I romanticised the English winter, imagining it was of bearable length, a month or two, and spent peacefully watching frosted fields from the upstairs windows of grand houses. I dreamt up the matching coat and woollens that I’d wear to keep the clean and precise chill at bay. I summoned heavy books and glasses of red wine to mind, and pubs with an empty seat waiting – always a fire smouldering and a suggestion in the air that somebody nearby was baking pastry. But short, lukewarm days came in October and stayed until December. Mice returned to the skirting boards in the cloying kitchen to hide from the rain, the kitchen that was all wet windows and yesterday’s fried onions.
The bedroom walls became cold to the touch and blemished around the edges with black mould, and I realised I had forgotten how tight the overpopulated world becomes. England; even more constricting when it’s been padded by the jackets of women wrestling into queues – them and the obscene volumes of Christmas gifts they’re grabbing. And when the three-month long celebration peaks with the over-promised day, when the customary belly-lining with meat and chocolate and booze brings you out in a sweat because it’s not cold enough for comfort food, that’s when the English winter really starts.
And the real winter is nothing but a time for waiting. Brenda and I spent last January planning the garden. The garden and a holiday to Belize which we couldn’t afford, but we were old so we thought ‘what the heck!’ We’re still old. Brenda isn’t dramatic like me, but she isn’t exactly a ray of sunshine on those winter days either. I had forgotten that it’s always dark, even at midday everyone seems to be retreating indoors to wait for dusk. She read her lightweight paperbacks and drank instant coffee in her nylon slippers last winter, all through January and most of February while I waited to start work on the garden. When lawns give up and turn to mud and trees turn black and play dead, in the wrong mood I can talk myself into seeing something post-apocalyptic in it all, something dramatic anyway.
While I ummed and aahed over the holiday in Belize we marked Valentines day at home and tried to have sex without freezing our buttocks off. It was quick and well meant and deeply ungratifying. And when, by March, we hadn’t started work on the garden, and when, I’ll admit, I’d lost my nerve for booking the holiday, Brenda went to stay at her sister’s for a while and she didn’t come back. And all through the summer I imagined she’d most likely return again by winter, the luxuriant winter of my mind. And all through the summer I imagined she’d return again, like a luxuriant Brenda, one I’d invented. And when October and its realities hit, its grim disappointments, I realised quite why she never would.
(photo credit: Dr Clare Mclure)
If you enjoyed ‘Brenda in Winter’ you might also enjoy ‘Fed up waiting for Keith‘ which tells the story from Brenda’s point of view.
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