Two Metres Apart

The sound of my mother practicing her piano is perfuming this isolation. She will most likely come in from a walk, or stand up after a cup of tea, or, having finished a particular task, exclaim—‘I’m going to play piano!’ While I, sitting there working, frown at the rings of coffee on the table. I’ll clean them when I get a moment, but let the cup and grounds linger; cardamom and the memory of foreign cafes from when I could travel. The tick of a metronome. I do not listen to her playing, because she doesn’t like any of us to listen to her playing. If she senses our presence, she becomes nervous and frustrated, inevitably hitting a duff note and cursing; eventually, though, she settles down and forgets about us; so I sit there very quietly, not listening but hearing, just as I am present but she knows I’m not. I begin to spin my pen about my fingers, because the risk that I might drop it and the sound disturb her is dangerous and exciting. She plays the songs, and I listen without hearing, witnessing although absent.

It’s quiet in the room. Between every key is a measure of silence. The birds have returned because it is spring and now the violet skies die a little later, the smell of the night sky a little sweeter. It is quiet in the room as it is quiet outside where the birds flirt and the wind blows. If I work then I do not think! Of course I think in some measure of thought, but I am not thinking beyond the task at hand, and in the background is the sound of my mother practicing piano. If she gets it right, she does a little fist pump and says—‘Got it… The timing was a little off, but I got all the notes.’ I look up and say—‘It sounded very good.’ For the rest of the day I will have that song stuck in my head, and so the sound of my mother practicing piano is perfuming this isolation. ‘Do you want to go for a walk?’ I say that, yes, I would, but just let me finish this. ‘I’ll go change my trousers.’ She disappears, but once she’s done she’ll wait by the front door with an impatient pose in a different pair of trousers.            
I lower my brow to the sun and it causes me pain. The wind hurts my skull because it is so cold and doesn’t let up. Good sleep evades me, so I wake up aching all over and in a sour mood, unready for the day yet dragged into it. My legs are unsteady, but I must go out – I must! – otherwise, cooped up inside, I will surely go mad. The walks are no fun, but I cherish the time with my mother, and I get the feeling the fresh air is good for me, although it remains to be seen. A boy is riding his bicycle in circles and a cat sits watching him; he looks up from his handlebars to watch us and we watch him in return, observing two metres (at our nearest estimate). The neighbourhood is quiet, but perhaps it is always that way. Every couple of minutes the wind extinguishes my cigarette out and I must relight it. The wind is so cold. ‘This fucking wind!’ I say. ‘It’ll go soon. Summer is on its way… See,’ she points to the beach—‘This is where I want to take the girls, or maybe J—e can take them when it’s warmer.’ It’s the longest she hasn’t seen her granddaughters and it troubles her. She watches them on the camera but it’s not the same. ‘You’re used to going long periods of time without seeing them, I’m not. Been almost two weeks and feels even longer.’ ‘Mmm,’ I say, and we pass an old woman, two metres apart. The sand has blown up on the prom and gets into your socks. Often we walk in single file. She should wear a hearing-aid but she won’t, so she just says ‘Eh?’ all the time. I wait until we’re not single-file and the wind isn’t blowing so strong, that she might hear me. The sound of my dead grandmother’s hearing-aid whistles in the wind; maybe the memory is why my mother won’t wear hers.
The sand has tumbled down the bank and crushed against a beach hut. The wood has buckled and bows out, bending mostly, not quite snapped. The entire hut has shifted on its feet from a rectangle into a parallelogram. Out the side of it the broken wood reminds me of the jaw of a whale. We stand and stare. On the newly-formed cliff above, a tree, bent over from the wind, sits precariously, one false move from following its foundations into the wreckage below. So caught up in the spectacle are we that the presence of a man completely escaped us. He is silent as thermals. He is sat on a chair in front of the next beach hut. The door is open and inside a radio plays softly. The chair is in the sun and the man sits on it with the posture of a lord. Such enviable posture! His eyes are closed, and if we move, our heels caught in the sand, he opens them, little wet balls. He wears dusty overalls and is taking a break in the warmth of the sun, which is strong indeed, that one can almost dream it is summer. He flicks his eyes open again and looks at us looking at the fallen hill and the splintered wood. We almost said ‘Afternoon!’ to each other, but we didn’t.
‘I need to pee.’ – ‘Me, too.’ I go into the public toilet. ‘I’ll hold it,’ she says. The inside of the public toilet is the quietest place on earth, and so perfect in its stillness that you mustn’t touch a thing. Nothing should be touched! The plumbing didn’t utter a sound, not even a welcoming gurgle. In fact, the entire facility held its breath until I left until I was safely back outside.

When we got home, she returned to her piano and I to my work, which I had left in a disorganised state on the kitchen table. I asked if she wanted some coffee. She said she would share mine. Two cardamom pods were split and their tiny black insides turned into the grounds like ill-fated seeds. Her posture was good when she played the piano, although not as good as that man’s on the beach. She played and I finished working, finished my pot of coffee, finished the smell of everything and the tinkering of keys. The songs were still stuck in my head. Finish the songs still stuck in my head.