Nothing to notice at first. The gardens and the fields beyond. And the hills beyond again. Each hiding the world from the other. Each suggesting there is nothing but here, nothing but now. Then one. Then another. Then another. Wheeling. Diving. Swooping. Spinning. Flitting from roof to tree and back. Swallows in the evening. Flying. Feeding. Unusual to see them this close, but we are on the third floor. The eaves of the roof just above us. I’ve never seen them this close. Flashes of blue darting out from just above my head. Spinning out, darting around the garden and back. Hunting. Collecting. Feeding. Beautiful little things. Wishing one would land near me. But they disappear into the roof above. I open the sash window as far as it will go. Blocks on either side to prevent me opening it fully. Wonder if it’s authentic. Surely it’s been painted, but I wonder, dig, scrape, peel back the layers and what do I find?
Watching the swallows on a spring evening. How many have done this before me from this window, from this spot. A suite now they call it. Named after one of the famous sisters. I know the name from the bridge over the canal nearby. But we don’t come in that way.
Beyond the swallows I see the tower on the hill. Just a folly, as far as I know. There’s a leaflet on the table but I don’t read it fully, not beyond the story about the gate for sneaking women in at night, probably rubbish, but a nice story. I can see the tower on the hill and try to guess where I camped as a young lad. When the house was just a musty pile and not a hotel and the grounds were just for grazing, not for golfing or gardening. I remember one of my friends laying the groundsheet over a pile of cow shit and we only finding out when we were packing everything away. I think it was over there, the far side of those trees. Did we see the swallows then? Probably not, I never remember coming near the house.
Are they feeding their young or storing food to migrate? I’m not sure. Probably too early in the year to migrate so there must be young in nests in the eaves above me. They return though. Isn’t that the thing about swallows? They always return. Read that somewhere. Swallows return. Every year they return from their African migration to the same nesting sites. So the swallows I see here now have grown up nesting in the eaves above me, learned to fly in the space above the garden outside this window, caught and ate their first flies in front of me, and set off for Africa from this house, from this garden. And they return. Each year. Each generation. Returning here.
Do they have a memory, a collective memory? Do they have a memory of how the house and the gardens looked years before? Do they have a memory of how the people looked standing at this window looking out watching them fly and eat almost within reach? But what did they see? I presume it was always a bedroom. I presume it was a bedroom for one of the family, or a guest at least. I presume the servants quarters are in the attic or the basement. It may even have belonged to the sister with the bridge. How much is real? I mean how much is original? Does anything original survive in a place like this or is it all just ripped out and replaced with copies every time the house changes hands? Would the swallows know if I asked them? I doubt anyone like me would be looking out any window like this watching the swallows. Unless I was called up to fix something, or sweep out the grate. Funny to think about it.
Swallows flying past my window. Past me in the window. Past us in the room. Flying past others at the window before. Others in the room before. Flying past others at the window to come. Past others in the room to come. To the swallows we’re just scenery. To the swallows it’s just the house, the eaves of the house, the garden and the trees and fields beyond. The golf course is just another version of a field. Just another space to fly, another space to feed, another space to collect for the nest in the eaves above. The face in the window or the faces in the room are just scenery. Irrelevant scenery. Do the swallows care who watches them from the window? Why would they?
For the swallows there is nothing but the nest and the sky, the feeding and the flight. Time is only when the sun rises. Time is only when the sun rises and tells them it’s time to fly south. Before and after doesn’t matter to a swallow. Beginning and end doesn’t matter to a swallow. Only the flight. Only the food. Only the nest. Only returning to nest in the same eaves, to fly in the same garden, to feed among the same trees, and when the time is right only to fly south again. That’s the only way time matters to a swallow. Time only matters to the faces at the window because the faces at the window change. Time doesn’t matter to a swallow.
Time is this face watching from the window. Time is this face watching the swallows fly and the garden and the fields and the trees and the hills beyond from the window. Time is this face watching from this window because this face will be gone this time tomorrow. Because time is all this face is worrying about. Because this face at this window wants to stop time here, now, as this face at the window always wants to stop time, here, now. But this face at this window isn’t a swallow.
