by Cath Barton

There were horses here last night, running round the grass ring, manes flying. One stumbled and my heart lurched at the crack of the whip. It shouldn’t be allowed. But they’ve gone on to the next place now, those circus people.

One of them will discover they’ve lost an earring. I found it glinting amongst the eyebright flowers, a threading of sea-glass. I picked it up and slipped it into my pocket. Maybe a portent, I thought. My mother always said I was a magpie.

Up here you’re away from everything except the maddening wind. It’s summer but I’ve a scarf on, a turquoise one of Mum’s; it’s a soft comforter round my neck.

A change in the air makes me turn. There’s a man, lifting a hand towards me. I back off. What is he doing, coming up through the swirl of my thoughts?

C’est une jolie couleur. A pretty colour.’

He has a soft smile in his voice. How does he know I’m English?

Je vous ai entendu parler dans la boulangerie. At the—how you say?—bakerman’s?’

I laugh. ‘Bakery,’ I say.

‘Ah, yes,’ he says, and waits, but I say nothing, because I don’t know how to begin a conversation these days. So he shrugs and saunters off down the hill, loose-limbed. I watch him go. I wish that he’d stayed awhile, that I had the courage to call after him, even now. We could have talked. Most days all I hear is a “Bonjour” and “Merci, au revoir” from the boulanger. That, and the every-present reproach of the wind.

They write, my brother and sister, telling me about our mother, how it goes from one week to the next. I try, time and again, to write back, but the ink in my pen will not flow. They tell me they understand, but I know they think badly of me. Think I’ve bought the lie that if we go south we will be refreshed and restored. When the only thing that happens is that we go round in circles in our minds and falter like the circus horses.

I drive to the town, looking for distraction. There are papers blowing under the empty tables outside the cafés. I hear a tourist ask, ‘Quand est-ce que ça finira?’ They always try sitting outside until they’re forced back into the protection of the glass-covered verandas. They think the blow and bluster will calm in a day or two. The locals know better, and so do I. It will not abate in a hurry, this hungry Mistral that funnels down the Rhone valley, sucking the clouds from the skies and driving people out of their minds.

Tomorrow, when the first pinks touch the sky, I will pack my bags. I will keep the sea-glass earring in my pocket and see where it takes me. But tonight I will sit on my balcony out of the wind. I’ll breath in sweet scents and my mind will be, for a little while, becalmed.

Cath Barton’s prize-winning novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Rarebyte. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published by Louise Walters Books in September 2020, and her short story collection, The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Retreat West Books in early 2021. Blowing My Mind Clear was shortlisted in the Wind-themed Retreat West flash competition, 2019. @CathBarton1