They were inseparable. From childhood into adolescence they dressed the same, had their hair cut the same, such that no stranger could tell who was girl, who was boy. In their own world, the hogback stone in the church, massive, convex and full, with its shingled roof and protective beasts, was their refuge.
They pored over it, with eye and touch in the changing light of day, and at night – her father was churchwarden, she had the key – by touch alone, or in the mystery and revelation of moonlight. Sometimes their fingers touched. For hours they communed in silence. For hours they talked nonstop, describing the figures, making up stories, adventures in which they were the heroes, sagas that if written down would have filled books.
As they grew, the images on the stone changed. The man by the tree was was always Adam, naming the animals – until one day she saw, wreathed around the stone, the serpent – where had it come from …? – shivered, and for the first time saw the sword in his raised hand, and he became Sigurd the dragon-slayer. The stag, for so long running free with companion birds and beasts – one playfully on its back! – became the hunted, by men with dogs, one tearing at its neck. The four men, comic-book “hands up!” cowboys became, as he grew and learned, the Aesir, holding up the sky, forever.
It spoke to them, the stone, and the figures on the stone, “from a time when there were gods everywhere, and everything had a voice.” They sought words to connect themselves to the plants and animals, and beyond to the sea. They asked, “what does the wave say?”
Then Ship arrived, beached on the shore, concave, slender, steel, empty.
Standing in front of it, ‘A’ levels just finished, looking through it side by side to the sea and sky beyond, she said, ‘”when the modern era began, the exterior world, hitherto teeming with gods, muses, fairies and ghouls, became empty space.”’ ‘No!’ he cried. ‘”While the interior world became deep and rich beyond measure. Language changed from poetic to descriptive, men and women no longer spoke to the world but about it, replaced connection with control, named all things but did not sing them.” It’s called progress.’ ‘NO!’
But he saw the new look on her face, and that the identical figures on Ship were facing away from each other, seeing different worlds. He saw that she would go far, naming, and doing great things. While he would stay, come again and again to experience the sea and sky cupped in the steel hull, and listen for what the wave says. [See also Letter 16.]
1. I have incorporated texts from Homo Deus, by Yuval Harari, and The Broken Notebooks, by John Gilmore.
2. The hogback stone is a 10th century Norse/Saxon memorial to a Viking trader. It is in St Peter’s church at Heysham.
3. Ship is a new artwork, by Anna Gillespie, on the shore not far from St Peter’s church, and close to Heysham Harbour and the nuclear power stations.