Isabel S. Miles

Photo Credit: Erik Forsberg/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Photo Credit: Erik Forsberg/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

For me the penny dropped in my late thirties when I got into Zen. Since then I’ve meditated most mornings. In the evenings I listen, genuinely listen, to Bach or early Cohen and when I water my plants I truly see them. Constant, unforced awareness is key. It really helped when he, he… here and now, remember, here and now.

Caught myself just in time. It’s so easy to slip into the past or future: illusions both. Meanwhile, real moments, each an opportunity for wonder and joy, slip by. Right now I bite into my buttered scone, savouring the complex textures and flavours. Lemon lifts the Lapsang Souchong to a smoky clarity. I sip and order another. The intensity of the buttery crumbliness is only slightly diminished second time round.

Back in my office, I focus on the job in hand. First I clean and tidy the desk. There’s a smudge of ink, or it might be chocolate, on the surface and I fetch a damp paper towel. After that I sharpen my pencils and refill my fountain pen. I have chosen to write the draft by hand. Writing attentively, appreciating the flow of ink to words, lends beauty and meaning to even the Belgian marketing plan. Of course, I’ll have to type it into the computer later. It’s nearly half-past five when my boss sticks her head round the door. ‘Tuesday’s the deadline remember.’ As if I didn’t know. Meanwhile, though, it’s Friday. Stay in the moment.

In the supermarket I walk past the ready meals, preferring real food. There’s plenty of rice at home and I only need a few vegetables. Out of the corner of my eye I notice the “Two eat for £10” offer. Since he, well, anyway, nowadays, I always shop anti-clockwise. It feels right in a yin yang sort of way. So I circumnavigate the bread stand to check out the deal. Sometimes it’s all meat but tonight there’s mushroom risotto with goat’s cheese and caramelised onions! Slowly, side-stepping greed, I put it into my basket. Now the side dish. Italian salad or roast potatoes? Lastly I choose the cheesecake as it’s made with real Sicilian lemons and I think I might have a cold starting. The Sauvignon Blanc is lower in alcohol than the Shiraz so I pick it up. Then I change my mind; goat’s cheese demands red. Back round the way I came in. Someone’s staring at me. I close my eyes and repeat my mantra four times, silently of course. Good, he’s gone. As I’m paying I recollect my vegan supper plan and I do need to lose a few pounds but it’s too late now. Anyway, it’s Friday and I deserve a treat.

Darkness is falling as I put my key in the lock and the last few leaves on the cherry are barely clinging on against the east wind. Next week the clocks change and it’ll be dark by this time. Even now the house has a sinister look. This will be my first winter here without him but I have no regrets. ‘Here and now,’ I tell myself firmly.

Systematically I go round the house: switching on the lights, drawing the curtains, looking under the beds twice and into the wardrobes three times. As always, I check the shower. Then I switch on Classic FM in the kitchen, living room and bedroom. Before I wash and start cooking, I just check again that I locked the door properly.


Risotto and roast potatoes make a great combination. The crunch of one brings out the creamy softness of the other. I wonder why they aren’t served together more often. If people were more awake they might be. Most people live their lives on autopilot, unblissfully unaware. Not I, I focus on drying the plate then on polishing the cutlery with the tea towel. The curve of the fork is beautiful. Before bed I play my Buddhist Garden CD and sip the last of the Shiraz. There’s nothing un-Zen about a good glass of wine as long as you truly taste it.

Saturday morning is a fresh start. Apart from goat’s milk and yoghourt I’ll be vegan today. I accidentally make muesli for two but I’ll work it off at yoga. During the class I lose myself completely in the grace and precision of the asanas. My tree barely sways. Lunch is at the Good Life with Jenny. Wholemeal lasagne is so much healthier and the cheese they use here is made with vegetarian rennet. Their fruit salad with sour cream is so full of life it zings. Jenny can’t go to the gallery with me after all, but I’m happy on my own, each moment a wonder. After I’ve absorbed the paintings I spend an hour in Boots, browsing the alternative therapy shelves.

Saturday is one of my cleaning days. I used to hate it but now, simply by staying continually alert, I’ve discovered the joy of housework. At one time I would rush through the house in an hour and imagine it was spotless. Now it takes me six hours just to clean the bathroom, seven if I’m not in a hurry. As I’ve worked so hard, I keep supper simple, Thai curry with my special fried rice. After supper I read the Dalai Lama’s latest. Since I haven’t had a single drink I reward myself with cream in my hot chocolate.

As always my parents welcome me with hugs and a full roast dinner. Sunday is our special day and the only time I eat meat. Afterwards we veg out with a DVD then I help Mum prepare tea while Dad takes the dog out. Soon it’ll be time to head off. Sometimes, passing my old room, I feel like I could just curl up on the familiar mattress and stay there forever. This evening I spend so long in the bathroom my mum has to shout up twice and I pull myself together, closing the cabinet. Misery is an illusion. Just focus… ‘Om Namah Shivayah, Om Namah Shi…’

‘How are you doing love?’ mum asks as I pull on my jacket and dig out my car keys. ‘Are you finding it any easier?’ I’m perfectly all right and I wish she wouldn’t fuss. Still I kiss the top of her head. She smells like home and I want a cuddle but daren’t have one.

