I’ve spent two days staring at a hospital cubicle curtain. It was beautiful. Its folds held a graded sequence of intense blues, midnight in the deepest recesses, a pale sky at the edges. I got lost in those colours, drifted away for hours while Julia slept or sat up for another round of tests. Those blues are the ones Vermeer painted in his masterpiece, Woman Holding a Letter. They’re in the folds of her dress, the chairs, and the deep shadows. Blue is the colour of stillness and slow breathing.
There are two major buildings in Hereford. One is the hospital, a machine manned by people meant to behave like machines, their purpose to pull us back from the edge. But the staff are all lacking in machine abilities. All day they laugh and snap at each other. Sometimes they sit next to one of their patients, a person they’ve only known for a few hours, and tears come into their eyes.
The other building is the cathedral. Every inch of it was made by hand, the huge stone arches and buttresses, the carved and painted ceilings, the stained glass – all reds and blues. A cathedral’s purpose is to push us over the edge, to what is beyond the sensory, beyond life. We’ve almost forgotten how to do that, but not quite. I lit a candle on a table that looked like an altar, made a wish that sounded like a prayer.
Now we’re home again and I’ve left the boys to keep an eye on their sleeping mother while I go for a quick walk on the hill. There’s a buzzard calling, rooks spiralling over the village. As I circle the pool more birds begin to rise from the hawthorn trees. They all have pale underwings. More rise, then more, out of the trees and bushes, out of the sedge. A couple of ravens are trying to mob them, to push them away from their territory. The ravens have already given up. The flock gathers and swirls, lands, launches again. Thousands of fieldfares. A swarm. I’ve never seen so many. They’ll pick the trees bare in a few days.
Life is the colour of sky, the colour of blood, and hawthorn berries.