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Later, it is the shape it was before the unwrapping that stays with her.
Image gone of the thing. Always the way.
Sway, song of a disagreeable one, meant what said was true.
Did I? Did so.
First real argument.
Next day package with a card reading it out, shouts inside,
“A result of more than one failed attempt”.
Wasn’t sure if he was writing this as himself, selfish she called him, or a quotation?
Unsure. Blush at the thought of that.
Stands outside, pressed face to thick glass of gallery, hot. Shaky bit previous moment.
She, a camera unstable all over.
Her. Saw it coming on seeing shuddering from the inside.
Must be age of, uh oh, another page of the pavement coming up.
Pressed open the door, for safe-keeping, get inside. Advice saved up from war time.
Lucky this swerve into the cool. A photography gal, girl sits there.
Now then get a grip, she would like to ask for that one.
Please Miss may I have, a joke then? The assistant for a chair? Snort. Not swap them silly. A chair to stable it.
Eyes. Just for a little. Sit then. Should ask now.
Please Lady Miss. Swoon stuff happens sometimes.
Hair falling, all in down her eyes then wounded, wound up, just so from the inside. Intimidating shimmy-shimmy of new air, apparent glassy indifference, no nonsense not there but it emanates, sheets of it, from out this all and out from it, the other woman tip-tap with typing. She could do that? Aggressive downward. She could do strokes. Gruelling.
Table shakes, shakes.
What a fuel for it. Aches her.
An animal one soon to break free but in pain. Aches.
What can a woman with a monumental beehive, behave now, honey-tall with dark-blue tights and short navy tunic, white piping, what can she be writing?
What difference writing and piping, meaning typing.
Ha. Not thinking. Just inking.
That’s a joke right there then?
Can’t say it. Not here. Out.
She compares herself dowdy. Rowdy-dowdy in well-worn tweedy stuff. Weedy compared to this honey pot topped one.
A poem or a love letter, hopes so, she so hopes that is what she must be writing with such shiny, shiny nails.
Doubts, shouts out inside then, seeing only columns of numbers. Humbers, hum, hum.
Clears her throat, she would like to request a chair or even a glass of water. Better not to attract attention, seeing as numbers, little red dots float beneath the black and white images on the wall.
The sway and dizziness of the afternoon comes again. Shame of it. Began after a chance encounter with a headline, repeats itself apparition-like on corners and at the mouths of tube stations:
MAN ON THE MOON AND THE MESSAGE FROM EARTH: WE’RE BREATHING AGAIN
Inside now, safe. Sighs. Too loud. And the woman at the typewriter is raising her eyes as if to discourage further unwanted interruptions. Ruptions. Turn quickly. I will absorb myself into an image on the wall, obviously. Think like nothing is, look not in the least bit figurative, so can't stop it, why does it open onto another particularly hot summer a few years before the war?
Dances, movies, late night conversations.
Shapes of shifting foot to foot, cold with hands in pockets, nervous at the corners of streets that lead separate ways home, serious with partings.
On this particular afternoon she is sitting at a desk, her desk.
Really someone now. A shiny display of scientific instruments proves it.
A radar operator, one of only a handful of women qualified to record the data on the approach of aircraft. Her mind today is luminous as a dial but not yet in focus. She had been going over of their exchange.
Raw data, the shape of her.
That convex dial should be moving to the left. Now about the previous evening. Now, looks like the ending is complete with slammed doors (her), and pursed lips (him), and a long and tearful walk home in the rain (her).
Wrings her hands under the desk. Again. What desk is it? Isn’t she here in a gallery twenty five years later repeating? Not speaking.
My own little play, what a ray, from out of the dark.
Smiles unsure of which time this will occur in.
That was it, the substance, the marrow of things. Yes, plural. No bones broken open. Nothing to sing about yet.
Something hits the floor with a crash. When?
He would not agree that women in the civil service should be allowed to continue in the workplace after marriage.
Well that was that, then, but was it she thought now. Shaky, shake. That was that she said, had said, with a finality present here, there at that moment, this moment to the near empty room with the glassy floor. Eyes on a level. So dishevelled now. All the quaking.
Another afternoon gone, the screen glows appreciatively on and on.
Out of the window now, she watches a group of people in the distance who are apparently setting up a picnic on the grass. Hadn’t she meant to put him off anyway? Everyone knew she was a leader, training other scientists, male and female, like her, how to interpret the dials and screens. 'Save them all' someone said with a slap of a shoulder.
Sunlight falls on the group. Joan and Margaret setting out their long legs on a checked blanket and who are they with?
Not him surely?
Tries to stand up and smooth skirt and jacket creased with the awkward pressing of an uncomfortable wooden chair.
Screen on the radar glimmers. Unhopeful.
