[ people - may 05 ]
I had great admiration for Alexandra because she slept so much. At night, when she said in broken English that she was going to bed, she seemed to be pronouncing some ancient duty which had been preordained for her long before she was born. Her sister usually stayed a little later in the downstairs room where we played music until the hours got smaller and smaller before they finally disappeared in the vanishing point of dawn.
That summer they shared the bed in the spare room which seemed happy with its new occupants. And for the duration of their stay there was a strange restful spirit in the house that stretched its arms into the summer shadows. It was a beautiful August and we spent it largely unaware of the days of the week. Moments - mornings, sunshine, red evening clouds - seemed to run into each other like the notes of a piano when the pedal is held and as the summer drew on, Alexandra’s talent for sleep became a source of fascination for us all.
When we left in the mornings she was always asleep upstairs. In the afternoon she might doze in the garden and when she slept in the evening it was usually on the couch in the sitting room.
But it was not that she was lazy, quite the opposite, for what needs more rest than a dedication to the breath you are taking right now. And she had a startling ability to be present in a way that I had long ago forgotten was possible.
She would announce her arrival or departure with a well rehearsed shout at the top of her voice and she went about her day with a violent abandon that verged on chaos. She seemed to have no concept of the past or the future and if she had ever been taught these things it was clear she did not believe them. I had the curious feeling that everything that was about to come and everything that had ever passed gathered about her like a swarm of mayfly over a river.
She was at an age when everything is far enough in the distance to be forgotten. The world could carry on as a distant hum on the far bank of the river but she preferred to sit in the shade with her feet in the water. She had no one to impress and no one to please except herself. And that, I thought, was something to be envied.
On one particularly hot afternoon Frank found her sitting in the middle of the street with the children from the neighbouring houses gathered around her. They had no idea what she was saying but they sat there with their mouths open. She tried to teach them some Spanish words but they were sure that those words were an evil spell that would send them off to Tibidabo as soon as they tried to repeat them. Beyond the roofs of the street the Wicklow hills looked warm and green. Not a car passed all afternoon. On a Sunday morning in November I sat on the platform of the Valcarca metro station waiting for a train. I was on my way to the airport after staying with Alexandra and her sister for a few days. Soon I would be home. I would go back to that summer house, pick up a pen and return to the quietest of pages. How empty the house would be. No ghosts, no sleep, no sisters, now that the summer was over.
It was so quiet on that platform. There was no one else around and I thought of this story, which isn’t even a story, while I was waiting for the train to come.