Monty Adkins - Deborah Templeton: WATER'S EDGE
Awakened from the life she has been living far inland, a woman gazes across misty fjord waters towards the open sea, remembering distant days and contemplating lost chances. Deborah Templeton's poetic prose is set in music by Monty Adkins in this special adaptation for radio.
Monty Adkins - Deborah Templeton: NA OKRAJI VODY
Monty Adkins - composition, electronics
Deborah Templeton - text
Sarah-Jane Summers fiddle
Seth Parker Woods cello
Susie Green, Sophie Fetokaki voice
Additional string samples recorded by the Bozzini Quartet
Translated by Ian Mikyska
(Abridged for radio)
"According to eternal and unbreakable laws,
we must all complete the circle of our being."
It was still dark when the woman reached the village. Like a sleepwalker, she had been drawn from her warm bed and turned, thoughtless, out into the heavy air. Porch lights glowed and the houses were asleep. The last of the night hung damp and clinging to the edges of things.The road took her to the fjordside where she crunched, sinking, onto the shingle strand. She did not notice the cold reaching through to her bones; she felt only the dream sounding inside her.Light was slow to come. The creep of the morning was barely discernible. Until, finally, the ordinary light of a soft grey day soaked into her distraction, floated her up from her own depths - though the dream came with her, dragging seawater.
Yesterday's letter... three pale, watermarked sheets in her cousin's familiar hand. The news it brought - read and reread, and folded away. She had swallowed her thoughts, unspoken, and they had dropped deep inside her, resurfacing later in the memory-heavy dream.
The letters came year after year: courtships and break-ups; weddings and babies...
These days it was not unusual to hear word of a death.
When she lifted her eyes, the fjord was wraithed with hanging mist clouds far into the deep view. The cliff edges mirrored themselves and it was hard to tell what was surface and what was depth.
She liked to let her thoughts slide and skim on the water, lose herself in its glassy stare. Gaze long towards the horizon, or scan the pristine, chisel-edged crags of the far mountains.
Two days ago there had been news of a lost climber. He had gone ahead when the weather changed and his party turned back. He did not return to the base camp, and was somewhere now in that far separation that looked so deceptively close.
Down the long reach of the fjord, where the channel bent away out of sight, clouds were casting shadow. On the furthest line of the water was a bright spill of sunlight ending in a silver shimmer. And further west - the place of her childhood summers. Running wild on summer nights, chase and catch and jumping hedges; long days on the bleached white strand in squally showers or sporadic sunshine. And the high heath with the old stones and deep-coloured bracken.
She had not been back since the summer after she left college. That was the last time she had seen him, walking away down the lane with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders pulled up.
A world away he had lived and died.
She hadn't thought of him in years.
A bird started up out of the bushes and her eyes went to it, to the berries clustering dark amongst the dark leaves. As though only now awakening fully, she began to focus on near things. A scrap of paper languishing in the water. A length of boat rope sprawled on the path. A blade of impossibly bright grass tapering to a quivering tip.
At the water’s edge, as the wind coaxed ripple lines into a liquid map, she began to feel the cold that had been with her all morning. She was surfacing from the somnolence that had carried her out into the last of the dark and brought her here.
The news had travelled to her from a lifetime ago. Dropped like a pebble into her heart space, sending ripples shivering across her surface, and stirring the long-silted depths.
On a briar tangle, a snag of red sweater wool drifted slightly in the wind.
She sat in the kitchen for a long time, her hair loose and falling towards her coffee cup.The newspaper was on the table - untidily folded, but for once she did not reach to straighten it. She could see the small column of print that reported on the search party and the weather conditions at height, and she did not read further.Here on the valley side, the days were still mild enough, but the hours of light were shortening and the cold was building strength for the coming winter.
They had come to this house after they were married. Through the seasons of long light, the ferry boats and fishing boats went by, and light travelled too - across the facing rock side on the valley's far wall, chased by tall shadows and tormented by cloud casts. She had backed herself up into this narrow landlocked place, and made her life here. She would sit at her little cherry wood dressing table and look no further than her own face in the silvered glass.
