One Day a Summer

Back in the days when we still had dreams, when Gabriel Garcia Marquez was God, we'd stare out over the sprawl of London town and fantasize of a great and joyous sorrow when the scent of bitter almonds would come our way too. As yet unwise to the three-card trick and the sleight-of-hand, we accepted magic and marvelled over where things went and the mysteries of death and the universe. And that's how we were, in that break of youth, in a time of magic, when Gabriel Garcia Marquez was God.

I didn't know who she was. She'd sometimes just appear, be stood there, smoking and looking out to the farther world. “Imagine all those lives going on out there,” she'd say, closing her eyes and blowing her smoke through the evening. “All the fuck-ups and those with nothing but the distance to keep them going. O, I want to be something, to do something. The beauty of this life is too terrible to do nothing. We've an obligation... A duty.”

And we all felt like that. Like life branched out from there in a thousand different directions from a thousand different tributaries. With every book we read and every name we learned and every word we mastered, it all seemed to be leading somewhere, to some thing, to a changing of the guard. There was an excitement and a fervour in everything we did. Our own thoughts excited us. England and what lay beyond excited us. Music and art and literature and philosophy excited us. And most of all, the cyanide of love and its promise to come excited us. It was as if we could build something impossible together. That if only we had someone to hold onto through desperate nights then the morning would always come and tomorrow would be an antidote to yesterday. For a while back then, even poverty felt kind. We grew and became more complex and more brilliant with the less we had. We fostered fantastic lives and adopted fantastic roles within them. If we had no coffee to wake up to we'd make homemade lemonade. And we were happy to wake; to see the world through newborn eyes, to make sure our folly was real.

- - -

“Read to me,” she would always ask through those great hot stuffy nights when the moon wasn't long enough in the sky to cool the city. “I've great dreams,” she would say, “and I know you do too.”

And so I would read, and the words would transport us to holy places and each night promised some mighty breakthrough that filled us with a queer kind of hope that we had no right to feel. On occasions we'd play music in an unknown language, close our eyes and imagine a carnival of life.

“What do you see?” she would ask. I would tell her of men on stilts in top-hats and Union Jacks, singing foxes and black midgets with muskets. I'd tell her of the longing sound of a ship's horn and the crashing wild of the sea and of flying fish and a journey to strange lands of rituals and death. “We're gonna get out of this place,” I'd say, and she'd smile and silently weep and look up at the moon and dream along.

“It's all bullshit,” I'd tell her.

“What? What's bullshit?”

“The moon. That we went to the moon. But it's a nice story.”

“It is,” she would say. “It is a beautiful story, isn't it... it's one of the very best.” And then she'd break down from some unknown melancholy and we'd both be lost then.

Nights like those did something to us. They brought in an all-knowing and savage poetry. They let us know, without a doubt, that we were prisoners to so much more than the economy and our little slither of town. We understood that we could be ripped apart by our emotions, by our lovers, by our mothers and fathers, by unrequited love, unrequited anything. We understood that the pursuit of the dream is often the death sentence and that romantics die such terrible deaths, always.

Lord Byron – septicemia
P B Shelley – drowned
Huysmans – mouth cancer
Oscar Wilde – syphilis
Lermontov – shot through the heart


Well, the winters came and the winters went and once in the middle of March it snowed. For a while I lived with a lover in a room with no windows, with nothing but an old hairdryer to defrost our fingers and toes. We tee-pee'd the covers on our bed and spent most of our days sitting under there, reading and talking and inventing a world outside that appreciated art and repaid suffering and was waiting for us to emerge. We believed these things. We collected the rotten, discarded fruit from the market and we drank black tea and that is how we passed the bad days and convinced ourselves that those to come would be so much better. And then they came.

- - -

He had lost his mind and he used to tell me this terrible story, the only story he could remember to tell. He was on the Falkland Island, running across the flat peatlands of Goose Green with a hundred kilos of kit while being peppered with machine gun fire. He told me of the early morning sun and the burning gorse and of his escape from the anarchy and madness of men and countries. When he was finally free of the bullets, collapsed down into the safety of shelter, he spoke of this great melancholy that descended upon him, of how safety and mortality had not saved him, but had left him looking back and yearning to run the lottery of that machine gun fire once more. His comrades had been cut down and his Commanding Officer taken out in the first steps. He had lost too much to ever be able to celebrate survival. He was ashamed of his survival, had lost himself in that desperate race across burning terrain, screaming for sanctuary and life and the comfort of his mother.

I'd repeat that story to people and choke up as I told of those last words, that the truth is that the summer will kill us and rob of us of our essence. Escaping the war is no success, and being rewarded for words will not guarantee there'll be more to come. Our art and romance is safer in the doldrums, is more sure when you’re starving and drug-sick and your lover hangs on to your dreams and madness only because it's too hard to turn back. And our summer will come... Our summer is on its way. It is bleeding into the last of the winter and I tell you now, the heat will roll in soon and our skins will brighten and our minds will heal and we'll have a blast when she's finally here.

“It's a beautiful story,” she would say. “It's one of the very best.”

“It is,” I'd reply. "It is." . And then I'd quench the candle and we'd hunker down and the winter night would do its thing and there was not a trace of bitter almonds anywhere, just the stench of unwashed bodies and the fading scent of melted wax.

- - -

Thanks as EVER for reading... One Day a Summer, Shane. X

Lines for Joe M