The British Museum
Collected in one place, the history of Britain’s plunders: Elgin marbles, Egyptian mummies, Darwin’s finches, and maps of unknown territories. Here, my skin qualifies as the cartographer’s terra incognita. I pay two pounds for a cup of tea and cry quietly as I imagine the topography of your palm, rivulets, valleys, plains. When I see the Mayan skeleton encrusted with turquoise, I surrender wordlessly to the dreams of the dead. What we know of the past we ignore and what we cannot know, we invent. I call you from a payphone wedged beneath the stairs and the crackle of air burns up all the oxygen between us. At such a distance, what can you know of the beauty of cold stone?
The British Library
Sylvia Plath, you could not know how the black ink would pierce my heart, for I am a mother too, or surely you would not have written such things. Now I understand the weight of motherhood and London and such longing as not even words can convey. You are here, nestled among Shakespeare’s manuscripts, the Guttenberg Bible, codices of Eastern theology, and the Magna Carta. But you already knew there was nothing to believe in, not words or Gods, and certainly not men. Sylvia, I picture you kneeling on the floor, your hair unkempt, your kitchen messy. And what I feel for you is not the sympathy of a sister, but the anger of a daughter. Oh, do it already. Put us out of our misery. But even that does not bring the rain to an end, and when we emerge with our parcels, the gray surrounds us as it must, even now, cover you.
The flowers are orchids and the clouds look like unruly children chasing each other across the blank lawn of the sky. The real children behave, sitting neatly on benches eating crisps, not spilling or crying. I traipse through the Japanese garden just to feel further displacement, the way the Ginko trees must feel in this foreign clime: rain, rain, rain, then today, suddenly, sun. Even the bonsai tree, trimmed to resemble a crane balanced on one leg, appears surprised, as if caught in the act of escape. How can you feel further from me here, where all distance is relative? In five days I will kiss you again, press my lips to your collar bone and cry. But for now this melancholy feels like a variety of weather. A cactus in a greenhouse in a garden in a suburb of London. Does that describe me? I lie on the grass, memorizing the relationship between bough, blue, cloud. The students circle around me. I want to stay here all day, I declare. I could live just beneath this tree, forlorn children sharing their neglected sandwiches with me, getting to know the peacocks and their unique brand of disdain. How can I miss you, the arid mountains, pine trees, bright, painful sunshine and almost miss here, too, this place where I am? The clouds saunter past.
Was it that I came here alone, with only one passport? Was it that I ate Thai food without you? Or was it the wine, Spanish and so expensive? Was it the way I made eye contact with the clerk, his blue eyes and Pakistani accent? That I tried, daily, to see him, though I never told him my name? What genus of betrayal is that? It was not the kiss so much as the aftermath, the looking out into the wet London night and fearing what happens next. It was the terrible French fries and the green line and the movie, the whole thing. I learned that betrayal is not so much a decision you make as an escalator that moves you whether you choose or not. I learned that the smell of you can bring me to tears, even on another man. I learned that if I run fast enough, even the sky disappears.
Lynn Kilpatrick’s essay, “OC/D” is forthcoming in Creative Nonfiction. Other essays have appeared in Ninth Letter and Brevity. Her short story collection, In the House, was published by FC2. Her fiction has recently appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Hotel Amerika. She earned a PhD from the University of Utah, and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. She lives with her husband and son and German Shorthaired Pointer in Salt Lake City, where they often think about outdoor activities. She is currently is not working on three unfinished novels, but instead is working on writing very short essays which she then tries to make even shorter.