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Jarring Experience

Author: Monica Foe

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Monica had felt she was seeing her ex everywhere. Each day, along the same stretch of the Water of Leith she had strolled for a lockdown year, that fateful wraith would materialise in the back of a head; the shape of a coat.

Sifting for her old self, she had expected it to be like the wash-back of waves at the foreshore near the old house. A restoration. Now a river walk takes her to where she had learned to soften the old stirrings. Attunement, an idea she had fastened on, unsure if her mind would permit her to drift. "Soft Fascination": the psychologist's term for paying attention, focusing the mind. Hn, she had thought, a default-setting guarded groan sighing out.

Sample Day.

She would twirl elastic, winding the mask snugly to her face. This brought flashbacks of the cool girls schooling her how to wind hair to a tight knot with the same action that would have stretched gum round an index finger: the same guile that blew smoke rings in her face. The curling downside of a surfacing Otter fleetingly seen as fingers wringing lather from a ponytail, thick rope being released from its housing.

Now she peers at the rings of the Willow tree blocking the path. Workers not yet having fully sawn a clearing, Alice has to climb through the knot of branches; the burn a looking glass.

The Alder lives till about 60, she later reads, seeing the fold and wrinkle at her forearm as a crease or pleat that unfurls as leaves stretch to light. She strokes the limb, remembering the smooth criss-cross of bark on the Goat Willow; its flattened lattice, as if its ridges had been trowelled smooth. Touchstones she returns to daily.

The separation had been a barely bearable flatlining when lockdown came to stall her under a pall. She had embraced the inevitable as things came to what she thought would be the close; the gallows-humour anagrams a running gag shared with friends: Foregone Conclusion becoming a "lounge of no cornices" to register the grate of post-marital expectations. Boom, then Bust. ‘Your sense of humour will be what gets you through this,’ the counsellor had said.

Thickly-wrapped books would arrive through the letterbox, installments she thought of as her "cardboard box-set": a counterweight to all the binge-thinking; a blow to crack the frames of those morose-tinted glasses. She was still taken aback when, at the end of a particularly good episode, she would automatically turn to where the wraith would sit. A shock as new as when it first happened. Strangely, the tail-end of that habit passing was like a new hurt. "Once sorrow passes", she had read somewhere, "the memories come, and they each hurt uniquely".

The burn was the corridor that got her to work, and simultaneously away from work. Lone-Working summed it up too sadly, given the circumstances. She could have eased up and taken the bus, but she wanted to avoid the world: the refuseniks, the righteous. Work provided plenty of that to be going along with:

The grief-stricken soul who had faith in the idea that energy-channeling could take healing, pixellated quanta across an international Zoom call.

The unfazed solstice-worshipper who took comfort in crystals, but had heaved a hod across gravel and mud, laying a million bricks. This is all a lie, you know…

The amateur epidemiologist (a fly-in anointment, they thought used masks were safe after a night in the cold).

This usually in a mansplain monologue, moanalogue. The assumption you need to hear this. No-one expects the Spanish Disquisition. All in a day's work, she thought. A day with a Y in it. Y chromosome, that is…

She sighs daily. Hourly. Heavily.

I think it's humour that will save you, Monica...

She learned to listen, listen out, trying her best to transcend waiting. She sees a girl immersed in tiny flowers by a swathe of trailing ivy. She struck her as seeming “new to this”; doing rather than being attuned, too diligent, or perhaps just simply faithful to what had sent many to their first Gong Bath or solstice gathering.

"To become anything you have to impersonate it first".

This would further immerse her as she saw, far down from the bridge arch where Jackdaws rested in high inches, a young man playing a saxophone, ‘Brubeck's Take Five’, its echo pluming up the vertiginous arch. On a tripod, at waist height, his bluetooth read:


She hears that as an earworm from a high-hat. More arcade than arcadia, some mall-ified, precinct, his cashpoint made her think of how thirled we are to our defunct devices; drawerfuls of dead-set detritus; snaps from a grainy film of dots.

Framing her own story she took heart from an idea in one of the growing pile of self-help books. It suggested a way of daily journalling that would shift her focus: write your entries in the 3rd person.

She diligently scribed her days, finding an irresistible impulse to edit, improve, adapt. She felt she was looking from a drone; from the viewpoint of those Jackdaws. She wondered if she was seeing herself, or seeing through her self. Whatever was happening, she felt she was celebrating those godawful days, and also celebrating the shift she had waded through to get here. No streamers. Just cones and catkins seen through flakes of afternoon light, renewing her; the upshot of birds pristine with possibility.