CREATIVE Stevie Davies

NWR Issue 102

Eclipse

Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceall þe mara þe ure mægen lytlað.

Violets and primroses have powered up between the paving stones of Beth’s London garden.

‘They appear so fragile, don’t they?’ she says, at the open window, her face to the light. ‘But violets are tough as old boots. They just hang on in there, Anna, and don’t take no for an answer.’

We’ve been getting memories out and looking at them together. They all lead to or from the eclipse. It‘s thirty years since we slouched in the back row of that Anglo-Saxon lecture – and the following day Beth warned me about the eclipse. That’s how I remember my first inkling of what was to come, somehow marked by the weird little drama that concluded the lecture. Byrthnoth the warrior had just taken his death blow. He raised his shield and lo! the men of Maldon fell in gouts of blood by his side; the Vikings were upon them.

We rarely speak of the eclipse directly. We chat our way round the subject, occasionally darting in to dab at it with our fingertips.

Holding out a hand which I take in both mine, Beth says, ‘You know, Anna, I was lying awake last night for ages.’

When I sympathise, Beth shakes her head: ‘No, it can be lovely if you haven’t to get up in the morning, just to lie and meditate and see the people you’ve loved in your mind’s eye. Strange – at that hour, there is a great stillness.’

On the train home to Wales, I see her there by the open window, saying that there’s a great stillness. I’ve seen that in her, the stillness. I don’t know whether it comforts me; I think it does. The train isn’t full: I’ve the luxury of two seats to myself. Sipping coffee, I glimpse my face shadowed in the pane as night consumes fields and hills. Somewhere within the dark reflection of myself hovers the pale stillness of Beth, remembering...

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