The text of my one-page story – a complement (and a compliment) to Daniel Trivedy’s artwork ‘Welsh Emergency Blanket’.
People of the Village
‘You expect it on Queen Street,’ said Angela. ‘But not right here in the village.’ Though she was munching crisps, her mind’s eye was still fixed on the people she’d seen huddled on benches at the back of the church three nights ago, sleeping by the tilting gravestones, under the stars and crescent moon and ghostly St Ffraid, in a stained-glass window, crossing the sea on a sod of earth.
Creeping closer, Angela saw heads and faces covered, arms crossed, hands under armpits, knees drawn up. October days so warm and sunny; October nights so mean and cold.
‘What flavour are these?’ said Merfyn, picking a crisp from the other bowl.
‘What? Oh, they’re the red ones,’ said Angela. ‘And these are the green.’ So far it was a gathering of two, though the door to the Church Hall was open and the poster said ‘CROESO’ in big red letters and underneath, ‘All Welcome’.
Mervyn studied the packet and grunted. ‘Who were they?’ he said. ‘Homeless? Refugees?’
‘Homeless obviously,’ said Angela. ‘Who knows where from? I didn’t want to wake them.’
‘If they were asleep,’ said Merfyn. ‘Hmm. It used to be ex-servicemen. After the Falklands.’
Angela nodded. Yes, Mervyn had lived in his ugly bungalow far longer than she had lived in her little cottage, but neither of them were village people born and bred. She rubbed her hands.
‘Parky with the door open,’ said Merfyn.
‘I don’t want to close it,’ said Angela.
‘I don’t say lock it,’ said Merfyn.
Angela had mixed feelings about Mervyn: he’d taken a poster, to put up in the community shop, but he’d also told her it looked a bit of a mess. She’d added words and characters for ‘welcome’ in Dari, Pashto, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, French, Armenian – more and more, until they flittered like butterflies over the white space. Mervyn shook his head over that too: ‘They can’t all fit in. And to headline a few: that’s just making assumptions.’
She sighed. What a pity only Mervyn had turned up.
‘I think you put people off,’ said Merfyn, ‘specifying the brand and the flavours.’
‘Nothing’s compulsory,’ she said, ‘but these are the best: they don’t pucker. And salt and vinegar, and plain – I thought – are not going to upset anyone with allergies, or something.’
Merfyn wiped his fingers on his front and moved towards an ironing board.
‘We could go for a pattern,’ she said, quickly, ‘in just red and green.’ Piles of empty packets were stacked ready; ones she’d collected, processed herself, and brought from home. Her plan tonight had been to explain it all to a group, but through the cutting open, washing, rinsing, and pegging out to dry on the retractable line in the kitchen, she’d been alone, happily absorbed, it was true, enjoying the cold smell of an autumn night, the sound of rustling bushes. She’d kept an eye on the doorway. Mervyn arrived in time for what he called ‘the main event’: the ironing together of the leaves of foil. ‘Overlap the edges,’ she said. ‘Lay the paper on top, press down briefly with the iron.’
‘How hot?’ said Merfyn. ‘How many seconds?’
‘Umm,’ she said, ‘I’ll demonstrate. Listen, I’d like to try a diamond pattern. Like a quilt.’
‘But …’ Merfyn looked panicky. ‘But these are rectangles. For diamonds, you’d need … squares. You wouldn’t have rows. You’d have … diagonals! Complicated, it would be. Wasteful.’
‘We haven’t even tried yet,’ said Angela. ‘Anyway, I could have a go. Don’t forget all this,’ she opened her arms to her handiwork, ‘might have been thrown away.’ It was only time and effort.
‘Ah,’ he said, putting up a finger, as if he had found the point he could drive home: ‘but the energy costs. And are you trying to save the planet or keep people warm and dry?’
‘Can’t we do both?’ said Angela. ‘And try to make it more beautiful? Not – rubbish.’ She blushed. Her first efforts had been a mishmash of colours: just the underside was silver. What did the sleepers make of it when they woke? She’d crept closer and closer, holding up a blanket, for each in turn, half like a mother covering a child, half like a matador. The next day they were gone.
‘You could have startled them,’ said Merfyn. ‘Next time, give me a call. We could have … ’
‘If there is a next time,’ said Angela. ‘Thanks; same here.’ She made the me-and-you sign.
‘Croeso,’ said Merfyn, picking up his iron. ‘Aka: you’re welcome.’
Copyright Maria Donovan 2021
To read about the context for this work please see my recent post ‘People of the Village’.
This is a one-page story (constraints, constraints!), but I have made the text much larger for online viewing.
Thanks to Barrie Llewelyn for editing the pamphlet and sending it on. Thanks to Chris Nurse at the University of South Wales for inviting creative writing in response to the artwork shown. The exhibition in Trefforest closes today, 17 December 2021.
Important! The way this couple are making their blankets is not the way Daniel Trivedy creates his artwork but it is something I have tried myself with varying success and misgivings.