In the lilac London evening, I enter the gates of Hyde Park. Commuters stride through, shortcutting to the Tube. I step off the path and onto the grass, an island. Here, there is no one. The damp air smells of wet earth. Today, I thought of the V&A Museum and I yearn for it, as if for a homecoming.
I dive into my bag for my phone and bring it to life. There is nothing, no messages.
No—on way x
No—do we need dinner?
The last time I visited the V&A, we went together. By the time we arrived it was late in the winter afternoon. The one-hundred-and-seventy-year-old museum, its façade pockmarked by bomb fragments, stood under a leaden sky. I thought of this city in the Blitz, when soldiers and civilians rushed through the blown apart streets under the nightly threat of bombs falling.
The last time we went to the V&A. We walk there on a Saturday afternoon. I push my hands deeper into my coat. You do too. It is the proper London cold, sinks into your bones, your teeth.
We are in the middle of Hyde Park, near The Long Water, before it becomes The Serpentine. The air is dank, the lake dark. There are no swans today, no ducks, no boats, nothing.
You say, let’s find a pub first.
A man sits smoking under a skeletal plane tree and plays loud on a portable radio, “London Calling”, by The Clash. This is a favourite of yours, you sing along despite yourself. Maybe I imagine it, but you seem to drag on those zombies of death, zom-bies.
We stop. We’re not lost, I say, but you must hear the question and grab your phone and search.
Here, the traffic noise is subdued, there are only glimpses of cars as they crawl around the park.
This is the spot, I think, the hill in Monet’s “Hyde Park London”, although he made this hill taller. He painted a couple in the foreground, dressed for the 1870’s. The man wears a suit and the woman’s dress is long and full with a small train. Both wear hats. His arm is around her waist as they walk together.
I don’t know where we are, you say, shove your phone away. We keep walking, your hands in your pockets, my hands in mine. Monet’s silvery-violet-grey sky is the same as our sky.
We find a food cart. You buy a Mars Bar and a Coke for us to share. We stop to eat and drink, passing the chocolate bar and bottle between us. Caramel coats my teeth, Coke froths in my mouth. The sugar kicks. We devour, as if starving and parched.
At the edge of the park, we come to The Albert Memorial which Queen Victoria built to commemorate the death of her husband, dead at forty-two likely from typhoid fever. Even in the gloom, the memorial shines gold. It is ornate, gothic, opulent. The canopy towers above the statue of Albert, like a ciborium over a church altar.
I will think of this monument many times. I don’t know what you saw when you looked at the monument. The monument a wife created for her husband, beloved, loving and gone.
Queen Victoria in a letter to her Uncle Leopold on the death of her husband: “My life as a happy one is ended! The world is gone for me!”
We emerge from the park onto Kensington Road and the white-red glare and noise of traffic. We turn down Exhibition Road towards the V&A. The lights, the surge of people past us, it is exhilarating. You sigh, peer down the road, right and left. There are no pubs in sight. I take your hand, what I mean is—I am here.
Albert to Victoria in a letter he sent from Germany after they became engaged, began, “Dearest deeply loved Victoria”, said, “How that moment shines for me still when I was close to you, with your hand in mine.”
I remember so little now of what we saw in the V&A. It is dreamlike, an impression of brilliance against darkness, jewels set in blackest velvet, gleaming under lights. The night purple and electric behind the gigantic arched windows.
My clearest memory of our visit: we stood in front of Edvard Munch’s woodcut, “The Kiss”. The couple, depicted in black, hold each other in their arms, as they have for one-hundred-and-twenty years. Their faces are merged. She is him and he is her. The wood grain runs down through them.
Munch returned to this image in paintings and drawings. In this woodcut, he removed the curtain and window behind them, the building opposite, the sky, and showed only the couple. There is nothing else.
Tonight, I walk towards the V&A—invincible with its war wounds. A busker at the front sings to a recording of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”. The music blares and the busker relies on energy more than skill, but it is still the same sad song. You loved this song. You were someone good, I promise.
I stop, close my eyes for a moment and concentrate. I feel your hand in mine, I do. We move towards the golden lit twin doorways. The stone arch rises enormous and majestic above us.
Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in The Penn Review, The Masters Review, CRAFT Literary, SmokeLong Quarterly, CutBank and Paper Darts, among others. Her work has been chosen for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction and the Wigleaf Top 50. She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter