First thing, I reach to strap on my watch,
then remembering we are under house arrest
from this pandemic, put it in a drawer,
because the diary has been struck through from March
to a provisional October.
This is unlike the snowbound limbo
when daily life is frozen for a fortnight
and we race outdoors to sculpture snowmen,
dig out skis and toboggans,
knowing spring will shortly see off.
Here, the hours elide as in an old people’s home,
marked only by three meals and
bulletins from the mono themed telly.
Boredom beckons with binge eating and booze,
so, I timetable in daily chores and the exercise bike
rewarded by box sets and novels I always meant to read.
Meanwhile doing the rounds on Facebook
some wit has created a jokey reminder of what day it is –
and as April steps across the equinox,
outside warmer weather teases,
until I ache to size lessons like a bespoke tailor,
chew over exam criteria with chums,
take cinemas, theatres, galleries for granted again,
stretch my cage cribbed wings to make flight plans,
reach for my watch and strap it back on.
Mid-winter morning, I lug bloated bags through the door,
still frowning from encounters with mums and their toddlers
unruly as puppies; to be greeted by ‘shouldn’t have left me alone,’
your laptop displaying a motorcycle for sale whose retro looks
stirs memories of past bike loves, and ‘is a steal’.
Suddenly all previous tutting at middle-aged men
on bikes ‘they can’t handle’ mutterings of
‘trying to recapture their youth’ are forgotten.
Replaced now by ‘it will help my back,’ ‘get me exercising.’
But I have known by the way you ogle bikes in car parks,
this is an itch you must scratch.
By Friday it is parked outside.
The first fine day you armour up in a leather jacket
reinforced like a knight’s brigandine,
select a private road at the rear of the house
to get to grips with: ‘wing mirrors all wrong,’
‘breaks on the wrong side.’
I tiptoe up the path, peep through a crack in the fence
as you go through the protocol of ‘lid’ on, then Raybans,
under which disguise, you time travel back to your 20s.
You mount and after decades out of the saddle
roar off down the road with Steve McQueen cool
leaving me behind. And jealousy abrades
at this old passion rekindled
as if I have reluctantly agreed to infidelity,
because I have nothing comparable in my past
to give me this Woo Hoo! high.
Dancing once perhaps, but not now with my disobedient body.
Suddenly, I understand why those Whitstable women
don wet suits and take to wild swimming with whoops,
rather than seek their thrills amongst the WI.
I retrace down the path, noting the garden chores
that are pending; to coffee and online solitaire.
On the old girls’ Facebook page, women now 50 are 15 again.
We default to nicknames, ‘Tuppy’ for Monique.
Memories flurry about the nun who dyed her hair,
boyfriends swept away from the front gates like rubbish,
underripe breasts frowned over whilst more precocious girls preened.
Suddenly the mood changes like a switchblade pulled.
‘That bitch Sister Mary,’ ‘spiteful cow always rang my parents,’
revealing 40 years of grudge that only girls can hold,
for the poppet sized headmistress, who wielded her Belfast accent
to chop down mouthy girls sullying the school uniform with make-up.
But they do not know, that when my dad was damned with
terminal cancer, Sister Mary took up his case with God.
Post funeral as the family made it clear that this was the end
of the matter, in the convent parlor, mum wept uncensured
whilst Sister Mary soothed with tissues and tea.
And as mum came around from the knock-out punch
of dad’s death, to find the only thing she inherited were his debts,
it was Sister Mary who showed her how to cut her cloth.
and when I was roughed up at the local school for being a posh girl,
she gave me sanctuary with a twinkled ‘just between us.’
A few years after our class had scattered, I learned she had died,
of breast cancer. It was not her death that left me open-mouthed,
because as teenagers the white hair peeping from her veil
meant she must be old; but the reminder that beneath the habit
designed to cancel out her femininity, there was still a woman’s body,
and forfeiting her gender did not buy immunity from this most female
of diseases. On the contrary, being nearer middle age, the time
when this cancer generally begins to stalk; never giving her breasts a
second look and a womb that remained fallow, made Sister Mary
textbook, for this disorder, once known as the nuns’ disease.