A sudden rain showered against the window, and she looked up to see the drops spatting and sliding on the pane. The mood of the morning had not left her. It had deepened, and the sea-heavy swell of the dream and its old ghosts was stronger now. Her thoughts drifted and then gathered, like sand shifted by winds on a beach, making rises, forming dunes, dips. Her mind was running in the runnels on the strand, the sand cold under her bare feet and the wind whipping her dress about her thighs.
The memory welled and surged.
The sea and the sky and the light and the islands. The freshening breeze and the cold on her legs. The wave tops tumbling white-capped.
A lifetime ago.
She was only five or six the first time they went. Her granny's cottage was homely and hunkered down, with a fire always lit in the grate, and the peat smoke smell strong in the air. She and her mother slept on a sagging refuge of a bed with ends that leaned towards each other. They curled together on sheets of faded patterns, under a patchwork of blankets, and the sky stayed bright outside their drawn curtains for a long time.
That was the beginning of it - the first of the summers when they came to the sea and breathed free in the fresh salt air. The sun was high in the sky, even if the weather was often cloudy. Running with her band of brazen cousins, she felt her life expand to fit the size of the long strand. She could see the sea stretching away, rolling out from under her own feet, reaching all around the world. She played out in all weathers on that beach, and on country lanes and in the crackling woods that hugged the hillsides as they tumbled up to the tops where the moors ran. For a whole summer, and for summers to come, she uncoiled into a freedom they did not know at home.
Cycling into a forest clearing. Standing the bike between your sneakered feet and breathing hard, all grins. Who will be the first to push on the handlebars and lift back into the saddle and press away? Patrick's indomitable energy sending him hurling down lanes and powering over rises. She would be lagging behind, ready to find a place where the grass was dry enough to lie on; where they could watch the clouds gather above the treetops.
If they had any pocket money, holiday money, sometimes they would cycle to the wee sweetie shop on the main road. The red bike and the blue bike leaning on the wall, the white paper bag with the midget gems dark-coloured until you licked them and held them up to the light. On dry days, there was a postcard stand propped outside the shop and they'd linger there, fingering the curling and half-faded cards. Patrick said they must have been there since the year dot.
Later, when she was back in her father's house, back at school and the summer days behind her, one of the cards might arrive on her doormat. Almost love letters, those September-sent messages when she was not long gone, when friendship was still running high on the summer tides. The pictures were hand-tinted, unconvincing; the strand washed in a dirty yellow, and the grey tones of the stones spilling over their edges. Only the skies seemed right. She remembered the actual skies being just that blue, and the clouds always blowing in a great hurry.
A bright morning. Breathless, they had clambered up to the high moor and the circle of standing stones. She was a sturdy blur of fine feeling that day. Her long legs flashing. Her red sweater tied about her waist and her brown arms bare.
Patrick had shown her the carvings, the patterns half worn away and lichened over. He said that the old ones had performed their invocations here, like archers aiming at the stars. And that once a year, a message returned with a sure shot - a thin beam piercing the stone's cupped-out heart like an arrow, threading it with light. This, Patrick said, was the hub of the world and the holding station - the place where the planet was tethered to the great, whirling galaxy beyond.
And he held his hand over hers and moved her fingers along the shallow arcs and wheels.
They had sat in the lee of the largest stone, out of the wind, and the brightness of the day had felt like the start of some adventure. It was a fresh day with distance to travel and they were poised on a cusp, life calling. That whole summer they talked for hours about what was coming next, and Patrick's talk was bold and brave and full of the bright air of the upland. When they stood they could see the sea and the islands.
Later, they went back down to the harbour, where the boats were rucking, lively, in the water. Patrick wanted there and then to step careful and reckless onto the salt boards, and have the sea swell come lifting in. A freshening wind that would take a sail and fill it, lift a boat into the life of the world. He was full of daring and his eyes went out, over the offing, to where light edged the horizon line.
She had stood tentative on the wharf side, watching the great roiling ocean come surging in. The air was rank with the smell of fish from the creels, and the harbour water lurched beneath her. She had backed away from that edge; turned for home.
And Patrick was abandoned to his plans. Left to find other friends to make the dare with, when next the sun came streaming out from behind the clouds.