She shields her eyes and adjusts her sight to the shapes of the shadows outside on the lawn. Finds it hard to go from the glow of the screen to the world. Yes, it was him alright. There he was with Rory from Engineering and the girls in the office downstairs. Girls, who she now considered were certainly much prettier than her. Joan laughing and holding up her arm, as if to point something out in the sky above. The sun is bright. No clouds. He would like that, her pointing at the sky like that. Head hurting. Mechanical intervention. She should check the post.
Out in the corridor a line of pigeonholes arranged alphabetically in groups of three or four letters. She notices the brown envelope in ‘L, M, N’ at once but doesn’t immediately connect it to the package that is also addressed to her. She must be that one but checks again. Recognises his handwriting on the envelope, always liked the slant of the H and the Y in the way he writes her name.
Out. Out. He is being there outside. Inside what is it? Nervous fingers. An apparently blank card with a single line, “A result of more than one failed attempt” what does that mean? Hears the steps of her supervisor, is hurriedly pushing envelope and package into brown satchel. Her brown satchel. She will open it later when she is sure she is existing either here, or in another. As one.
Later she stands in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil on the little stove behind her, a velvet lined box in her hands. At first, she thinks it is a powder compact and can’t think how he could be so forward as to send anything so intimate. But it is not a powder compact, she sees that now. The box is lined with red velvet that has been embossed with tiny flowers and on the other side of the hinged case is a gold frame set with a picture but not of any person. Here craters and seas are visible like eyes in scatter across a field of mottled and dusty greys, pits and striations, pock and mark cross the white and luminous disc that is the moon. The edge of the sphere turns in stark in contrast against black and the two lower shadows fall softly across its edges. She turns it over in her hand, tilting it to the light in order for the outline of the planet to become visible. Without doubt it is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.
But where did you get it, she asked him the next day as they sat eating the sandwiches that she had prepared in the shade of a tree on the edge of the park.
“My grandfather gave it to me” he tells her and she is nodding as if that could make sense of everything which of course it doesn’t.
“He bought it after it was shown at the Great Exhibition left it to me in his will because I always used to look at it when we visited his house. I was his favourite grandson, I suppose.
The boy and the grandfather standing side by side looking at the image of the moon are not the only ones that appear then. Two other men, also side by side, in discussion about the settings of a camera inside a telescope visit her in dreams.
She doesn’t recognise either of them.
Which one of you comes up with idea of a moon in a box? She asks, as if they can hear but no one answers and they continue to talk amongst themselves.
They are married later that summer and just before Christmas she leaves her job at Ditton Park. The girls in the office throw a party for her with cake, made by Joan, topped with a bright white snowy icing. In fact the colour of gallery walls and now the colour of her own hair.
Nearly two years later while she is pregnant with their child. She opens a telegram informing her that he has been killed in action. She is twenty four.
The numbers from one to twenty one.
Twenty one months.
It is 1969. So what is the significance of that?
That, she is telling her son, is the same as the number of months, focus on the image on the wall, that we spent together before he left for the front.
I am all grown up now he reminds her and not really here, mother.
Slowly does it. She might let go of the little boy's hand now.
’21 Spirit Bubbles, in a circular case’ states the label as if the rest is obvious.
Twenty one glass balls each engraved with a number and nested like eggs in a round container. Perhaps an early experiment to check for the levels of different surfaces or perhaps bubbles of air destined for instruments never to be made.
Can a marriage be considered as a scientific instrument?
The photographer has caught the patterns of light as it passes through the glass sides.
So fragile. Almost then.
So they are saying you must have fainted, someone is saying this down a telephone.
Must have. She is seeing the heavily made-up face of the gallery assistant peering down at her.
“Are you unwell? Can I get you some water perhaps?” A face swims in and out of focus inches from her own.
“Yes please” she hears herself say in a strange voice that she doesn’t recognise.
There are bubbles in the clear liquid inside the glass that catch the intense light that streams through the window.
She supposes it must be water.
A few minutes later she surveys the room from the wooden stool that the woman has at last provided.
“Do you know what day it is?” the woman is saying with apparently genuine concern. “Should I call someone for you?”
She looks up at the woman whose long black eyelashes curl like the feet of some mechanical instrument about to set off on its survey mission into unknown territory across the ashen whiteness of her made-up face that she now sees close-up is somewhat pocked and scarred.
“Yes of course” she says, “it is the day after the night before we landed on the moon”.
She has often surmised that she was lucky they took her back on at Ditton Park even if it did mean that her son was brought up mainly by his paternal grandparents.
And now her son is all grown up with a wife of his own and a new baby son. Her daughter-in-law is probably the same age as the woman at the desk. She wonders if she would like a print of this photograph as a birthday present.
She is afraid to ask the woman how much it will cost.