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Walkley’s Viola

At noon, in the middle of October, my late autumn guest, the drifting carillonneur with a name unpronounceable, who moved from one cobbled corner of the city to the other every time the season turned, looked out of the louvered window and stated that no-one rings church bells to signify the hour in Walkley anymore. In fact, she added, if this grey cloud had set in ‘now’, it would stay above the city, and what’s more, it would dwell in the chasm of the valley perhaps, for an unpredictably long time, for eternity. Look at that gigantic arc of humidity stretching between Walkley and Hillsborough, a perfect and multicoloured crescent above the city, above the earth. But just before one’s mouth could shape a frail ‘oh,’ the vision vanished, and one wondered if all that had just happened was in fact at all true, if the bands one thought one saw were merely artefacts of the photopigments in the eyes. But there is truth in evaporating contours of bridges, she said, there is truth in the absent, the hollow, just dare stare into the midst of the fog. It is the borders of such densities couriers are to cross, the night’s borders after the rain enveloping the contours of the Hillsborough hills. It’s such a day when you too fall into an inexplicable darkness of mood forgetting what then you called ‘magic’, the perfect portico made of air and basic colours. Look, she said, it’s that kind of 2 am which shakes and then wakes you; when your face looks pale and puffy like small planets, have you, she shook me, have you been shaken like this before? In a room that’s dark and empty and no-one else is around. Except on the semi-lit pallid wall, there’s always a shadow swinging, limbs and empty sleeves, a silenced body of a bell. The body: an anonym messenger, the corpse of a postman, a spectre of a fallen angel. And my guest, like a tongueless psychopomp speaking several inaudible tongues, continued; she reminded me of a former nameless acquaintance, who used to drift around the city with one lachrymal gland always swollen enquiring urgently about the whereabouts of the industrial parts of the city determined to paddle head over ears in the derelict, in debris, in another city they call necropolis no-one has ever found. She too failed to find it. Yet if all failed, she said, she could throw a stone at a hooded crow (straight from Eurasia) to see – if the stone, or pebble flew over the sea she would become a vagabond forever; if it landed on a building, she said, they said she could put her anchors down. Buildings gaining and losing significance as seasons change are so much like the word you. And all yousare like ghost trams that used to run from here to town and back. But then ghost trains are very much like ghost bells, my nameless guest added, and wondered when this eternal curse on church bells would be revoked. Can you sense their hollow absence echoing off cast iron. Let’s walk in and out of Walcas Leah this early October Sunday, she said. At noon. Walkley is renowned for celebrating Sundays without a sound, in fact each Monday, and what’s more, each day carved in the calendar seems to turn into an eternal silent Sunday in this part of the world. But it seems no colour can stay the same for longer than a split second. These autumnal colours are very much like guests who leave the dinner table in between two courses and are never to return, she boomed. Who are these creatures who agree unwillingly to dine with you then disappear into the valley of no-man’s land with an intermittent ‘chuff’. One day you’ll need to find those spectral tracks to be able to find your way home, she warned me. The further away the trams take you, the closer you are to home. When you are ready, she said, they will pass by the boarded up Netto which sits anonymously on South Road like a dysfunctional gesture, a building ready for dark November weekdays. That is Sundays, in Walkley. One should ring death knells, she said, for departing buildings like that. (Although the other night, I noticed, the shop was lit up and a quiet workman was smoking a cigarette outside in the rain.) Eventually they will open their shutter, she nodded. The other evening, she said, she too saw a thin shaft of light squeezing through the metal blinds. Through crevices. The small and absent spaces. Quiet hysterical hopes that dead bodies are breathing. Tell them your name was not Echolalia she said again. You are not the Lindowoman of West Street. How far does one have to travel in order to be remembered all at once at an impromptu corner of a non-existent street; how much courage do you need to be able to tap their shoulders gently and be just generally merry about meeting you again. But you don’t meet anyone in Walkley. South Road is quiet with few, empty shops. Their shelves haven’t much to offer other than packages of rice and a few odd home grown courgettes. There is a butcher. And a charity shop no-one dares to enter. If I knew your address, she leant closer, I would write down a list of second hand items on a postcard and post this postcard on a Sunday. The objects which smell like second hand things. A Hitchcock DVD and a porcelain tea set. A pair of worn shoes. An old viola.  