She sat, unmoving, in the dying dusk light, hands folded in her lap, her book unopened. On the side table, the powder blue envelope. From the hallway, the low tick of the clock, its old familiar marking of time.
She could imagine the gathering there would be to send him off. Cars pulling crunching onto the gravel drive, their engines smooth. Men, who were once boys, arriving in winter coats, and the house too full to hold them all. His sister, her famous flamed hair, now it will be grey, silver. Surely she will be sobbing back the loose aches of her heart. Above the house - the sky. And beyond - the sea.
He would have been an old man now.
They should bury him from the beach.
They should wind the cars through the glen from the church and down to the sea. Drive the hearse slow on the sands. Let the black-suited mourners in their polished shoes walk the tarmac path between the dune grass and the strand. The procession slow and solemn and the pipes wailing.
They should take him to the beach. They should show him the sky over the islands.
She woke in the chair, her face pressed against the rough tweed. It was morning. Her husband must have brought the duvet and covered her in the night, leaving her to her visitations. Now, the door opened and he looked quietly in. Sleet was washing against the windows, small wet daubs of snow sticking, sliding. The weather systems had moved quickly and winter had come tumbling in during the night.
On the mountains, Nils said, the storm had been heavy and the mountain crew had come home before midnight. The search was called off. They would not go out again.
The heating hummed warm in the pipes and the coffee steamed. She had dreamt, but nothing was clear. She remembered only fragments and feelings.
How many winters had they been here now? A lifetime of winters. A lifetime of looking out at this garden, inclining toward the water, on which the sleet was now softening to snowfall. A lifetime lived inland, far from the incessant ebb-flow of the crashing tides.
So, Patrick was gone now and that was the end of it. She had placed a marker in a book, and placed the book upon a shelf, tucked between the many volumes in her husband's library, hidden there in plain view like a secret. Always intending that one day she would come back to the book and find her place again. And a hundred years had passed, weathering the stones on the moor, driving the pattern deep in their bones. Everyone but she had grown old, and the thread that was gossamer fine and looping the seven worlds and this world had ceased to sing.
Later, if the snowfall permitted, she would wrap herself in her coat and scarf and go down to the fjordside again. She would stand on the shore and look into the blankness. There were days when the mountains were pristine clear and sharp-focused, but today they would be whited out in the density of the air. She would stand by the rippling water's edge, staring into that far separation.
Now that winter was arriving they were entering the part of the year in which the world closed down and the glaciers grew. Come the spring, the heaviness of winter would release itself into runoff. The rivers would run high and hurtling, flooding the fjord water's salt depths with a surfeit of milky glacial melt. Rock powder in the melt water would drift to settle with the salt on the far deep bed. The fresh surface water would flow out toward the sea, and the deep saltwater would draw inland, drawing to the far pit of the fjord.
There were ice crystals on his eyelashes and the day was too bright to look into. He woke and then he slept again and when he woke again the tent sides were billowing and exhausting like stricken lungs. His hands were tucked under his arms and he was curled around himself like an ammonite. Now with effort he unclenched one hand and fumbled at the zipper. The morning light was deep and clean though most of the valley below was shrouded in snow cloud. Through cracking lids he peered blearily as the shapes of the landscape came and went.
His breath steamed warm against his face and then immediately cold and freezing. But the pain was gone, and he knew, without words, what would happen next. The world was now this: a high emptiness, a soaring vertigo, and the sun powering up into the sky, as it did every day. The crags of the highest peaks became crystalline, pristine, even as his own vision watered and blurred.
Far beyond this impasse he remembered that there was another life; a morning radio playing, a child eating breakfast, a woman refusing to let hope dilute in her heart. Deep inside himself, he wrapped his arms tight around them; this would be the end now.
With his hands folded under his arms and his face drawn down into the protection of his collar, he made the call mutely, said the goodbyes which were not goodbyes but a renewal of vows, the vows renewing themselves with a pristine surety in his heart which, strangely, still beat, though everything fell away and he watched it go. He watched his eyes close on the vast indifferent weather system and the vast indifferent mountain. He watched his thoughts, redundant at last, slow and stammer and then soften into inaudibility.
The sound of the wind remained.
The sound of the cold.