(after Anne Carson)

by Rebecca Clark

I can feel that other day running underneath this one
like an old videotape

— Anne Carson

Sometimes, in these strange, expansive lockdown days, she plays the game of parallel lives. What would she be doing if she were still living with this person, or in a relationship with that one? Who would have coped better with this shrunken world, the low level thrum of constant anxiety? Would the pandemic have broken them, or forged them stronger? They trail along beside her, these lives not lived. 

Sometimes though, it isn’t the what ifs that she finds existing beside her, it isn’t the parallel tracks. Sometimes instead, in these long, lonely weeks, it is the imprints of days gone by that keep her company. The days of all the previous years layering under this one like the princess and her mattresses, memories of the before times like the discomfort of the pea, bruising her, a small but persistent reminder of all that she had, and all she now lacks. What was she doing on this day last year? And this one? What was she doing on this day two years ago? Three? 

The days layering under the empty present, playing like an old videotape in the Anne Carson poem.


The roof behind her flat can be reached by clambering out of the bedroom window, a wide, flat expanse of grey asphalt. A sun trap from midday, when the sun crests the building, until many hours later when it dips behind the buildings opposite. It is not beautiful, by any means. Fallen moss, dry and crunchy, cigarette butts thrown from the flat above, bits of cracked tile, scatter the roof and gather at the edges, pushed there by the wind and the rain. The gutter covers are broken, the view is only of more buildings. But over the lockdown weeks she has planted up terracotta pots of violas, leggy green tomato seedlings, sorrel, marjoram, thyme. The jasmine from a few years back has survived the winter and is budding its elegant pink buds that will unfurl into white scented stars. She has a woven plastic mat, striped peppermint green, that she tosses out of the window before climbing out after it, then unfurls onto the roof. If she adds a few cushions and an old sarong, brings her book and a bottle of water, she can stay out for hours. 

She is out there now, the first day of May, the first pandemic year. A Friday. London is hot, quiet. That original lockdown, when the confinement was an unwelcome novelty rather than the familiar tedium it would later become. The bank holiday weekend, normally so welcome, this year approached with trepidation. A dread of how to fill the days, of what to do with all the time.

She sits in the late afternoon sunshine, sun on her body, the roof warm beneath her, releasing the heat of the afternoon. She has a plate of melon, a tumbler of vermouth, ice clinking. There’s a book beside her, but she isn’t reading it. 

The videotape has begun to play.


One year ago exactly, a square in Barcelona with three friends. Dry white wine and plates of salty fried things – padron peppers with their sheen of oil, crispy crumbed croquettas. She is both sleepy from the lack of sleep the night before – packing late, the early Eurostar start for a long day of train travel across Europe – and wide awake, eager for the long weekend ahead, discovering a new city. It will be a weekend of walking shady streets before emerging into sunny squares, stopping for glasses of vermouth in many hues. A weekend of diving into mini-supermarkets, a favourite travel pastime, looking at the unfamiliar cheeses and jars, the huge range of Haribo. Of prickling eyes in the cathedral, welling up at the magnificence, the feeling of never before having seen anything so beautiful made by man. There will be early morning runs with J through narrow passageways and along wide tree-lined boulevards before the heat rises, before the pavements and squares fill with tables and tourists. She likes running with J, whose pace pushes her, but isn’t impossibly out of reach. On the last morning, they will run along the beach promenade, north and east and back again, and at the end, whilst J guards her trainers and clothes, she will swim.


Alone on the roof, she takes another sip of her drink, pulls at a hangnail. Thinks about how very far away Barcelona with a group of friends feels. How very far away anything with a group of friends feels. The ice in her drink is thin pieces now, and she crunches one with her next mouthful. The sun is beginning its descent, and in the flat above the students who live there are discussing what they’ll make for dinner. Somewhere, a baby is crying. 

Another videotape then. 

In a year’s time, and any years that come after that, she will remember this day, another layer, layered upon all the others.


Two years ago, with her boyfriend at the time, boarding the sleeper train from Paddington, destination Penzance. The thrill of a night train ride, the promise of waking up somewhere different to where you started, excited for the long weekend, all the more precious snatched as it was from busy jobs and the stressful weeks that bookended it. That weekend will be one of golden gorse and blue skies, driving along winding lanes with the windows down, Groove Armada on the radio (if you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air), buckets of late bluebells for sale at the side of the road. Playing dominos in the hotel courtyard, gin bar and pub crawling around Penzance. Walking to Newlyn along the seafront, eating at the counter of a tiny fish restaurant, one of the best meals she has ever eaten. Swimming in the sea, picking their way around the open air Minack Theatre stacked down the cliffside.


Back on the roof, the edge of the sun is kissing the buildings opposite, shadows begin to creep. The accumulated heat from the day still seeps upwards from the asphalt beneath, but the air is cooler. She eats the last slice of melon, no longer fridge cold, but all the more juicy, fragrant because of it. 

She is on a deserted roof in London, alone, so alone, more alone than she has ever been. And she is in a square in Barcelona, surrounded by friends, drinking and laughing, a whole foreign city around her waiting to be explored. And she is on a train to Cornwall with a man she loves, the dark countryside rushing by as the train rattles and tilts. She is all of these places at once. 

She is older than she has ever been, younger than she will ever be.

In a year’s time, and any years that come after that, she will remember this day, another layer, layered upon all the others. 

She will remember that she wasn’t happy, not the happy of a new city with good friends or a coastal weekend with a familiar lover. But that she wasn’t unhappy either, despite it all. She will remember the warm sun and the fragrant melon and the strange solitude.

The sun dips fully behind the buildings, the shadows are complete. She gathers up her things, and heads inside. 

Rebecca Clark

Rebecca has a 9-5 desk job but often wishes that she were a full time writer with a shed at the bottom of her (imagined) garden where she could write all day. She is a born, raised and currently-residing north Londoner, who remains fiercely loyal to that side of the river. She is a lapsed blogger and a prolific Instagrammer, documenting with photos and words her London life.

Support Dear Damsels

Words are empowering – not only for the women who write them, but those who read them too.

Join our Patreon and help us continue to offer an inclusive and welcoming space for women to come together, share their words, and get a resounding response back.

Sign up to our Patreon