Tomorrow she’ll be angry because she leaves her purse behind. She’ll be angry with herself because she’s usually so meticulous when she travels that she never forgets anything. But tomorrow she’ll be angry with herself because she will leave her purse behind. I’ll volunteer to drive back and collect her purse and send it on to her before she has to cancel any cards or get anything replaced, but she’ll be angry with herself all the same.
But that’s tomorrow. That’s another time. Now. Here. At this time, I can hear her singing in the bathroom.
The swallows watch us. As they watch everyone who stood here before. As they watch everyone who will stand here again. She’ll say that she thinks she could be fine here at any time. She’s right. I don’t doubt it for a second. She’ll say this when we go for a walk later. She’ll say this when we go for a walk at that time that isn’t now. That time that isn’t the time that is now. We’ll walk through the door in the dining room that’s directly below our window, open the glass door and out into the garden. Just like the guests of the past would do. I doubt they were wearing sunglasses. I’ll open the glass door and we’ll walk out into the garden. From there, then, there, from there the swallows will be swooping above our heads and we’ll barely be able to see them. From there, then, there, we’ll walk around the garden and follow the path around to the front of the house through the stable yard. Through the stable yard where now they store the golf buggies. If they had stables we could have gone riding like we did across the mountains. But there aren’t any mountains. Just the edge of the mountains on the horizon marking off the end of the garden and the fields beyond. It’s in the stable yard that she’ll say that she reckons she would do well here, whenever. Jane and the swallows, eternal. She’ll laugh saying this, making a joke, always the lady of the manor.. I’ll tell her the best I could do is muck out the stables. Making our own little joke about the lady of the big house and the mumbling stable boy. She’ll laugh at that one. She’ll say it then but she won’t say it now. And now is all that matters. She’s still singing.
She’s still singing and I’m still watching the swallows.
The swallows are always here. The swallows and the house are always here. The swallows and the house are the fixed points. Everything else just passes through. Like looking at the paintings hanging in the reception rooms. Paintings of lords and ladies. Paintings of scandals and patriots. Paintings and pictures that catch something as it passes, as it passes through. Catch something watched always by the house and the swallows. The picture of the officers seated outside the front of the house catches my eye. Did they die for what they wanted? Did the swallows care? Maybe it was taken at this side of the house, looking out over the garden, hard to tell.
Did they want that time to stop at that moment too? Did they feel that the moment they sat and stood with their comrades for the photograph was the most important moment and the only moment they felt that mattered? Did they want time to stop as it did in the photograph so they could stay there forever? Just them and the swallows. Or am I the only one who thinks like that? Did every sitter for every picture and painting downstairs in the reception rooms spend their time sitting thinking about the future, waiting for what was to come? Am I the only one who doesn’t want the future to come?
She emerges from the bathroom. She’s still singing. Something from a musical. Barefoot she’s wearing a white woollen dress. Not the same dress. Not the same white dress as the time before. Not the same dress from the time before when I kissed her lips and kissed the dress and just ended up transferring lipstick from her lips to the dress. Not the same dress from the time before that she tried to clean herself, but ended up having to get it professionally cleaned all the same. Not the same dress that I offered to pay for the professional cleaners but she said it was fine. A white woollen dress. She puts something away in her bag. Still singing. I beckon her over. I beckon her over to show her the swallows swooping around the window. I put my arms around her and we lean out the window watching the swallows fly. This. This is the moment I want to keep. This is the time I want to keep. For it to stop. For it never to move on from this. Let the swallows fly. Let them spend their lives skimming through the air outside the window between the garden and the trees with us watching them from the window.
We watch from one window with her swimsuit, drying, hanging from the other. The swallows ignore us. We come and we go. When the swallows return we’ll be gone.
This room. This time. Just for this time. Time in this room. The window we watch the swallows from. The bathroom we share, standing beside each other washing our teeth. The shower with the bath just that little bit too small for us to share so we quickly dip in and out to lie together. The low table and the seats where breakfast will be delivered. And the bed. The bed. The bed where we make love. The bed where we sleep. The bed where we make love. The bed where we watch the end of the day and the last of the swallows through the window and the setting sun. The room. The space. The space that looks out on the garden and the trees and the swallows. The space that will change over time but the space I want to hold, to keep, to keep just like this, just like now.
