It was just after four and he had been at his desk since early morning. He would stop every so often, turn away from his desk and think of her. They had spoken, as so often, before the day had got properly underway. It seemed necessary to know what each other had planned on their respective lists or calendars. But he had hidden from her an unexpected weariness, a fatigue that had already plagued the day. He felt beaten down by it, and had struggled to keep his concentration and application on the editing that he had decided to tackle today, so he was clear from it for tomorrow.
Tomorrow was to be a different day, a day away, a day of being visible as the composer whose persona he now felt increasingly uncomfortable in maintaining. He would take the train to Birmingham and it would be a short walk to the Conservatoire. He would stop at the City Art Gallery and view the Penguins – or Dominicans in Feathers by Alfred Stacey Marks , and then upstairs to the small but exquisite collection of ukiyo-e. He would avoid lunch at the Conservatoire offered by a former colleague who he felt had only made the gesture out of politeness. They had never had anything significant to say to one another. He had admired her scholarship and the intensity of her musicianship: she was a fine singer. But she was a person who had shown no interest in his music, only his knowledge and relationship with composers in her research area, composers he had worked with and for. He doubted she would attend the workshop on his music during the afternoon.
He was often full of sadness that he could share so little with the young woman spoken with on the phone that morning, and who he loved beyond any reason he felt in control of. Last night he had gone to sleep, he knew, with her name on his lips, as so often. He would imagine her with him in that particular embrace, an arrangement of limbs that marked the lovingness and intimacy of their friendship, that companionship of affection that, just occasionally and wonderfully, turned itself in a passion that still startled him: that she could be so transformed by his kiss and touch.
He was afraid he might be becoming unwell, his head did not feel entirely right. He was a little cold though his room was warm enough. It had been such a struggle today to deal with being needfully critical, and maintaining accuracy with his decisions and final edits. He had had to stand his ground over the modern interpretation of ornaments knowing that there existed such confusion here, the mordent being the arch-culprit.
He stopped twice for a break, and during these 20-minute periods had turned his attention to gratefully to his latest writing project: The Language of Leaves. He had already written a short introduction, a poem about the way leaves dance to and in the wind of different seasons. At the weekend he had spent time over a book of images of leaves from across the world. He had read the final chapter of Darwin’s book The Powerful Movement of Plants, the final chapter because after publication Darwin suggested to a friend that this chapter was really the only worthwhile part of the book! He had then read an academic paper about the history of botanical thought in regard to the personification of plants, starting with Aristotle and ending with the generation after Darwin.
But his thoughts today were on writing a poem, if he could, and would once his editing task for the day had reached a realistic full stop. After leaves dancing he could only think of their stillness, and that was just a short jump to thoughts of the conservatory. Should he ever gain an extravagance of riches he would acquire a house with a veranda (for the woman he loved), outbuildings (for her studios – he reckoned she’d need more than one before long) and a conservatory (for them both to enjoy as the sun set in the North Norfolk skies below which he imagined his imagined house would be). And suddenly, at half past four, after his thinking time with this lovely young woman who occupied far more than his dreams ever could, he turned to his note book and wrote: while leaves may dance . . . And he was away, as so often the first line begetting a train of thought, of association, a fluency of one word following another word, and often effortlessly. A whole verse appeared, which he then took apart and rearranged, but the essence was there.
And so he thought of a conservatory, a place of a very particular stillness where the leaves of plants and ornamental trees were just as still as can be. Where only the leaves of mimosa pudica would move if touched, or the temperature or light changed. It was a magical plant whose leaves would fold in such extraordinary ways, and so find sleep. His imagined conservatory was Victorian, and in the time-slip that poetry affords it was time for tea and Lucy the maid would open the door and carry her tray to the table beside the chair in which his beautiful wife sat, who ahead of the fashion of the time wore her artist’s smock like a child’s pinafore, an indigo-dyed linen smock with deep pockets. She had joined him after a day in her studio (and he in his study), to drink the Jasmine tea her brother had brought back from his expedition to Nepal. She would then retire to her bedroom to write the numerous letters that each day required of her. And later, she would dress for dinner in her simple, but lovely way her husband so admired.