam. When they’d talked about celebrating in Hillbrow, she’d said, ‘Don’t worry, Dad will lend me the Volvo, I know he will. It’ll be a tight squeeze in the back, though.’ 

And now, what would they do? How would she tell them?  Dad had just taken the car- keys out of his pocket to hand to her, and said how pretty she looked in her wide skirt and the blouse with the white collar, when Graham, her kid brother, crossed from the hall, where he’d been shouting down the phone to Hadley, his Std 9 friend. ‘Hey, Dad,‘ he said, ‘it’s my turn for the car.’ And turning to her, ‘You know you can’t have the limmo tonight, Sis. Had & me, we’ve got a date, trying the chicks out for the social next month.

‘Dad’s already given me the Volvo, Graham’, she said, drawing herself up.  ‘Ask him.’

‘Well,’ he said, grabbing the keys from her and pushing her off balance, ‘Mom said it was fine for me tonight, didn’t you Mom? And he turned to Mom who had emerged from the kitchen, kissed her on the cheek, slicked back his bryl-creamed hair, and sauntered across the verandah and down the steps, his tight jeans wrinkling like a second skin. Mom had recoiled slightly – the hair oil was overwhelming – but she narrowed her green eyes, not unlike Graham’s, looked at Dad, then at her, and said, in her ‘I’ll-brook-no-opposition’ voice:  ‘It’s Gray’s turn tonight, Douglas.’
‘Gwen,’ Father began, ‘the boy’s not yet seventeen. It’s an offence’.  But Mom had moved kitchen-wards, closing the door behind her.

So she stood at the bottom of the steps, her stomach knotted, while Graham, jangling the keys, climbed into the car, revved the engine like an old truck and backed down the drive, barely missing the left gatepost.  The air rushed out of her lungs as if she had plummeted down, way below her oxygen supply, and was drowning. Dad stood there, shaking his head weakly.
‘Maritzburg, tonight?’ she queried, putting her hand on her brother’s shoulder and leading him up the steps and into the house.

‘To Mom, my old standby, you know. For a loan, to tide us over. Vera’s gone with the children to her sister. Says she’s not coming back until I can show her I can hold down a real job.’

‘Ray’s not here,’ she said, ‘but you can take the Renault, it’s almost full. A couple of these chicken pies, some fruit and biscuits and a flask of coffee should get you through.  Here’, while she talked she’d put the thermos out, filled it and screwed in the lid, ‘just take the cooler-bag off the top of the cupboard and put these in.’ Already he was eating one of the crunchies they had baked earlier.  He looked starved, tired, too.

‘You’re a brick, Sis,’ he said, hugging her and kissing her on the cheek, ‘thanks.  I’ll get your wheels back.’

Minutes later, as she handed him the keys and watched him reverse her car down their drive, she felt afresh the anger, the defeat of that eighteen-year old self who’d moved back into the house, following her father.  But then her eldest crept up behind her, snuggled close, her hand in hers. 

‘Mom, you’re so kind,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t want any one else for my Mom.’

‘Hush’, she said, but she hugged her daughter, and together they stepped into the warm house, where the other three were shouting, ‘Supper, we want supper, WE WANT SUPER SUPPER.’ And she felt as if she were floating free, in a warm pool under a bright, full moon.

Romaine Hill

 The Funeral of Pa Fouché

The news that Pa Fouché had died
had brought his offspring all;
their feud from early in his life
had well-nigh caused his fall.

Now gathered in the ancient pews
Morné the youngest sat;
direct before his anxious gaze
half-sister, Iris, snake-like in her hat.

Her bearing fierce, her glance a curse,
he knew of old her tricks;
his keys he jangled at his side
his wavering courage firm to fix.

The Dominee he bade them rise,
they prayed and sang a hymn.
Then tense, Morné his keys let drop –  
they struck Sis sharply on her shin.

Swift she gathered the offending bunch;  
into her pocket, deep it drop’t. 
He knew she’d torture him once more;
knew now she’d not be stop’d.

‘In the midst of life we are in death,’
the Dominee’s voice rang.
He knew that death; it haunted him –
just then, up Iris sprang.

The benediction firm pronounced
from out her pew she rose,
the evil thoughts that stirred the air
disturbing the Old Man’s repose.

As Morné follow’d  in his turn,
she ducked deftly aside.
Este her cousin waited there –
they’d take him for a ride. 

What if to scheme and plot in Church
might constitute a deadly sin,
the little runt had met his match,
 if she could rope her cousin in. 

