The final full moon of the year is in the sky, clear through the window over my right shoulder. I am at my desk, lamp on, and the heater on, at my feet.
The full moon always rises on the side of the house my bedroom is on. When she is a fingernail, a crescent, she rises on the opposite side, over the neighbours’ gardens and rooflines. In between, I lose sight of her.
This year, we have watched the moon more than normal. By we, I mean B and I, though I imagine we are not the only ones.
In the long nights of the first lockdown, I would lie on his couch, the lights turned off, and we’d stare out the big bay window of his North London flat. The buildings on his street – solid, Victorian, stubbornly alike – were built into a steep hill, meaning even from the first floor you have a view over the chimney stacks and blocks of flats all the way to the city. Some afternoons, at just the right angle, you can see a glint of sun on the tip of The Shard.
We would lie silently, and watch as the moon moved, slowly, from pane to pane, rising higher, threading between clouds, or sometimes blowing out a shimmering corona of light, turning the sky into some kind of molten, flowing river.
We marked passage of time with her. Each month, further into the pandemic, further into the numbers, she would rise again, full, ahead of us, into the night.
Sometimes we’d be walking back from the heath and we’d catch her, up early, chalked onto the blue sky between buildings.
One day, as I held out on a theory about why we weren’t so entranced by the sun’s movement, B says — It’s because the moon is imperfect, like us. The sun is so constant. Always whole.
In the summer, we decide, last minute, to travel to Portugal for a few weeks. Masks on, on a half-full plane, I panic about whether it’s the right thing to do. I think of all the people who will think how wrong I am to go anywhere beyond home. We spend a few pink-tinged days in a quiet Lisbon, walking everywhere – not because we have to but because it is a pleasure. The sun stretches tight against every wall. It sharpens every colour: lipstick-magenta bougainvilleas, custard yellow tiles, the watercolour-soft pink wall of the flat opposite ours. I drink pale gold wine and watch the wind puff the curtain of the opposite flat in and out, in and out like a lung. Like a ventilator.
We rent a car and drive south, to be by the sea. One afternoon, we drive to Cabo de São Vincente. It’s the most south-western tip of Europe, the final piece of land sailors would see as they sailed from the Mediterranean. The land drops a hundred meters straight from the cliffs into a deep, navy sea. When we arrive at the lighthouse point, there are a scattering of people in the complex, and some spaced out along on the cliffs, looking towards the setting sun. At the base of the cliffs, the water turns from navy to a bright, fish-shop-neon turquoise, then to a fiery white as the waves churn and blast apart on the rock. We watch the waves for a long time, B’s hand an anchor on my waist.
Later, driving home, night drops. In between tracing our tiny blue dot on Google Maps, I lift my eyes and watch signs for larajas illuminated by our headlights. Then, as we turn onto the highway, the moon is suddenly there, heavy before us, just risen and so huge she seems to fill the whole windscreen. She is the colour of ripe melon flesh. The moon will take us home!, I yell, and B, generously, nods in agreement.
We’ve had so much time, now, to just be solid in space and place. To repeat the pattern of our days. I know this was once quite normal. When the world was only a village, the land surrounding it, and the turn of seasons.
We have no choice but to watch, to track. We are witnesses.
This suspension has made me aware of how easily I’ve moved in my life, and how I have become addicted to the equal distraction and destruction of movement, of newness. I have always been somewhat nomadic – my parents were great travellers, and my European family, though not by choice, left their countries to seek safer homes, better lives. I grew up with three passports and a family spread across three continents: borders, countries, lines on a map — they didn’t seem a barrier to me. I realise the offensive luxury of this. I knew I could travel, and live, in many places. I learned to be self-sufficient in this reality. And it became a crutch: when things became too hard I could pack up my life, give away my things, and go elsewhere. At 25 it was the gleaming lure of London, and Europe; at 32 it was the jungles of Indonesia; a year ago I packed up my two suitcases and spent two months in Spain, mostly on my own, in a tiny stone house on the side of mountain in the Axarquía.
These places have fed me, but I have not learned to have comfort with being still.
In the second lockdown, in a new house and new neighbourhood, I made laps around the local park. It was October, the ground became muddier and muddier, the edges of the paths worn away, the secondary side paths dug black and deeper by the thousands of footprints, the central playing fields bogged and sticky from rain.
Every Londoner, it seemed, had walked their paths, had learned a route, mapped a pattern of their own unique home-to-green-space-and-back-again logic onto the urban landscape.
Someone sent me a photo of a work by Richard Long, where he had placed a slow spiral of grey-white stones onto a steep hillside in Scotland. Above the stones the slope rises steeply, to a tower of bare rock against a white sky. The line of stones disappears off the left-hand side of the picture. It makes me want to mark every walk this way, or demand each of us carry a piece of string as we walk, leaving bright traceries of our patterns, our existence, our confinement. I imagine a woven London, a city of string: the bare centre, the tangled edges. That you could put your hand against someone else’s string, walk it, come to see which tree they favoured, which corner, where they choose to pause and watch the moon rise.
At first, the sense of time was hard to grasp. I lived week-to-week, adapting, adrenaline running through me, the moon an echo in the sky to remind me of forward motion. The relationship with B, begun in February with dates where we discussed the virus feverishly (such an easy, neutral conversation topic), had begun to deepen. We became comfortable in each others’ arms, and I began to give little pieces of myself, the way as a child I had chosen certain shells or pieces of glass from the tideline of the beach, and put them on my shelf. He did not discard them, or smash them.
Now, we have been with one another for many months, and watched many moons. I text him: The moon is rising. She’s watching us.
I am tired of watching. I long to be distracted, to be in a dark bar with poetry and music and people. Or even to be in the busy in-between of things, which I used to hate: from work, to home, to train, to pub, to train, to home.
I do not know if I can go back to how I was, or if I want to. I don’t know what I’ll watch for, as life goes on. In another Richard Long photograph, there are five dark patches in the foreground, with footprints leading away from them, down a wide open field to where more tracks are visible. The tracks converge into one, and curve away towards the right, out of sight. The more I look at the image I can’t decide — are the tracks leading away from the dark patches on the ground, or towards them? And — if they lead towards — where did those people go? I think, perhaps, they just stopped and sunk into the earth.
The moon is higher, now, as I write this. I think of all of us, watching her — both now, and in the past: all the way back, as far back as we can go. Always, turning our heads to watch her ford the sky. Over and over. The metronome, keeping time.
I’ve read that the moon is moving, slowly, away from the earth. Each year she moves a few inches further in her orbit. At some point in the future she’ll be too far away for us to experience a full lunar eclipse – too distant to block the whole sun.
It’s the last day of the year tomorrow. I find it hard to really recognise this ‘end’, this turning point. I can’t motivate myself to look back over what has passed, or look forward, make resolutions, etc. I don’t feel at the end of a thing, I feel deeply, terribly, in the middle. We have passed the solstice, but the days are still short and dark. People’s curtains are shut against the cold. Christmas lights are already down. The cases are going up, and up. The government gives no sign they comprehend on any level how to manage the virus. The hospitals are overwhelmed. We are a long way from an end, or a turn. We are sunk; we are so deep below the surface the sun is a splinter.
Outside, the moon has moved over my shoulder, tracking to the right, through the clear sky. There are no clouds or stars, just the mouth of night. It’s so cold. I get up, put on another jumper.
They say it might snow in London tonight. If it does, I will wake up early, and put on my layers. I will walk my usual path. I will leave my marks in the snow.