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The path between the lake and the road is closed due to subsidence on the fourth day since the mittens were lost, so you take an alternative route up past St John the Evangelist. It is easy to walk the map with no destination in mind. The air has shrugged off its mildness like a coat; the slow trickle of mucus down a top lip, wiped away with a sleeve. The mittens had been grey skeepskin, unremarkable, made for your grandmother as a test pair by a relative on a new business venture maybe 50 years ago. In the family a week off was seven Sundays and your grandmother still boasts of the time she had trained the sister of ‘Mr Rowntree – the sweetie man’ in the operation of a launderette. The loss of the mittens trails after you like a beaten dog, whining.
Every morning on the way to work you help a woman with dark glasses and a stick to cross the road. Her coat is off-white. Before you came she would stand on the edge of the path, holding her stick straight up to the sky like a salute whilst the cars sped past. “I can hear them coming”, she explains, “but I can’t see the island at all.” Two traffic cones are the dock of a ship reaching shore. When she says “the sun is bright today”, and she’s right, it is, something in you melts like a June ice cream though it is only March and still cold enough to keep the ducks out of the pond.
Sad women are everywhere, they haunt the earth like a stone turning over and over; resting now, now picking up speed. An advert you placed in the paper turns up a pair of brown gloves which would frankly fit only a child, malnourished at that, and it is all you can do to politely explain to the owner of the Indian restaurant who called you, and to whom you had travelled an hour to meet, that mittens don’t have holes for fingers. You press your fingers together to show him. Closed, see? Then you splay your fingers so the tendons on the back of your hand stand out. Open. By way of apology he sits you down and brings you bowls of chana aloo, murky daal, soft dosa with spicy meat and tomato. He sits with you and you eat together, not really saying anything apart from whatever it means to scoop up rice and shape it into a ball against the side of the bowl, then bring it hotly to your mouth. He has also brought out a bottle of house wine and you are wearing the new earrings you bought with the special rubber backs to stop them scratching your neck (this particular discomfort has always been a problem for you) and in the haze brought on by these two fortuitous things you begin to feel distinctly flirty, and something sweet with a tart edge finds its way between you and the restaurant owner and you eat until you are an overripe fruit and he curls and uncurls his hand across the table saying, open, closed. You know now that you won’t find the mittens, that perhaps even someone else has taken them on as their own, is walking their new life into them on the commute home. Stay, says the restaurant owner. Eat. His moustache bristles gorgeously, but you get to your feet and leave. You have a ship to sail in the morning.
Apart from her laundry plans, you know very little about the lady with the off-white coat. She feeds the birds in the mornings, that much you know, and you think they might follow her up the hill like the pied piper and his children, and she likes that, and then you’re on dry land again. You don’t get a lot of time to get to know someone out there on the water.
How best to describe what is left for you now, after the mittens and the romance. Only the slow collection of memories – the brown tub your grandmother keeps in the fridge for sweet things. The acquisition of a critical mind, defective, able to number the faults and finding they do nothing to diminish the fierce love which occasionally wakes up in you, uncoils and snaps like a snake. You around 10, grinding a butterfly into the dirt like a smoker would with a spent fag after you found it dying. Where you see suffering, stamp it out. Between the lake and Sylvan Road, the earth shifts.