Leaning upon her niggie’s arm,
 she moved through the side door:
‘He drop’t his keys and bruised my shin. 
 Let’s bring him to the floor.’ 

Reaching the church’s rear façade
 she toss’d the keys roof high.
They rolled into the gutter wide
 a full three months to lie.

‘Stranded now Morné will be,
anxious for his wife and child.’
‘Without his link with house and home,
 in that same week that Pa has died.’

Conferring, the women smiled and smooth’d
their skirts and greying hair.
Then sneering Iris moved hearse-ward
To find Morné plunged  in despair. 

As Pa was driven off for aye,
in Iris heart a fury deep
arose.    Morné’s own ma it was
 their father loved and chose.

Yet, smiling down on her and Es,
 her mother now would be,
to see how they’d aveng’d her shame –
 e’en at the funeral of Pa Fouché.

Romaine Hill

i rendering writing

writing
can i render?
i love the reading it
lean toward the act of it:
descending chambers into it
lit through doors by slanting rays
passages into depths of it
through postbox slits
from overhead
sun’s shafts capturing
glints of it

glints of it
sun’s shafts capturing
from overhead
through postbox slits
passages into depths of it
lit through doors by slanting rays
descending chambers into it
i lean toward the act of it
love the reading it;
can i render
writing?

ii drawing on writing

eye held on years
I/me forged
the one where
in a way
have a book
I am about
still happening
lives in me.
summon now
writing, I do;
draw on writing.
explore I must
the book without
author
yet strength I have not –
writing requires
strength of everything

strength of everything
writing requires –
strength I have not.
an author book
the book without
explore I must –
draw on writing.
Writing  I do
now summon:
lives in me
still happening
I am about
have a book
in a way
the one where
I/me forged
eye held on years
 

Romaine Hill

The imund book

She knew that the door of her imagination was the door to the IMUND book, which was exactly the one she wanted to write, the book of the act of writing. It was the one where she would be present, but absent: she would be in & with the book, but the book, moving through her, would not be her – a thought she could barely grasp, let alone clearly express. She had come to this insight that morning, as she drove around the bay to writing at Theresa’s.  The door led to another door, through a passage, down steps to yet another.  To enter took courage and commitment.  What, each day, would this journey bring? Where would the multiple doors lead?  What would she find?
And could she be the present/absent one she needed to be? 

And could she be the present/absent one she needed to be?
What would she find?  Where would the multiple doors lead? What, each day, would this journey bring?  To enter took courage and commitment. The door led to another door, through a passage, down steps to yet another. She had come to this insight that morning, as she drove around the bay to writing at Theresa’s. It was the one where she would be present, but absent: she would be in & with the book, but the book, moving through her, would not be her – a thought she could barely grasp, let alone clearly express. She knew that the door of her imagination was the door to the IMUND book, which was exactly the one she wanted to write, the book of the act of writing.

Romaine Hill

romaine & other women writing

a stream, starting high in the mountains

a stream, starting high in the mountains
cradled, motionless, yet moving
bearing little secrets
breathless, breathtaking

cradled, motionless, yet moving
through fields of white everlastings
breathless, breathtaking,
less fickle than water

through fields of white everlastings
where are the gaps?
less fickle than water,
already they are wilting

where are the gaps?
seeds begin to float free
already the florets are wilting,
awaiting a stream, starting high in the mountains

Romaine Hill

Violet

writing the chakras,
I come to the seventh, violet,
the colour of deep nostalgia
of memory itself:
‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again’.
violet-tinged these lines of loss and longing.
that spring, those lilacs, can they ever come again?
scent specific, violet is (one’s grandmother’s lavender water),
infused with deep, night-violet longing
to know again the comfort of her presence
strong as the river of life itself,
feeding the rill of one’s own

deep mournful sound is violet,
the clang of the funeral  bell
reverberating outward (like the last embrace of the dear departed)
through the surrounding silence
upward into the ether,
leaving one behind, bereft

violet, strong, scented, sounding,
underwriting earthly existence – memory itself –
is it more than nostalgia,
more than loss and longing?
Can it be intimation
of all that lies beyond?