But there isn’t a post office in Walkley. Why does one get obsessed with staring these objects out through the fogged-up glass on Sundays, when no-one is there to watch. We must go back and remember an extra second hand item and scribble the name down on the list. Today the extra item is the skin-coloured viola. With no price tag. Priceless, I mean. People don’t buy presents from these shops anymore. It’s because they smell of old things. I would buy you the viola, if you were closer. Walkley is within vicinity. Let’s crawl an inch closer to the charity shop window and see if someone has left an old church bell in one of the dark corners. And stare into chipped flakes of unframed mirrors. Did you know that hooded crows are the only birds who can recognise their own reflections? A pair of binoculars in one of the dusty corners crowded with other items sunk in past Sundays’ fog. This vicinity is what one’s always intrigued about. I don’t know Walkley, but I do know you, she said, and looked into the binoculars, pointing the two barrels at my face. I could pretend Walkley is you. I have glued a guardian angel to every wall of every single chamber within the vicinity of Walkley. Within these Victorian walls. Someone said there is not one straight line in these buildings. If you were to place a metal ball on the floor it would scroll down in one direction and end up in the opposite corner, like one’s random thoughts. One’s unsaid longings to hear you breathe again. To follow the balls’ route into unknown corners where spiders dwell. Have you ever wondered whether to allow these spiders to dwell near you or whether to hoover them up into a tongueless vacuum. And send them off to the realm of Echolalia. Walkley is a place of no importance although it does have a name. Don’t be jealous of things which echo a name. Name is vicinity, she said, and boredom. Which makes you wonder who it is who matters. The personal paradigms, the private patterns of one’s auto-geographical maps. I have not designed this topography yet, and she threw a blind map on the kitchen floor, a white sheet, with the absence of cul-de-sacs and unnamed guests who come and dine and leave just about midnight without a word carrying bodies of heavy bells on their backs. Where do they go, one wonders, when they walk away from Walkley. Where will they return and lie down? How far are you actually from here? She said she was told Walkley is a large garden made up of many mazy gardens. That there are sixteen minutes between Walkley and the hills, uphill. ‘Sixteen eternal minutes’, they would always add. You could try throwing bones instead of stones into the vacuum of the valley. Imagine what these alternative citybooks would be about, mapped by a hooded botanist of pavements: about secret detours of the wolves of Walkley, patterns of the rain of Walkley filtering through old calcium of bones, peripatetic wonders of midnight Walkley, nocturnal tunnels of the wind of Walkley. I think this is what they would write. It’s Sunday eve and the route from here to you is like taking a massive risk walking blindfold through a snowed up suspension bridge. They would write it here. Let’s pop down the street to look again at the charity shop items. One day those items will be priceless and no-one will want to stay at home. Let’s see what those second hand things look like in the dark. Through the dusty glass. When no-one is around. That night I took the shadows of the hanging laundry off the wall. The hangman wearing a white terrycloth gown was gone from the room. On odd days I wonder if I had taken it to the charity shop. But my guest, whose name was unpronounceable, was gone too. The following night only tiny dark leaves flickered on the white. I felt the urge to allow the torrential rain to flood the kitchen and the sitting room; a thunderstorm of church bells to go all wild like a pack of bewildered wolves. I spotted the viola leaning next to the Hitchcock DVD. The street was wet after a brief October Sunday shower beating against the window for about half an hour. Soaked panorama of soft hills. You could watch it for hours every day and simply just say and remember nothing. And think of other places you could fluently write about. This, a ghostscape of the mind. The Indian shopkeeper told me the other day. They buried Walkley under tarmac. Tonight Walkley is cut into two halves by the Moon. You could maybe write about another Walkley. The yous of Walkley. Hours of Walkley. Let’s meet on the corner Walkley. And say this is where we met. Exactly at noon. Tapping shoulders. Have you heard of Rivelin before? The rainbow arching above houses across the valley holding Walkley and Hillsborough tight up in air, holding together the two poles of the earth under one name. Under one enormous silenced sound. Early October wind of Walkley. Secret detours of the wolves of Walkley. Wet weather of Walkley. Sobbing Sundays Walkley. Fearful secrets of charity shop Walkley. Quiet butchers of Walkley. Spotted dogs tied to lamp posts in front of greengrocers Walkley. If Walkley were you, I could make more sense. Let’s look into the bottom of the sink; if you look close enough, there is a quiet insect staring back at you with telescopic bright eyes, rudimentary wings soaked in soap. Where have we left this conversation. In air? I have lived here all my life, someone said at the bus stop the other day. Wait, then. The list of second hand items. The deep voiced viola. The stone, staying up in the air stuck above the fogged valley like an iron bell clapper muted, frozen in the middle of swaying.

 

 

 

 

[Ágnes Lehóczky holds a PhD from the UEA. Her poetry collections in Hungarian, Station X (2000) and Medallion (2002) were published by Universitas. Her collections in English, Budapest to Babel (2008) and Rememberer (2011) were published by Egg Box. She is the inaugural winner of the Jane Martin Prize for Poetry at Girton College, Cambridge, in 2011. Her collection of essays on the poetry of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Poetry, the Geometry of Living Substance, was published in 2011 by Cambridge Scholars. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Sheffield.]

 

Copyright © 2012 by Agnes Lehoczky, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.