Tomorrow. Time. Tomorrow when time starts again. Tomorrow when time starts again I’ll take her to the airport. Tomorrow when time starts again I’ll take her to the airport because she has to go. Tomorrow when time starts again I’ll take her to the airport and on the way she’ll realise that she’s forgotten her purse. She’ll realise that she’s forgotten her purse and it will ruin those last minutes with her before she has to leave because she’ll be angry with herself for leaving her purse behind. But that’s tomorrow when time starts again.
Now. Now, here. Now, here where there is no time I have my arms around her in her white woollen dress and we’re looking out the window watching the swallows.
It’s only now we realise there’s a group of people sitting below us overlooking the garden. There’s a group of people sitting below us enjoying a drink in the warmth of the evening.
But there is time. There’s always time. Despite what we want. Despite what we try to do. Like water, time always finds a way. We can stay in this space. We can watch the swallows from the window and try to lock ourselves in this space. We can share the bathroom. We can order breakfast. We can fuck and sleep and just lay on the bed. But time finds a way. Time finds a way and soon it will be tomorrow. Time finds a way and soon it will be tomorrow and she has to go. She has to be at the airport because she has to fly out because there is a world and a life outside of this space. Time will find a way and tomorrow the space will be empty and the windows will be closed. Tomorrow the swallows will wheel and they’ll dive, they’ll swoop and they’ll soar between the eaves and the garden and the trees. They’ll fly outside the window but we won’t be there to watch. Will they know? Will they care? No.
Shut it out. Close the windows. Leave them to their drinks, their gardens, their laughs and their evening sun. Leave them to time. Is it so important? Time won’t miss us, surely? Would anyone miss us? We’re not that important. Would anyone care? Couldn’t we just stay? Couldn’t we just stay here? Stay here in this space. Is it too much to ask? I could say it. Suggest it here. Whisper it in her ear. Ask that we stay. Ask that she stay. Just ask her to say yes. Would it matter all that much? Who else would care? Who else would miss us? Just ask her to stay. Just ask her to leave everything outside of this space, everything that time is storing up for us tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and just stay here. Would it be that hard? Can I ask her?
But I won’t ask because I can’t ask. Because this time outside of time is all we have. Today is no time is all the time we have. Today is no time is all the time either of us has. Today is outside of time because we made today stand outside of time. Because we can’t stand outside of time without making sure that we can stand outside of time because we can only stand outside of time for a little, for a little time. Because today is now and it’s all we have. Because now is this space is this room is this bathroom is this window watching the swallows. Because this is today and this is now and now is only now because now ends. Because time. Because now will never stay now. Because now will never stay now watching the evening sun and the swallows flying. Because now will become tonight in this bed. Because now will become sitting at the low table eating breakfast. Because now will become packing up and checking that we haven’t left anything behind before leaving the room. Because now will become driving to the airport and she realising she’s left her purse behind. Because now is her getting angry with herself for leaving her purse behind and we won’t have time to go back to collect it because it’s too late and she’ll miss her flight. Because now is me promising to go back and collect her purse and post it on to her so she’ll have it back and won’t need to cancel any of her cards. Because now will be her purse messing up our goodbye because she has to go because she doesn’t have her purse because she has to get this flight because she might miss her flight. Because now is us getting up that little later than we planned because we wanted to stay in bed before getting out of bed before showering before breakfast before packing up before leaving before driving to the airport because we didn’t want to get out of bed.
But that’s tomorrow. That’s tomorrow when time starts again. that’s tomorrow when the time of the garden and the trees and the group sitting under the window enjoying their drinks will creep back through the window into this space. But that’s tomorrow. That’s not now. Now is me. Now is her. Now is her in my arms watching the swallows from the window. Now is not now. Now is any time. Now is outside of time. Now is every time. Every man and woman who watched the swallows from this window. Now is arms around a woman in a white woollen dress watching the swallows from the window.
Now is now. Now is all. Just like the swallows now is forever. The swallows return, do we?