Romaine Hill

 

sometimes words become more important than a rhyme scheme
and the heart dictates which ones to use

 

Do not  grieve long the loss of your first-born
(a slightly skewed villanelle)

Do not grieve long the loss of your first-born    a
For fit it is that he should take a wife;    b
Now is the time for you to laugh, not mourn   a

A mother’s fate calls her to cast     c
Upon the waters wide her bread of life;    b
Do not grieve long the loss of your first-born   a

Her only hope is that her children may     d
Turn to her often, as onward they go;    e
Now is the time for you to laugh, not mourn   a

That they in lighting their own hearths and hearts   f
Should, thinking of her, let her share their weal and woe;  e
Do not grieve long the loss of your first-born   a

Pray in his going with his wife beside    g
Their growing is a blessing shed around;    h
Now is the time for you to laugh, not mourn   a

Pray that their family life be strong and sound.    h
Pray that, loving his children dear, he learn from them  i
Do not grieve long the loss of your first-born    a
Now is the time for you to laugh, not mourn   a
 

Romaine Hill

Hymn (inspired by a burning candle)

Comforting, renewing presence  
fiery torch in this dark place,    
angel golden, warm and present,  
comforting, renewing presence   
lend your glowing incandescence  
to our faltering human race.   
        Comforting, renewing presence   
        spire of flame in this dark place
   

Comforting, renewing presence  
spire of flame in this dark place,    
angel golden, warm and present,  
comforting, renewing presence   
shine your glowing incandescence  
o’er despair that leaves its trace.  
        Comforting, renewing presence   
        fiery torch in this dark place
   

  
Comforting, renewing presence  
fiery torch in this dark place,    
angel golden, warm and present,  
comforting, renewing presence   
let your glowing incandescence  
give to us a sense of grace.   
        Comforting, renewing presence   
        spire of flame in this dark place
 


 

Romaine Hill

Fearfully Living

She woke early in the dark room and lay anxious as the sun broke in through the front windows. She felt lifeless, as though her heart were not pumping blood, her lungs not breathing air. Only her mind was ticking over, but slowly and fearfully, like a clock that was running down, and she could hear her thoughts as if amplified.

There were three windows to their bedroom, beautiful windows, high enough to give a sense of light and space. The one on the west wall was narrower, but it looked over the garden below, through the giant old Jacaranda, still in leaf though it was mid-winter. Beneath stretched the triangular shape of the old walled garden edged with shrubs and flowers, and the yellowing winter lawn. Today, however, she was conscious only of the dark wardrobes along the inner wall, with their convoluted carving, the dressing table opposite with its triptych of tall bevelled glass, where their five-year old loved to sit cross-legged on the low centre table, smearing her mother’s makeup all over her little face and surveying her three bright selves.

Today, waking in their room, she did not want to open the curtains. She did not want to look down on the garden. She did not want to face her reflection in the glass. She felt frozen. She knew, in the bed beside her, he too lay lifeless. If she touched him, spoke to him, he would respond; if she stayed silent, he would remain behind his wall of grey silence. Today she could not help him. Not today or ever again. She was too afraid. Afraid of the meaninglessness of words, of the emptiness of the comfort she would try to offer. Even of the emptiness of life. She herself was frozen, lifeless, dying. She knew that they were both dying, like the garden outside. The small leaves falling endlessly into the path and down the steps, their thin twigs following, were emblematic of their shared-unshared lives. They were both dying and their room, with its dark, fluted, over-ornate imbuia furniture was, in a sense, their tomb.

Down the long passage, where the sun was already brighter and where the voices would soon begin to chatter, the three children would be stirring. They would sing, talk, play, fight and erupt soon towards mother and father. But father was not there. And mother – she was not really there either. Anxious, afraid, waiting only for death, how could she answer their urgent, vital demands? How much longer would she be able to convince them of hers and his continuing presence? Yet she must try.

‘I feel afraid,’ she said, half turning to him.
Silence.
‘I feel afraid,’ she repeated more firmly.
Silence.
‘I feel I, we, are waiting only for death.’
‘How can you feel afraid,’ he said.
‘I feel that day after day we are moving inexorably toward nothingness, death,’ she said.
‘If you feel afraid, it makes me afraid,’ he said. ‘You cannot feel afraid.’

Now, with distance, space, as she thought about it all: the room, the dark winter’s morning, the place of nothingness they had come to in their relationship, it seemed as if she looked in though the filter of the fine-leafed yellowing branches, through the liquid glass of the aging window panes and her heart broke still, for each of them separately; for him, for her and for each of their children, and for all lives that reached such a desperate impasse. And for the courage that was required in the living; in the staying; the breaking away; the desperate bid for healing – in whatever choice one felt offered – for life.

