“I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember; we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?”
When I sleep, I often see the feet kicking and thrashing at my eye level as I kneel in wet sand. As the legs calm down, I sink faster, and a pressure grows in my head creating a background whine like distant machinery. The sand creeps and sucks past my thighs I feel myself leaning forwards and the noise causes my eyeballs to vibrate, so I cannot see anything except, in sharp focus, a perfectly still pair of shoes.
When I wake up, I’ve kicked the duvet across the room, and I am contorted as though violently thrown from a car accident.
Lying on the bank, I stare up at the colours trying to avoid the greys. There is a rich blue sky and dappled gold of sunlight through a gently waving canopy of pale and dark leaves. Insects buzz and hum, and the wind sighs as though relaxing with me. I dip my foot into the grimy river beneath me and feel the weeds gathering around my toes.
All my heartbreaks led to a point; a pair of scabbed legs because she decided to shave whilst driving to see me over a road covered in dents and potholes. I always preferred it when I could run my hands over her calves and feel the short bristles a three o’clock shadow.
It was that same summer she taught me how to climb trees; a thirty-one-year-old spider monkey, ambling up the branches as though it was the most natural thing in the world. She’d take a rope in her teeth with a piece of thick branch tied at one end and make an impossibly high rope swing. I’d look down, as I clung on like a wrecked sailor to a mast, at people pointing in wonder as this strange creature burst in and out of the leaves with her legs kicking high.
We got lost in fields of tall dead corn, fucked under motorway overpasses and drank vodka as the sun rose, burying the bottle in the mound of an ancient grave. She insisted it was important to honour her ancestor, referring to the skeleton that had once been inside of a female warrior who died with a notched sword and a collection of broken skulls at her feet. Everywhere we went we commanded our space; hissing like cats at those who walked on the same side of the road as us, hurling our shoes over telegraph lines and spray painting our aliases on every flat surface we could find.
It was after her birthday she started talking about Jesus, and how she had outlived him. Whenever this came up, I would be obliged to give her a high-five. She’d shoplifted a handful of books on the cosmos and spent evenings burying her head into the pages cataloguing all the stars in her mind, holding it so close to her face that she seemed to be sniffing the images. We spent evenings and nights on our backs on the soft grass of the warrior’s resting place, a neat mount of freshly dug earth beside us, looking up at the Milky Way as it drifted and disintegrated over us. From Betelgeuse to Jupiter, we saw time stretching out before us.
Weird to think that many of these stars are already dead she told me once. But the memory of their light is still reaching us even if the space behind is empty.
I knelt down and offered my hands with my fingers interlocked to boost her up. Her bare, calloused foot pivoted on mine and with immense strength she lifted herself up into the lower canopy. We’d been drinking without sleep for three days and my entire body rattled as though freezing even though the clammy air around us clung to our skin and clothes. I wanted to go home but she insisted on one last little adventure. I waited at the bottom of the tree as she tied the rope to one of the branches, peering down over a fluttering long skirt. The wind cut through autumn cool and we were surrounded by an explosion of brown and deep ochre, channelled by a cold grey trunk.
I asked her; will you hurry up and come back down?
I’m not coming down¸ she smiled.
I lift my foot out of the stream and dry it on my shirt. The sky is fading blue and the first stars prick out from the warmth and cool the air around. Walking home I will avoid the road and cut across the fields. The old paths and narrow alleys all echo to that second pair of footsteps, and in the grey, I see arms and shapes, heads and shoulders emerging and beckoning me. If I stare at the pavement for too long, it liquifies beneath me and I feel myself going under. Instead I look for the rich and pale blues, deep yellows and vibrant greens. I look for the gold and the silver, the old and the renewed. The stream gurgles past me oblivious as I throw a stone into the darkening water, wondering how I will avoid sleep for a third consecutive night.
“The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.”
Photograph: Jimmi Campkin
Jimmi Campkin is a writer, photographer and creator of SANCTUARY; available to buy via his website. He describes himself as a 16bit child and INFP with clinical nostalgia with red wine for blood.