When I was a child sitting on my Grandmother’s lawn among the daisies, in the perpetual sunshine of seven years old, I would look out over the hills. There were still hills in those days, not housing estates, and they seemed to be full of corn, with the occasional white cottage. And beyond that green fields, going on and on for ever. I would slit the stems of the daisies so that the juice ran up under my fingernails, and I would thread daisies and buttercups alternately so that the necklace should be long and contain both silver and gold for my journey. For I had seven-league boots.
When I grow up, I told myself, I will walk right round the world.
But something went wrong with my growing up. I grew up to worry what bus I would catch, what platform I should stand on, where I would buy toothpaste, and what if I were alone with no one to tell me what to do? What if I went away and couldn’t come back, or came back and no one knew me? They weren’t very interested in my anyway; if I wasn’t there all the time to remind them I would surely slip their memories altogether. And if I didn’t have them to remind me who and what I was meant to be, I might fade right out of existence.
So I read colour-supplement articles about treks across the Sahara and hang-gliding down extinct volcanoes and felt wistful without knowing why. My friend went off to France to steal tablecloths from cafés and sleep under lorries with strange men. I wrote a poem about her in my tea-break. And I wrote little stories that nobody wanted to publish. My characters all mysteriously ran away or underwent some kind of metamorphosis: an ageing drunken hippie pursues a girl with golden bangles to Zanzibar*; a giantess becomes a wave of the sea; a cripple becomes a bird and a dying witch entrusts her soul to a cat.
And I married a man who didn’t see the point of holidays, and I took as a lover a man with a fear of flying; and I never had enough money; and after I couldn’t have gone alone. I couldn’t have. Could I?
* See later post: ZANZIBAR THE STORY, ZANZIBAR THE POEM
- SEVEN-LEAGUE BOOTS
- Once more I am a child on Grandma’s lawn,
- Slitting the stems of the daisies and buttercups,
- The green juice under my nails.
- I thread them alternately, one by one,
- For the chain must be long and contain
- Both silver and gold.
- For I have seven-league boots.
- I am looking out over the hills,
- And when I grow up I will stride out over
- Those green and simple miles.
- But the sun goes in,
- And inside me something fails.
- If I should go, then who will mirror me?
- If they forget, what homecoming can there be?
- And the lawn becomes my prison, the hills the bars
- And the world becomes as far away
- As Mars.