‘I’m fine, Mum,’ I say. ‘Don’t keep reminding me just when I’ve forgotten all about him.’

‘Did you call Marion?’ she asks.

‘No,’ I say. ‘It’s her turn. Anyway I don’t need Marion. I told you I spent yesterday with Jenny. I’ve got loads of friends, and you and Dad of course. I’m really lucky. Now I’ve got to go. Things to do!’ Normally I’d go into the living room and kiss Dad goodbye but tonight I just shout through. It’s all I can manage not to cry till I’m safely on the main road. For two minutes I let it wash through me, then give myself a shake. ‘All shall be well,’ I whisper. ‘All manner of things shall…’ Suddenly I realise I’ve closed my eyes to concentrate. I shouldn’t do that when I’m driving. ‘All manner of things will be well,’ I repeat, calmly and clearly, eyes wide open.

All the time I’m checking the house I’m struggling to hold it together but I keep on focussing. Several glasses of wine and a cheese feast pizza later, all really is well. I am watching a wonderful documentary on the origins of the universe. Gravity waves are passing through me right now as I sit here on my couch. We are so small in space and time.

It’s Monday, eleven a.m. and I’ve just got back from coffee break and am cleaning my desk, when Jenny appears again. ‘Tomorrow remember,’ she says. ‘Oh, by the way, you have chocolate on your chin.’ When the door is closed I make a face at it. Five years ago Jenny worked for me and she wasn’t always so efficient herself. Did I pester her? On and on and on? Of course not! Then I recollect myself. Anger hurts me not her. Like it hurts me not him. Anger hurts me not him and I let it go. I swallow and repeat my special secret mantra. I have to repeat it sixteen times, silently of course.

Mary, Bob, and I walk down to the canteen as usual but I just buy a few sandwiches and a couple of bags of crisps to keep me going while I finish the report. There’s more to do than I had realised. Actually I might have to work late, so I pick up another bag of crisps and some chocolate. By the time I’ve finished and tidied up my desk properly it’s eight p.m. I print out a hard copy and leave it on Jenny’s desk, next to the photo of her husband and children playing with their dog. I could get a dog. Or maybe a cat? Only the security man and I are left in the building. ‘You’re looking a bit tired, love,’ he says as I sign out. ‘Watch you don’t overdo it.’ He’s a nice man. People are kind.

It’s too late to cook but I’ve a choice of three takeaways. Neither pizza nor Chinese feel right but the curry house is excellent. While I wait I have a lager and the waiter asks if I’d like poppadum and pickle but I save my appetite. Orion is just visible as I turn into my garden and the naked branches of the cherry tree are silhouetted against a moon that’s just past full. The night is clear and calm and unbearably beautiful and I want to scream but I manage not to.

Before eating I bathe and put on the pyjamas he bought me last Christmas. They’re a little tight now but they’re cosy and they feel a bit like love. I go to my bedside drawer and take out the packets. Mum and Dad both get several months’ supplies at a time. These are my Mum’s and tomorrow she’ll look and see they’re missing. While I grind them in my lovely olive-wood pestle and mortar I hope the note will help.

Off and on, all through my life, it has struck me how much precious time we miss. Many mornings, I arrive at work and realise that I have no recollection of the journey. What a waste. Now I look at my photos and wonder, what happened to all the moments in between? Seeing my dad in his suede jacket I remember its feel against my cheek, elbow-high at the time. Not just that, I remember the jacket’s smell of wood smoke and the dazzling light of sun on snow that day, that moment. But where did the others go?

Pink tablets crumble easily but blue ones are really hard. I enjoy the delicate mauve that develops as they break down. Carefully I tip the powder into my lovely fragrant korma. They use fresh coriander and it’s flecked with green. His eyes were a different shade of green. Now the curry’s flecked with blue and pink too. I pour a glass of Pinot Grigio and turn the music up. Spem in Alium isn’t music it’s enlightenment and eternal joy.

Picking up my fork I appreciate the strange beauty of metal, ponder the weirdness of cutlery. The curry is delicious, contrasting meltingly yielding aubergine with grainy lentils. Right now, right here, I savour it all, not least the slight alien bitterness of the drugs. Awareness floods me: the sublime music, the light shining through the petals of the freesias, their perfume mingling with the spices, the delightful coolness of the wine. Slowly, thoughtfully, I finish my food, wiping the last of the sauce up with naan bread, the last little specks of blue. All gone. Mindfully I sip the pale golden wine. This will definitely be my last glass.

pencilIsabel Miles lives, writes and walks in the North Yorkshire Moors. She has published short stories in WTD Magazine, The View from Here and Ink, Sweat and Tears and poems in Shooter and Grey Sparrow Journal. She has completed a children’s novel and an adult novel, both of which she is seeking to publish. Email: smilesisabel[at]gmail.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email