The wind doth blow today, my love,
And a few small drops of rain;
I never had but one true-love,
In cold grave she was lain.
I'll do as much for my true-love
As any young man may;
I'll sit and mourn all at her grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.
The twelvemonth and a day being up, I was still at a loss. If anything I was more at a loss. So I went and stood in our study and looked at your desk, where the unfinished stuff, what you'd been working on last, was still neatly piled. I looked at your books, I took one of your books off a shelf at random—my study, my desk, my books, now.
The book I took down today happened actually to have been one of mine originally. It was a Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, the old Penguin edition I'd had at university, with a spine whose orange had almost completely faded and a jolly engraving of drunks and children in a pub on the cover, which was beginning to peel away from the spine. It would probably stand one more read. I'd not read Oliver Twist since, oh God, when? Way before we even first knew each other, I'd had to, for university, so that made it thirty years.
That gave me a shake. A twelvemonth and a day can arguably be called short, but thirty years? How could thirty years be the blink of the eye it felt? It was the difference between black and white footage of the Second World War and David Bowie on Top of the Pops singing "Life on Mars."
Maybe I might try to read Oliver Twist, the whole thing, from start to finish. I hadn't read anything, I hadn't been able to, for well over a twelvemonth and a day. I opened the book at Chapter 1, page 45, which "Treats of the Place where Oliver Twist was Born, and of the Circumstances attending his Birth" (that's quite a lot of pages before he was even born, forty-four). I sat down in the armchair by the window.
There was a draught by this window. There'd always been a draught by this window because one year when we painted it, then left it a little open to dry we couldn't get it to close completely again without cracking the paint, and you never wanted to crack it because you'd painted it so carefully, so we never did.
From Artful by Ali Smith. Copyright 2013 by Ali Smith. Excerpted by permission of The Penguin Press.