Packing Cases

I’m in the process of moving house. Today, I cleared bookshelves and came across an old notebook from the time when I lived in Paris in the early 1990s. Flicking through the pages I read this short piece of prose for the first time in many years. I find it stifling, dark and like a time capsule:

Words and Pictures

There was nobody else to paint me. An entire weekend alone, the time pressing on my lungs like black gauntlets as I watched others genuinely glad to be free from the structure of work. My weekends were as if I were in a theatre piece; with myself as the leading lady, ticket sales, the audience and the critic. I am looking out to you on a Saturday night, the air around me is hazy from spiralling cigarette smoke and seems almost blue to me on this side of the mirror. If I were to open my mouth in a fake smile you would see on my teeth how the tannic Bordeaux has been quaffed tonight; half way through a bottle, this second glass always seems my most creative. I know that this numbing process will end in my staggering to my bed in the corner left, this picture crumpled in the bin.

The smell of this place haunts me. No matter what oils and attars I burn, spray or wear this sickly smell of neglect and poverty snakes up the stairwell from the dingy courtyard. It clings to the spirit, and the only escape is by bathing, drinking or sleeping. Otherwise, I try to keep away from here by walking, walking and walking anywhere. Once I walked the view from the Sacre Coeur to the other side of the Seine valley, just to remind myself that this city is built on a natural place and to feel the contours below my feet. I’d thought that I’d be grateful to seek my bed after so many kilometres, but then this sickly sweet smell like burnt rice enveloped me in its dark cloak as I began the twisting climb to the fifth floor.

Outside, rain falls on warm pavements and offers the peculiar peppery smell of summers past. Big drops fall on stunted geraniums in my window box, they gasp and rustle with hope in the cooling air. Across the courtyard a sash window is slammed shut, plates clatter as they are stacked by busy hands, a baby wails and canned laughter rises from a television show. Glass to mouth, the outline of a smile paints itself in berry red on my face. I look to the future and wait for this time to pass.

Photograph by Heather Gartside 2016

Dark Water