I have a basket of daffodils on my windowsill, planted for me by a friend. They grow noticeably every day, so that the tallest one now gazes down upon the looped handle of the basket. Soon they will flower, each one a little different, and their sunny petals and corrugated trumpets will tell me that spring is on its way.
This winter has been like no other. It has not been punctuated by weekends away with friends, or laughter in restaurants. I have not danced on a sticky floor, sweating, breathless and singing along while songs conjure memories. And only once did I sit in front of a mirror and stroke glitter over my eyelids, for a virtual party that took place behind a screen.
My home has been my playground this winter, wings clipped by a pandemic that has broken our hearts. My own life has been altered dramatically, because this virus is not only stealing the breath of our elderly, it has also robbed my daughter of her legs. Her beautiful mermaid legs that love to pound the Northumbrian waves are painful and weak. We have exchanged icy rock pools for wheelchairs, and our lives have become even more restricted.
The absence of certainty, the ever-shifting rules and statistics that rocket alarmingly have created a well of unease deep inside me. On a daily basis I manage the needs and anxieties of four little girls, but something is off kilter, tugging at my gut. It is hard to constantly be told no, when every instinct urges me to hold my friends close or drive across the border, where the mountains are rugged and glorious. Without these opportunities, I have become a little obsessed with the changing winter skies. I wake early each morning and light candles in a ritual I have created just for me: three flames flicker with my breath and the world trembles. The sky outside is the darkest blue, with a street lamp on the back lane casting a Victorian glow. As I write, the outlines of rooftops slowly appear, and I wonder whether the day will announce itself in an explosion of colour, or be gently revealed, grey and unassuming.
I have become more aware, this winter, of the swirling movement of the skies. I have stood and watched as a cold, slate day becomes something much more complex, strands of cloud rising and twisting, and strips of light emerging from the gloom. Every sunset is a gift. Pools of orange, pink and purple dripping into the sea have reassured me that, however cruel our world, the sun will always set.
At night, the girls stand next to me in pyjamas and we watch the moon rising. We turn off all of the lights and they stand on tiptoes as the tiles on the roof are covered in a silvery sheen, the glow of the moonlight reflected in their wide, beautiful eyes. The winter darkness has felt like a cocoon this year, and I don’t know what I will do when it goes, when the world is revealed for longer in daylight and there is nowhere to hide.
Over one hundred miles away, an old friend, also a mother of many children, rises early. She, too, lights candles and sits at a desk. And this act, watching the flames reflect in the melted wax, brings us closer. For now, this is how we embrace.
This month, the ground in my tiny front garden is frozen hard, but soon the warmer weather will come and it will be time to plant my daffodils outside. The days will lengthen and the candles will have burnt down to reveal charred metal at the base of the wick. I know that many will welcome the brightness, after months of gloom, but I will miss the dark light.