Romaine Hill

Embroidering life

‘But Moirema,’ Jhanni cried, and drew her to him, ‘I did not guess you, too, were an embroiderer – just like my own nonna. Sit,’ he said, drawing her to the wooden bench in the alcove, ‘and tell me.’ So holding his hand, like a child, and leaning against his longed-for frame, she began.

‘Dark-skinned like my black sea-faring father, green-eyed like my Irish grandmother, before I was three, I learnt to sew at the feet of mother and grandmother, as they sat like all the other women in the town, in high-backed wooden chairs, leaning against the white walls of their dwellings working the blouses and cloths our island is famous for.

‘But, though the bright colours filled me with delight and the figures I learnt to pick out in the shining silks drew praise, I would watch my mother carefully. Always her own beautiful pictures of men and maidens, donkeys and dogs would be wet with tears. I would see them slip down the inside of her cheek and fall on the white cloth. “Tcha, Frida,” my grandmother would say. “Too much crying for that worthless one. I will make us some tea,” and she would rise and go into the little house clicking her tongue. “Why do you cry, Mama?” I asked and she would say: “For your Papa, Moirema, for your Papa.” Then, one day, when I was ten, grandmother told me mother wasted her tears. “Your Papa, the black bastard, my child, will never return. Everyone on the island knows he sailed away for good when you were three months old, the day before he and your poor mother were to name you in the church on the square. Not even for that day could he wait.”

‘I swore then,’ Moirema said, turning to Jhanni, I would not embroider and weep, I would use my feet instead to dance. I danced in street festivals, you remember, and then, at sixteen, I began dancing for money at the inn for all of the sailors, who went, like my father, from port to port. I could not draw Papa to me, I thought, but I would draw all other men, whose strong, brown bodies smelling of salt and sweat excited me, into the threads of light and movement that I would weave to delight and sometimes to destroy.’

‘And,’ cried Jhanni, ‘where you bewitched me again tonight, when I walked back into the inn after twenty years; the same green eyes, in the dark face, the same flying feet and the beautiful weaving body, there, still dancing, just as you were when I left with my father and mother all those years ago. Moirema, it is Moirema? I thought. Can it be? Now, Jhanni, you must jump up on the table and claim her, as you could not, dared not, that night of your nineteenth birthday. And so tonight I dared. And you – dancing, your eyes flashing – I knew, in that moment, you knew me. But how? And the embroidery, Moirema? When do you do all this?’

‘In the daytime usually, sometimes at night, when the inn is closed, I work. Always, embroidery has been a delight,’ she said ‘and a calming influence – it is as if, in its presence, I feel the company of mother and grandmother and all the female community in the town, though now many will not talk to me, some even shouting insults and hissing “promiscuous” as I pass in the street.’

‘Mostly,’ said Moirema, tossing her dark head, ‘I give little thought to them. But today even the yellow and orange pineapple shapes I had marked out with the bright gold and orange threads could not lift my thoughts. Today, Jhanni, I felt somehow more deeply linked to pain, perhaps because it is a year since my mother’s death, perhaps because my feet and hips ached from last night’s dancing, but perhaps because my heart ached, too, such a longing I had for deep, lasting connection.

‘The high tide that brought you caused me to lie listless on my little balcony, my needle idle, pinned through the cloth stretched here on grandmother’s large embroidery frame. I thought of our growing up in the same town, our innocent connection and of how our eyes caught each other’s that night so long ago at the inn. But then your father came with your uncle and they edged you out into the dark. The next evening, I heard you were sailing, at first light, for Portugal, where your father’s father lay dying.

‘As the sea washed further up the shore, and pounded the breakwater raising the harbour wall, I decided, as I lay on my daybed, I would dance tonight for the last time. I would choose, for the last time, the most arresting man in the circle of admiring faces, lead him up the street and into my room, ply him with pineapple wine and, when we had made love and he was asleep, I would drain my last beaker of intoxicating golden liquor to the dregs, move down onto the beach and walk in my swirling skirts out into the sea.’

‘Moirema, beloved,’ Jhanni said, drawing her to him. ‘We can be here together now. You will dance for me alone, and embroider for joy, for our home. And we will travel together to Portugal when I must go there for business, to Spain and to France. Will you be with me?’

And the dancing embroiderer, pain forgotten, pain draining from her, moved across the room, poured two glasses of the golden liquid and they stood close, surrounded by the tales of the island, all portrayed in smoothly stitched, glowing silk, drinking to the bright, newly interwoven threads of their own two lives.