A day in summer
words and photography by Rosa Jones
I leave work and falling over everything is a yellow mist.
Flowers are extra white, petals
Thrown into stark consciousness as though
Every plant and insect is aware of itself and so is more sharply defined against
The new blue of the sky, so clear and shocking it makes my eyes ache.
The light is searing in a way that reminds me of a trip I took once
to Finland, where every time I woke up the light was so pure it was as though
the air from the previous day had been filtered through the night and come out shining, extra real.
In work I sweated because my body needed to and now I feel it drying on my skin. As a teenager sweat embarrassed me profusely, I hid patches under my arms at discos by dancing with my hands down, awkwardly, as Mr Brightside would play, a weirdly melancholy soundtrack to my sweaty self conscious dislocated feeling, the feeling of a push up bra pushing up nothing. I turned twenty at the start of this summer and I think things like sweat-squeamishness and bras now only hinder the breeze slipping through and around me. The air is so pure and it moves serenely. The buildings glare and I walk down, down into the city, towards Temple Bar.
Above traffic the light swelters and purples. Around me there is a gentle jostle of bodies. The crowds are extra heavy because this heat was a surprise, and so people wear black jumpers, jeans and all of us sweat. There is a general unpeeling, pulling away layers and putting them in rucksacks, shucking stifling
wool for the gleam of shy, embarrassed soft skin. We all grow closer, I wait at traffic lights and notice bodies, eyes inquire innocently as to the shape and size of me, my bare limbs, because we are all unstitched now.
The summer prior to this was so awful. My feet hit pavement and each time my mind says quietly this time last year. This time last year I was unwell, this time last year I drank every day, this time last year I would sit on the couch of the house I was subletting and watch the sunlight pour into the yard, then see how it curled back in on itself as my own dread and loneliness brimmed over. This time last year my hair was very very short and all I did was hurt myself. This time last year each day was a new betrayal, and I smiled and laughed in sunshine that felt like a mean joke.
I hear a voice and a rough shoulder against me, a small laugh and sweet eyes squinting at me, very forgiving.
'Sorry pet, I’m in the way-- you’re on a mission!'
I smile, looking down, say no no not at all and laugh and we laugh together, an elderly man and I. We mumble little sorries and little jokes and he stands aside for me to pass him, as I do I can smell his coat, it’s like toast and jam and something dusty.
There is a little warm fog in the air and I am wandering really, aimless. I consider going to Chapters to buy a book but the day has run away from me and so has the summer, and I am always busy and am still reading a slender book I started weeks ago. I am meant to meet people, go sit by the canal and be a young person but I want to be alone with the dark dry pavements and the softbox sky.
In March I saved all my money and went to New York for the first time, and in Tribeca I bought a camera from an elderly man with lots of piercings. The camera is a Minolta Maxxum 5. In Europe it’s called a Dynax, which is maybe more classy as a name, but I like Maxxum, because it sounds faintly explicit, the two x’s are anything but demure. On the plane to New York I looked through the window greedily, my eyes grabbing at the scraps of land I could find, America, unreal to me. Through the window the wing of the plane stretched like a sleeping arm and at the end was a clear bluish light, the colour of a clear Finnish sky. March was the first time the events of the previous summer, whatever they were, began to slip away from me like cobwebs, the odd numb, tired feeling I was carrying was transferred outwards. I’m me.
I’m me, I think, and it begins to rain. The way it rains in summer reminds me of being a child in Galway when chryptosporidium got into the water supply and everyone had to boil their water or buy big six litre bottles of it to drink. Carrying one into the house-- as a child whose mother would not accept that I couldn’t lift certain things in case I ever perceived myself to be frail—I dropped it in the kitchen—literally, my thin arms gave way and the bottle hit the floor and exploded six litres of water all over everything. A day in summer in Dublin is much like this highly specific incident. At some point the arms of the sky give way and you have to deal with it, put a jumper back on if you want to be warmer then very soggy, or find shelter, or as would probably be fitting for this summers day of self reflection, ride it out. Learn to dance in the rain, as my art teacher once told me when I wanted to die all the time. In Galway it just slightly rains all the time.
I do not dance in the rain, because that would be a weird thing to do I think. I go sit in a Centra that is also a café and buy some coffee and sit and take out the camera and put it on the table. Outside things are darker, it looks like dusk in
such a way that car lights and bus numbers reflect orange, backwards and forwards in puddles. Morning colours, like the gladioli I arrange in vases in work and put on each table. At the the beginning of the week they have not yet budded, then as the light turns in the café they crack open and flower, each time the colours are a surprise. They turn into arcs against the white walls in yellow, or rose, or a slashing kind of red. They are lilies, but are pointed and long like swords, and these days I often think about the big darkness edging in on the clarity of my thoughts, and in the thought I sometimes draw a sword to defend myself against it, only for it to bloom in my hand. Maybe that is a good thing though, flowers are far kinder than blades.
The camera changed everything really. Cut the year in half. The film is expensive to buy and develop but each new sheaf of photographs surprises me like the blooming gladioli, always different in colour or tone. Personalities spring off the page even in images that are unpopulated. Night time is purple, day time is orange or pink, beautiful saintly light is dragged across faces inside of a shutter speed that is too long. It is a clunky, uneconomical thing, the Maxxum 5. It is from the 90s, caught between digital and analog, so the film loads itself in a satisfying click-whirr. The lens is huge and ugly, but I take photos that remind me of a gleam of silver light on a needle, quick as an intake of breath and bright, steely, extra real. Now the world is less undeniable. High definition, I think is not as beautiful as the softness of a reality you sculpt for yourself. Not that I am deluded, in fact, my thoughts are a straight line now. Instead, the truth can be foamy and changeable like the best things, light on water, bus numbers reflected in puddles at the break of a perfectly sunny day— they quiver in a way that comes close to deceiving your eye, but in that sense they are more real than anything.
The little café in Spar has a quality I particularly like, liminal and yellow and a little forlorn. The pedestrian traffic lights on Dame Street fill over and over again
with busy people. The light turns green and they walk, some of them run. Sometimes the light doesn’t go green quickly enough, so that a handful of impatient people will start to walk anyway and then there is an avalanche of walkers, crossing the wide road, holding the traffic back with their human bodies, breakable and brave at once. Two people do not rush, they walk slowly, heads close together. It is a man and a woman, in fact it’s a bride and groom, I think. The man holds her train and a brown paper bag and they straggle across the road, impervious to traffic or jostling crowds. It’s like the camera leaps into my hand, and I think, what a strange thing, a wedding photo that they will never see. I wonder if they feel many eyes on them, and if they feel closer to those around them as a result. But probably, I think, and I’ve taken the photo now—they are walking alone together, and they aren’t scared of getting wet.